Carlo Wolff Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories Mon, 23 Jul 2012 19:48:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Speechless Mon, 23 Jul 2012 16:26:41 +0000 James Holmes looked like Bozo the Clown in his court appearance today. No wonder, since he was the easily and well armed Joker who mutilated the nation’s innocence—again—in a crowded theater in suburban Denver Friday night. Colorado seems to be a magnet for crazy.

Gnashing of teeth, words of sobriety and comfort, nuanced posturing, and a nation fatally ambivalent toward violence all add up to nothing. As long as the United States values “freedom” over community, “individualism” over society and cash over conscience, the loonies will have access to murder tools.

Look for politicians who back gun control. Help those who fight the NRA. Support them, even if that involves shades of grey. But until a national figure more powerful even than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands up to guns, nothing will happen. I wish I could be more hopeful, but this kind of incident leaves me in despair. I wish I could strip the quotes from freedom and individualism and trust more in the American community. It’s rusted and scary these days.

]]> 4
The Obama problem Tue, 10 Jul 2012 19:05:02 +0000 I’m worried that Mitt Romney will oust Barack Obama in November. For the second month in a row, Romney has outraised the president. The GOP ad buy will probably swamp the Dems, signaling a takeover of the country by Fox News. This is alarming.

I’ve contributed to the Obama campaign, but not as much as I did four years ago, when I had more money and a lot more hope. The Democrats don’t message well. They certainly don’t have the jackboot discipline of the Republicans, who smile and lie and make empty promises. They’re infuriating. But the GOP stays on point, no matter how vacuous and retro.

Obama supporters want me to canvass and phonebank, as I did four years ago. I probably will later this summer. I think Obama has been a decent president, in the face of ridiculous odds: a disastrous economy he inherited from Dubya, a Congress ruled by purists eager to return to the 18th century, and a Democratic party that can’t even explain its successes, let alone trumpet them. But he’s been disappointing, and his message—that progress is a slog and he’s not to blame for the country’s sorry condition—isn’t inspiring.

I hope the speeches Obama makes from now on and his debates with Romney will resurrect the man I believed in so fervently four years ago. I need mojo, not malaise.

]]> 2
Forward 2012 Fri, 06 Jul 2012 15:14:18 +0000 A vague post today, like Obama’s 2012 campaign “slogan.” But forward nevertheless, if by fits and starts. I missed posting a blog Tuesday though I’d sworn to post one every Tuesday. Have to remind Siri, my iPhone helper, to remind me to do that, not to mention other tasks.

We spent the last week of June in Stone Harbor, a seaside New Jersey town we’ve enjoyed before. It was nice; only one grey day, the rest sunny, hot, perfect for the beach. The drive home was endless, but the vacation week was good. I read The Kings of Cool, Don Winslow’s “prequel” to Savages, along with Lou Berney’s Whiplash River, the sequel to Gutshot Straight. Easy, stimulating reads that strike deeper than you think. And I didn’t do any work on Invisible Soul.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve done a lot more work on that project. It has been accumulating Friends quickly, surging this past week. Seems the pictures that get the most attention are pix of old jazz scenes and of the Dazz Band. Which makes me think the page will explode if and when I post vintage pictures of the O’Jays—a possibility.

No book yet, though I’ve written several chapters. But the Facebook page has assumed a life of its own, branding the project before it’s executed. Marketing the idea via social media is working. Convincing the publishing industry to capitalize on that is another. My fingers remain crossed.

]]> 0
Shore thing Tue, 26 Jun 2012 14:17:03 +0000 It’s our third day in our house a block from the beach in Stone Harbor, the Jersey Shore town we hanker to visit at least once a year. Yesterday was stormy and grey with patches of dry, a perfect day to play tourist in tourist-savvy Cape May, down the road apiece.

On Sunday, I made my usual yearly mistake: sitting in the sun long enough to burn. Yesterday cooled me off. I’m ready for more sun and a swim. The beach is less than five minutes away.

Vacation is weird when you’re retired. I still work, and work hard, but I make my own schedule. That’s different from an office routine, which provides its own discipline. I still have work to do—I just finished a review of James Lee Burke’s latest novel for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette—but I’m focusing on relaxing. It’s not easy.

We’ve gone out to eat, bought great key lime pie, and watched a few movies. The Grey was depressing and contrived, despite the performance of Liam Neeson. Drive was better: a brutal psychological thriller starring Ryan Gosling, with great turns by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, a man of incredibly long face.

My great friend, Rich Roberts, is coming to visit Thursday. It will be a too-rare opportunity to hang with him. Next week I’ll post a pic or two of our New Jersey sojourn. Excuse me while I get back to my time off.

]]> 0
Soul rising Tue, 19 Jun 2012 16:37:54 +0000 Last Friday, I sent off a chapter about Motown and its relationship to Cleveland soul music. It went to an editor at an academic press in the South who said he’d get back to me about it first week in July. Here’s hoping.

Motown’s Fateful Shadow is the longest chapter I’ve written yet, and it’s largely about near misses. That’s too often the story when it comes to Cleveland music, no matter the genre. But in Invisible Soul, the book I’m writing, race underlines that pattern of failure. Black music simply didn’t cross over much in this city despite Motown’s calculated, successful and memorable product.

Leo’s Casino was the main intersection of the races, and local acts did well there too, opening for Motown stars like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder. It ran from 1963 to 1972, roughly the heyday of Motown. By all accounts, it was a fantastic place. I plan a separate chapter on Leo’s.

The great Gray and Company publicist Jane Lassar just blogged about writing blogs and/or developing Facebook pages. She still does great by my Grayco book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Now she cited my Invisible Soul Facebook page as a vehicle for developing a market. I’m happy to say it’s growing steadily, with Friends and Likes from all the world.

Mentions like Jane’s really help. Nice when social media actually work.

]]> 0
Worries and opportunities Wed, 13 Jun 2012 13:14:53 +0000 Missed my blog entry yesterday. Woke up midway through the night anxious about it, so here it is. Just read a story about how Romney is seizing on Obama’s misspeakings, painting the president as out of touch. No matter that gaffemeister Romney is genetically out of touch himself. What matters is that Romney’s turning the tables, simplifying and ridiculing Obama’s complicated, non-linear and apparently ineffective messaging. I’m worried for Obama, who’s beginning to smart from the relentless GOP slams and that narrow party’s mindless obstructionism. And media are buying into the GOP’s Citizens United-fueled distortions.

I think Romney would be a bad president because he’s a reactionary like Reagan, the jingo with the smiling face so revered by Republicans who’d like the country to go back to the values of the Revolutionary War era. Obama’s still by far the better choice. The main reason he hasn’t delivered on various promises is that all of the GOP and many in his own party haven’t even attempted to work with him.

On the up side: I’m putting the finishing touches on an Invisible Soul chapter I’m due to send that publishing house in the South this week, along with a revised outline including sources I’ll use for each chapter. This one is very long and has been hard to craft. Thanks to my fine editor Karen Sandstrom for the love and mercy she shows in helping me put this together.(Be sure to look at her blog entry on “Your Daily Newspaper.”)

In addition, Great Lakes Review, a journal of writing from Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Buffalo, has accepted an Invisible Soul chapter to publish in its inaugural issue this fall—both online and in print. Invisible Soul is beginning to see the light.

]]> 0
Keeping in rhythm Wed, 06 Jun 2012 03:21:01 +0000 So I don’t miss my commitment, here’s my weekly blog. Believe it or not, it’s again about Invisible Soul. On Sunday, I headlined a two-hour program of Invisible Soul tracks largely based on Boddie Recording Company, the three-CD set Numero Group released in November. I, Shari and Jeff also included some tracks friends have given me over the past year and a half I’ve been developing the project: one cut by the Quails and two by Ruby Carter and the Exceptional Three.

The show at WRUW went well. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from it and hope the three of us do a sequel or two, particularly now that Lou Ragland and the Hesitations (and, I hear, the Chosen Few) are going to perform at Beachland Aug. 24. In addition, the Happy Dog may be interested in doing Invisible Soul nights—or at least a night.

So the project is moving ahead. I’m closing in on finishing a chapter about Motown and its relation to Cleveland; by midmonth I have to submit that and a revised outline to the press I’ve been talking with since last fall. Whatever happens with that press, I’m going ahead with a project that continues to gain momentum.

]]> 0
Soul DJ Wed, 30 May 2012 02:15:23 +0000 I spent most of this afternoon listening to tracks from Boddie Recording Company, the three-CD box Numero Group released in November. I’m selecting ones to play this Sunday afternoon over WRUW (91.1 FM), the Case Western Reserve radio station.

Shari Wilkins and Jeff Bishop, who DJ there, asked me whether I’d head a show based on recordings waxed at Boddie on Union Avenue near 122nd between the late ‘50s and the early ‘90s. No problem; the Boddie material is at the core of Invisible Soul, the book I’m developing on underground Cleveland soul music.

I’ll also play some non-Numero stuff; I’ve collected a gang of bootlegs, private pressings and burns of material from that era, including way-cool vocals by the Quails, the hard-edged ghetto funk of S.O.U.L., the ethereal doo-wop of the Fabulous Five Flames, and the eerie pop of the Elements. Not to mention CDs by Lou Ragland and Kim Tolliver, hot local performers that made occasional seminational noise.

The idea is to present a show that will focus on Invisible Soul, the underground Cleveland soul music of 30, 40, even 50 years ago. Shari and Jeff recently came across the Boddie box, and they’re hooked. For people in the Cleveland area, the show will run from 2 to 4 p.m. June 3 over WRUW.

I’ve also been going over my interviews. Lots of material there, all beginning to become of a piece. I can see this book taking shape. It’ll be fun to play the music at its heart, music that should have been a hit then. Maybe now’s the time.

]]> 1
Pushing out Tue, 22 May 2012 19:49:36 +0000 I’ve been poring over the interviews at the core of Invisible Soul all week, trying to see what’s common, what themes to earmark for the book’s sectioning. It’s coming slowly; naturally, most cover a variety of topics that have to be separated out and organized. But some also lend themselves to standalones because stories they contain are so exciting.

On a related front, I just submitted a chapter on what you could call the geography of Invisible Soul to the Great Lakes Cultural Review, a non-profit magazine gearing up for its debut issue this fall. GLCR will feature writing of all kinds from Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Toronto, with editors from one city processing submissions from another.

Word is the bigger cities have submitted a ton of material, but Cleveland’s falling short. Which gives me a better shot but gets me wondering what’s with the lack of drive here.

]]> 1
The first trimester Tue, 15 May 2012 21:30:53 +0000 My book, Invisible Soul, has been in gestation for nearly a year and a half now, but I still feel as if it’s in the earliest stage. I’ve written (and revised and rewritten) several chapters, at one time up to six; now there are about three, and I’m not totally satisfied with any of them. I also like parts of them a lot.

Apparently, the material is enough to stir ongoing interest. My discussions with an academic press in the South are progressing nicely. Just today, I mailed the editor I’ve been communicating with since last fall the core of the raw material I’ve accumulated: notes from more than 50 interviews with Invisible Soulmen and women. And by June 15, I’ll send him a new outline, along with another chapter I’ve been cobbling together for the past several weeks.

And this morning, George Hendricks of the Hesitations floated the idea of an Invisible Soul Revue featuring players from that era who are still making good music. I like it, I like it. I think it could draw a really motley crew of fans seeking the authenticity of local music, soul-style.

And on June 3, I’m tentatively scheduled to DJ a two-hour broadcast over WRUW, the Case Western Reserve FM station. Topic #1: the Boddie Recording Company. I hope to be able to feature other, non-Boddie material from the era, too.

So Invisible Soul is beginning to come together on several different fronts. On the book and e-book front, all I have to do is think it out, map it out, and produce it. By mid-July, I should have a pretty good idea of its timeline. This is exciting.

]]> 1
Polarization Tue, 08 May 2012 15:17:16 +0000 Last week’s blog was about a Facebook friend who posted a “billboard” likening President Obama to Ronald McDonald. Today’s Plain Dealer recounts a Romney campaign stop in which Ohio auditor Dave Yost makes the same comparison, quoting from the same playbook.

I didn’t argue with the Facebook friend, though that side of him infuriates me. Argument isn’t the point in Facebook postings; affirmation is, whether you’re on the left or right. But now that this message is spreading, it’s time to blast it, because all it does is polarize.

Polarization is all the rage in this year’s election, featuring a campaign between two very cautious candidates (Romney flip-flops; Obama hedges). Obama’s killing of bin Laden—which I applaud despite how uneasy assassination makes me—is one of the purest, most clear-cut actions this president has taken. I wish he were more forthright about same-sex marriage, a vexing issue on which he lags. But that’s another blog.

Despite Obam’s taking out of bin Laden, the GOP is bent on portraying him as weak on the military. I haven’t seen any proof of that, despite what my Facebook friend and the GOP’s hard right say. Proof doesn’t matter, however. All that does is the message, and if nothing else, the GOP has shown remarkable message discipline ever since Obama took office.

Too bad all that messaging does is polarize.

]]> 3
Seems To Be a Guy Thing Wed, 02 May 2012 17:26:01 +0000 Last night, an acquaintance posted a “billboard” on Facebook comparing President Obama to Ronald McDonald, the hamburger clown, saying Team 6 should get the credit for killing Osama bin Laden, not Obama. The post ticked me off. It’s another kneejerk, far-right attack on Obama, who has been far more effective militarily and diplomatically than his predecessor. These hostiles wouldn’t give Obama credit if he ended pollution, cured cancer or joined Israel and Palestine in a new, peaceful country.

Maybe I chickened out by not responding on Facebook. I still consider this acquaintance a decent guy, though I think his politics are bogus and narrow. There’s another guy who posts similarly right-wing political snark, along with questionable, soft-core porn that draws snickers and leers from other guys and quizzical responses from women. I don’t want to unfriend these guys, but some of their posts seem like a form of cyber-bullying. You can pick a fight on Facebook for sure, but it often degenerates into name-calling and too rarely resolves anything.

Which is why a blog can be useful. You can go longer and you can raise issues without stoking the temperature. As Obama proves over and over again, no drama is a virtue.

]]> 0
Format Frazzle Wed, 25 Apr 2012 16:59:57 +0000 My new acquaintance Alex Malkin, a recent attendee at the Bratenahl ping pong club I help manage, Friended me on Facebook after he saw my blog. He said he thought it was interesting but when I told him I felt sheepish about it, not having “fed” it for nearly five months, he agreed.

So this is my promise. I’ll write a blog entry once a week (I can’t commit to more just now) starting today. It’s a beginning.

The reason it’s hard to feed a blog is that a blog is more than casual. You have to have a topic; it’s not just enough to catch up or excuse yourself, as I so often have in the past.

God knows I have plenty to write about: the ongoing project I call Invisible Soul, a book about underground Cleveland soul music and rhythm ‘n’ blues from the late ‘50s to the early ‘80s (for a taste, visit my Invisible Soul story under The Story of Rock at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web site) my travels, which have been amazing this past 12 months; changes in my household, like my wife’s imminent graduation from art school, and my daughter’s college search. And all this week, I’m covering the Tri-C Jazz Fest for Jazz Times. So I’m not lacking for material, verbal and/or visual.

But over the past year, I’ve been putting more and more on Facebook, mainly because it’s so much easier. It’s a bulletin board, it’s a conversation, it’s a market builder. But it doesn’t lend itself to depth. For that, you need this. Better yet, you need outlets in newspapers (endangered), magazines (hard to crack) and books (hard to write, especially when you’re like me, craving an old-fashioned publisher).

At the same time, my old book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories, continues to thrive. Tonight I’ll be touting it at a discussion of Cleveland rock ‘n’ roll with two other authorities, Michael Heaton and John Gorman. Should be lively.

Just giving you a taste of what I’ve been up to and hope to be up to. See you May 2.

]]> 0
Closing Out 2011 Sat, 31 Dec 2011 22:14:59 +0000 It feels good to be working on Invisible Soul, my Cleveland soul music book, on the last day of a busy, fast year. I’m writing several chapters to send to a publishing house at a university in the south in hopes that citadel of higher learning picks up on the proposal and helps me with the research and funding. I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve spent the past few months writing a lot of hotel and travel stories, both for trades and for consumer. My package on Colombia, which I visited in early October, should be out in the Plain Dealer the second Sunday of January, and I’m eager to start assembling a similar package on Dubai (which I visited in early December for the second time) for the PD, too. I’m still writing book reviews for the Boston Globe, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Christian Science Monitor, but those have dwindled, just like bookstores.

Feeding time at the Rosario Islands Aquarium

A snapshot from a car of Calima Darien town center

The Dubai Mall from the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifah

Since I last posted at the end of August, I’ve also traveled to New York, drove with my friend Ron to Virginia Beach for the U.S. Nationals Table Tennis Championships in mid-December (don’t ask) and have written a gang of reviews for Jazz Times. My recent favorite jazz album is Andrew Cyrille’s Route de Freres, on TUM. I also contributed to the upcoming PazznJop poll in the Village Voice, though I was hard-pressed to come up with 10 memorable pop albums in 2011.

I’ve been reading Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian author whose Harry Hole books I recommend. Karen and I just saw the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a knockout as terrifying as but slicker than the Swedish version. We’re going to spend New Year’s Eve dining well at home, maybe watching a movie.

I predict 2012 will be bruising politically, pitting Church of Bob ringer Mitt Romney against Obama in high-stakes battle for the operation, if not the soul, of the country. I’m pretty sure whom I’ll support, if not with my original enthusiasm. The world gets grayer, it seems, along with my hair.

Happy New Year. I think and trust it will be an improvement on the shrill, murky one rushing into the past.

]]> 0
Goodbye to summer Sat, 27 Aug 2011 18:17:18 +0000 Last time I posted I was into writing for Lodging Hospitality again, in addition to writing occasionally for Hotelnewsnow. Since then, I’ve been to Dallas and reported my LH stories; vacationed on Cape Cod, where I spent some summer time with my parents when I was a little boy; continued to work on Invisible Soul, a challenging project; read a lot of books; re-encountered my first wife—digitally, of course; and bought an iPad.

Not much to this other than to bemoan the rapid passing of summer. July was beastly, but August has been nice, and I’m looking forward to pleasant weather through October (call me optimistic). Karen’s about to enter her last year at Cleveland Institute of Art, Katy just started her second year at Bowling Green, and Lylah’s now a junior at Beaumont—and working: She got a job at Chocolate Emporium, a kosher confectionery virtually around the corner from our house.

Off Provincetown, Mass. this August—whale watching is great!

Lylah, Karen and Katy: my beautiful household.

Read a great book: Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. Also reviewed a book of his travel writings for the Boston Globe, and for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reviewed Driving Home, a collection of essays and memoirs by the fine British writer Jonathan Raban. I’m still reviewing jazz CDs for Jazz Times and a little bit of rock for Hearsay.

Invisible Soul is vexing. I applied for a Creative Workforce Fellowship to the Cuyahoga Partnership for Arts and Culture and will know by Oct. 12 whether I got it. It’s for $20,000, which would help me a lot and pay for some research help. In the meantime, I already have an outline and am gearing up to just plain write the thing, or at least parts of it that I have under my belt. Poring over old newspaper stories and display ads is fascinating; there’s so much oddball, uncovered history here. In the meantime, I have another book out (sort of): WIXY 1260: Pixies, Six-Packs and Supermen. Published by a subsidiary of Kent State University Press, it’s credited thus: “Mike Olszewski & Richard Berg with Carlo Wolff.” Basically, I edited it. It’s fun.

One last item: My first wife contacted me through Facebook. I haven’t seen her/been in contact with her since 1983. Amazing how the lines of your life connect—far more easily than they used to.

]]> 0
The pressures of reinvention Mon, 06 Jun 2011 15:25:05 +0000 I’m in Dallas working on two Hilton hotel stories, occupying a lovely, 19th-floor suite at the recently refurbished Hilton Anatole. It’s nearly 100 degrees, so I’m staying in, thank you. A month ago, I was in Shanghai on another Hilton story: Profiling the first Waldorf Astoria in Asia, recently opened on Shanghai’s Bund. I’ve been working pretty hard on hotel stories, and happy for it. I still like to travel—especially to Asia.

On another front, Invisible Soul, the Cleveland soul music book project I’m developing, is moving along. I’m encountering some resistance—some key figures are hard to reach and/or simply don’t want to be—and there might be competition. If there is, I hope it turns into coopetition. Seems I’m treading sensitive waters; meanwhile, I’ll continue to post occasional, Cleveland soul-related stories on ohioauthority.

The book reviews are dwindling, probably because a) newspapers continue to cut back, b) bookstores are dying and c) book publishing is shrinking—or at least morphing. Such change is the reason I want Invisible Soul to be a book, an e-book, a soundtrack, a DVD, and maybe more. Gotta be multimedia these days; it’s the only way to market to a wide audience.

On the home front, Katy got a 4.0 in her first semester at Bowling Green and Lylah won high honors for her academic and artistic work in her sophomore year at Beaumont.

Karen’s working hard on updating her book, “Thick Through the Middle,” as a senior project.

A year from now, Karen will be a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate, armed with a whole new skill set. Reinvention is challenging and continuous.

]]> 1
Signs of spring Thu, 31 Mar 2011 02:54:02 +0000 It’s March 30, and it snowed. Just a few inches, but still. Goes against what I’m doing, which is reviving, getting a full head of steam: writing for Lodging Hospitality again, rejoining the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra board (there are some wrinkles to work out) and producing a lot for ohioauthority. I’m also developing a proposal for a book on Cleveland’s hidden music: the soul, jazz and blues of the ‘50s through the ‘80s, when it was still a big city. True, it may have stood in the shadows of Motown. But Cleveland had its own style. Still does.

The heart of the book will be East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, what we now call University Circle. At the time I’m looking at, 105 was home to a gaggle or bars/entertainment venues where in the late ‘50s you could hear Chuck Berry, Bill Doggett, Johnny “Hammond” Smith and Billie Holiday within the same week. I want to recreate those black-and-white times before the people with the right kind of memories pass. Those people are largely black, and it’s a sensitive project.

So starting in April, I plan to devote more and more time to this. I want it and all its ancillaries—it’s a multimedia era—in stores and online by Christmas 2012. Something big to work toward. It’s exciting. Now if only it would warm up…

]]> 1
Getting better all the time Sat, 29 Jan 2011 15:47:45 +0000 I went to a show at Beachland Ballroom Jan. 22 that made me think there are second chances, ways to start all over again. It starred the Hesitations, a nine-piece soul group from Cleveland’s 1960s. The singing Hesitations are in their 60s and are prime exponents of Northern Soul, a variant of Motown with a sweeter top end. They’re really good. The five musicians who back them are younger but in the same groove.

The weather sucked. Except for one day when it crept near 50, the temperature in Cleveland has been zero to 30 and there’s been snowfall virtually every day for the past six weeks. That might explain why the Hesitations drew only about 150 despite major publicity.

In any case, the Hesitations were just fine, living proof of the second chance. They recorded for Kapp in the late ‘60s and hit the charts with such tunes as “Soul Superman,” “Born Free” and “The Impossible Dream,” speaking to the rise of black power. Those songs, along with such chestnuts as “Stand By Me” and “Mustang Sally,” still have the power, though whether they relate to today’s young people is a question.

Red becomes the Hesitations

It was great to see and hear a group with harmonies and choreography, a group that plays real instruments and tells real stories through their music. Makes you think getting older pays dividends after all.

]]> 0
Music 2010 and before Thu, 30 Dec 2010 20:47:56 +0000 I didn’t want the year to end without mentioning the Horse Flies, an upstate New York band I’ve been following for 20 years. The band played at Beachland Ballroom Dec. 17 and generated a gang of encores. They worked through material from “Until the Ocean,” their latest album, and they’re beginning to focus on a follow-up. Don’t miss them if they come anywhere near you. A great, string-based band whose show I previewed, the gig led to lots of ecstatic dancing, including mine. Too bad “Until the Ocean” was released in 2008; it was one of the best albums I heard in 2010.

Which brings me to my top 10 lists. I wrote one for PazznJop, the annual Village Voice poll of 1,500 critics; it focuses on pop and will join 1,499 others in the Jan. 19 issue. I wrote the other, exclusively on jazz CDs, for Jazz Times, the monthly magazine I contribute to.

PazznJop was tougher. I’m of a generation out of step with a lot of current pop, so I suspect my list reads dated. Jazz is easier, now that I’m in the current of jazz recordings. Anyhow, I’m sharing:

For the Voice:
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mojo, Reprise
The National, High Violet, 4AD
The Deadbeat Poets, Circustown, Pop Detective
Tom Jones, Praise & Blame, Island
Roky Erickson, True Love Cast out All Evil, Anti
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Good Music
Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid, Nonesuch
Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, Anti
Taylor Swift, Speak Now, Big Machine
Eminem, Recovery, Aftermath/Interscope

For Jazz Times:
Sarah Manning, Dandelion Clock, Posi-Tone
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green, Apex, Pi
Dave Morgan, Way of the Sly Man, Being Time
Danilo Perez, Providencia, Mack Avenue
Nik Baertsch’s Ronin, Llyria, ECM
Metropole Orkest/John Scofield/Vince Mendoza, 54, Emarcy
The Nels Cline Singers, Initiate, Cryptogramophone
Stephan Crump With Rosetta Trio, Reclamation, Sunnyside
Charles Lloyd Quartet, Mirror, ECM
Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony, Blue Note

]]> 0
Discovering Japan Sun, 28 Nov 2010 19:06:22 +0000 A week ago tomorrow, I returned from four full days in Tokyo thanks to Hilton, American Airlines and Japan Airlines. Hilton invited me, American Airlines flew me there and partway back, and Japan Airlines got me from Tokyo to San Francisco, where I met a very old friend and lost my cell phone (that incident might prompt another blog very soon; the phone, which my friend retrieved in his car, is in the mail and better get here tomorrow).

Tokyo is Blade Runner scale, but much friendlier. The streets are broad, the scale unexpected. Tokyo itself is said to have a population of 29 million, Metro Tokyo 35 million. Unlike New York, while it’s similarly tall and skyscraper-heavy, Tokyo is layered. So the subway stations lead up to multi-leveled commercial complexes byzantine to the point of bewilderment. Even after four days, I had a hard time ascending from Shimbashi Station to Shiodome, the gigantic structure cluster housing the Conrad Tokyo, the four-star hotel where I commanded a gorgeous suite overlooking Tokyo Bay.

It’s not just the scale that overwhelms, it’s the civility. Tokyo is quiet and clean. While it’s packed with cars, one rarely hears a car horn. And while it’s overrun with people, the crowds, even in Shibuya, the city’s retail heart, are polite. Crossing an intersection with a good 5,000 people in it involves a kind of social ballet, a grace unimaginable in western cities, most of which are much smaller.

Seating sections with orange straps and signage are reserved for the elderly on Tokyo’s efficient subway. People are friendly, if reserved. Thanks to Daniel Fath, a fabulous public relations person who squired our group around Tokyo, we learned how to stand in the train, how to give way in a crowd, how to say thank you. Civility is critical in a region in which space is the primary, most priceless value.

The first day began before 5 a.m. with a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market for the tuna auction. Cold, wet, enthralling, it took two hours and was an appropriate introductory immersion in Tokyo. Some fish were enormous; the auction decides the volume and quality of tuna distribution in the area. Word is local titans of industry want to move the market from its present spot on the Sumida River to make way for casinos and condos. There is resistance. The market is very much worth visiting.

A riverboat ride brought us to Asakusa, a tourist town where I encountered the Buddha I’ve always visualized and ate a fabulous rice cracker. Fatigued and jet-lagged, I nevertheless enjoyed the first day.

The day I remember most vividly was the third, when Daniel and I walked all over Shibuya, the most vibrant area I saw. Highlights were visits to Tower Records and Tokyu Hands. Americans would recognize Tower—Tokyo’s is the only extant one—but would find Tokyu Hands a very different kind of department store. It sells all kinds of cell phone accessories, wacky games, tchotchkes, clothing, kitchen ware. It’s a smorgasbord pulsing with animation and the exotic. Tokyo teen boys took pictures of us. We took pictures of them. That night, I took pix of the Ginza, a shopping district crossing Times Square and Madison Avenue. Lotsa fun. More soon.

]]> 0
Random thoughts Sun, 07 Nov 2010 16:10:14 +0000 Musings of a peripatetic thinker. Ponderings without a point. Catching up. Intellectual laziness. Call it what you will, I figure I should capture some mind wanderings, given the week past, last night’s entertaining Cleveland Jazz Orchestra concert “The Cleveland Scene,” and upcoming travels. I’ve never been great at headlines.

I’m depressed about the elections, though oddly confident that Obama will now learn to lead the country, particularly since all the GOP seems wont to do is continue to say no to anything he tries. That’s not a program, and even when it’s hard to discern, Obama has one. So maybe there’s hope.

On the CJO: This was the first time I’d encountered several members of the board since I quit in August over its hiring of a communications person other than me. I don’t like some board members, so encounters were prickly. The show featured Cleveland stars Bob Fraser, guitar; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet; Ernie Krivda, tenor sax; the storied blind organist, Eddie Baccus Sr., rocking the Hammond; Ki Allen, vocals. It was a little lurchy and long, but basically nifty, even communal. Ki—my favorite Cleveland singer for sure—was terrific; Ernie was big-toned and expansive, particularly on “Laura”; the Frase made a lovely pass of intricately chorded variations on “Norwegian Wood”; and the restrained, suspensefully soulful Farinacci turned in a gorgeous “Manha de Carnaval,” from the film “Black Orpheus.” The show didn’t quite sell out, but it felt good. I’m still hostile toward the organization but miss the band.

Tomorrow I travel to Vancouver for a Best Western conference. I’m looking forward to a brief visit to a city that years ago was the stage for the wildest week I’ve ever spent. In 1975, I flew there on recommendation of a sometime girlfriend in Burlington who suggested I stop over there on my way to San Francisco and hook up with two of her friends, Jane and Carla. Did I ever: I spent a wild, stoned week there, enjoying myself immensely, profligately, bawdily. I leave the detail to your imagination.

And on Nov. 16, I’m flying to Tokyo for six days, courtesy of Hilton. I’ll stay at the Conrad at the Shiodome, tour the new Tokyo airport, and inhale as much as I can of a city I’ve always wanted to see. More soon.

]]> 0
The elections Sat, 23 Oct 2010 23:22:15 +0000 Nearly two years into the presidency of Barack Obama, the country seems ready to backpedal. It looks Dubya Lite John Kasich will be governor of Ohio despite decreasing unemployment and glimmers of creativity. Rand Paul might be governor of Kentucky, Sharron Angle the senator from Nevada. The mind reels.

The country—hell, the world—is rocky. England is shredding its overly expensive safety net, France is making people work harder, China continues to pollute and control and produce, India—wait a minute!—is booming, and Afghanistan remains medieval. What to do?

Not go backward. The U.S. should take a cue from Britain and France, which are meeting challenges head-on. Obama should learn from Britain’s David Cameron. Still, despite failures of nerve on the gender, finance, health care and employment front, Obama has moved the country forward. He’s been woefully deficient as inspiration, contrary to the promise of his masterful presidential campaign. But he and the key Democratic Party mechanics like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have effected change, incremental though it may be.

Most polls say the GOP is going to retake the House and maybe the Senate. It’s certainly going to nab some governorships. I expect our new Republican leaders will cut social and medical programs in the name of fiscal responsibility and do their utmost to repeal health care reform. I want to fight this. That’s why even though I’m not fired up—it’s hard to be these days—I’m going to make calls for incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland next Saturday. Who knows? He might squeak back in. It’s certainly worth a shot. Such volunteer work is the least I can do to stave off a return to the Dark Ages.

]]> 0
iPad lust explained Sun, 19 Sep 2010 15:03:51 +0000 I haven’t read every word in J.D. Biersdorfer’s “iPad: The Missing Manual,” but I’ve read enough to know that a) I want an iPad more than I did before dipping into this; b) I could get around an iPad; and c) I understand the usefulness of an iPad and how its utility differs from other Apple devices.

Biersdorfer, who writes a tech column for the New York Times, also has written books on the iPod and the iPod Shuffle. She knows her way around Apple and clearly likes its products. Her 300-page book is chockfull of tips on how to incorporate applications into the iPad, the joys of reading on the iPad (if you buy one now, you can enjoy various newspapers for free, newspapers that are likely to charge for their content very shortly).

I was particularly interested in the section on iBooks, Apple’s iPad-exclusive book downloading software. I’ve seen an iBook and, while I now own a first-generation Kindle, I suspect I’ll offload that in favor of an iPad soon; I just have to decide whether to buy a Wi-Fi iPad (a mere $499) or the 3G model, which requires a plan and costs $629 up front. While Biersdorfer rightfully celebrates the look of a book on an iPad, she wrongfully denigrates traditional books: “Of course, reading an iBook isn’t the same as cracking open the spine of a leather-bound volume and relaxing in an English club chair with a snifter of brandy by the fire,” she writes on page 130. “But really—who reads books that way anymore (except for the impossibly wealthy and characters on Masterpiece Mystery)? Aside from visiting a bookstore or library, reading books in the 21st century can involve anything from squinting through Boswell’s Life of Johnson on a mobile phone to gobbling down the latest Danielle Steel romantic epic on the oversized Kindle DX e-reader.”

Biersdorfer convinces us in her exhaustive guide to the iPad how cool it is, but she should have parked the snark in her driveway. Those of us who still read books one has to hold—those quaint, weighty, tactile print memorabilia—like them at least as much as the hottest new Apple product.

]]> 1
For the record Sun, 05 Sep 2010 14:50:26 +0000 I’m on my way to the Detroit Jazz Festival yesterday to cover it for Jazz Times and the tire pressure warning light on my Scion xB is on. Car’s riding OK, but still. I try to inflate the tires myself, but I’ve never been good at that (I’m even less mechanical than my father was). I’m worried. I don’t want to drive 180 miles in a dangerous condition. It could be electrical, but then again…

So I pull into a Lexus dealer who tells me to go across the street to Metro Toyota. I’m looking to pull in, get the problem solved, and be on my way. It’s a very cold call.

At Metro, I tell the service desk my problem, and this tall guy says no hassle, he’ll take care of it, he won’t even write it up, go into the waiting room and he’ll be back to me. Long story short, 20 minutes later, he tells me my car’s ready. The tires were woefully low on pressure, they need to be replaced by winter, two valve stems were missing (I’d forgotten to put them back on after my ill-fated inflation attempt), he’d had the car washed, no charge.

Unreal. I didn’t think service like this existed anymore. Maybe it’s because Toyota is trying to repair a public relations image its recalls have badly damaged. Maybe it’s because Toyota wants me to remain loyal. It didn’t feel calculated at all, however. It felt genuine. That’s why I want to go on record thanking Bruce Schad, the service manager at Metro Toyota, for what he did. Service like that should go on the record.

]]> 0
Transitions Sun, 29 Aug 2010 15:23:45 +0000 August has been an important month. The key events: I severed my ties with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra following a process that resulted in my feeling I no longer could contribute to the board, and we delivered Katy to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The CJO decision continues to weigh on me, and I’m not sure whether I’m going to reconsider it. It left me in a world of hurt, a place I don’t want to occupy and one I’m struggling to pry myself out of. Sorry for the grammar, sorry for the circumspection. It’s a matter of calibrating the proper balance between personal and professional.

As for Katy, it was difficult to leave her so far away in beautiful Colorado, but word is she’s adjusting, though not without challenges. Our trip there en famille was stressful, though Boulder’s very attractive.

Ties do bind. Sometimes they fray. Sometimes they break. The last is when repair becomes the operative word. September will be a month of repair.

]]> 0
Over too soon Sun, 01 Aug 2010 00:24:01 +0000 Haven’t written anything for my blog it seems like forever, and it’s the end of the month, a change. July was hot, indeed. It was also great: I can’t remember a nicer summer in Cleveland, which is indeed getting warmer. But this evening there’s a coolness, a dryness absent all July, suggesting fall is in the air. Fall is lovely here, but winter’s close on its heels.

Other random thoughts: I’m reviewing/working in/on jazz a lot, writing reviews and features for Jazz Times and doing some marketing work for the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. I’m also listening to rock again. I love the new Tom Jones CD “Praise and Blame” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Mojo” and am intrigued by The National, a New York group running Bowie circa “Low” through a fuzzadelic blender on “High Violet,” their dourly beautiful new album.

Also must direct you to the blog of my wife, Karen Sandstrom, who has crafted a portrait of me at my summeriest, wearing “jorts.” What a drag it will be to wear long pants again. It’s almost time.

]]> 0
Lylah goes worldwide Fri, 09 Jul 2010 16:55:42 +0000 My daughter, Lylah Rose Sandstrom Wolff, has her first global photo credit. It’s a picture of me that she took in New Orleans in January, in color. Slacker genius that she is, Lylah decolorized it, giving it a gritty, black-and-white treatment. It’s not permanent—I believe in updating, at least seasonally—but it’s cool. It’s on page 8 of the July/August issue of Jazz Times, a monthly magazine to which I contribute. It accompanies a brief bio I wrote for the issue, where I have the lead review, of a Chick Corea reissue of solo piano music that he recorded for ECM in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

What’s great about her first world credit as Lylah Rose Wolff is she hit it age 15. I didn’t go global until the ‘80s, when I was in my late 30s and writing for Goldmine, a record collectors’ magazine. My wife, the amazing multimedia artist Karen Sandstrom, hit the world in 1995 with a preview of the art that would go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. That ran in Art and Antiques.

Lylah’s way ahead of the curve. A whiz at Photoshop, she’s wired for contemporary media. She has a Nikon, she’s beginning to turn her bedroom into a studio, and she’s creative and ready to learn. All she has to do is keep on keeping on with her camera, get over any squeamishness that stands in the way of getting a powerful picture (much is distasteful to my very girly girl) and press her case. It’s a powerful one.

]]> 0
Cleveland rocks again! Fri, 11 Jun 2010 18:29:19 +0000 Yes, that’s a cliché, but Justin Carr has given it new life with a 17-minute DVD about Cleveland’s role in rock. In it, I talk about the city and its rock tradition, along with Rock Hall head Terry Stewart, legendary promoter Mike Belkin, and Billy Bass, a remarkable DJ known for his farsightedness at WMMS in the ‘70s.

Carr is an ambitious kid. He’s going into ninth grade at University School and spent nearly two years on the project. It’s a little crude, kind of like rock itself, and it’s the “official” Cleveland rock story in that it doesn’t mention anything underground or alternative.

But it has some cool footage, including some very raw AC/DC and a clip featuring Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen from an Agora concert. Check them out on YouTube:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

]]> 0
Putting the past in perspective Tue, 25 May 2010 21:18:31 +0000 The Orientalist

I miss my parents lately, particularly now that I’ve read The Orientalist, Tom Reiss’ biography of Lev Nussimbaum, a tortured intellectual and prolific writer who lived while the great empires—the Ottoman, the Hapsburg, the Russian—died and totalitarianism took over. Nussimbaum was also known as Essad Bey and Kurban Said; he was a Jewish Orientalist whose greatest talent was self-invention.

Nussimbaum was born five months after my mother, in Baku, Azerbaijan, a city where there were oil fires above ground when he was a child. Baku, in Reiss’ telling, sounds like it came from The Arabian Nights.

My mother, who was quite a party girl, might have known Lev in the ‘20s when both were living in Berlin, a city Reiss captures with extraordinary vividness. Berlin in the Weimar period must have been a delight. If time travel were possible, I’d be there.

Nussimbaum’s is a story of displacement and exile. The book unearths history I had never imagined and helps explain why my parents, like the fascism-prone, Bolshevik-hating Nussimbaum, fled Germany for Italy in the early ‘30s (Italy wasn’t officially anti-Semitic until 1938, the year of the Anschluss, when Germany annexed Austria and Hitler and Mussolini formalized their alliance).

One of the most original works of history I’ve ever read, Reiss’ book—which he developed because he’s the “child of German-speaking Jews trapped in Nazi Europe” (I’m the son of German Jews who got out just in time)—documents a fantastic man negotiating perilous, challenging times. We live in interesting times now, with the world collapsing economically, forcing political accommodations that will be strenuous indeed. But Nussimbaum’s short career—he died, gangrenous and in great pain, in 1942—celebrates a degree of ingenuity and inventiveness rarely called for these days.

It also makes me very happy my parents made it to America, where you can breathe relatively freely. I wish I’d recorded more of their stories.

Also, visit Tom Reiss’s website.

]]> 0
Europe Fri, 07 May 2010 20:02:39 +0000 I’m staying in the Dolce Sitges north of Barcelona and Barcelona just outscored Milan, Italy in soccer. I’m in a bar in a beautiful hotel in a sunny suburb of a gorgeous city that nevertheless just lost its grip on a contest that rivets this continent like football does in the United States. Good to be here even though I’m in a country with 20 percent unemployment that today, April 27, saw its credit rating reduced to junk.

Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is Catholicism on LSD.

I’m with friends on a hotel trip that’s deeply wearing but stimulating, on a continent that seems to be imploding but is still vital, authoritative and elegant. Here, trains are high-speed, cars are efficient, you can walk the cities, health care isn’t a fight. Shows you the U.S. has a long way to go.

A week later, however, Europe’s troubles are dragging down the world, stymieing what looks like an embryonic U.S. recovery. I don’t understand how a continent so apparently progressive can be in imminent danger of collapse. Too much community, it seems. It’s great to be all for one and one for all when the economy is on the way up, but one drags down all when it’s tanking.

But I ramble. The trip went from April 22 to May 1. We visited Belgium (Brussels was much more attractive than I expected), France (a day in Paris was expectedly delightful and Provence was ravishing), Spain, and Munich, Germany. I spent less than two hours at Dachau Concentration Camp, just long enough to chill at the recognition that it’s not just the evil the Nazis did, it’s how systematic and efficient that was.

Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp, a model for all the others.

I hope I go back. Each major city I visited—Brussels, Paris, Marseille, Barcelona and Munich—is a world of its own. I’m a Europhile.

]]> 1
Up in the air Thu, 22 Apr 2010 16:31:47 +0000 I’m off to Europe on a hotel trip today, back May 1. Didn’t think I’d go because of the Iceland volcano, but the Continent seems to have quieted down, and the trip is on.

I’ll be in Brussels, Barcelona, Toulon, Marseille, Chantilly and Munich. More train than plane is in the plans; it’ll be interesting to see how Europe handles its travel in the shadow of the volcano.

It’s been a while since I wrote. One of the highlights of the past few weeks was Karen and I going to dinner with Bob Hoover, books editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; his wife, Kathleen; our friends Ron Antonucci and Sarah Willis; and the star of the event, Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate of the United States.

Dinner with the Poet Laureate of the United States was something to chew on.

]]> 0
Stimulated Mon, 29 Mar 2010 17:31:48 +0000 I just started Week Two of mental stimulation marked by seeing six movies at the dazzling Cleveland International Film Festival, a great, too-short concert by John Zorn’s Masada Sextet (here’s my preview) and, this morning, reading “Atomic Age,” Martin Benjamin’s first, long-overdue book of photography.

Karen and I went to the film festival for the first time in it must be 10 years last week, and didn’t hit a clunker. Here’s what we saw: “The Ape” (Swedish); “House of Branching Love” (Finnish); “A Matter of Size” (Israeli); “Fire in the Heartland” (U.S.); “Desert of Forbidden Art” (U.S.); “Marwencol” (U.S.) Each time we went downtown was more fun. The festival was packed, the standby lines long. Here’s a brief rundown of the flicks:

“The Ape”: Intellectually fascinating study of paranoia and trauma that never resolved, remaining ambiguous and disturbing. The point of view was riveting.

“House”: Bawdy, funny sex comedy about tribulations and rewards of marriage. Entertaining as hell and ultimately uplifting. The actor who played Wolfi could be a major star.

“Fire”: About the May 4, 1970 National Guard shootings at Kent State. Well-documented and profoundly sad, it evoked the politics of the ‘60s with minimum preachiness and suggested there still are stories to uncover about that seminal incident.

“Matter”: Emotionally my favorite flick, it’s a comedy about four giant misfits in a small Israeli village who channel their creativity into becoming sumo wrestlers. It’s a whole new way of seeing fat, too. A blast.

“Desert”: A documentary about suppressed Soviet-era Modernist art in a museum in Uzbekistan. Great art, amazing story.

“Marwencol”: From rural, upstate New York comes this documentary about a guy beaten nearly senseless whose “recovery” consists of creating a World War II-inspired community in his backyard, populated by dolls. The most provocative movie I saw, it makes you rethink your notions of art and “wellness.”

Saturday night, I saw John Zorn’s Masada Sextet at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Saxophonist Zorn, who channels what he calls Radical Jewish Culture, and his five co-conspirators played only a little over an hour, but how and what they played! Great, often romantic music with a Sephardic, Spanish coloration; even one highly abstract piece was a kick, because Zorn and Co. so enjoy each other and their shared discipline.

The film festival and Zorn show were breaths of fresh air in a community that often feels ingrown. Seeing crowds downtown was invigorating. Hearing Zorn’s music was similarly mind-expanding. Cleveland felt like an open city this past week. Maybe it’s spring rearing its desired head.

Today I got Martin Benjamin’s “Atomic Age” in the mail. I worked with Marty in Albany in the ‘70s and ‘80s at rock and roll shows, and he’s the best photographer I’ve ever worked with (dig into his website and you’ll find a picture of me—with more hair and way bigger glasses). His book—infrared photos of his wife; shots from irradiated sites; glimpses of remote cultures; startling closeups of what look like perfect strangers—is an event. Like words, but in different ways, images can move and shape and change the world. Marty’s certainly do.

]]> 2
Rock lives Sun, 07 Mar 2010 18:00:36 +0000 In rock ‘n’ roll, comebacks are by no means a sure bet. Some bands never go away, even when they should, like the Stones and the Who. Some go acoustic and minimal, like Ray Davies of the Kinks. Others devolve into their leader, like Roky Erickson, whose 13th Floor Elevators yielded the barbed-wire breakup song, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” in 1966, a semimajor hit featuring Erickson’s barbaric yawp and a surging rhythm bed that presaged heavy metal in its power and punk in its simplicity.

I saw Erickson at the Beachland Ballroom last night, after catching him Nov. 14 at a Janis Joplin tribute in which he sang “You’re Gonna” and “Ooh! My Soul,” a Little Richard number perfectly suited to his primal scream. Could Erickson sustain a whole set? No problem. He was fabulous.

Not only did he end with “You’re Gonna” (no encore despite wild applause, whistles and the usual hoots), he stomped through a gang of other numbers from his work in Elevators and Roky Erickson and the Aliens, and he was fierce. This was hellfire rock ‘n’ roll snatched from the abyss and delivered by a master. In the beginning, the rock word was Sun Records. The second generation was the British Invasion and the American response spearheaded by the Beatles, the Byrds, Dylan—and misfits like Erickson, a leonine phoenix who works idiosyncratic hard rock as if he’d invented it. He’s on a brief tour with Okkervil River, a startlingly good young band from Austin, the liberal oasis in secessionist Texas, where Erickson made his first mark nearly 50 years ago. I can’t wait for “True Love Cast Out All Evil,” his first album of new material in more than 10 years. It’s due out April 20.

The show was cool for other reasons. Not only was it a highlight of the Beachland’s 10th anniversary, it also featured two talented Cleveland bands: Living Stereo, a sharp, new wave quartet with complex songs and stage presence to burn, and the Alarm Clocks, a Byrds- and Petty-influenced guitar band of chops, seasoning and occasionally interesting texture. Living Stereo was a hard act to follow (especially for an opener), the Clocks a nice bridge that got better as the mix settled in. Erickson, however, dominated as soon as he took the stage.

I wish I’d caught Pere Ubu the night before, when the storied and fractious underground Cleveland band recreated “The Modern Dance,” its 1978 breakthrough. Friends tell me the house was nearly full, the energy level high, Ubu mainman David Thomas in relatively high spirits. A frazzled-looking, withdrawn Thomas was at the Erickson show. He looked thin and weary, a shadow of his former self. I hope he enjoyed the Erickson revival as much as I did.

]]> 1
The right of spring Sat, 06 Mar 2010 22:42:46 +0000 The headline is a pun I use as an excuse to catch up with my blog, woefully unattended to for nearly a month. Seriously, it’s a pleasure to write this at my living room window as I watch snow mounds on the deck finally melt.

It’s still cold but it’s bright, the snow crunching less than it did even a week ago. It’s been a chilly winter, though the sun the past few days has been delightful if a bit illusory. Around this time of year in Cleveland, the mind turns to getting far, far away and warm, warm and sunny.

Karen and Katy are traveling to Colorado next week to look at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Lylah just turned 15 and got a Nikon for that milestone (you’ve seen some of her pix; you’ll see more). And I’ll be traveling to Europe in about six weeks on a hotel trip arranged by my good friend and highly prized professional colleague, Rich Roberts.

So the thaw seems real, there’s motion in the works, the freeze is breaking. Other signs: those wily socialist Democrats who want to plunder the country for their own takeover will pass health care reform, flawed though it may be; the economy is sputtering with a little promise; reason seems to be clawing its way back into public discourse.

Ask me for citations and I’d be hard-pressed, but that’s my feeling.

]]> 0
An apology to my website Wed, 10 Feb 2010 18:19:57 +0000 I’ve been neglectful of my website. It’s been nearly a month since I updated. I’ve been very busy, but it’s time to catch up.

In mid-December, my wife suggested I e-mail as many people as I could think of to tell them I wanted to engage more. Being semi-retired can be lonely, even when there’s work at home; I’ve been looking for part-time work outside home for a while, and haven’t gotten that. Part of that is the economy; a bigger part is that when you apply online—the only way to search for a job these days—you’re very likely to disappear into the digital void. It’s a buyer’s market, an impersonal one. Anyhow.

I e-mailed about 100 people in my various circles and got a gang of invitations to lunch and coffee, some virtual get well cards (“sorry about your situation; I’ll keep my ears open”) and some good work. The best was an assignment to write the history of rock and roll in Cleveland from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for its website. I’ve already turned in my intro; it should be online in about a month. I think this will become an ongoing relationship. I might also get some museum-related work in the future. My outreach e-mail was a winner.

Other catch-up: Lylah and I went to New Orleans in January, arriving the night the Saints beat the Cardinals. The city was cool; it’s great the Saints won the Super Bowl. Now the Cavs have to do something similar for Cleveland. Traveling with Lylah was fun; she had a blast photographing scenes from that very scenic place, one of the best in the country for architecture. It’s becoming one of my favorite cities; if you go, be sure to eat at Domenica, in the Roosevelt, and at Acme Oyster House, in the Quarter.

At the Cafe du Monde

A fellow New Orleans tourist snapped this for us

Pleasures of the season: the snow is beautiful but getting old, like the cold. Walking the dog is a pleasure; Pearl likes the snow, likes getting her coat frosted. In the next three weeks, Karen, Katy and Lylah all have their birthdays, so I’ve been busy assembling gifts and the money to pay for them.

Recommendations: Avatar in 3D; the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man (very Jewish, very weird, quite interesting); Crazy Heart (Jeff Bridges is better than the movie, which works despite itself); Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Tammy Wynette; The Nels Cline Singers’ Initiate, and Reclamation, by the Stephan Crump Rosetta Trio.

]]> 0
Getting out of a jam Thu, 21 Jan 2010 16:43:05 +0000 I went to traffic court today for a hearing about the $25 ticket I got Dec. 22, when I was accused of parking too far from the curb.

I parked in the Justice Center garage across the street from the plug-ugly Justice Center and got to the second floor in plenty of time for my 10:45 a.m. hearing. I put my name on the sign-in sheet and was eager to tell an officer why I thought the officer was out of line busting me, especially around Christmas.

Before my scheduled time, a woman handed me a sheet saying the charge had been dismissed. Maybe the cop never showed. Maybe just requesting the hearing did it. In any case, it was a worthwhile trip to downtown Cleveland, a place I’m leery of, a place so money-grubbing it’s the opposite of welcoming.

Then I paid $9 for my stay of maybe 38 minutes. The Justice Center garage charges $3 for every 15 minutes. That way they got you coming and going. Oh, well. One way to look at it is I saved $16.

]]> 0
My favorite books of 2009 Sun, 27 Dec 2009 20:07:24 +0000 These are my best 2009 reads. I reviewed all of them except Box 21. Maybe I included that one because I read it for fun.

T.J. Stiles, The First Tycoon (Knopf)
Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone (Melville House)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played With Fire (Knopf)
Peter Kuper, Diario de Oaxaca (PM Press)
David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp (Pantheon)
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, Box 21 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Ken Auletta, Googled (Penguin)
Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf)
Robert Goolrick, A Reliable Wife (Algonquin)
Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll (Oxford University Press)
Andre Agassi, Open (Knopf)
Steve Knopper, Appetite for Self-Destruction (Free Press)

]]> 0
Cleveland’s Christmas spirit Thu, 24 Dec 2009 13:06:40 +0000 I went downtown Dec. 22 to pick up new glasses at Jerold Optical on Huron Road. I parked at a meter with 25 minutes left. My daughter Lylah and I picked up the specs within 10 minutes and left Jerold, the only full-service optical emporium left downtown.

We saw a cop ticketing my car. I yelled there was time left. He said I’d parked more than two feet from the curb. “Downright Christmasy,” I told him. I also told him I couldn’t believe him and said he’d had a choice: to ticket me or leave it be.

What’s your name? I asked. It’s on the ticket, he said. My $25 ticket from The Parking Violations Bureau of the city of Cleveland identifies him as “Cintron.” I told him the city does anything for money. I was furious. I took out my bile on Lylah on our way back east. That was unfair.

She wondered whether he’d had a yardstick to measure that legal 24 inches. I wish I’d had one with me and had the presence of mind to measure the distance myself. Didn’t look like two feet to me, so it’ll be my word against Cintron’s when I go for my hearing. I don’t intend to pay this fine.

Wonder what else the uninviting city of Cleveland plans to do to me and others willing to brave it? Its officials wonder why people don’t want to go downtown. People like Cintron are one of the reasons. So is a law that’s more than open to interpretation—and that feels especially capricious in a city with no traffic to worry about because nobody wants to go there.

]]> 0
American twilight part II Thu, 17 Dec 2009 17:44:57 +0000 It’s almost Christmas, time for the spirit of giving, but our politicians seem to have lost sight of this. Three weeks ago, I ranted against the Republicans for saying no to health care reform. Now, I’m blasting spineless or mean-spirited Democrats, particularly Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a self-styled conservative determined to scuttle health care reform in the name of defying abortion.

When my wife gave birth to our daughter, I realized no man ever works as hard as a woman. When, nearly 40 years ago, my then-wife-to-be (she became my first) and I decided to have an abortion instead of a child we weren’t ready to parent, we had to go to New York, where abortions were legal. It was a painful and difficult and intensely personal decision. It always is.

I just e-mailed Nelson nailing him for his arrogance, his presumption that in the name of morality he has the right to control a woman’s body. I can’t settle differences people have on abortion, but it’s a private affair, a highly personal situation. Don’t have one if you’re against it. But don’t prevent those who want or need one. If you don’t like the show, change the channel. But don’t put a chastity belt on the TV.

I’ll let you know if Nelson responds. At least someone other than a Nebraskan can contact him; Bart Stupak, the Michigan Neanderthal Democrat in the House who shares Nelson’s primitive approach, doesn’t accept e-mail from outside his own state.

Don’t even get me started on Joe Lieberman, an opportunist who gives chameleons a bad name.

If health care reform survives, let alone passes, it will be a miracle. I used to think it should, because at least, despite lack of public option and Medicare buy-in, it would be a start. I’m not so sure anymore given the way Nelson, Lieberman, Stupak and the perpetually negative Republicans have used morality to bludgeon it into impotence.

]]> 0
American twilight Tue, 24 Nov 2009 23:25:23 +0000 Are Americans getting stupider? Or is it just Republicans? Seems like in the face of contrary evidence, Americans, according to a Washington Post poll, are beginning to think global warming doesn’t exist. The Christian Science Monitor, meanwhile, just published evidence to the contrary. Might global warming become an issue as divisive as abortion? God forbid.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have come up with a screed, 10 principles to live by. These are retro in the name of conservatism. The party says it won’t fund any candidate unless he or she swears by at least eight of these. What next? Loyalty oaths?

]]> 1
Leonard Cohen: in the zone Fri, 06 Nov 2009 17:52:17 +0000
The cover of Cohen's newest live disk.

The cover of Cohen's newest live disk.

Weird to think of “Leonard Cohen Live in London” alongside “Allman Brothers at Fillmore East,” but both are paradigms of the live album, capturing artists at the peak of their powers. Cohen’s was recorded in 2008 when he was 73, near the start of his nearly two-year-long tour; the American leg this fall was his first U.S. go-round in 15 years. Recorded with startling and warm fidelity, this set lasts more than three hours, covers the Canadian poet’s repertoire dating to the mid-‘60s, and finds the man in glorious instrumental company. Sharon Robinson, his long-time collaborator, shines on “Boogie Street” and Cohen turns “Democracy” and “First We Take Manhattan” into dark disco anthems, also investing such chestnuts as “So Long, Marianne” and the ravishing “Suzanne” with vigorous, autumnal color. Over the years, Cohen’s voice, which early in his singular career was so affectless he couldn’t convey the full import of his words, has become a deeply expressive baritone, and his lyrics, which dwell on sin and salvation, paradise and Armageddon, have become ever more meaningful. At 75, Cohen, that stylish mystic, is in the zone, the Clint Eastwood of rock ‘n’ roll.

For more Leonard Cohen music, click here.

Audio CD (March 31, 2009)
Original Release Date: March 31, 2009
Number of Discs: 2
Format: Live
Label: Sony

]]> 0
The torchy Sophie Milman Fri, 06 Nov 2009 16:35:27 +0000
Acclaim is building for Milman's third disk.

Acclaim is building for Milman's third disk.

Sophie Milman is a 26-year-old Toronto chanteuse who may be the hottest Canadian export since Diana Krall. Not only is Milman, a Russian native and a kind of wandering Jew, fluent in English, she sings jazz with an authority common to far more seasoned performers. Backed by Paul Shrofel on piano and Mark McLean on drums, her primary standbys, Milman purrs and powers her way through standards, pop from the ‘70s, even a samba, on “Take Love Easy,” her alluring third album. It’s a swinging affair showcasing Milman’s unusual alto, sparked by idiosyncratic phrasing that might derive from her linguistic suppleness (born in Russia, she grew up in Israel and moved to Toronto when she was 16). Live, Milman stresses her unusual blend of the airy and the husky, imbuing tunes such as “Love for Sale,” Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and the Ellington title track with sultry swing. For a strong example of her alchemy, check out her conversion of Joni Mitchell’s “Be Cool” into a feathery, persuasive come-on. Milman is a tiny blonde bombshell whose voice alludes to a fascinating past—and intimates a bright crossover future.

For more Milman music, click here.

Audio CD
Original Release Date: June 2, 2009
Number of Discs: 1
Label: Koch Records

]]> 1
Jewish music Sun, 01 Nov 2009 15:10:44 +0000 I keep running into other lucky ones who attended the Leonard Cohen concert at the Allen Theatre in Cleveland Oct. 25; we all stand in awe (here’s my preview). In more than three hours, Cohen and his amazing troupe of cosmic musicians rekindled my belief, that I’d thought retro, in pop as conveyor of truth. Not that Cohen was dour; far from it. He skipped, he bowed—often beginning his songs as a supplicant, he as frequently ended them a cocky commander—he clearly enjoyed himself. And the songs—“So Long, Marianne,” “Suzanne” (done sturdy and dark), “First We Take Manhattan” (this coulda been a disco hit), the stunning “Waiting for a Miracle”—are among the best.
Leonard Cohen: The mystic as fashion plate.

Leonard Cohen: The mystic as fashion plate.

Cohen’s was one of two concerts (here’s John Soeder’s spot-on review from the Plain Dealer) I saw in the last week by Jewish musicians. Cohen’s was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and that covers hundreds of shows.

The other was by Sophie Milman, a 26-year-old Russian Jew who grew up in Israel and now lives in Toronto. A tiny blonde bombshell whose contralto-alto embodies the airy and the husky, she’s a true torch singer. Milman fronts an excellent band (Diego Rivera stood out on sax), scats like Sarah, and takes over Joni Mitchell’s “Be Cool” for her own smoldering purposes. (Here’s my preview from Cleveland Jewish News). The hottest Canadian import since Diana Krall, Milman is set to explode. Some paintings fell off the wall of Nighttown during her first set; might that have been a sign?

This pictures Sophie's newest disk.

This pictures Sophie's newest disk.

]]> 0
The western trek Sun, 01 Nov 2009 13:46:56 +0000 Katy and I went to Arizona in the third week of October to look at Arizona State University in Phoenix and the University of Arizona in Tucson. Katy’s a senior at Beaumont School and is interested in psychology. She has a gift for it, working with kids with special disabilities the past two summers in downtown Cleveland. She loves that job.

Arizona State was gigantic—69,000 students at four separate Phoenix-area campuses—and the Tempe campus is very attractive. It’s the kind of place where you can create your own career, it seems. The facilities were excellent, the weather the week of Oct. 19 gorgeous. The Tucson campus was more logically laid out and more manageable; that city is probably a fifth the size of Phoenix, too, so the scale is easier to handle.

We must see whether Katy gets into either school or both; she has also applied to Ohio State University and Denison, a private school in southern Ohio. Our trip—our first together—was a lot of fun. We stayed in three different hotels—including two nights at a modern Best Western in Phoenix, where we wound up so I could cover a Best Western convention—and got along really well. My favorite memory is of stopping at the Tom Mix Memorial in Florence, where we met Jim and Mary, a motorcycle couple from Phoenix.

Katy and me

Jim and Mary

Never exchanged addresses but we did exchange kindly words. The encounter made the desert feels less deserted.

]]> 0
Fra Fra Sound channels Afrobeat Wed, 14 Oct 2009 16:14:55 +0000
The music on this CD is priceless.

The music on this CD is priceless.

Call Amsterdam-based group Fra Fra Sound’s CD “Dya So” world music, call it jazz, call it anything you want. Formed 25 years ago, the septet takes its name from the Surinamese “Fra Fra,” meaning “mysterious” or “hybrid.” “Dya So,” its latest CD, blends high-life, rai, island chickenscratch, funk, percussion virtuosity and an ever-shifting, ever-surprising front line.

Voices bring you into a sunny marketplace in “Along the Crossroad.” For a contemporary strutter’s ball, try the funky, splashy “Omolareso.” For a sexy cha-cha (Robin van Geerke’s piano rocks), try “Le Nouveau Mande.” And if you want to step inside the rhythm? “Bosumede” will guide you. While the core of Fra Fra Sound is Africa, its sound and approach are decidedly, exhilaratingly international. Founded by bassist Vincent Henar, Fra Fra Sound’s latest spotlights the tunes of saxophonist Efraim Trujillo, who sparkles on soprano on “Nahawi,” the sweetest track.

Audio CD (February 5, 2008)
Original Release Date: 2008
Number of Discs: 1
Format: Import
Label: Phantom Sound & Vision

For more on Fra Fra, click here.

]]> 1
The post-bop sax of Bobby Selvaggio Wed, 14 Oct 2009 15:53:26 +0000
This is the cover of Bobby Selvaggio's latest CD.

This is the cover of Bobby Selvaggio's latest CD.

Bobby Selvaggio is a post-bop saxophonist from Cleveland with robust tone, astonishing technique and a talent for composing tunes with complex, braided melody lines. On his fifth CD as a leader, Selvaggio unfurls spiky chamber music (“Whirlwind,” a fabulous exchange with pianist Kenny Werner), an exotic, Middle Eastern excursion (the wittily titled “Timbuktu Step”) and floating, dense forays into Wayne Shorter territory (the mesmerizing “Fastfood Wisdom”).

Selvaggio can get entangled in his own virtuosity, so there are times his brain outstrips his heart; having the more romantic Werner and the more brazen, charismatic trumpet player Sean Jones as foils helps. “Modern Times,” a very good, very rich CD, puns on rhythm and our turbulent times even as it signifies a step forward for serious, contemporary jazz saxophone.

Audio CD (May 26, 2009)
Original Release Date: 2009
Number of Discs: 1
Label: Arabesque Recordings

For more Bobby Selvaggio music, click here.

]]> 1
Willie Nile’s latest CD Wed, 14 Oct 2009 14:50:57 +0000
Willie Nile album art shows him in action.

Willie Nile album art shows him in action.

Willie Nile may be the most stirring hard rocker you’ve never heard, and his new album, “House of a Thousand Guitars,” ranks with his best—except for the title track, a musical roar that name-checks guitar heroes in an uncharacteristic, sadly retro burst of self-indulgence. Otherwise, “House” is wonderful, sparked by the infernally infectious hoedown of “Doomsday Dance,” the fabulous antiwar song “Now That the War Is Over” (a sequel to “Cellphones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead”) and “Magdalena,” a sensuous valentine to a streetwise belle.

Nile’s voice is as high and warm as ever, the guitars pop, and the rhythm section burns; Nile’s records never lacked for excitement. Touted as the next Dylan when he debuted in 1980, the Greenwich Village resident has turned into a master of the pop anthem. This is a great follow-up to his “Streets of New York” CD, affirming Nile’s command of territory grounded in those quaint qualities: heart and faith.

For more Willie Nile music, click here.

Audio CD (April 14, 2009)
Original Release Date: April 14, 2009
Number of Discs: 1
Label: R.E.D. Distribution

]]> 1
Willie ‘n’ me Sun, 11 Oct 2009 15:57:32 +0000 I reconnected with my past last night when I went to hear Willie Nile at Wilbert’s in downtown Cleveland. I hadn’t seen Willie since the early ‘80s when he was the next big thing, a bantam conflation of Dylan and Springsteen who made critics slaver. I was writing for the Schenectady Gazette in those years (Metroland, too) and praised Willie a lot for his shows at the long-lost, fabulous nightclub J.B. Scott’s.
Willie Nile

Willie is a great live performer, a true-blue New Yorker who celebrates the city, the young, the innocent, the dreamers. “Vagabond Moon” and the Stonesy “She’s So Cold” should have been hits when they popped out of his 1980 debut, but they weren’t. Later tunes like “Places I Have Never Been” (the title of his 1988 “comeback” album) and the soaring “Whole World With You” should have been, too. Willie spent most of the ‘80s in litigation with Arista, which released his first two albums. The limbo didn’t help. Neither did record-company disinterest.

Anyhow, Willie, who was once described as a “one-man Clash,” soldiers on, rocking hard and passionate as ever, and his writing has gotten even more rugged and true. Willie writes rock that deserves to be classic.

When Willie saw me backstage before his show, he didn’t miss a beat, called my name, we hugged, and it was as if no years had intervened. He’s still charmingly and rightfully convinced of his own talent, sure his writing is getting better. He gave me his latest CDs and a DVD and told me he’s doing really well in Europe, he just performed with Springsteen at Giants Stadium, and he’s about to drop a new CD even though “House of a Thousand Guitars” has been out for only half a year.

It’s a pleasure to hang out with Willie Nile. It’s a pleasure to catch his shows, too. He may be the best folk-rocker most people have never heard. Makes me wish newspapers still published reviews of club acts. They may not draw big crowds, but they can be mighty.
Willie and Nick Tremulis

]]> 0
Stuff I’ve been working on Tue, 29 Sep 2009 17:47:01 +0000 I’m writing about jazz again. Just cobbled together a feature about Cleveland-based jazz saxophonist Bobby Selvaggio, who’s working his new CD, Modern Times. Just wrote a short about Fra Fra Sound, an Amsterdam septet whose Dya So CD is cool world music. These are for Scene.

I’m also writing debut columns for a yet-to-be-announced, Cleveland-based news portal that will debut in November. My first two will be about the head of the Civic Innovation Lab and my friend Dave Pech, a photographer who happens to make Ping-Pong paddles.

I just returned from a trip to Phoenix for a lodging conference. I stayed at the Arizona Biltmore, one of the nicest hotels in the U.S. The conference was by no means upbeat—occupancy and rate are way down—but it was great to be warm for a few days after this chilly summer.

Oh, yes. Sunday night, Karen and I are going to be reading at Wise Up!, a benefit for the Cleveland Heights Public Library. I’m going to tell very short stories about jazz—fitting for Nighttown, where Wise Up! will be staged.

]]> 0
Will crying help? Thu, 17 Sep 2009 23:02:14 +0000 When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cried about the body politic today, it reminded me of the day in January 2008 when then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton grew misty during a New Hampshire campaign stop.

Clinton intimated tears when a woman asked her how she bore up under the campaign strain. Pelosi quivered when she compared today’s heated rhetoric over health care reform and other Obama moves to late November 1978 in San Francisco, when Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay executive, were assassinated.

Clinton and Pelosi have reputations for being hard and unemotional. Many credited Clinton’s unexpected vulnerability for her primary win against Barack Obama. I wonder whether Pelosi’s show of vulnerability over the meanness in today’s charged political atmosphere will pay a parallel dividend. What that might be is being played out daily.

]]> 3