Random thoughts

Posted By on November 7, 2010

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.

The elections

Posted By on October 23, 2010

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.

iPad lust explained

Posted By on September 19, 2010

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.

For the record

Posted By on September 5, 2010

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.


Posted By on August 29, 2010

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.

Over too soon

Posted By on July 31, 2010

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.

Lylah goes worldwide

Posted By on July 9, 2010

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.

Cleveland rocks again!

Posted By on June 11, 2010

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:

YouTube Preview Image
YouTube Preview Image

Putting the past in perspective

Posted By on May 25, 2010

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.


Posted By on May 7, 2010

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.

About the author

I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CarloWolff