Opera about Holocaust in New York City


This video from the USA is called Houston Grand Opera’s “The Passenger“.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

25 July 2014

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1968 opera The Passenger recently had its New York premiere as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival. The performances showed that this challenging work, dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Weinberg, born in Warsaw in 1919, narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland, arriving in the Soviet Union before his 20th birthday. His parents and younger sister were sent to the Lodz Ghetto and later perished in a concentration camp. Weinberg, who lived the remaining 56 years of his life in the USSR, was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and film music. Among his film scores was that for the award-winning The Cranes Are Flying.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

(Interestingly, one of Weinberg’s cousins, following the Russian Revolution, was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed by counterrevolutionary forces in September 1918 along with the other 26 Baku commissars.)

In eight scenes over two acts, The Passenger tells the story of a prosperous German couple in the early 1960s, Liese and Walter, who have embarked on an ocean voyage to Brazil, where the husband, a West German diplomat, is to take up a new post.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

In the midst of what should be a time of satisfaction and happy anticipation, however, Liese observes a mysterious passenger onboard, and becomes convinced that this is in fact Marta, who as a young Polish woman was an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Liese was an Auschwitz guard, something she has tried to leave behind and suppress psychologically, and has never even spoken about to her husband.

The opera, with a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and music by Weinberg, then compellingly develops the theme of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The action takes place on two levels, both in its staging and in its time frame. The upper level is the ship itself, including Liese and Walter’s private cabin. Stairs lead to a lower level, the concentration camp barracks and the railroad tracks leading to the camp. The scenes alternate, forcefully depicting the memories that increasingly haunt Liese as the story progresses.

We are soon introduced to Marta as a young concentration camp inmate. Her fellow prisoners include Tadeusz, Marta’s beloved, whom she finds after a separation of two years. Liese is the only character that appears on both levels of the opera, with the events of nearly 20 years earlier clearly seared into her memory. In her role as a camp guard, she threatens and taunts the prisoners, and in particular tries to take advantage of Marta and Tadeusz’s relationship for her own purposes.

The work explores the issue of the aftermath of the Holocaust, for both victims and perpetrators. The Passenger is set in the early 1960s, in the midst of the postwar economic boom in Germany, and also in the shadow of the Eichmann trial in Israel, which brought the issue of the Holocaust and its architects before a new generation of Germans as well as to a global audience. A generation of young people in Germany, as elsewhere, were radicalized by the war in Vietnam in particular as the 1960s unfolded and attempted to come to terms as well with their own traumatic national history. This was the period that saw the publication of some of the best-known novels of German writers such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the first films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and others.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

The historical issues are deliberately not spelled out in The Passenger. The story is presented without even settling the issue of whether the mysterious woman is in fact Marta, or perhaps only the vivid reflection of Liese’s guilty conscience.

The opera also does not portray Liese as a kind of stand-in for Germany as a whole, a symbol of collective guilt. It does, however, show the impossibility of ignoring the past. It raises the inevitable issues of the causes of the descent into barbarism. The portrayal of both the younger and middle-aged Liese suggests the self-satisfied layer of the middle class that finds itself, under definite social and political conditions, capable of the most monstrous crimes.

The opera is based on a novel by a Polish concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. Posmysz, alive and well at the age of 90, has been involved in the belated production of the opera, and appeared at the New York premiere.

Arrested as a young girl because of an association with an anti-Nazi group, Posmysz spent three years as a prisoner. Some years later, as a journalist on assignment in Paris, she thought she saw someone who had been a guard at Auschwitz. This episode led first to a radio play, which was later turned into a novel, in which the relationship is reversed, with a conscience-stricken former guard believing she has glimpsed a former inmate.

The novel became enormously popular in Poland. This was a time of political ferment following the working class protests in Poznan in 1956. The book was turned into a film— Passenger (1963)—by the talented young Polish director Andrzej Munk (Man on the Tracks, 1956), completed by colleagues after Munk’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1961. Somewhat later, Weinberg’s close friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich urged him to consider a project based on the novel.

Weinberg’s music is impressive, as we have had occasion to note in the past. It reflects his lifelong association with Shostakovich, whom he first met in 1943, when he was only 23 years old and Shostakovich himself was 13 years older. Highly dissonant at times, the score remains tonal and emotionally involving. The composer is especially effective in combining and alternating several styles while still adhering to a distinctive musical language.

The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but the music is not derivative. Weinberg depicts the growing apprehension and panic of Liese, the concern of her husband for his career prospects, and above all the suffering and heroism of the prisoners. The music is at times anguished, jazz-influenced in its depiction of some of the shipboard activities, and briefly but strongly lyrical in the reunion of Marta and Tadeusz.

If there is one major weakness, it is in the vocal writing itself. In an opera, this is of course an issue that can’t be overlooked. There were times, especially in the opera’s first act, when an emphasis on orchestral writing, and an imbalance between the orchestra and performers, tended to detract from the dramatic action. The second act was more affecting, especially the exchanges between Marta, Tadeusz and Liese.

Both Marta and Tadeusz resist Liese’s attempts to enlist their cooperation, even though it will mean their deaths. A high point of this act, and the climax of the entire opera, comes when Tadeusz, a violinist, is commanded to play the camp commandant’s favorite waltz, and instead defiantly performs the famous Bach Chaconne from the Second Partita for Violin, before being led off to his death.

Weinberg’s orchestration is masterful. Strings and winds are joined by powerful writing for the brass section, and above all, a percussion section that includes almost every imaginable instrument, including timpani, triangle, tambourine, whip, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, bells and glockenspiel.

The Houston Grand Opera production was also striking. Director David Pountney was responsible for the English translation of the libretto. The opera, originally presented in Austria in 2010, was staged in Houston last winter, and it is the Houston production, including the orchestra under Patrick Summers, that was brought to New York for three performances. The opera was first presented in Moscow in concert version in 2006, nearly 40 years after it was written.

The New York performances took place in the historic Park Avenue Armory, in a building dating to 1880 and for decades the headquarters of the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which had fought in the Civil War. The huge vaulted space of the Drill Hall, at the center of this building, is a music venue unlike any other in New York. The size of the space made some amplification of the voices necessary, a rare occurrence in the opera world. In this case it was carried off in so understated and effective a fashion that some listeners would not even have been aware of it. Although the opera was sung in English, the use of supertitles was also effective, as was the unusual placement of the orchestra, to the side of the two-tiered set.

The singers were uniformly excellent, particularly soprano Melody Moore as Marta. Tadeusz was sung by Morgan Smith, Katya by Kelly Kaduce, Liese by mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt and Walter by tenor Joseph Kaiser.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is one of the “lost composers” of the twentieth century. Strictly speaking, he is not of the generation that came of age musically between the imperialist world wars, or whose career was interrupted by the rise of fascism during those decades, including some promising composers who perished in the Holocaust. Although Weinberg was younger and had a full musical career, the environment in which he worked was shaped by the tragedies of this era.

In connection with the belated appearance of The Passenger, little has been said about why it languished in obscurity for decades. Shostakovich was enormously taken by the work, but for reasons that were not spelled out, it was not staged, although many other works of Weinberg were regularly performed in the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist regime, which still used a heavy hand in cultural matters in this period, may have decided that an opera that focused on concentration camps and dealt with Polish victims did not mesh with its own continuous efforts to build up nationalist feelings. The authorities decreed that emphasis had always to be placed on the Russian and Soviet toll in the war, which of course was massive, to the exclusion of others. It was for this reason that Shostakovich encountered such official opposition to his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar,” dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi extermination at this site in Kiev.

Weinberg’s life was shaped in no small part by horrific Nazi barbarism on the one hand, and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution on the other. While he and many others found refuge in the Soviet Union, they also confronted the regime of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which used anti-Semitism for its own purposes.

United States cubist painter Max Weber exhibition


This video from London, England is called Private View – Max Weber: An American Cubist in Paris and London 1905-1915.

By Michal Boncza in London, England:

The wonders of Weber

Saturday 12th July 2014

MICHAL BONCZA welcomes an exhibition of works by an influential cubist painter

Max Weber: An American Cubist In Paris And New York 1905-1915

Ben Uri Gallery, London NW8

5/5

ART, identity and migration inform the Ben Uri gallery’s exhibition choices and this Max Weber show fits the bill to perfection. The fact that Weber’s work has not been exhibited in Britain since 1913 only heightens the interest.

Born in 1881 to a Jewish family in Bialystok — present-day north-east Poland but at the time part of the Russian empire — his peregrinations began at 10, when his family emigrated to New York.

It was there in 1898 that he began to study art but by 1905 Weber was in Paris, attracted by and absorbing the intellectual and artistic ferment of those heady days.

For a time he received tutoring, alongside many young artists, at the non-commercial Academie Henri Matisse from the master himself. But money ran out and after a relatively short three years Weber was back in New York.

His affectionate graphite sketch of his former tutor Matisse, perhaps completed before his return from Paris, is a delight — its minimalist strokes and likeness would certainly have pleased the master.

The experiences garnered in Paris allowed Weber to innovate and experiment in a varied palette of styles resulting in a sometimes disconcerting eclecticism.

Four dissimilar still natures on show, painted between 1910-12, reveal his dramatic progression from expressionism to cubism.

The principles of the latter are employed impressively when, “perched high above New York,” he renders the cityscape with subliminal feelings for its rich textures and crowded cement panorama.

Yet in The Dancers he retains elements of cubism but abandons fragmentation as a purely formal device to instead use it to organise the spirited movement and energy in simultaneous, separate perspectives reminiscent of reflections in a shattered mirror.

His contemporary — and fellow east European Jewish emigre — Marc Chagall’s expressionism comes to mind as the carnal sensuality feels as tangible as the bebop is audible.

Today Weber is considered to have been a major influence in the developing of modernism in the US. His work stemmed from many disparate influences, including Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau and African art, resulting in what’s been defined as “synthetic cubism with futurist devices.”

Once, while talking about his painting Chinese Restaurant (1915), Weber described the process thus: “light seemed to split into fragments in the interior… to express this, kaleidoscopic means had to be chosen.”

This video from London is called Cubist Max Weber’s ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ at Ben Uri Exhibition.

The iconic structure of his neighbourhood, the Brooklyn Bridge, is “hurled together in mighty mass against rolling clouds … this noise and dynamic force create in me a peace the opposite of itself.”

Weber’s words are as evocative as the brush strokes used to record that vision — it’s certainly the most vibrant image on display and possibly one of the best images of the bridge ever conceived.

Runs until October 5. Free. Opening times: (020) 7604-3991.

Italian futurism, exhibition in New York City


This video from New York City is called Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim: Exhibition Overview.

By Clare Hurley in the USA:

“Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York

25 June 2014

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, February 21-September 1, 2014

The exhibition of Italian Futurism now on view in the main rotunda at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City deals with the 20th century art movement whose ultimate fate was bound up with the betrayals of the working class and the rise of fascism in Italy after the First World War.

Some commentators have suggested that hesitation on the part of museums and curators to mount a comprehensive overview of Italian Futurism in the US prior to the current show has been due to a certain squeamishness about the movement’s association with fascism after Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. If that were ever a consideration, it no longer seems one today. The exhibition, including 360 pieces by 80 artists, has been organized by Guggenheim senior curator Vivien Greene. It has been hailed as a tour de force, and called “epic” by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith.

This current enthusiasm, however, is largely unwarranted. As an artistic movement, Futurism was not much more than an Italian variant of other European modernist trends, sharing and openly adopting many of the formal concerns and strategies of Cubism, Dadaism and Divisionism. At best the result is interesting, at worst derivative.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

The movement coalesced around the poet-editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), and its subsequent development was more or less synonymous with his name. Marinetti’s long life and leadership role was key in aligning what had begun as a politically heterogeneous artistic circle with Mussolini’s fascism. Marinetti’s outlook was summed up as early as 1909 in his “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” which announced from the front page of the French newspaper, Le Figaro: “We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.”

Umberto Boccioni, self portrait

The degree to which other Italian futurist artists shared Marinetti’s enthusiasm for militarism no doubt varied, but their petty bourgeois class position left them incapable of playing any independent role in the emergent class struggles in Italy in the second and third decades of the 20th century. Most were sympathetic to the outlook of the “irredentists,” who wanted Italy to enter World War I to reclaim its northern territory. In the aftermath of the war, their political confusion was effectively channeled into support for the nationalist chauvinism advanced by Mussolini, to destroy the political independence of the working class and subordinate it to the needs of the Italian bourgeoisie.

The Futurists’ rightward political trajectory was mirrored in the artwork in the Italian Futurism exhibit. Its subordination to fascism ensured that whatever originality and spontaneity it once possessed was extinguished. Paradoxically, the art goes progressively “downhill” in quality after the sculptures by Umberto Boccioni in the first gallery, despite the uphill climb of the Guggenheim’s spiral layout.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio)

Like most of Boccioni’s artwork in his short life—he was killed in action in 1916—his bronze Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio, 1913) evokes velocity through the fragmented human form in a way that is visually striking, if not ground-breaking.

Giacomo Balla, Abstract speed + sound

Boccioni’s paintings, such as The City Rises (La città che sale), 1910-11, as well as Giacomo Balla’s Abstract Speed + Sound, (Velocità astratta + rumore), 1913-14, and Gino Severini’s Blue Dancer, 1911, are similarly familiar in their use of brightly colored, arching, frenetically multiplied forms to suggest the speed and tumult of modern urban life. Carlo Carra’s Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (Funerali dell’anarchico Galli), 1910-11, is one of the more compelling of these paintings, at least by virtue of its subject.

The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli

In addition to copies of Marinetti’s many manifestos, the exhibition includes other examples of “words in freedom” poetry, often with experimental typography used to convey its freedom of—or perhaps from—ideas. These bear a superficial similarity to the “nonsense” poems and performances of the Dada movement, which likewise were a gesture of disgust and rebellion by a section of bohemian artists. However, the Dadaists, active first in Zurich, Switzerland and then in Germany, put these aesthetic techniques to different purposes and pursued a generally left-wing orientation, implicit when not explicit.

Antonio Sant'Elia

One also can see similarities between the unrealized architectural renderings of architect Antonio Sant’Elia and the design principles developed at the Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919. Both groups looked to modern industry and technology to meet the needs of mass society for functional yet aesthetic architecture and furniture design. Again, however, the generally left-wing outlook associated with the Bauhaus meant that it was shut down and its buildings destroyed when the Nazis came to power under Hitler in 1933.

The exhibition’s survey of Italian Futurism covers the period up to Marinetti’s death in 1944. The final section is comprised of paintings from the World War II period—grim, unmoving images of serried ranks of faceless soldiers, tanks and gun barrels. The most interesting of these were views from airplanes (aeropittura) like Tullio Crali’s Before the Parachute Opens (Prima che si apra il paracadute), 1939.

The show culminates with the much-hailed mural paintings created for the Palazzo delle Poste (Post Office) in Palermo, Sicily, by the only woman in the group, Marinetti’s wife, Benedetta Cappa. Despite the Futurists’ willingness to lend their art to the Fascist cause, Syntheses of Communications (1933–34) was the only public commission of Futurist art under Mussolini. Benedetta’s mural series is meant to be the apotheosis of the movement’s concerns with modern means of mass communication. With pastel colors and a rather bland decorative design, however, it ends the exhibit not with a burst of energy, but a sense of depletion—or perhaps relief.

In Literature and Revolution (1924), Trotsky identified the international Futurist trend with the tensions and contradictions of the pre-World War I period. The “armed peace” and routinism and banality of bourgeois political life, he observed, “weighed heavily on poetry at a time when the air, charged with accumulated electricity, gave signs of impending social explosions.” Trotsky added, “Futurism was the ‘foreboding’ of all this in art.”

He was singularly unimpressed by Futurism’s fierce “oppositional character,” noting that “violent protests against bourgeois life and art” had a long tradition in French Romanticism and other trends. Moreover, he pointed out, it was naïve to contrast the dynamics of Italian Futurism and its verbal sympathy for “revolution” with the supposedly worn-out bourgeoisie. The latter, Trotsky noted, was “bold, flexible and has claws,” and was entirely capable of making use of radical feelings and moods, “destined by their nature to feed rebellion,” for its own ends. He explained that Italian fascism, in fact, had come to power “by ‘revolutionary’ methods, by bringing into action the masses, the mobs and the millions, and by tempering and arming them.”

Thus, he concluded, “It is not an accident, it is not a misunderstanding, that Italian Futurism has merged into the torrent of Fascism; it is entirely in accord with the law of cause and effect.”

The Guggenheim exhibit does not show any interest in this history. Far from understanding the dynamic that led the Russian avant-garde to support the Revolution while the Italians made common cause with Mussolini’s fascists, the Guggenheim exhibit settles for a superficial look that seems a kind of “rehabilitation” of Italian Futurism. Underpinning this approach is the old canard that equates “left” and “right” extremism.

Asked whether she thought, in reference to Futurism, “it was about freeing themselves in order to better the future? Or was it more political?,” curator Vivien Greene replied, “[the Italian Futurists] start off as a left-wing revolutionary movement and then—how it often happens when you’re at one extreme of something totalitarian—you shift to the other and end up being on the right.” (Interview with Karen Day in Culture, February 18, 2014. Emphasis added)

The argument that “fascism and communism are twins” sounds like a warning to sections of artists who are today impelled to examine political questions in an atmosphere of unprecedented inequality and the growing danger of world war that recalls the period of the rise of Futurism about a century ago.

There have been a few signs of radicalization among artists. Among them are the weekly “art occupations” that have been staged at the Guggenheim exhibit to the protest the superexploitation of workers engaged in the construction of the new Guggenheim branch in Abu Dhabi.

… This is a positive development, but the trajectory of these circles will, as in the past, depend on developments outside the art arena. In examining and learning from the Futurists of the 20th century, the most serious among these artists will turn to the international working class and the struggle for socialism.

Greek Golden Dawn nazis news update


This video from New York City in the USA says about itself:

Golden Dawn, NYC (short documentary dir. Richard Ledes) 2014

10 June 2014

NYC Greeks vs. Nazi Greeks!

A short documentary film about the neo-Nazi party in Greece known as Golden Dawn and how the New York City Greek Community is confronting it.

Filmmaker Richard Ledes decided to find out what the Greeks of New York City thought about the extraordinary rise of the party. Placing Golden Dawn in the context of the price America has paid previously for complacency in the face of the rise of Nazism in Europe, Ledes starts by conducting interviews at the Greek Independence Day Parade on Fifth Avenue. The film combines man-on-the-street interviews at the parade with conversations with religious leaders, activists, heads of national organizations, the judiciary, intellectuals and members of the media.

Join us for further discussion on the official Facebook page.

Golden Dawn is threatening academics, activists and other Greek Americans in New York: here.

Book on Golden Dawn translated into French: here.

Golden Dawn wants ‘one-party state’: here.

Frida Kahlo and flowers, exhibition in New York City


This video is called FRIDA KAHLO (1907~1954): Biography – a Woman in Rebellion (DOCUMENTARY).

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

UNITED STATES: The New York Botanical Garden announced today that it is planning a major exhibition on Frida Kahlo next year that will examine how nature influenced her artwork.

It will also reimagine Kahlo’s garden and studio outside Mexico City, known as Casa Azul.

“Frida Kahlo’s Garden” will be on view from May 16 2015.

A group of rare paintings and works on paper highlighting Kahlo’s use of botanical imagery will also be on display.

This video is called Treasures of New York: The New York Botanical Garden.

Louis Armstrong in jazz history


This music video says about itself:

Louis Armstrong – Black And Blue. Live in Berlin 1965.

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

Satchmo at the Waldorf in New York: The life and times of jazz great Louis Armstrong

12 June 2014

The one-man show currently playing at the Westside Theatre in New York City, Satchmo at the Waldorf, makes effective use of hundreds of audio recordings by jazz great Louis Armstrong, one of the iconic figures in American musical history, to reveal something of the man behind the myth.

The audio tapes are now stored at an archive in Queens College, not far from Armstrong’s modest former home, which was opened about a decade ago as the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Playwright Terry Teachout—the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal and the author of a biography of Armstrong published five years ago—has used the tapes to fashion a lively and moving memoir of the great jazz genius, largely in his own words.

Using a simple but effective set, the play places Armstrong (played by John Douglas Thompson) in a dressing room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York a few months before his death in July 1971, about a month short of his 70th birthday. This was to be the last public performance for the man known universally as Satchmo, a shortened version of “satchelmouth,” a nickname referring to his large mouth.

As Armstrong reminisces, the main biographical details emerge: his birth in the notorious Storyville section of New Orleans—the “red-light” district, his mother 15 years old; his father’s abandonment of his family; Armstrong’s early years of abject poverty; and his arrival at the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys before he reached the age of 12.

Alongside the deprivation and degrading conditions faced by Armstrong, there were also some brighter moments and opportunities. At the age of seven he did odd jobs for an immigrant Jewish family, the Karnofskys, who owned a small junk-hauling business. They would welcome the fatherless boy into their home and offer him meals with the family as well as encouragement, later lending him the money that enabled him to buy his first cornet. Afterward, in the unlikely circumstances of the Waifs’ Home, Armstrong received formal musical instruction and soon became the leader of the Home’s band.

All this and much more is covered in the 90-minute show, with Thompson in an excellent performance, which for the most part does not attempt to impersonate Armstrong so much as bring out the essence of his life, his emotions and his experiences.

Necessary drama and contrast are added with the introduction of two other characters, each also portrayed by Thompson. This theatrical technique, by no means unique in recent years, is extremely effective here, as swift lighting changes mesh with Thompson’s rapid shifts in style and delivery to depict the relationship between Armstrong and his long-time manager, Joe Glaser.

Making a briefer but still important appearance is Miles Davis (1926-1991), the trumpeter and musical genius a generation younger than Armstrong. Davis, one of the pioneers of bebop and later developments in jazz, also became known for his bitter denunciations of Armstrong as an Uncle Tom, “jumping around and grinning for the white man.”

The playwright allows these three main characters to speak for themselves. His enormous respect for Armstrong is unmistakable and understandable, but the man is also portrayed honestly, as he presented himself in his candid and at times angry and bitter reminiscences. The play begins with rueful comments such as “How’d I get so old?” Of course there is plenty of profanity from Armstrong, directed at himself as well as others.

Glaser, the tough-talking Jewish manager from Chicago (and one-time associate of gangster Al Capone) who guided Armstrong’s career for 40 years and died about 18 months before Armstrong, emerges as a ruthless businessman who nevertheless understood and respected Armstrong’s genius.

The New Orleans-born musician had found wide recognition for his work with King Oliver’s band in the early 1920s, and a few years later through the superlative recordings of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five or Hot Seven on Okeh Records. During the 1920s he worked with Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, among other extraordinary talents. It was Glaser who helped make Armstrong a wealthy man, however, after the musician turned in some desperation to him for help when Armstrong was threatened by Chicago gangsters.

Glaser is portrayed as savvy but cynical. He declares with some astonishment that Armstrong does not care about money, and “gives away $1,000 a week.” According to the manager, it is Armstrong’s renowned gravelly voice that made him famous, not the horn. “You’re like Jolson, or Sophie Tucker,” he says, and that is where the big money is.

Armstrong makes no apologies for showcasing his vocal abilities. Speaking of his much later rendition of “Hello Dolly,” he confides to his tape recorder, “Dolly ain’t much of a song, but I made it what it became. Dolly knocked the Beatles off the charts”—an event whose 50th anniversary was marked a month ago, on May 9.

Armstrong “replies,” however, as the lighting changes to shift the scene from Glaser to him, rejecting the idea that his horn was less important. His relationship with his horn has shaped his entire life, he declares. They are one and the same. “The horn done save me.”

Glaser, himself answerable to the mob and threatened by them with the exposure of a 1928 statutory rape charge that involved a 14-year-old girl, signed over 50 percent of the business to mob lawyer Sidney Korshak and left nothing to Armstrong. One of the strongest moments in the show comes when Armstrong, who left all the business dealings to Glaser and trusted him his whole life, bitterly notes that “I was the business, but he left nothing for me. I felt like he used me up and threw me out.”

Nor was Glaser free of racist prejudices, as evidenced in the play’s portrayal. Armstrong points out that in all their decades of the closest possible professional collaboration, he was never invited to Glaser’s home.

Another theme emerges in Armstrong’s resentment over the clashes between the rival generations of jazz musicians. “That Dizzy Gillespie, he didn’t treat me right,” he angrily declares. When Time magazine put Armstrong on its cover and Gillespie was asked for his reaction, he said, “us cats, we study,” and disparaged Armstrong for supposedly possessing only “soul.”

Armstrong, reminiscing, brags of his musical credentials and experience. He read music and his playing reflected real training. “I played country music with Johnny Cash,” he declares. “And the St. Louis Blues with Bernstein….I played classical too. Like Caruso. Caruso or the blues–soul is soul. I love that grand opera–love that Pagliaccio.”

There were undoubted tensions between the early jazz pioneers and big bands of the 1930s, on the one hand, and the young generation of musical innovators that introduced bebop. As Armstrong claims, “You want to please the people. You can’t get too far out in front like the goddamn beboppers did.”

As time passed, however, passions cooled and collaborations took place between Gillespie and Armstrong, although that is not referenced in the play.

Miles Davis introduces another controversial subject: the relationship between jazz musicians and the bitter struggle for racial equality that gathered steam in the post-World War II period.

Satchmo at the Waldorf gives Davis some eloquent words, while also highlighting Armstrong’s self-defense. Armstrong complains bitterly over being called an Uncle Tom, and is resentful over the fact that he lost much of his African-American audience in the last years of his career.

“I told off President Eisenhower over Little Rock,” says Armstrong. “I said Eisenhower ain’t got no guts. And that John Foster Dulles, he’s another mother–….I played down South with a mixed band. I said if you can’t stay [at a hotel] you don’t play.”

While Armstrong’s comments are heartfelt, he was also a man of his time, born barely 35 years after the end of the Civil War, and the product of a period when open resistance to Jim Crow segregation and the brutalization of African-Americans, particularly in the South, was rare.

A younger generation, influenced by wartime experiences and also decisively by the mass movement of industrial workers that built the CIO, was far more militant and inevitably criticized many of its elders. …

These issues cannot be looked at in isolation from their whole social and political context in the postwar period. This was a period of rising militancy among black workers and youth, and of combativity and confidence among trade unionists as a whole, then at the peak of their numbers as a percentage of the labor force. It was also the period, however, of the Cold War, the grip of the reactionary union bureaucracy and the witch-hunt against those who sought to fight Jim Crow on the basis of a class struggle socialist program. These conditions created circumstances in which nationalistic views at times were looked on as the alternative to “accomodationism.”

A significant feature of Satchmo at the Waldorf, and no doubt a conscious one, is the almost complete absence of Armstrong’s music. There is a solo from the classic “West End Blues” and a few other snippets, but nothing more substantial. Undoubtedly, the playwright felt anything more would detract from the story told by the tapes.

This may well be true, but this play is nevertheless a wonderful introduction to the life and times of Louis Armstrong, and those who want to experience the music of this genius do not have very far to look.

The author also recommends:

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (Gennett, April 5-6, 1923 Session)

West End Blues – Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, 1928

Bessie Smith – St. Louis Blues, 1925

Louis Armstrong, His Hot Five – Muskrat ramble

New York City red-tailed hawk news


This video from the USA about New York City red-tailed hawks says about itself:

Egg in the nest? Rosie and Bobby switching nest duty – March 15th, 2014

15 mrt. 2014

It appears that there is now, at the very least, one egg in the Washington Square Park Hawk nest.

Bobby and Rosie are now regularly taking turns sitting in their nest. A fellow Hawk-watcher informed me that she saw the nest-switching behavior quite clearly yesterday after I had already left the park for the day.

I took this footage of Bobby and Rosie switching nest duty this morning. Also included in the video is footage of Rosie eating and perching in various spots.

You can hear Rosie calling out starting at the 34 second mark.

I cut the audio in a couple of the clips in order to not distract the viewer from having to hear park noise that was occurring during the action.

From Roger_Paw blog in the USA, about nesting red-tailed hawks in Washington Square Park, New York City:

At least one of Bobby and Rosie’s eggs have hatched – April 18th, 2014

The first hatching was reported by NYU to have happened yesterday morning (April 17th). The egg hatched three days after it was ‘expected’ to which is so in keeping with Rosie and Bobby’s broods.

Their eggs typically hatch two to three days later than the 28-35 days ornithologists have said Red-tailed Hawks eggs usually do. There are many conditions that affect when the eggs hatch (latitude, for example).

Fledging is said to usually occur 42 – 46 days after hatching but interestingly, all of Rosie and Bobby’s offspring in the past fledged at least two days later than ‘expected’.

If all goes well, this first 2014 hatchling should fledge between May 29th – June 2nd.

Enhanced by Zemanta

New York City rare birds


This video from the USA is called Birds of New York, Central Park.

From the New York City Rare Bird Alert in the USA:

Greetings. This is the New York Rare Bird Alert for Friday, March 7th 2014 at 7pm. The highlights of today’s tape are PINK-FOOTED GOOSE, ROSS’S GOOSE, BARNACLE GOOSE, GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, CACKLING GOOSE, TUNDRA SWAN, BARROW’S GOLDENEYE, Eurasian form of GREEN-WINGED TEAL, THICK-BILLED MURRE, NORTHERN SHRIKE and more plus a petition needing your signature.

A nice collection of geese on eastern Long Island last weekend included two PINK-FOOTEDS seen together in a large Canada flock spread over fields east of Roanoke Avenue and north of Reeves Avenue near the Buffalo Farm north of Riverhead. The presence of two PINK-FOOTEDS had been suspected earlier but was confirmed on Saturday and those gathering at these fields were also treated to single ROSS’S and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE as well as a couple of CACKLING GEESE.

As more and more fields opened up during the week in that area the goose flocks became more spread out and the PINK-FOOTEDS and ROSS’S both eluded searchers from Monday on. One of the PINK-FOOTEDS though was again on Merritt’s Pond in Riverhead today. Also on Saturday a BARNACLE GOOSE was found in fields off Daniel’s Lane in Sagaponack where it was joined by two GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE these were not reported after Saturday. Continuing with the waterfowl, HARLEQUIN DUCKS were around the Jones Beach West End jetty today, a female KING EIDER was in Fire Island inlet Wednesday across from Robert Moses State Park field 2, the drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE was still present Thursday morning at the south end of Lake Montauk spotted in the southwest corner of the lake best viewed from South Lake Drive and two TUNDRA SWANS continue on Hook Pond in East Hampton. A drake COMMON TEAL, the Eurasian sub-species of GREEN-WINGED TEAL (at least considered so in our country), was uncovered among American GREEN-WINGEDS Saturday at Brookville Park in Queens this north of 147th Avenue and west of Brookville Boulevard. The EURASIAN WIGEON was still around Coney Island Creek last weekend.

A THICK-BILLED MURRE found on a boat and released in New York Bay on Wednesday was presumably the one noted from Veteran’s Memorial Pier in Bay Ridge Brooklyn that afternoon.

The NORTHERN SHRIKE at Jones Beach West End was still present this week seen west of the swale off the West End 2 parking lot.

SNOWY OWLS also continue at selected locations with 5 noted at Jones Beach West End on Wednesday.

A good number of RED-NECKED GREBES remain in the area with 9 counted in Brooklyn Wednesday and 4 in Hempstead Harbor off Port Washington last Sunday these among 8 noted in that area.

Single SHORT-EARED OWLS were at [Staley] Beach in Bayville last Sunday and Floyd Bennett Field on Saturday.

RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS continue at Green-wood Cemetery and Dyker Beach Park in Brooklyn and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx where 3 were noted last Sunday.

In Central Park the 2 BALTIMORE ORIOLES and a PINE WARBLER remain in the Ramble near the feeders and other park visitors have included WOOD DUCK, AMERICAN WOODCOCK and RUSTY BLACKBIRD.

If you have not yet signed a petition on the Internet to restore the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to its pre Sandy condition please do so. This will help. A link to the petition is as follows. We do appreciate your involvement.

To phone in reports on Long Island, call Tony Lauro at (631) 734-4126, but during the day except Sunday call Tom Burke at (212) 372-1483.

This service is sponsored by the Linnaean Society of New York and the National Audubon Society. Thank you for calling.

Enhanced by Zemanta