OUTSIDE THE BOX 10/30/2020

The old joke asks, “What’s the difference between humans and animals?” The answer, “Our ability to accessorize!” 

But, really, what civilizes humanity, that raises us above the eternal cycle of man’s inhumanity to man that has plagued the race since Cain killed his brother Abel? The two civilizing forces of the arts and education. Immersing us in tradition, history, accomplishments, and teaching us the value of service to others and the values imbued in the eternal verities of truth, justice, beauty, compassion, mercy and love. 

Whether we like it or not, we are now a global community. We have passed the point of no return. All the reactionary pull toward the glories and nostalgia and illusions of the past are now operating through the fear of this enormous challenge and change that is facing the planet. Staring at the past, with the hope of relief and comfort from the present issues, will not solve them. That’s where the artists, scientists, poets, philosophers, educators, humanists, leaders in all fields of human endeavor need to look for new creative and “outside the box” solutions and dare to take the courageous steps towards those solutions. This is the time for intuition, instincts, dreams, visions, and brainstorming. It is not a time for the faint of heart. It is a time to welcome diversity. It is a time to mix the cultures and the races, where ideas can comingle, co-create, cooperate and perhaps generate and synthesize a new perspective, to bring into view a new avenue to travel, to create new connections resulting in unique and novel structures and designs for living that respect the sanctity of the planet and expand the good for the human race. 

What we are witnessing now is the old order breaking down as a result of the new order bubbling up and surfacing into the consciousness of the race. The seeming destruction is part of the creative process. It does not have to be as destructive, if the awareness of the process is more readily brought into the conversation and the apparent fears are allayed. This is where the arts and education come into play. The artists are natural leaders, and so are the true educators. 

The last thing I would like to say about all this fear of the “other” was best said by Oscar Hammerstein in a song he wrote the lyrics. That song in South Pacific is “You Have To Be Carefully Taught!”

BLOG 08.21.2020 

Why Harold Arlen? 

Harold Arlen was a man I would have loved to have met. I would have loved to have talked at length with him about his creative process as well as the people he had worked with and met during his lifetime. In reading his biography, I felt he was a man I would have liked immensely. He was compassionate, sophisticated, witty, gentle, and capable of deep feelings. 

He was admired by the great composers of his time, adored by the jazz musicians of our time, and worked with the crème de la crème of our lyrical writers-Johnny Mercer, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, even Peggy Lee. 

Alec Wilder thought he was a connecting link to Stephen Foster. Johnny Mercer thought his sense of jazz was visceral compared to the “mechanical” George Gershwin. Irving Berlin, who Jerome Kern said “..is American music”,  thought his writing was superior to his contemporaries, of which he was one. 

His father was a very famous upstate New York cantor. And Arlen readily credits his father as his biggest influence. His family also lived next door to an African American family in Buffalo. His early work was created for The Cotton Club, where he also played. These two strains, the Jewish and the African American were masterfully blended into his music. The joy and the melancholy that he was able to fuse in a great deal of his music came from these two deeply emotional traditions. It is interesting to note that the music scales of these two traditions (the Jewish use of the minor second and the African-American use of the flatted third) both help to create that dissonant "joyful" melancholy.

His brilliance was his ability to craft his music beyond the limited 32 bar form if that what was needed. His insistence to artistically marry the music with the lyrics was always the result of a labor of love. 

Finally, his music is a big part of our “lieder” or “chanson”, our “folk” music. Folk in the sense of people, like an Irish song, a German song, a Spanish song, or a French song. His is an American song. To me, his music isn’t just the urbane and witty songs of many contemporary composers but is more of the character of the American spirit. In this sense, he and Irving Berlin are those links to the American spirit of Stephen Foster. The two of them remained great friends until Arlen’s death in 1986.

The Good is the Enemy of the Great 



That’s one of those enigmatic sayings. But if one takes the time to understand it, one can see that settling for the good is really stopping the development of any idea or project at some artificial outside system of values. Whereas, if one continues to ignore the outer promptings and seeks to connect to the intuitive and instinctive interior channels to refine the original, raw idea(s), one can achieve that which is great. (I have since dropped the idea of the

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Henry Miller on Art in Life 


These were written in the 1940’s and 1950’s. What he has to say about life, and specifically about American life even then, is quite amazing and even truer today. Miller was a great writer, thinker, philosopher, humanist and astute observer of the human condition yet he had mystical sense, a cosmic vision rare among American writers and a wonderful sense of…

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Billy Strayhorn 

Billy Strayhorn (11/29/1915-05/31/1967)

2015 is a big centennial year for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Billy Strayhorn. But I feel that Billy Strayhorn’s celebration is overshadowed by the other two centenaries. Not to take away any due praise from the two vocalists, but I would love to see him get the attention and honor that he so truly deserves. This past May 31 marks 48 years since his untimely death at 52 years young. He is indelibly linked with Duke Ellington, another towering…

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“For they have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.” 

There is a beautiful image that captures the great chasm between a  peace of mind that most of us strive to attain and the quiet desperation that most people live and experience. That image is of a great river. For me, that river is the lordly Hudson. Its surface  can be as smooth as glass, tight as a drum skin, or whipped up into varying degrees of agitation, from rough to rippling. Yet underneath it all, invisible, inviolate, is the steady, powerful and constant current. Both the surface and current are…

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Irene Kral (January 18, 1932 – August 15, 1978) 

I recently came across a song, entitled “Forgetful”, by Jack Segal and George Handy, originally written for David Allyn. It was  recorded by Chet Baker on his 1959 Milano Sessions, with a string quartet.   The following link, on You Tube, is Irene Kral’s sensitive rendition:


All three singers are supremely gifted and musically intelligent; and, all three render a superbly understated reading of the lyrics.

If you have never heard of Irene Kral, you are in for a real…

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The first thing I do when I listen to an unfamiliar singer is determine whether or not the voice seduces me. This is exclusively subjective and truly does not reflect upon the talent itself. Some voices are acquired tastes and require an aesthetic maturation in order to grasp the scope of artistry.

I begin the probe by asking these questions: Is the voice warm? Is the intonation uniquely and interestingly beautiful? Is it elastic, relaxed and easy on the ear? Is there clarity of diction? Is the voice…

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