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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fidelity and Decency

Maybe it is just me, but it seems that the erosion of fidelity and decency in human relationships is accelerating. Hypocrisy is part of the human condition, of course, and every person generates some amount of hurt and disappointment for their loved ones, but recent events have been pretty startling. I have been shaking my head over the shenanigans of IMF chiefs and former California governors.

Fidelity, faithfulness, loyalty, decency - these are the keys in all important human relationships, but especially in marital relationships. When you deeply trust another human and believe that they will keep their promises, it is easier to get through any challenges that you face in your life. Fidelity is a gift, but it is also self-serving. Keeping promises is a form of self-care, a path to gaining confidence in one's own character. Committing an act of betrayal leads to self-loathing and shame.

I have always felt that all good things start with promise-keeping. A person of character stands up and commits, and declares "I can and will do this." A person of character is easily-understood, and harbors no subterfuge or dark secrets. Individuals that fail to keep their promises eventually suffer losses. They might lose their relationships or their jobs; those bad events are preceeded by the loss of trustworthiness. To be betrayed by a deeply trusted person creates a wound that might never heal. An individual who has been betrayed finds it hard to trust anyone - the fear of more pain leads creates an unwillingness to take the risk and the heart can harden.

My mom used to say, "Behave like a gentleman." Gentlemen do not cheat on their wives or force themselves upon women. Gentlemen do not refuse to face their own misdeeds. Gentlemen consider the people involved, and act in their best interests. Gentlemen know that the "high road" is the easiest path, in the long run.

There are few gentlemen in politics and government these days.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Musicians I Love - Howard Johnson

I got to hang out and listen to the mellow tones of Will Baker, bass trombonist extraordinaire, on Sunday afternoon. He is a wickedly talented low brass youngblood; energy and technique to burn. Listening to him is very exciting for a retired bass bone man like me. After his recital, I asked him if he had ever heard of Howard Johnson; he had not. I understand; Howard is almost 70 years old and Will is under 25. But anyone who digs the low-register wind instruments should check out HoJo.

Mr. Johnson started playing the baritone saxophone at the age of 13; he added the tuba when he was 14. He decided to focus on jazz, but not the traditional New Orleans trad jazz tuba stuff (not that there is anything wrong with that). HoJo wanted to front the band and play bebop on the big horn. He made the trek to New York when he was 22 years of age and was embraced by the late, great Charles Mingus. Howard soon became the go-to tubist/bari saxophonist in the Apple, playing with Hank Crawford, Archie Shepp and a host of others. Word began to leak out about his prowess; he was pulled to the west coast and played in more mainstream groups like the Buddy Rich Big Band. He also worked with Oliver Nelson, Carla Bley, Pharoah Sanders and a host of other modern jazz greats.

Howard also thought that the world needed a tuba ensemble, so he formed one, called Substructure, in 1968. This was the group that hooked up with the great bluesman, Taj Mahal, in the early 1970's. Taj toured nationally with the tuba choir as part of his back-up band (check out Taj Mahal's live album, "The Real Thing," recorded at Filmore West in San Francisco in 1971 - whoooeee! It still kills me). HoJo was a boundary-busting guy - jazz, R&B,, rock, blues, orchestral music all interested him. He even served as the leader of the Saturday Night Live band in the late 1970's.

Howard has kept the tuba ensemble concept alive. His current group is called "Gravity," and it is touring internationally. Gravity has released a couple of albums, and they are must-have records for low brass players.

So Will - I love the Lebedev Concerto for bass trombone, but check out Howard Johnson and Gravity playing "Big Alice." Whooooeeee!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cornell Dupree - RIP

Just heard that Cornell Dupree passed a couple of days ago. This man was one of my earliest guitar heroes. That lick he lays down in King Curtis' Memphis Soul Stew is a classic funky, soulful statement - I listened to that tune over and over, just to hear that Cornell Dupree guitar break. "Four level tablespoons of boilin' Memphis guitar" is how King Curtis introduces Cornell's contribution to the tune. Wonderful.

Cornell played with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Paul Simon. His work was on over 2,500 tunes. He was a formidable guitar monster, but humble. He didn't over-play or grandstand. He was the ultimate session guitarist. Some of his licks are deeply imprinted in the national musical consciousness, but most folks never heard his name. Listen to his work on "Rainy Night in Georgia." Fantastic stuff.

Cornell was totally cool but not flashy. He was deeply talented and tasteful, but he was a committed sideman. His mission was to make the best music possible and he didn't care if he got little credit. He was in the public ear, but not the public eye.

Gonna miss that guy. Here is a MP3 of Memphis Soul Stew from YouTube. This is from the King Curtis "Live from Fillmore West" that I wore out when I was in high school. Enjoy it, and reflect on guitar greatness and the importance of sidemen.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Eva Elizabeth Bloom Gillock - March 15, 1921 - July 24, 1993

It is Mother's Day. I am fortunate - I get to spend time with my wife and partner, Connie, who is one of the most dedicated mothers on the planet. I also get to see my daughter, who is in her third year of motherhood and has become a paragon of maternal virtue. But I wanted to write about my own mother today.

I scanned this old photograph of Eva Bloom Gillock I keep on the desk in my home office. She must be in her 20's in this shot, and she looks gorgeous. My mom died in 1993 (before the advent of digital photography) and I don't have that many pictures of her - she was a bit camera-shy, especially in her later years. She also missed email, the Internet, YouTube, Facebook. blogging and Twitter. I can imagine her being delighted with instant communications and revolted by the loss of privacy caused by the 'net.

On the day my mother was born, a loaf of bread cost 10 cents. "Ain't We Got Fun" was one of the more popular songs of the year. Charlie Chaplain's "The Kid" was one of the top movies. The first live radio broadcast of a baseball game occurred in 1921 (the Pittsburgh Corsairs, aka Pirates, vs. the Philadelphia Phillies). Her childhood was so radically different from the experience of today's children - it is mindboggling, really.

My mom was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania called Curwensville, the third of four children and the only daughter in the brood. Her parents, Claude and Christine Bloom, had deep roots in the little town. Her family patriarch, William Bloom. was one of the first settlers around 1800 - before Curwensville was established. At least seven of my mother's ancestors fought on the Union side during the Civil War. Claude Bloom was a pillar of the community; he ran the general store during the Great Depression and allowed hard-pressed neighbors to buy food on credit, often followed by debt forgiveness. He later served as Justice of the Peace.

Eva Bloom Gillock was feisty. As a teenager, she hung out with the "rough crowd" and started smoking cigarettes at the age of 14. She went to college in the late 1930's/early 1940's - Grove City College, a small Christian school not far from Curwensville. Not many young women went to college at that time. She moved to Cleveland and worked as a foreman in a factory, filling in for the men that went off to fight in World War II. She told her father that she wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army. He laughed and told her that she was crazy. So, of course, she enlisted, serving in the Women's Army Corps in New Guinea and the Phillippines during the war. She met my father, Albert Gillock, at a USO dance. She was an active member of the Greatest Generation.

There are lots of other interesting details to her path through life, but I don't want to blather on too much. I need to say this - she was a tower of strength. My father, may he rest in peace, was not a tremendous financial success. Once I was born, the money became quite tight, so my mom went to work in one of the few professions that welcomed women in the early 1960's - teaching. Her paycheck allowed our family to live a modest and comfortable middle-class life in a working-class Northern California suburb. She had a significant impact on the lives of quite a few Baby Boomers who passed through her classroom at Garfield School in San Leandro.

Here are some "Eva-isms:" "If you can look me in the eye and tell me you did your very best, I will be happy with you." "There is no sense in crying about it - do something!" "Nobody likes a smart-aleck." "I quit smoking because I got sick of all the nagging." "We all have to die sometime."

Eva Bloom Gillock was faithful; she took her promises seriously. "In sickness and in health" was one promise she fulfilled. As my father's health faded, my mother became his caretaker. She ignored her own needs during that time - deferred her own medical care to attend to her husband. After he passed, she went to the doctor with some complaints. She had cancer, probably brought on by her decades of cigarette smoking. The cancer took her - a damned shame, because her cardio-vascular system was in great shape and her energy level was high. She would have celebrated her 90th birthday last March. If not for the cancer, I suspect that she would have made it.

If I have any good qualities, my mother put them there. If I have any steel in my backbone, she forged it. She gave me lots of love, but she also gave me the gift of high expectations. My biggest fear was ending up a disappointment to Eva Bloom Gillock.

As I think about my own career as a parent, my successes and challenges, I measure myself against her. I lack her consistency and firmness. I let things slide a lot. Fortunately, my kids have dealt with my sloppy parenting with grace and I am very proud of all four of them. I can see some of those feisty Eva Bloom Gillock qualities in each one of them. They are lucky to have that legacy, and so am I.

Happy Mother's Day. If your mom is alive, kiss her. If your mom is gone, reflect upon her life.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

L.V. Banks, Bluesman - Rest in Peace

I heard that L.V. Banks passed away over the weekend. Tom Holland, one of the young guitarists L.V. nurtured, shared the sad news. I knew Mr. Banks and sat in with him a few times - he was very open to harmonica players, unlike many blues guitarists. L.V. was an old-school bluesman, and he almost made it to 80 years of age (a very long run for a blues dude). He came up with the "second generation" of Chicago blues artists - Buddy Guy, Eddie Clearwater, et al are part of L.V.'s generation. He had an eye for young talent - in addition to Tom Holland, L.V. brought Marty Sammon, Buddy Guy's keyboardist, into his circle. He also advised and guided Toronzo Cannon, a terrific "next generation" blues guitarist. L.V. never got rich and famous, but he laid down the straight-up blues for many decades. He was the real deal.

I wrote about L.V. Banks back in December 2008. Here is a link to that entry.

I have some L.V. Banks tracks buried on my iPod somewhere. I will listen to them tonight, and drink a toast to one to the great, underappreciated South Side Chicago blues guitar slingers, Mr. L.V. Banks.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Momentous Day, But I Want to Think About Music - Gary Valente, God's Trombonist

I listened to President Obama announce the killing of Osama Bin Laden last night. This is momentous and it was a necessary and just act of violence. I can't dance in the street over this, however. It seems like a time for reflection. Human history seems to be a cycle of the strong groups controlling weaker groups, then the weak figuring out how to strike back with brutality, and the strong reacting to that attack and so on and so on and so on. Will killing Bin Laden break the cycle or strenghthen it? I have a hard time thinking about this, to tell the truth.

So I will think about music instead. Guess I am a coward.

When I am feeling troubled and I need to sooth my soul, I turn to Gary Valente, one of the world's greatest trombonists. He is passionate. He is skillful. And he is LOUD. Gary started playing with Carla Bley in the early 1980's and was featured on Carla's "Live!" album in 1982. His work on "The Lord is Listenin' to Ya. Hallelujah!" is stunning; I think of Gary as God's trombonist. This is the song I tee up when I feel the need for solace. Here is a link to a YouTube video of Gary's performance.

Gary is about 57 years old now. He is a big name in the NYC Latin jazz world. He still plays with Carla, I think. His trombone work grabs my heart. He helps me to remember that humans have outstanding qualities. We kill each other, and we create beautiful music for each other. I am trying to believe that the part of our souls that creates the music will eventually overcome the part of our souls that wants to kill.