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Friday, July 19, 2013

RIP Laurie Frink, Awesome Trumpeter and Teacher

Laurie Frink died last Saturday.  I saw her obit in the New York Times yesterday.    I had heard about Laurie through a couple brass players in New York that I used to know, but I never had the honor of meeting her. Ms. Frink was an amazing woman and a real guru for jazz trumpet players.  As an old trombonist, I understand the special bond that can happen between a brass teacher and his/her students.  The great brass teacher takes the student on a journey of joy, pain, discipline and contemplation.

Laurie Frink played in some of the hottest large jazz ensembles in the world - the Maria Schneider Orchestra, The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble and Ryan Truesdell's Gill Evans project.  She also played in the Mel Lewis Orchestra and  Benny Goodman's big band.

Laurie came to New York from a tiny town in Nebraska - she is one of those classic stories of a small town artist coming to the Big Apple and making a mark.  She died young - only 61.  Cancer took her.

I will break out my bass trombone tonight and play some long tones in honor of Laurie Frink.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Criminal Justice System

Several years ago, I was called for jury duty.  I was hoping to weasel out of it -  not get called to be interviewed, and if interviewed, rejected as inappropriate for jury service.  Civic duty disrupts daily routines at times, and jury duty is an extreme example of that disruption.  I was even more selfish back then than I am today; I didn't want to be bothered with civic duty.

As luck would have it, I got picked to serve on a jury.   I was selected to hear the case of a guy who allegedly committed criminal sexual assault and rape.  I was selected as an alternate juror - the "13th juror" who stands by, hears the evidence and joins deliberations if one of the original 12 folks fall ill or can't continue for some reason.  If no one falls out of the 12 serving jurors, the alternatives are released when the jury goes to the jury room to deliberate.

I heard the evidence, saw the pictures and formed an opinion.  The defendant seemed guilty to me; his defense was that the sex was consensual but he did not seem to be someone that would generally be popular with women. He also admitted that he was in a possession of a semiautomatic pistol at the time of the alleged assault, which he claimed that he set down on the bed and did not use in a threatening manner. The victim seemed very credible and real to me - she appeared to be struggling with her emotions, and I thought it took a significant amount of courage to confront her alleged assailant in open court..  This was a crime that occurred in one of the toughest, poorest neighborhoods of Chicago.  Both the plaintiff and the defendant were African Americans.  The jury was  diverse - black, white, female , male, Hispanic, Asian.  After listening to hours of testimony, some of it quite graphic and dramatic, the case went to the jury.  I was not needed and they sent me on my merry way.  The bailiff said "Call this number tomorrow after noon if you want to learn the verdict."

Before I left, I heard the judge's instructions to the jury.  He said many things that I don't recall, but one theme stuck in my mind.  He reminded the jury, in very firm fashion, that in order to convict, they must conclude that the defendant's guilt has been proven.

When I called in the next day, the verdict was "not guilty."  I was amazed!!! The defendant seemed way, way guilty to me.  I complained about the outcome to a lawyer friend of mine - he said something that is true, but we often forget.  In our criminal justice system, "Not Guilty" really means "Guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."  I was pretty sure that the defendant was guilty, but "pretty sure" is not supposed to be the standard applied by juries during deliberations.

This system is supposed to protect those accused of a crime from being wrongly convicted.  Of course, it doesn't work all the time.  I think the system often lets guilty people off the hook, and it sometimes convicts wrongly despite the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.

So here are a few questions:

Why do black folks and white folks accused of the same crimes under similar circumstances end up getting vastly different outcomes from the criminal justice system?

Why did a cop in lily-white Wilmette IL pull me over when I was driving home (legally and carefully) after a gig a few years ago?  Why did he shine his hellaciously bright flashlight into the car to illuminate my passenger - the guitar player in my band, who is African American?  Why did he give me a long look and say, "Oh, uh well we had a report of a crime and uh you matched the description  but uh never mind good night."?  My guitar player laughed at my outrage afterward and said "Welcome to my world. I'm glad you were driving."

Why does anyone suggest that "racism is not a problem anymore?"  I haven't heard any black people say that, ever.

The scientist Rita Levi Montalcini allegedly said, "There is only one race: the human race."  I believe that this obvious truth will be eventually embraced by almost every person on Earth, but the acceptance process is slow, painful and frustrating.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Replacing the Stolen Cannondale H400

About a year ago, someone got into my garage and took my awesome Cannondale H400.  I whined about it in my blog.  Shortly after I lost my Cannondale, I bought a cheap mongrel bike -  used single-speed bicycle assembled from various parts (Trek frame from the 1980's, custom "bull horn" handlebars, etc.).  If I were so inclined, I could flip the back wheel and convert it into a fixie, but I am old and like to free wheel on occasion.   This is the bike I have been riding for the past year; it is an odd "hipster bike," and I am most definitely not a hipster. The single speed is a harsh mistress - stiff, tough on hills, a one-trick pony for sure. But it is simple and does provide a good workout.  When the going gets tough, one must push harder because there is no way to shift to an easy gear.

I was getting sick of the single speed but didn't want to spend a ton of money on a new bike.  I resigned myself to huffing and puffing on the old mongrel bike when my neighbor had a garage sale.  In the garage was an old Trek hybrid like the one pictured above.  The asking price - $25!!!!  I grabbed it - the front tire alone was worth more than $25.  After tuning it and tweaking it, I now have a decent "older person" bike.  It is easy to ride and feels very comfortable.  I feel lucky to have arrived at the garage sale early and scored this great old hybrid.

And when I ride it, I miss my single speed.  What the heck?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Just a stroll through the neighborhood after Independence Day

My brother once told me that a dog transforms a creepy stalker into a kindly, harmless pet owner.  This is true.  If you are walking your dog, you can dawdle and observe details, including the actions of your neighbors, and everyone smiles and waves.  If you don't have a dog as cover, someone might call 911.

I like to walk my dog around the 'hood and we often end up at Washington School - that is where we headed this morning, the day after Independence Day.   Washington  is housed in a stately building; the school was established 111 years ago.  All four of my children attended this school, so I have many memories of the place. 

This morning, I went past the school and had a look at Mendoza's Garden.  Mr. Mendoza is the head custodian of the school and has a gigantic green thumb.  He led the kids in establishing an outstanding native plants garden, plus a vegetable patch.  School is out, but Mr. Mendoza and his supporters must be on the job because the garden looks fabulous.  The head custodian is often the student's favorite adult in the school; I think Mr. Mendoza deserves all that affection.

Just past Washington School is the Robert Crown Center - a large recreational facility with an in-door ice rink, several softball/baseball diamonds and a  soccer pitch.  I watched some summer camp counselors leading some smallish children through a series of calisthenics - watching first and second graders exercise is a hoot.  The jumping jacks were especially creative.  There were also two middle aged guys doggedly jogging back and forth across the fields.  One was a very white person with no shirt, the other was a well-upholstered Hispanic man.  I admired their determination, and was glad that they were running, and I was not.

I also noticed that a great-great-grandfather of an elm tree had recently been marked with the Green Dot of Death.  In Evanston, we have a problem with Dutch Elm Disease - it has taken down some of our largest and oldest elm trees. When a diseased tree is identified, the city forestry folks dab it with a two inch circle of green paint. At a later date, the Tree Killers arrive and eliminate the quarantined individual.  This particular elm is massive; it stands between the Washington School playground and the Crown Center fields.  This old elm has cast its shade on dozens of generations of schoolchildren..  Whenever I see the Green Dot of Death, I feel pretty bad.

I hit a side street and saw this little guy:


This is the black-capped chickadee, a bright and cheerful bird.  He has that terrific song - two notes, descending in a whole step (A natural to G natural, I think).  This bird is more often heard than seen.

As I approached my house, I saw a fellow dog walker.  I know the dogs because I often walk by their house and they make a hellacious racket if they happen to be in the yard.  One dog is massive - a Newfoundland, a shaggy black bear of a canine with a gentle soul.  The second dog is a yappy little poodle/spaniel mix.  The dog walker was a wickedly fit young man in shorts - no shoes, no shirt.  He had some serious tattoos; didn't get a good look, but I thought I saw a large dragon-type image on his back.

There is an epidemic of rabbits in our area this year.  My small one-eyed dog wanted to go all coyote on their fuzzy little asses, but I wouldn't let him.  I dragged Tai away from the bunnies and went home.

So I really didn't see anything special during my stroll today, but it felt quietly special in spite of that.