Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My good friend JK called me from the San Francisco airport. Too bad you didn't embark on a East Coast trip, otherwise it would've been a trip! We were talking about how HS classmates rarely reunite anymore. Shame, shame, shame! Need a big reunion soon.

It's nice to have unexpected calls from people who you haven't heard from in a long time. I make a lot of those calls, because I just do it when I think of it. I don't care if they find it abrupt because I may not see or hear from them again.

Just saw this documentary on Enron and I'm petrified to learn that some people can actually do terrible things simply to satisfy their greed and false ambition. What started out as a company that had the potential to change the world ended up in a scandalous bankruptcy.

This week's been good so far.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Celebrating the life of Connie Simmons

There once was a time when I was a nightowl in DC and would peruse all the jazz and blues clubs in town, sometimes 2 or 3 in one night. Thanks to Chris Grasso's revitalization of the Henley Park Hotel jazz program (which was discontinued a few months ago), I had the pleasure to hear such greats as Dick Smith, Sam Smith, Sharon Clark, and many others. And through that, I discovered one of DC's best kept jazz secrets, Connie Simmons.

Connie would often come and sit obediently in the audience when Dick Smith was the featured singer. She would tap her feet to the swinging beat and swing her body back and forth to embrace the lovely music. And then during the second set, Dick Smith would hand his microphone to her and she would start belting out "All of Me" and the whole place would go crazy! I mean, she would light the place up with sparks and fire. And in just one song, she had the ability to move everybody in the joint.

Dick Smith was always generous in introducing her as a "legendary jazz diva who sang with Art Tatum." And she was, indeed!

Connie passed away last month, and it is my regret I never heard her sing one last time (due to the closing of the Blue Bar). I heard Connie 3 or 4 times and each time I had a smile on my face. While you couldn't expect an 89-year-old lady to be consistently on key or on beat, Connie carried something special in her singing, that is, the nostalgic feeling I discussed in my previous blog entry. Vince Evans says, "regardless of range, technique and all that, when I heard her sing 'All of Me,' there was a swing that was so deep -- it was like Redd Foxx, Scatman Crothers, Dexter Gordon, that old phrasing, from the gut."

Yeah, that old phrasing....

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post was kind enough to dedicate a fine written piece to Connie, celebrating a life full of hope and dreams and music. Let us not forget people like Connie who has brought so much joy and energy to our lives. Let's go out living out lives to the fullest, and swing hard!

At 89, Connie Simmons could swing. Can you?


Justifying an old soul

Back in August, I went back to Hong Kong briefly because my family was moving. My Mom told me to go over my drawers to see if there was anything I wanted to get rid of. In the process, I came across some elementary school test papers and a few memorabilia items such as a test I took in Sunday Bible School in 1986, and a screenplay from the days of my unsuccessful boy scout career in 6th grade. I thought about tossing them, but then I thought to myself, these are things that defined my entire shortlived childhood existence. These things remind me that I had a happy childhood. So I decided to keep them, along with the test papers on which I aced.

There's another school (which I respect) who believes that "as someone who has lost all of his archived data from 8 or so years...it isn't all that bad of a thing. really knocks some mental cobwebs out. makes you realize that you're not attached to the past." I don't belong to that school. On the contrary, I belong to the nostalgia school. I collect momentous things from my childhood, e.g. He-Man, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters action figures, DVD's, sticker albums, toothpaste, candies, comic books, stuffed dolls, etc. I listen to music like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Lloyd Price, Gene Chandler, etc. Someone told me, "You have an old soul."

I do. And you can't take that away from me.

Ostensibly, this nostalgic outlook differentiates me from the general teeny bopper population who can't wait to watch an Amanda Brynes movie or those twentysomething office yuppies who think that Maroon 5 or Linkin' Park is the shit and when asked if they have heard of Hank Mobley or Lee Morgan they shake their head becuase they do not have a doggone clue.

However, this old soul will ultimately save me from being conventional and put me on the "timeless" category. Because 50, 60 years from now, people are still going to listen to Nat Cole and Sinatra and Elvis, but Maroon 5 will be long gone without trail.

George Clooney shares this old soul with me in "Good Night, and Good Luck." For someone to make a movie like that and to cast Dianne Reeves and a swinging band to provide the fantastic sounds to capture the era, he must at least have taste.

"Taste" is what defines the unique from the conventional, the fresh from the rotten, the critical acclaimed from the mere popular. Good taste is an irreplaceable virtue.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Some funny new photos (with captions)

Dave took this picture without aiming, but miracles do happen. Turned out to be a good picture. Delbert was as warm and playful as a superstar can get. We looked cool!

DC Blues All Stars. Check out Joe Stanley's lack of emotion, Bill Heid's making funny faces, and Steve and Big Joe's awkward looks in the background. Linwood and I are just about as natural and normal compared to the other folks.

For the first time in my life, I received the rock star treatment. These kinds of billboard only exist in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos. Who would have thought a redneck sports bar in La Plata had one too?

Now, THIS is funny! Delbert making faces. Priceless! Mastercard can't even get you THAT!


A pretty amazing painting


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Delbert is just Delbert!

Heard a lot about Delbert McClinton. Never saw him live until last night at the Birchmere. I was fortunate to witness what the Grammy winner did best: entertain the crowd. And honestly, it wasn't an easy thing to do. At 66, Delbert is still going strong, or shall I say, he's only at the beginning of his now hyped-up career. Putting on a good show was only its side effects, the delivery was the highlight of the performance. With a tight band like that, even though Delbert didn't play an instrument (well, the harmonica for like two minutes), he was able to anything that he desired to do.

It's unfair to call Delbert a blues or a country singer, because he is both and he is neither. He has his own definitive sound. I call it feel-good American party music on the same veins with Jimmy Buffett, Deanna Bogart, Marcia Ball, etc. It's influenced by New Orleans and good old honky tonk tunes. Moreover, none of his tunes are covers; they are all his originals. You gotta respect someone who's been doing his thing for years.

I have seen much better shows than Delbert's. But one thing I learned is that if you keep whatcha doing and digging what you do and doing it well, it's going to move and resonate with someone eventually. And they will like you and become your fans. Not just in the music industry, but all across the board. It took Delbert more than 40 years to get to the top. You and I can too.

Just keep doing it.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Speaks a million words

I always confused Gore Vidal with Vidal Sassoon.

Why can't life be easier?


Monday, March 06, 2006

More Crash-bashing...

Just to show my viewers that I'm not delirious and have been thoroughly consistent about Crash, here's the transcript of my review of the film back in October 2005 on this very same site. This is to demonstrate that I hated that movie from the moment I finished watching it until this very day. I'm upset that Brokeback lost, but I'm more upset that Crash won.

Kenneth Turan has pretty much covered everything I wanted to say. The Oscar will no longer carry the same credibility and respect that it once had, simply because it just named a trivial, insignificant, microscopic, myopic film the best film of the year.


The biggest disappointment since Bush won his second term

Kenneth Turan from the Los Angeles Times had the following painfully truthful commentary about Crash's win last night:

"You could not take the pulse of the industry without realizing that [Brokeback Mountain] made a number of people distinctly uncomfortable. ... In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who've led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed Brokeback Mountain....Hollywood likes to pat itself on the back for the good it does in the world, but as Sunday night's ceremony proved, it is easier to congratulate yourself for a job well done in the past than to actually do that job in the present."

Now the only thing that can make me smile is Ben Stiller's green suit.


Protest Crash! Boycott Oprah!

It's not about good movies anymore....


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Comic timing

If 2005 was the Year of Ray Charles, then 2006 is the Year of Jane Austen.

Jane Austen was a genius of her time, and ahead of her time. If she lived in this age, she'd be a popular writer a la Candice Bushell, Helen Fielding, and J.R. Rowling. Her writing has such sharp wit I bet she even giggled after coming up with such an eloquent yet elegant prose.

I just watched "Pride and Prejudice" and declared it one of the most delightful movies of the year. A crowd-pleaser, no less. Sometimes a crowd-pleaser might just be what the moviegoers need in midst of sequels, remakes of sequels, sequels of remakes of sequels, or plain film noir. "Walk The Line" was just like that earlier last year.

What makes "Pride" a winning picture has to do with the simplicity of the storyline. Simple people finding simple love. What's wrong with that? This time, Jane Austen's heroine is Lizzie Bennet, the second eldest daughter of the wacky Bennet family led by the impeccable Donald Sutherland. Lizzie is very smart, well-read, and assertive. She's not afraid of speaking her mind, even opposite such annoying creatures as the overly Oscar-nominated Judi Dench (her acting is mundane and formulaic, not from the heart). The moment when Lizzie told Judi Dench "You have insulted me in very way possible. Now please leave my house." It was a cinematic moment as memorable as Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth" monologue in "A Few Good Men" or Al Pacino screaming "Attica" in "Dog Day Afternoon."

It was my revenge against Judi Dench and over-redacting in general.

Anyway, back to Austen's world - It's a fantastic fantasy world, but it's more realistic than that. Think of a middle ground between Neverland (not MJ's) and Manhattan through Woody Allen's lenses. Wit, sarcasm, straight-forwardness, feminisim, feminity, great manners, and superb comic timing are only a few words to describe Jane Austen's world. It's more than that. Jane Austen's novels give us hope, and remind us the true version of everyday life isn't so bad. Humanity does not set a high bar for itself, but we must set higher bars to achieve something special in humanity.

Jane Austen's messages are universal. We can all share it if we embrace life a little more. I've been a little detached from reality lately. And Austen's positivity has given me renewed energy.

In the perfect world, we all should live in the Austen land. In reality, few of us do, but it doesn't hurt to try. If you live your life and get close to ideals of Jane Austen, then you can say "I haven't done so bad."

Ang Lee directed a splendid adaptation (by Emma Thompson) of "Sense & Sensibility" about 8 years ago. That was just a brilliant movie. This year, Ang came back with another masterpiece employing some of Austen's virtues and qualities. Tonight is Oscar night, let's see if Ang will get the highest honor. I know the Jane Austen spirit is with him. If he wins (which is very likely), this is indeed the year of Jane Austen.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sometimes private gigs are the best gigs

Monday evening I had the privilege of working with 5 other DC blues allstars in the region (not to mention in the USA). They are, in no particular order, Bill Heid, Joe Stanley, Linwood Taylor, Steve Novosel, and Big Joe Maher. It was a private cocktail party for the National Association of Broadcasters. We played quiet and all we did was mellow blues, but musically speaking, it was one of the most satisfying blues experience I ever had. The atmosphere, the musicianship, and the subtleties made this event a winning combination. Not to mention my natural high lasted 2 days after the gig.

The stage setup was more than perfect, a grand piano on the very right side. Joe's drums setting up in the middle back. Novosel had his upright bass between the grand and Joe's drum kit and sat on a stool. Linwood's guitar and amp on the left side on the stage, me on the right, Joe Stanley and his sax in the middle. The group is probably worth more money than we were paid, but what the hey, it was a Monday night. We were happy.

This was my first official gig with Steve Novosel (and Joe Stanley for that matter). I had always wanted to play with Steve but just never had the chance to. Steve's fame came from his bass work for the great David "Fathead" Newman, Rashaan Roland Kirk, and the late Shirley Horn who passed away last year. Steve's bass playing is old school (the closest thing to Ray Brown in this area). He just lays the pocket down and play with superb accuracy and feel. His solos are full of zeal and inspiration. He also likes sliding his finger down the bass for some soulful touches. He's Mr. Cool, no doubt. He and Joe Maher make a tremendous rhythm section. Adding Bill Heid to the mix, the three worked magic that night.

Joe Stanley's sax playing and singing go without saying. One of the only surviving honky-tonk sax players from the 60's, he's worked with more greats than anyone I can think of. He gives a nostalgic sound to the music, and often places the audience on a memory lane. Linwood Taylor laid down a few tasty, soulful guitar licks that night without raising the volume of his guitar. When confronted by his previous loud guitar playing, Linwood quipped, "That's the old Linwood." The new Linwood is the ever more subdued, subtle, tasteful, and soulful guitar player.

With a lineup like that, any harmonica player would sound good. I didn't play any crazy licks that night. Just the licks I've always known and liked and savored. When I was soloing, I had the feeling of walking on air. When I looked backwards, I saw the occasional smiles from Big Joe and Steve. To them, it might mean nothing. To me, it meant everything.


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