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Bebop jazz pianist Bud Powell was born 99 years ago today
Bud Powell, jazz pianist who was a key to the development of bebop, was born 99 years ago today.
Born and raised in Harlem, Powell was a close friend of Thelonious Monk. His greatest influence on piano was Art Tatum.
Along with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Powell was a key player in the development of bebop, and his virtuosity as a pianist led many to call him the Charlie Parker of the piano.
Powell's father was a stride pianist. He took to his father's instrument and started to learn classical piano at age five from a teacher his father hired. By age ten, he had also showed interest in the jazz that could be heard all over the neighborhood.
He first appeared in public at a rent party, where he mimicked Fats Waller's playing style. The first jazz composition that he mastered was James P. Johnson's, "Carolina Shout.” Bud's older brother, William, played the trumpet, and by age fifteen, Bud was playing in his band.
By this time, he had become familiar with Art Tatum, whose overwhelmingly virtuosic technique Powell then set out to equal.
Bud's younger brother, Richie, and his teenage friend, Elmo Hope, were also accomplished pianists who had significant careers. Bud, though underage, soon was exposed to the exciting, musically adventurous atmosphere at Uptown House, an after-hours venue that was near where he lived.
It was here that the first stirrings of modernism could be heard on a nightly basis, and where Charlie Parker first appeared when he was unattached to a band and stayed briefly in New York.
Thelonious Monk had some involvement there, but by the time that he and Powell met around 1942, the elder pianist/composer was able to introduce Powell to the circle of bebop musicians which was starting to form at Minton's Playhouse.
Monk was resident there and, consequently, presented Powell as his protégé. The mutual affection grew to where Monk was Powell's greatest mentor and dedicated his composition, "In Walked Bud," to him.
In the early 1940s, Powell played in a few dance orchestras, including that of Cootie Williams, whom Powell's mother decided her son should play for and tour with (rather than accept an offer from Oscar Pettiford and Dizzy Gillespie, whose modernist quintet was about to open at a midtown nightclub).
Powell was the pianist on a handful of Williams's recording dates in 1944, the last of which included the first-ever recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight." His tenure with Williams was terminated one night in January, 1945, when he got separated from the band after a Philadelphia dance engagement and was apprehended, drunk, by railroad police inside a station. He was beaten by them, and then briefly detained by the city police.
Shortly after his release and return to Harlem, he was hospitalized — first in Bellevue, an observation ward, and then in a psychiatric hospital, sixty miles away. He stayed there for two and a half months.
Powell resumed playing in Manhattan immediately, in demand by various small-group leaders for nightclub engagements in the increasingly integrated midtown scene. His 1945-46 recordings, many as the result of his sudden visibility on the club scene, were for Frank Socolow, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro and Kenny Clarke.
Powell soon became renowned for his ability to play at fast tempos. His percussive punctuation of certain phrases, as well as his predilection for speed, showed the influence of Parker and other modern horn soloists.
Powell's career advanced when Parker chose him to be his pianist on a quintet record date, with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach in May, 1947.
Powell demonstrated his mature style on the third complete take of "Donna Lee," where he got a brief solo spot, and with his jocular chord fills while the horn players paused to breathe during "Buzzy," the last tune recorded.
When the quintet came together for the final ensemble section, Powell's piano made its final, sarcastic comment on the proceedings.
In November, 1947, Powell had an altercation with another customer at a Harlem bar. In the ensuing fight, he was hit over his eye with a bottle. When Harlem Hospital found him incoherent and rambunctious, it sent him to Bellevue, which had the record of his previous confinement there and in a psychiatric hospital.
It chose to institutionalize him again, though this time at Creedmoor State Hospital, a facility much closer to Manhattan. He was kept there for eleven months.
From 1949 through 1953, Powell made his best recordings, most of which were for Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records and for Norman Granz of Mercury, Norgran and Clef.
The first Blue Note session, in August, 1949, features Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Powell, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, and the compositions "Bouncing with Bud" and "Dance of the Infidels." The second Blue Note session in 1951 was a trio with Russell and Roach, and includes, "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Un Poco Loco."
Powell was hospitalized in New York after months of increasingly erratic behavior and self-neglect. On July 31, 1966, he died of tuberculosis, malnutrition and alcoholism.
The pianist Bill Evans paid Powell a tribute in 1979: “If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell. He was in a class by himself.”
Here, Powell plays piano in “Anthropology” in Copenhagen, 1962.
Don Cornelius, host and creator of Soul Train, was born 87 years ago today.
Cornelius was the show host and producer of Soul Train, which he hosted from 1971 until 1993. Cornelius sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.
Born in Chicago's South Side and raised in the Bronzeville neighborhood, Cornelius graduated from DuSable High School in 1954 and then joined the Marines. He served 18 months in Korea.
In 1966, he took a three-month broadcasting course, despite being married with two sons and having only $400 in his bank account. That year he landed a job as an announcer, news reporter and disc jockey on Chicago radio station WVON.
In 1967, Cornelis joined Chicago television station, WCIU-TV, and hosted a news program, A Black's View of the News. In 1970, he launched Soul Train on WCIU-TV as a daily local show. The program entered national syndication and moved to Los Angeles the following year.
Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bobby Hutton and The Honey Cone were featured on the national debut episode.
Originally a journalist inspired by the civil rights movement, Cornelius recognized that in the late 1960s there was no television venue in the United States for soul music. He introduced many African-American musicians to a larger audience as a result of their appearances on Soul Train, a program that was both influential among African-Americans and popular with a wider audience.
As writer, producer and host of Soul Train, Cornelius was instrumental in offering wider exposure to black musicians such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, as well as creating opportunities for talented dancers that would presage subsequent television dance programs.
In the early-morning hours of February 1, 2012, officers responded to a report of a shooting at 12685 Mulholland Drive and found Cornelius with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
He was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead by the Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner.
According to former Soul Train host, Shemar Moore, Cornelius may have been suffering from early onset of dementia or Alzheimer's disease and his health had been in decline.
An autopsy found that Cornelius had been suffering from seizures during the last 15 years of his life, a complication of a 21-hour brain operation he underwent in 1982 to correct a congenital deformity in his cerebral arteries. He admitted that he was never quite the same after that surgery and it was a factor in his decision to retire from hosting Soul Train in 1993.
According to his son, he was in "extreme pain" by the end and said shortly before his death: "I don't know how much longer I can take this."
Here is a video tribute to Cornelius.
Thomas Nast, who was born 183 years ago today, is widely considered the father of American political cartooning.
As a regular contributor to Harper’s Weekly, he wielded enormous influence, skewering corrupt officials and politicians he opposed.
He introduced the Republican elephant in 1874, popularized the donkey as a symbol for Democrats, and was the first to depict Uncle Sam as we know him today, with a beard, top hat and pinstripe suit.
“He was a tremendous force in American politics for more than two decades,” The New York Times wrote in 1940, for the centennial of Nast’s birth. “He helped to win a war and to elect three presidents of the United States” — Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant (twice) and Rutherford B. Hayes, whom he later abandoned.
Nast also helped bring down the New York politician, William M. Tweed, the boss of the rapacious Democratic machine, Tammany Hall. His tactics might seem familiar. “He did it by heaping contempt and ridicule upon the opposing forces and the rival candidates,” The Times said.
Nast, who was born in Germany, was a defender of many immigrants and of black Americans, and he was a confirmed foe of the Ku Klux Klan. In addition to politics, he also gave America its modern vision of Santa Claus. His depiction of Santa Claus was on the cover of the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper's Weekly. The image stuck in American minds.
Thanks New York Times
Arthur Penn directs Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant, 1969
Arthur Penn was born 101 years ago today.
Penn was an American director and producer of film, television and theater. He directed critically acclaimed films throughout the 1960s such as the drama The Chase (1966), the biographical crime film, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and the Arlo Guthrie comedy, Alice's Restaurant (1969).
He also got attention for his revisionist Western, Little Big Man (1970). By the mid-1970s, his films were received with much less enthusiasm.
In the 1990s, he returned to stage and television direction and production, including an executive producer role for the crime series, Law & Order.
Penn was born to a Russian Jewish family in Philadelphia, the son of Sonia (Greenberg), a nurse and Harry Penn, a watchmaker. He was the younger brother of Irving Penn, the fashion photographer.
At 19, he was drafted into the army. Stationed in Britain, he became interested in theater. He started to direct and take part in shows being put on for the soldiers around England at the time. As Penn grew up, he became increasingly interested in film, especially after seeing the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane.
He later attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and was a featured commentator in the documentary, Fully Awake, about the college.
After making a name for himself as a director of quality television dramas, Penn made his feature debut with a western, The Left Handed Gun (1958), for Warner Brothers. A retelling of the Billy the Kid legend, it was distinguished by Paul Newman's sharp portrayal of the outlaw as a psychologically troubled youth (the role was originally intended for the archetypal portrayer of troubled teens, James Dean).
The production was completed in only 23 days, but Warner Brothers reedited the film against his wishes with a new ending he disapproved of. The film subsequently failed upon release in North America, but was well received in Europe.
Penn died in Manhattan, on September 28, 2010, a day after his 88th birthday from congestive heart failure.
Here’s a Penn-directed scene from Alice’s Restaurant.
Marvin Lee Aday — better known as “Meat Loaf” — was born 76 years ago today.
A hard rock musician and actor, Meat Loaf is known for the Bat Out of Hell album trilogy consisting of Bat Out of Hell, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell and Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose.
Bat Out of Hell has sold more than 43 million copies worldwide. After 35 years, it still sells an estimated 200,000 copies annually and stayed on the charts for over nine years, making it one of the best selling albums of all time.
Although he enjoyed success with Bat Out of Hell and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, Meat Loaf experienced some initial difficulty establishing a steady career within his native United States.
However, he has retained iconic status and popularity in Europe, especially the UK, where he ranks 23rd for the number of weeks overall spent on the charts.
Meat Loaf has also appeared in over 50 movies and television shows, sometimes as himself or as characters resembling his stage persona. His most notable roles include Eddie in the American premiere of The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Robert "Bob" Paulson in Fight Club.
Meat Loaf died in Nashville, Tennessee, on the evening of January 20, 2022, at the age of 74.
Here, Meat Loaf performs in the video for Bat Out of Hell.
On September 27, 1999 — 24 years ago today — operatic tenor Plácido Domingo made his 18th opening-night appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House, breaking an "unbreakable" record previously held by Enrico Caruso.
Caruso, of course, was the biggest star the world of opera had ever seen. Following his New York debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1903, he made opening-night appearances at the Met in 16 of the next 17 years.
With his death in 1921, Caruso's streak stopped at 17 — a mark that no other singer even remotely approached for the next 60 years.
The Italian bass-baritone Ezio Pinza was the closest challenger to Caruso before Domingo came along, but even Pinza failed to reach double digits, topping out at nine opening nights with the Met over the course of his 22-year career.
Even Domingo never thought that Caruso's record would be broken, much less that he would be the one to break it.
"But when I was in my 11th or 12th opening night," he recalled during an interview before his record-setting performance, "somebody asked me, 'Do you realize how close you are to the number of times Caruso opened the Met season?' What can I tell you? I started to think maybe I can do it.''
As a contemporary of the great Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo never enjoyed undisputed status as the greatest tenor of his time. But his far superior stamina and his broader repertoire made him the go-to choice for opening nights at the Met, of which Pavarotti sang only seven.
Domingo sang his first opening with the Met in 1971, in Verdi's Don Carlo, and over the years he sang opening-night parts as diverse as the title role in Verdi's Otello and Sigmund in Wagner's Die Walkurie.
When he sang at his record-setting 18th opening night on this day in 1999, Domingo did so, appropriately enough, as Canio in Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci — a role most closely associated the man whose record he surpassed, Enrico Caruso.
In 2009, the Met honored Domingo for 40 years with the company.
In August 2019, Domingo was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment. Eight singers and a dancer said that Domingo sexually harassed them in incidents that spanned three decades from the late 1980s.
The alleged harassment took place at venues including opera companies where the musician held top positions. Additional women came forward expressing their discomfort due to his sexual advances.
It was reported that Domingo's sexual advances towards younger women were an "open secret" in the opera world. Domingo issued a statement, stating "The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as 30 years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate,” adding that "I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are—and should be—measured against today are very different than they were in the past.”
In September 2019, the Metropolitan Opera announced it would be ending its relationship with Domingo in light of the allegations of sexual harassment.
Following the announcement, Domingo issued a statement: "While I strongly dispute recent allegations made about me...upon reflection, I believe that my appearance in this production of Macbeth would distract from the hard work of my colleagues both on stage and behind the scenes."
He quit the show.
Peter Sellars: A Memorable Encounter
It’s Peter Sellars 66th birthday today. He a director noted for his unique contemporary stagings of classical and contemporary operas and plays. But I remember him for another reason.
I met Sellars at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge in the 1990s and heard him give some insightful comments on the issue of serendipity on the internet. Not only have his early perceptions proven true, but they were memorable and have stuck with me over time.
Hundreds of years ago, Sellars said, people in search of knowledge went on personal pilgrimages for information. The process, he said, could take years. By not having the information at their fingertips, there was experience attached to the search that made the finding of the information far more meaningful.
"The actual act of finding something had value," Sellars said. "It was a beautiful thing because when you found something it meant something."
Now, said Sellars in the 1990s: "We are getting all this information with no experience attached to it. Where there is no pilgrimage the information itself is debased, devalued and dehumanized. In a sense the ratio of experience to information content is radically altered. What's irritating about the age of information is that it creates this yuppie denial of experience. We have everything at our fingertips, but we don't value anything."
The "untamed quality" of the basic internet structure appeals to Sellars because it allows the user to wander and discover information through personal experience. "To just meander is one of the pleasures of life," he noted.
To have the audience making wrong turns through the information "is exactly the point," Sellars continued. "That's where the juice is."
Today's electronic media reflects only a single point of view. "A very narrow group of people are creating this insane gridlock" on information about human experience, Sellars said. "We are aware there are many, many voices that we don't hear today at all. The CBS Evening News represents only one voice."
Artists, Sellars said, "must break out of the official information structure" to find new ways to express important subjects that mainstream media refuses to address.
"You get the feeling that huge parts of human experience are going undocumented and unrecognized," he continued. "Aristotle wrote about the attempts to touch the totality of an experience. As human beings, we are complex, divided and multilayered. Therefore, what satisfies us is complex, multilayered and has all these built-in conflicts just as we do. How — with set up (new media) structures — do we show our real feelings?"
The World Wide Web, as conceived by Tim Berners-Lee, offered the promise of a new media structure for a greater diversity of voices and ideas. But it has since been hijacked by not only by traditional media, but by commerce and narrow demagogic political voices. Even the most creative new works remain invisible — hidden under a cluttered sea of political and commercial noise?
Peter Sellars saw this early on and sadly it has not changed all these years earlier.
For his innovative collected work in the field of opera and music productions, Sellars was awarded the prestigious Swedish Polar Music Prize of 2014 alongside Chuck Berry.
On the day in 1912 — 111 years ago — W.C. Handy published “Memphis Blues,” which introduced his style of 12 bar blues. Many consider it the first blues song.
Handy sold the rights to the song for $100.
By 1914, when he was 40, he had established his musical style, his popularity had greatly increased and he was a prolific composer.
New York Subway
Photo by Matt Weber