Friday, December 24, 2010

Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville

(The "wonderfully lively" animation of the above, adapted from our original Noticing New York post, comes via the creative courtesy of No Land Grab. )
This is the season for revisiting and retelling classic tales about the eternal verities. A number of the most classic seasonal tales create their magic by investigating alternative realities, contrasting realities where greed goes unchecked versus the better, more marvelously rich world we could harmoniously all share if people's better nature prevails. In that vein, we think our Noticing New York post from last Christmas Eve stands the test of time rather well.

With one year passed it is clearer than ever what paucity of promise fulfillment comes with Ratnerville’s monopolistic takeover of Brooklyn: We are getting no jobs, no housing, no design, nothing but decades of imperious monopoly and acres of desolate parking lots. If the past year has done anything beyond making all this a lot clearer it has been to show us as well that as Ratner evicts Brooklynites from Brownstone Brooklyn he is using his monopoly as a springboard for even more greed and deception. We reference his deceptive sale of green cards to gullible Chinese millionaires. (See: Monday, December 20, 2010, Anatomy of a Shady Deal: an FAQ and restrospective on the effort to recruit EB-5 investors in China for the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project and Wednesday, October 6, 2010, Translation: Bruce Ratner Wants To Swindle 498 Chinese Millionaires?)

Here is the Noticing New York post we ran one year ago today: Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville).

Happy holidays.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Extension of the Number 7 Subway Line to New Jersey: An Exciting Infrastructure Idea (With Only One Hidden Big Oops)

(Above, form the New York Times: A map drawn by Steve Lanset and Ralph Braskett showing their plan for an extension of the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus, also available on their website.)

Just out is the news that the Bloomberg administration is considering a further extension of the Number 7 subway sine all the way to New Jersey as a replacement for the proposed trans-Hudson ARC railway tunnel that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just killed. Christie killed the ARC tunnel theoretically to save money even though:
. . . the ARC tunnel is a mass transit project that represents the creation of the kind of critical big-scale regional connections (like the Erie Canal) that have been an essential factor in the growth of our metropolis. The Times also writes about how the project was supposed to “provide jobs for 6,000 construction workers” and “raise property values for suburban homeowners.” In other words the ARC tunnel is the kind of mass transit infrastructure project that equitably confers benefit widely and stimulates development throughout the territory.
(See: Friday, October 8, 2010, Putting It Together: Who Should Be Selling Green Cards?)

Secaucus 7?

Extension of the Number 7 subway line to New Jersey is an exciting idea to think about although its serious contemplation is so new that it has not yet received the vetting of valuable, nay essential, public debate. The key to making it attractive is that it would be cheaper (it’s hoped) than the ARC tunnel. That’s because starting at 11th Avenue and going west from there, (rather than the Penn Station/Macy’s location between 7th and 8th Avenues) it would avoid “the costly proposition of boring a tunnel under Manhattan to Herald Square.” * (See: Mayor Bloomberg Explores Extending Subway to New Jersey, November 16, 2010, by Andrea Bernstein.) Further: “The line would also instantly take riders to Grand Central station, a holy grail of the ARC project” though commuters would have to switch trains in Secausus. The switch means there will be time lost in what will not be a “one-seat ride.”

(* At about “half the cost,” $5.3 billion, according to a supposedly “closely guarded,” (?)- now widely quoted- four-page Hudson Yards Development Corporation memorandum to which New York Times reporters got access.)

Extension of An Extension

For those who are not following closely, service on the Number 7 line currently goes as far west as Broadway and 7th Avenue at Times Square but, partly in preparation for the development of the far West Side and Hudson Yards, new tunnels extending it are in place all the way to 11th Avenue and considerably south from there. Those tunnels are expected to be put into service fairly soon in infrastructure-time terms. (See image from the New York Times on side: Click to enlarge.)

Official Acceptance of an Idea Taken Out of The Gift-Wrapped Box Community Activists Presented It In

It would be particularly thrilling to see the idea implemented because, according to a story in today’s New York Times, this idea, like the creation of the High Line, was one that officialdom first rejected and ignored when it was identified and promoted by grassroots members of the community. (See: Extend a Subway Line Under the Hudson? For Two Men, It’s Hardly a New Idea, by Patrick Mcgeehan, November 17, 2010.)

The Times reports about how two collaborators, Steve Lanset and Ralph Braskett, had set up a website (Subway to Secaucus) to promote the idea of such a subway line extension for which they received a lot of “abuse” and “very little praise.” Now, according to the Times:
On Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg attributed the idea to recent “thinking totally out of the box” by Robert Steel, his new deputy mayor for economic development.
We gather from this that in the Bloomberg administration “thinking totally out of the box” constitutes listening to community suggestions. Paging Jane Jacobs: She would have gotten such a good guffaw over this one. What is it about the far West Side? Where does it get its mojo that initially rejected suggestions by community activists would finally have been listened to twice in such quick succession: First the suggestion to create the High Line, and now this extension?

They Could Do It Again

If the Bloomberg administration wants to listen there are plenty more community activists willing to offer “thinking” that is “totally out” of the Bloomberg administration’s “box.” The Coney Island community is suggesting that many more amusement area acres be preserved at Coney Island* along with historic buildings that define the area’s heritage. And wouldn’t it be nice, as activists suggest, to see the sun and feel the sea breeze when arriving at the Coney subway station? Then there is the community’s UNITY plan for development of Vanderbilt Yards where, instead, the Bloomberg administration is allowing free rein (free reign?) to the developer-centric notions of Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner that he should have a 30-acre, 40-year mega-monopoly. Among other things the UNITY plan calls for the development of this area to be split up and properly bid out to multiple developers. Back to this thought momentarily.

(* If more acres were preserved maybe historic boardwalk businesses would not now be getting evicted. In our eyes, recent Coney evictions proclaim that the amusement district was made too small, given that there is no space to share with authentic Coney Island history. And what sense does it make in terms of “economic development” to throw out time-tested and resilient businesses in the middle of an economic recession? A petition on the subject available here.)

Secaucus 7 or The Big Chill?

Some cold water is being thrown on the idea of the extension. It is put forth mainly in terms of whether the kind of federal funds mustered for the ARC tunnel could be redirected to such an extension. (See: Experts say plans to extend 7 line subway to New Jersey are a dead end, feds won't fund it, by Adam Lisberg and Pete Donohue, Daily News Staff Writers, November 18th 2010.) That criticism seems potentially surmountable while not addressing either the basic practicality of the suggestion or the essence of its merit. It might also be wondered whether the highway lobby would like people to believe that these funds can’t be redirected this way because they would prefer that funds be rerouted into automobile-related subsidies.

If, ultimately, upon debate and reflection the idea remains a good one and can be effected, it appeals to us on principle. Noticing New York favors an “infrastructure first” investment in mass transit. In particular, because of the broad benefit it affords and development it encourages, investment in infrastructure is to be favored as an approach to stimulating development that is superior to direct subsidies to private developers for projects they will privately own . . .

. . . There is just one big Oops associated with the proposed new plan for this subway extension and that is not with respect to what the city envisions doing going forward: It is with respect to what the city has already done. It has to do with the inadvisability of mega-developments.

The Inadvisability of Hudson Yards (and Other Development) as Mega-development

We have written before about reasons it was ill-advised to develop Hudson Yards as a one-developer mega-development. The principles also apply to other proposed mega-developments such as the 30-acre, 40-year Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly and the approximately 75-acre Willets Point single developer concept.

For more on this refer to what we wrote about Hudson Yards in this post (Monday, February 23, 2009, Un-funny Valentines Arriving Late: Your Community Interests at Heart) which points were extracted by Atlantic Yards Report in (Wednesday, February 25, 2009, Noticing New York's critique of major projects, and the path not taken of site preparation (at Hudson Yards and AY)). See also what wrote about the benefit of multiple developers versus mega-monoply development here: Monday, October 19, 2009, Thompson’s Advocated Multiple Parcels (a la Battery Park City) vs. Single-Developer Mega-monopolies Should Boost Developers’ Bids.

In summary form the points we raised were:
• Multiple parcels enable and speed development

• “Retailing” parcels increases developer bids, increasing funds the public will collect

• The absence of economies of scale for megadevelopment

• Avoidance of the four “M”s: Megadevelopment, (Mega-) Monopoly, Monoculture and Monotony

• The benefits of keeping the role of government and developers distinct when it comes to the provision of infrastructure (it should be the government’s job), particularly as it relates to working within economic cycles and the investment of stimulus to spur the economy in bad times.
Taking the last point first, it was easy to point out with respect to Hudson Yards:
If the government (as opposed to a private developer) was preparing the site it would not be necessary to postpone the site’s preparation at this time. Site preparation during the current economic downturn might even be cheaper. As it would be a public work, it would arguably be in the running for funding through federal stimulus, an important part of that being that the prepared parcels would later be bid out. But stimulus money cannot be given to a private developer already signed onto the deal because it would totally change the equation based upon which the developer bid to pay the public a low amount for the site. Used that way, the money would eliminate the risk developer assumed and constitute an award of enormous private benefit to the developer without bid.
In other words, if the city hadn’t farmed out all of Hudson Yards as a 26-acre mega-deal (which the city had to restructure for the developer’s benefit, see: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, Surprised? MTA Restructures the Hudson Yards Deal; Developer Cherry Picks More Benefit While Public Keeps the Risk) the city would have maintained substantially more latitude to deal fluidly with the economic crisis. Further, if the city had then stepped in to invest in the infrastructure associated with developing Hudson Yards, then New York citizens would have recouped a much greater amount upon a retail selling off individual parcels to multiple developers. Conversely, doing what it did- giving up its rights to the acreage first-, the city set itself up for a problem: If the city invested in infrastructure after already having sold these 26 acres to a single developer it would, as we wrote, “constitute an award of enormous private benefit to the developer without bid.”

Adding An "Extension" to the Concept Just Expressed

What we didn’t foresee when we wrote about there being an “enormous private benefit to the developer without bid” if the city invested in infrastructure after having already sold these 26 acres to a single developer was this new proposal to extend the Number 7 line.

This proposed extension is just such an investment in infrastructure, and guess what?: The developers love it.

How joyously are developers about embracing the concept of this new infrastructure? The rather developer-oriented Crains had a whole story devoted to it. We provide quotes below, beginning with its first paragraph:
A proposed expansion of the No. 7 subway line into New Jersey would be a boon for New York City real estate developers.

* * * *

“Every developer I've spoken to thinks it's a terrific, simple idea,” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. “They all think it will be wonderful.”
(See: November 17, 2010, NY landlords embrace 7-line extension to NJ: Proposed project's lower cost and fewer disruptions seen as big plusses; gives fresh hope for West 41st Street subway stop—and area property owners, By Marine Cole.)

This was part of the Times article announcing the idea (emphasis added):
And the project would almost certainly serve as a boon for the planned $15 billion Hudson Yards residential and office development, to be built on platforms over the West Side railyards. That project has been stymied by the recession and an absence of demand for new residential and commercial space.
(Take the No. 7 to Secaucus? That’s a Plan, by Charles V. Bagli and Nicholas Confessore, November 16, 2010.)

The embrace by developers of the idea’s obvious benefit to them was also being discussed by
WNYC reporter Andrea Bernstein (and director of the Transportation Nation blog) on Brian Lehrer yesterday. Available at: The Brian Lehrer Show, Subway to Secaucus, Wednesday, November 17, 2010.)

The Big Oops on the Extension

What does all this developer enthusiasm about the extension of the Number 7 line mean? It means that in a world where this potentially ingenious plan goes forward there would be one more very significant reason why the city and the MTA could have gotten a lot more money and a lot better deal had the 26-acre Hudson Yards property been retained and sold to multiple developers as individual development parcels after the area’s infrastructure improvements were made. That option is now precluded because the Bloomberg administration, as is its bias, elected instead for a mega-development, mega-monopoly transfer of the property.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In the Footprint’s Composer/Lyricist, Michael Friedman, Was Previously an Urban Planning Consultant!

Catching up with our theater-going led to several surprising discoveries. One of them is that Michael Friedman, the composer/lyricist of "In the Footprint" the currently playing musical play about Atlantic Yards by the investigative theater troupe The Civilians, was previously an "urban planning consultant"! Gosh Golly, talk about overqualifying for a job dramatizing an urban disaster. Mr. Friedman certainly has all the bases covered. In fact, more of what we found out concerns just how many more bases he has got covered this fall.

For more about what we discovered read the portion of our recent and still evolving post (Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?)) that appears under the heading “Bloody Bloody Coincidence.” (It follows what we previously wrote about "In the Footprint" itself.)

As we warned initially, the post we are sending you to is one we have been adding to bit by incremental bit. Other additions you may find if you are perusing it, is information about Lena Dunham’s film, “Tiny Furniture,” under the heading “Rabbit Redux?” and information about Thomas Wolfe’s Brooklyn Heights residence under the heading that mentions “How Eminent Domain Haunts the Prokhorov/Ratner Basketball Arena.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Client 9 (Spitzer): Divided by 3, No 2 Ways About It

(Above, Eliot Spitzer taking the oath of office.)

Before expressing any Noticing New York reservations (there will be some) you should know that “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” is such a superlative film that it unquestionably raises the bar for the increasingly popular genre of political documentary. Its achievement is to navigate densely intricate subject matter with masterful adroitness.

The film is a product of the same book-and-movie collaborating team, Alex Gibney, film maker and Peter Elkind, book author, who produced a book and film each titled “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” “Eron” was a great documentary on a related subject (we didn’t read the book) but “Client 9" surpasses that previous film and you should see it.

Here’s Why

If political machinations fascinate you, you should see this film. If procedurals about using and abusing the law intrigue you, you should see it. If being witness to extreme brute force power games race your pulse, you should see it. But most of all, if you value your own personal economic and political freedoms you should see it because this film is very clear about the tenuous thread on which those freedoms hang.

Notwithstanding that the story is true and all its characters real, the film is like the best noir in that it is about people consistently behaving very badly, and we are not talking about the escorts, prostitutes and madams who are central to the plot. For the most part these bit players come off rather well. We are not even talking about Eliot Spitzer, the cornered John and disgraced, hypocritical politician.

Though the film proceeds like a detective story following what the New York Time review refers to as a persuasive “trail of bread crumbs” (we would say a “convincing” trail) it is no mystery if you have seen the film’s trailer that its real heavies are miffed Wall Street tycoons, accompanied by their lower echelon henchmen, hungry for revenge after Spitzer’s “Sheriff-of-Wall-Street” `Bingos!' identifying malfeasance they were up to. That the lower echelon henchmen include a G. W. Bush appointed United States attorney for the Southern District of New York (Michael Garcia) indicates how near the pinnacle of power we should consider the vengeful tycoons to be. Racing through its multitude of connections, the film reminds us of the contemporaneous Bush-Gonzales U.S. Attorney appointments scandal which involved orchestration by the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House to turn control over U.S. Attorney and their investigations to partisan political advantage.

(Trailer for "Client 9" above.)

The Lower Echelon Henchmen Working for the Messrs. Big

Other picturesquely entrancing lower echelon heavies provide exuberant and unabashed interviews that keep the film lively. The harlequinesque Republican operative Roger Stone is one of them. Joe Bruno, recently the head of the New York Senate and recently convicted on federal corruption charges for concealing conflicts of interest while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from a businessman wanting favors from the Legislature is another. Bruno was sentenced to two years in prison plus three years’ probation and to pay $280,000 in restitution. His conviction and sentence is in doubt because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal “honest-services” law he was found to have violated (which makes it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services”) is insufficiently specific to be constitutional. (The trial revealed that during his years as Senate leader, Mr. Bruno received more than $3.2 million as a consultant, with his public-employee staff handling much of the work for which he was being paid.)

Top Heavies

The two particularly identified Wall Street titans at whose doorstep Spitzer’s ouster from the governorship is laid are Maurice R. (Hank”) Greenberg, the former chairman of A.I.G., and Kenneth G. Langone, a former director of the New York Stock Exchange. Greenberg and U.S. Attorney Garcia were linked prior to Garcia’s pursuit of Spitzer: Garcia intervened to protect Greenberg from Spitzer’s prosecution by making a faux claim that he, Garcia, would prosecute Greenberg in the future. Greenberg’s A.I.G. is the firm that absorbed $182 billion (yes, “billion”) of the $700 billion bank bailout Congress authorized in 2008. While some of the banks that received bailout money are returning funds, A.I.G. is ultimately expected to succeed in returning only a fraction of what it received.*

(* A complicating wrinkle in straightening out the overall accounting in this is that, to its detriment, A.I.G. was, in the course of implementing the bailout, forced to be a conduit of funds to other financial institutions so that banks like Goldman and Barclays that returned funds to federal government did so with unearned profits, essentially free money, passed to them by A.I.G.. This, however, does not vitiate how great a role A.I.G.’s excessive risk taking had in precipitating and deepening the overall crisis.)

Rose Colored View, . . . Not

In trying to rehabilitate and distance himself from A.I.G.’s problems after the financial meltdown
Greenberg appeared on Charlie Rose and attempted to blame Spitzer for A.I.G.’s collapse, asserting that problems at A.I.G. could have been prevented had he, Greenberg, not been forced out as head by the accounting scandal Spitzer’s prosecution brought to light,. The film contains a snippet of that March 2009 Charlie Rose interview which Noticing New York mentioned at the time. Watching the program back in 2009 Greenberg’s argument to disassociate himself from A.I.G. problems was intriguing and we don’t recall that Rose, being a soft interviewer, challenged him about the improbability of his proposition that A.I.G.’s 2008 $182 billion problem was attributable to events that intervened after Greenberg’s June 8, 2005 departure from the firm. From the film it appears to have been quite the contrary: Greenberg’s efforts to doctor the A.I.G. books* with unreal assets were more likely a warning sign that bad financial practices were catching up with the firm. The scheme involved AIG attempting to get a fictitious transfer of nominal balance sheet assets from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway's General Re insurance unit. (For more on this see: AIG's meltdown has roots in Greenberg era, By Lilla Zuill - Analysis, Tue Mar 3, 2009 10:06am EST)

(* Previously, AIG was fined over $100 million for helping other companies cook their books.)

In discussing Greenberg’s maneuvers one of the voices of the people involved attributes as particularly apt to Greenberg the phrase: “All I ask for is an unfair advantage.”

LOL or For Crying Out Loud?

Given that Greenberg and Langone earn the really big bucks* when they play the Wall Street game it is at times howlingly funny in a black humorish way to hear some of their inept disavowals during the movie. Langone maintains that he just happened to know about Spitzer’s purchasing mail orders to pay for escorts because he just happened to have a friend who just happened to be in line behind Spitzer in the Post Office who just happened to look over the Governor’s shoulder and then just happened to guess that what he was seeing would be something Langone would be interested in and know how to interpret. It would be funny were it not for the massive resources these Goliaths can mobilize and misuse.

(* Earlier in the year he left A.I.G., Greenberg transferred A.I.G. stock worth $2.6 billion - yes, billion- to his wife in what one non-Spitzer lawsuit alleged to be a fraudulent transfer.)

Speaking of power, Langone is most recently in the news again for his appointment to Andrew Cuomo’s gubanitorial transition team. (See: Cuomo Names Transition Team and Panels, Spotlighting a Hope for Broad Support, by Nicholas Confessore, November 11, 2010.)

Unequal In the Cross-hairs of the Law

“Client 9" is essentially on the same page respecting the legal investigation into Spitzer’s use of prostitutes as “Inside Job,” another recently released political documentary (still in theaters) that also avails itself of the use of Spitzer as one of its talking heads. Both films propose that Spitzer was suspiciously and unprecedentedly singled out and targeted by the prosecutor investigating the prostitution ring. “Inside Job” which looks at the entire arc of the financial crisis documents the pervasiveness of prostitution and drug use as an accepted part of Wall Street’s high-rolling cooperate culture extending to the very top of the industry and then interviews convicted madam Kristin Davis, who states unequivocally that the prosecutors who shut down her operation had absolutely no interest in leveraging her Wall Street client list into investigations of any Wall Street improprieties. That’s probably true but Ms. Davis is not be the most reliable bearer of such news.*

(* “Client 9" tells us that Ms. Davis, interested in publicity, used Roger Stone, the aforementioned Republican operative, as her campaign manager in a recent run as the Libertarian candidate for Governor- that’s at the same time Stone was assisting the Tea-party/Republican Paladino campaign. Stone was apparently attracted by the idea of using Ms. Davis to keep Spitzer’s downfall in the voters’ minds. Davis ran a competitor service to the Emperor’s Club escort service used by Spitzer and with Stone in the wings she has been saying that she too supplied dates for Spitzer. “Client 9" throws cold water on that assertion, reporting: “New York law enforcement says there’s no evidence of any link.” Still, Stone has managed to sow confusion: Ed Koch should know better but when he reviewed “Inside job”- primarily from the standpoint of endorsing its political positions- he misidentified Ms. Davis as “the madam who provided Spitzer . . . with prostitutes.”)

Countries Where the Law is Malleably Used by the “Siloviki”

The bottom line is that Spitzer, like Bill Clinton, was targeted for an abuse of the law. Like Clinton, they got Spitzer on his sex life. When you start with the man, not with noticeable misdeeds, and then figure out how the law can be shaped to get that man it is an abuse. Having gone to the movie just after reading an article about Putin’s trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky we arrived in a frame of mind attentive to such abuses. (See: Talking Business, Unyielding, an Oligarch vs. Putin, by Joe Nocera, November 5, 2010.) The Joe Nocera Times article linked to describes the newest trial conjured up to keep Mr. Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oligarch, in jail (he has already spent seven years in jail) as as a purely “sham trial” where, as Mr. Khodorkovsky pointed out in his own statement, the “result is absolutely predictable” thus communicating to all watchers with “stark simplicity” the “obvious conclusion . . . that the siloviki [Russian slang in Mr. Putin’s circle of powerful bureaucrats] can do anything.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky, once worth $15 billion before he was stripped of his company that was then sold off to political insiders, was viewed as a threat to Mr. Putin because he was willing to back political parties opposed to Mr. Putin. The way Mr. Nocera articulates it, Khodorkovsky was therefore convicted of “Kafkaesque” “trumped-up tax charges brought by prosecutors acting on behalf of Vladimir V. Putin” with “what appears to be the complicity of PricewaterhouseCoopers” who bowed to improper pressure from Russian authorities. As such Mr. Nocera asserts:
He has become in the Putin era what Andrei Sakharov once was, a courageous dissident standing up to an authoritarian regime, a living, breathing rebuke to the absence of the rule of law.
Respecting this absence of the rule of law Mr. Khodorkovsky asks in his own court statements whether Russia will be a country “where the law is above the bureaucrat.”

How `Becoming ' is The Legal System’s Malleability to U.S.?

Probably the law in the United Sates isn’t yet so malleable as to be on a true par with the abuses in Russia but the targeting of Spitzer with all the power of the U.S. Attorney’s office is definitely on this slippery slope and anyone who wonders just how dangerously malleable the law has become so as to give our own homegrown “siloviki” unfair advantages need look no further than Atlantic Yards and Columbia University’s seizure of swaths of land by eminent domain abuse. Both those seizures are predicated upon a pretextual use of the legal concept of blight even when Charles Schumer, the U.S. Senator living very near to Atlantic Yards, says he knows there was no blight in the area. Schumer nevertheless tolerates these abuses that are bringing the Ratner mega-monopoly into existence. Watchers of Atlantic Yards progress are likely to have reached the obvious conclusion that ESDC, the bureaucratic sponsoring agency and the NYC-siloviki therefore “do anything.”

But more about Atlantic Yards later; that will be important to the way we intend to wrap up our observations.

Spectacularly-Resourced Investigations Into Hypocrisy

It is not that our Noticing New York perspective is that Eliot Spitzer didn’t do wrong or even that he shouldn’t have been removed from office because of his actions. His hypocrisy was pertinent to his public office holding and his misconduct no mere personal peccadillo deserving of privacy. That is true even if you support the legalization of prostitution. I hate to have to agree with Roger Stone but he puts it correctly when he says in the film: “Don’t bust people who are running call girl rings if you yourself are gonna patronize one.” (The argument that the escort rings were legally selling high-priced companionship rather than illegally selling sex comes across as speciously stretched.) Stone’s being right, however, doesn’t change the frightful inversion of democracy that results if the only way that our public leaders can remain in public office is when power brokers, by their grace, refrain from making adversarial politicians the subject of spectactularly-resourced personalized investigations.

Living by a Two-Edged Sword

There is plenty of complexity of blame for the film to locate in its anatomy. Sorting through some he-said/she-said juxtapositions in the film concerning Spitzer’s famous temper most viewers are likely to come away with the impression that there probably were occasions where Spitzer threatened others with the same kind of personalized vendetta by which his own use of the law and the power of the Attorney General’s office against them would be a concern, for the same very same reasons that the way they later came after him is a problem. Spitzer would apparently refer to being “at war” with those who challenged him. In this there was some `live by the sword, die by the sword’ justice in what happened to Spitzer.

The Emphasis of More Problems That Trooped In

The perception that Spitzer would go so far as to unethically cross boundaries was reinforced by the scandal ultimately refereed to as “Troopergate” where Spitzer made information public about State Senate leader Joe Bruno’s travels, including unflattering information about Bruno’s use of the state's air fleet. The film doesn’t spend much time sorting out the details of this story and is perhaps too kind to Spitzer in its summary. It was no doubt improper for Spitzer to focus on releasing information about Bruno the way he did (including use of the state police force to gather information) notwithstanding the valid public interest in having such information see the light of day (an interest in knowing about all politicians, not just selectively about Bruno). Spitzer made everything he did far worse by the surreptitious way he went about it together with his after-the-fact, ill-fated attempts at denial.

One strange caveat: As the film recounts, Spitzer’s spying?/collection-of-information-about? Bruno’s travels showed that Bruno was meeting with Hank Greenberg. That was almost certainly to plot Spitzer’s downfall. I am sure that some end-justifies-the-means theorists would therefore rationalize what Spitzer did in the name of self-defense.

Critically Needed: Action Not Just Criticism of Wall Street

"Client 9" makes extraordinarily clear that Spitzer in his investigations of Wall Street was performing an absolutely critical function that needs to be championed and needs to continue. You may never want to do business with Bank of America again after you hear the film’s explanation of how, in collusion with Eddie Stern’s hedge fund Canary Capital Partners LLC, the bank used a computer hooked up in its basement to siphon off from the mutual fund market profits belonging to the rest of us. The scheme involved using an illegal manipulation known as “late trading,” trading mutual funds after closing prices were officially closed. And everyone probably remembers Merrill Lynch’s false and misleading stock recommendations.

Proudly Attracted to Defining It Dramatically as “Hubris”

Spitzer is drawn to seeing his fall in the Greek tragedy terms of “hubris.” He has a quote in the film particularly on this point: “You know, it’s like hubris. It’s like those whom the gods would destroy they make all powerful.” (The Greeks also said those whom the Gods would destroy they first make proud and in Euripides’ Medea "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.") Spitzer sees himself as akin to Icarus of Greek mythology who, with his wings made of feathers and wax, fell into the sea when he flew so high that the sun melted the wax.

Icarus: Flying Too High and Flying Too Low- Spitzer’s Successors

People sometimes don’t remember the complete instructions Daedalus, his father, gave Icarus about using the wings he had fashioned for them both to escape from the island of Crete. Daedalus cautioned him not only not to fly too high near the sun but also not to fly too low, lest the sea mists and waves sodden his wings and end his flight that way. Spitzer’s successor in the Attorney General’s office was Andrew Cuomo. Shortly before this month’s election that will promote Mr. Cuomo so that he will also succeed Mr. Spitzer as Governor, the Times ran a story reporting that while Mr. Cuomo as Attorney General was as interested as Spitzer in headlines he was not attentive to the follow through that would take a financial bite out of the misbehaving and compensate those hurt:
. . . the praise is neither universal nor complete, and there are many who assert that Mr. Cuomo has, not unlike his predecessor, been more interested in headlines than in undertaking the tedious chores needed to bring lasting reform, and that he has mishandled, sidestepped or prolonged some public integrity cases.
(See: Mixed Views on Cuomo as Attorney General, by Alison Leigh Cowan, October 26, 2010.)

So for instance, when Mr. Cuomo’s AG office got credit for catching “more than a dozen large health insurers . . . routinely using flawed data to shortchange consumers for reimbursements on out-of-network medical costs” the insurance companies two years later were “still using the flawed data to set payments to consumers” with “almost none of the money won in the settlements” going “to those who had been undercompensated.” Accounting for this perpetuation of the same-old is that a “new system is under construction” being overseen by a “handpicked official who had worked for Mr. Cuomo’s father when he was governor” being paid “$183,000 for what amounts to part-time work.”

The article also notes that “an investigation into whether the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg [who endorsed Cuomo] and some public officials violated lobbying laws in their redevelopment efforts is still unresolved after two years.” Cuomo also did not investigate Atlantic Yards when asked. Instead he accepted and did not return campaign contributions from its developer. A spokesman for Cuomo during the campaign explained that Cuomo’s ability to retain those contributions was all based on the timing of their acceptance.

So if people are asking the question of whether Spitzer flew too high it should probably alternatively be asked whether Cuomo flew too low. If we are lucky, Cuomo’s successor won’t. Cuomo is to be succeeded as Attorney General by Eric Schneiderman who, during his campaign for the AG’s office, offered to investigate projects like Atlantic Yards and eminent domain abuse.

And, as will be discussed shortly, although the film prompts people to ask whether Spitzer flew too high they should probably also be asking whether in his erratic flight Spitzer also flew too low.

Here is another conundrum: Is it that Spitzer soared too high or is it that things on Wall Street are so abysmal he seemed to soar high only by comparison?

Mythological Dichotomy?

With the film trafficking in the grandeur of Greek god mythology archetypes to define what happened when Spitzer fell to earth it would be tempting to construct out of the Spitzer chronicles, a “hyperion to a satyr” dichotomy if I may borrow Hamlet’s comparison of these extremes:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
(Hamlet is comparing his deceased father to the sun god Hyperion and his usurping uncle Claudius to a satyr in Act I, Scene II.)

In other words it would be easy to see the film as dividing Spitzer into two distinct halves, the hyperion-cusader-for-principle and the sex-obsessed satyr. Indeed the film offers some thoughts specifically along these lines when early on it dreamily posits that while we want our public leaders to be gods, humans might philosophically be only hybrids: half angel and half animal. A plea made near the end of the film, though not necessarily adopted by it, that suggests that Spitzer should be charitably viewed as merely human.

The same Act I, Scene II of Hamlet quoted above, similarly dances later with the concept of viewing men as no more than human when Hamlet responds to Horatio’s comment that Hamlet’s father was “a goodly king” by saying “He was a man, take him for all in all. .” Hamlet then proceeds immediately, in his typical moody contradictory fashion, to grandeurize his father saying. . . “I shall not look upon his like again.”

A Political Piece of Work: Spitzer’s Third Side

View Spitzer charitably as only human? Half angel and half animal? This is where I think the movie falls short. It would be less apt to say that `Spitzer was just a man, taken for all in all’ than to say, `taken for all in all Spitzer was just a politician.’ And, as a flawed politician, we shall almost certainly look upon his like again . . . with tiresome repetitiveness, I fear. Let’s look at it this way: Though it may complicate the narrative, Spitzer had not two sides but three. Spitzer not only had his angelically principled side and a second side of animal temper and appetites: He had a third side which was that of the disappointing business-as-usual politician. To appreciate this you will need to know more than the film tells you. It touches upon what Noticing New York cares a lot about, the real estate industry in New York.

Disclosure: Working For Spitzer (Or Not)

Here is a note of personal disclosure that will lead into our Noticing New York reservations about the film: Spitzer was the last of four governors I worked for at the state housing finance agencies, those in order being Carey, Cuomo (the father), Pataki and Spitzer. Though I worked briefly for the Spitzer administration, the Spitzer administration when it arrived was not interested in continuing my services on behalf of the agencies and, taking that as a given, I did not wish to counter by raising the technicality that, legally speaking, my state service ought properly to have continued. Regular Noticing New York readers familiar with our predilections when it comes to proper process and the public purpose might infer that my departure from the government scene might have had something to do with those predilections. Though that might be a reasonable suspicion, it would be subject to far too many unprovables. One day perhaps, I’ll find out what was on the administration mind.

Twelve Years Difference

Substituting for any inferences I might make about my own departure I can observe some other things. Immediately upon coming in the Spitzer administration decided it wanted to do without the services of the individual I told them was most valuable to the agencies. This was an individual push-the-envelope investment bankers had long lobbied to get rid of. Twelve years before there had been some very deft maneuvering on the part of the nascent Pataki administration to retain this individual during the dangerously political lust-for-blood change-of- administration times that ensue right after an election. Initially, there was an interim “transition” retention of this individual, then a position and title change that kept him out of sight and out of mind and then eventually, as was appropriate, he resumed his climb eventually reaching new pinnacles of position at the agencies. Twelve years later the Spitzer administration took the helm and the bankers got their scalp.

Scrambling When the Crisis Came

I doubt that the Spitzer administration saw the financial meltdown coming when they assumed office in 2007. I credit the caution, skepticism, careful review, and stubborn negotiating of this gentleman to whom I am referring as being much of the reason that when the crisis struck the agencies' transactions fared pretty well. I’d like to think I made my own like-minded contributions to forestalling the kinds of problems that might have occurred. I understand that after the crisis struck the administration scrambled to reinvent the wheel and put back in place the style of safe guards that were second nature to this dismissed gentleman and perhaps myself. In between? I think there is evidence the agencies would have done better had he been kept around.

Spitzer as Reformer?

I also noticed that while the Spitzer administration ran on a platform of reform (along with the Alan Hevesi who never took office and was ultimately indicted) the administration seemed to think more in terms of reform applying to others than to itself. It might be appropriate to take as a just-for-instance, the subject of executive compensation, since that is an important subject in the “Client 9" film. In the film the question is whether or not Mr. Langone as a head of a not-for-profit restricted by New York State’s not-for-profit law’s provisions respecting reasonableness of compensation could properly be considered to have earned $139 million (yes, “million”) the year he left his position as head of the new York Stock Exchange. No laws were broken but I found that the idea of a natural, second-nature transparency on this issue was something the Spitzer administration couldn't accepted without breaking stride.

Spitzer and Atlantic Yards

The worst indicators I saw about whether process and the public were properly valued were in regard to Atlantic Yards. Although I saw an indication that the Spitzer administration was going to jump Atlantic Yards to the head of the line giving it an unearned priority over other projects, which would itself have been a bad thing, the most egregious conduct I saw from the Spitzer administration respecting Atlantic Yards I saw from outside government.
I have previously written about how the Spitzer administration ignored critical comment it was receiving about the Forest City Ratner mega-monopoly (including comments relating to state agency reform) and how, beyond that, it was deceptively burying negative comment it was receiving within the bowels of the executive office. (See: Thursday, February 26, 2009, Dear Eliot, . . . other things kept undercover may bear investigation.) That was consistent with what we heard about Spitzer’s reaction when he was approached about the megadevelopment by community advocates who came with New York City Council woman Tish James to meet with him in May of 2005. Back then everyone knew he was on the way to gubernatorial office.

Spitzer met the group bringing an entourage in tow. Reportedly losing his legendary temper Spitzer yelled, apparently willing to use his anger to make his visitors feel wrong for even darkening his doorstep with the issues presented to him. He said he didn’t care about process and he didn’t care about the community. (What I believe is a belated, somewhat inaccurate 2006 reporting of that meeting can be found in the Daily News.)

Why was Spitzer drawing the line and not dealing with the extreme improprieties concerning this major real estate project? Was it because he came from a real estate family himself? (Family real estate money financed the political campaigns that put Spitzer into office. Family real estate money also paid for Spitzer’s phenomenally expensive trysts with escorts that would otherwise have been totally out of the reach on a public official's salary.) Was Spitzer, as a politician, simply picking his fights and retaining allies?

The Goldman Rule: Lines That Shouldn’t Be Drawn

One explanation won’t hold up: You can’t easily differentiate the misconduct on Wall Street from the misconduct in the real estate industry. And, when it comes to real estate finance and the issuance of bonds, a lot of the players are the same: The Goldman and Barclays of the nation’s financial crisis are also involved with Atlantic Yards. Goldman Sachs is also swings over to the ownership/development side: It owns a huge new building in Battery Park City for which it was unfortunately allowed to override the Battery Park City master plan while receiving special subsidy deals and a zoning change to build bigger.

The subsidized, regulated, special-exception world of New York City real estate (and to an only somewhat lesser extent New York State real estate) is unforgivably complex in all its myriad nooks and crannies and, like Wall Street, it is increasingly a world where the power players take advantage of the average Joe and the mom-and-pop operations that represent the economy and livelihoods for the rest of us. Just as there are those who recommend that small players not turn their investment money over to Wall Street investment advisers because it is a rigged game, there are those who give similar advice about not investing in the city’s real estate.

There is a small club of big operators. Tools like eminent domain are discriminatorily wielded to benefit that small group who regularly dine with the Mayor and attend the same “charity” functions but will never be wielded against those in the big boys club. So, for instance, eminent domain is wielded to give Bruce Ratner (together with his Russian oligarch partner Mikhail Prokhorov) a 30-acre mega-monopoly over most of Brooklyn’s major subway lines, but eminent domain can’t be used in Manhattan against the powerful Dolan family to relocate Madison Square Garden to a new facility and give the citizens of New York a new and suitable Penn Station (the long-planned Moynihan Station).* What’s worse is that these government interventions to redistribute wealth from the rest of us to this small club of already supremely wealthy powerful insiders is poor resource allocation. Like so many other artificial interventions to transfer more wealth to the wealthy in our economy, it’s a drag on our economy that holds us back.

(* The spectacular gift that was the old Penn Station was destroyed and replaced by the current rabbit warren to effect real estate deals the industry wanted. The replacement station is pitifully decorated with pictures of the one that was destroyed- see picture.- Click to enlarge. Amazing what the real estate industry will do to the rest of us for the sake of one of their "deals"!)

Did I mention the regulation? The biggest players like Forest City Ratner, Columbia University (or Goldman) have nothing to fear from it. The financial crisis befell us partly because of a neutralized SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). In both the financial industry and the real estate industry “agency capture,” industry takeover of the regulatory agencies is a problem that simply tilts the playing field more in their favor. (See this definition and discussion.)

Putting the Question of Eloquence Front and Center

As the film notes, we have been seeing a lot more of Spitzer again recently. Spitzer’s reemergence into public life after his fall from grace was predicated almost entirely upon his having something to contribute to the public dialogue. First, there was his Slate Column (does that mean he is competing with the rest of the world of bloggers including Noticing New York?) and then he began appearing regularly as a talking head on the televised media. Now he has a regular program on CNN. Is he up to the job?

We have always wondered about Spitzer’s eloquence. He surely has his well-scripted moments. I saw his campaign speech in its entirety three times. It was a good one, all about attorney general activism. He spoke about how, if the federal government wasn’t going to regulate Wall Street, he as Attorney General of New York was going to use a state’s rights rationale to step into the vacuum.* Hearing the speech three times I was able to notice what others probably couldn’t: Each time the speech was word-for-word, virtually the same. I voted for Spitzer but I was worried about this rigidity and limited range. It should be noted that Spitzer, like Cuomo in the last election, was never tested in the crucible of the campaign because it was a foreordained conclusion that he was going to win. We seem to have had a lot of elections like that in New York recently.

(* Ironic that this film is now partly about the vacuum Spitzer leaves behind him.)

Here is an observation about eloquence: It is often assisted by clear thinking and it is often impeded by an avoidance of obvious connections and analogies. By and large I wasn’t especially impressed by Spitzer’s appearances as a talking head or his grasp of the overall economic picture about which he ventured to talk, for instance, when in September of 2009 he appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher alongside Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and writer who truly can be incisive and eloquent about the economy. It was Krugman who provided us with his brilliant column, The Madoff Economy, (December 19, 2008). The column showed how easy it was to make connections and analogize what has been going on with the economy as a whole with Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme (including a misplaced idolization of men walking away with a lot of money and assumptions that they know what they are doing):
. . . surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?

* * * *

. . . surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.
Spitzer may have brought most of his Wall Street prosecutions under the Martin Act, the same act used to prosecute Ponzi schemes, but his own eloquence didn’t take flight, making the obvious connections.

The film does contain a Spitzer interview snippet that shows off the kind of talking head stuff that Spitzer was dishing up on the networks as he spoke about reining in Wall Street to address the problems of the economy as whole. While it is not bad, it is about the best we have heard from him:
The issue of CEO comp was something I was trying to get people to take a look at, It was off the rails.

* * * *

The ratio of CEO comp to average worker’s comp had gone from about 40 to 1 to about 550 to 1. CEOs began to just take everything they could. And ultimately that was going to destroy our economy because instead of running the companies to create long term wealth and long term investment, all the games we’ve seen, everything from backdating stock options to maximizing short term profits without sufficient investment for the long term, these are things which are cancers inside the economy.
It is not that the above isn’t true, but it is fragmentary and rather vague when there is so much more needing to be pointed out and said by those put on the airwaves as insightful spokespersons.

Outing Comes To Ouster: A Well Run Dry

Darren Dopp, who resigned as Spitzer’s director of communications over his own role in the Troopergate scandal, suggests that a primary reason Spitzer’s outing lead to ouster was that the “reservoir of good will was empty” drained by Spitzer’s “combative style.” That is probably largely true, especially if the phrase “combative style” incorporates Spitzer’s near vendetta-based crossing of ethical lines in pursuing his adversaries together with his hypocritical holier-than-thou superiority. Still, Spitzer might have had access to a deeper “reservoir of good will” if he had also not been hypocritical about the basic principles for which he was elected. Noticing New York would have been much more reluctant to see him hurried out of office had he been doing and saying the right things with respect to Atlantic Yards. He wasn’t and David Paterson, the Lieutenant Governor, was standing promisingly in the wings with a history of opposing eminent domain abuse. (David Paterson is obviously another politician whose hypocrisy helped usher him quickly out of office.)

Superman Returns?

Go see “Client 9." Just to leave you curious: Do you think you know who Ashley Dupre is? Maybe you don’t. Check out the film. And do you think you know the story about the “black socks”? Even if you think you do you might want to check out the film.

Here is one thing we won’t leave you curious about. Interviewed outside of the context of the film, Alex Gibney, the film's maker, has answered one question that a lot of people will probably leave the theater wondering: Gibney thinks Eliot Spitzer wants to get back into politics.

Eliot Spitzer back in politics? If that’s ever going to happen it is going to take more than Spitzer’s foreswearing call girls and mastering his splenetic rages. Having once promised us a set of Hyperion principles worthy of a sun god, it’s going to take Spitzer’s true adoption of a set of principles that apply honestly across the board. If Spitzer ever adopts such a set of principles perhaps he can then find a voice, the eloquence he has not yet mastered, the eloquence that is there to be claimed by those willing to tell the whole story, including how the New York real estate industry is like Wall Street. Sequestering the satyr won’t be enough. He’ll also need to banish that third side, his less talked about politics-as-usual blind-to-real-estate-industry-abuses side.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yes, We Are ADDING to: "Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?)"

We promised that we would be adding to our post about music events and culture in New York: Tuesday, October 19, 2010, Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?).

We have been keeping our promise and we promise that we will be updating it further after this. What are we up to? The updates provide clues.

Recently added to our post is information about Friday night's El Frente performance, the flyer for which is above,* together with a long addition of information about stage erections and Marty Markowtiz’s use of free prison inmate labor for his concert series.

(* This performance did not happen as advertised. It did not happen because, when it turned out that a number of things about the evening were not going to be as advertised, various bands scheduled to perform that evening did not.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?)

Why are we providing what you see below, including the flyer (click to enlarge) for an imminent Sunday evening (October 24th) performance of Fran Landesman songs by Shepley Metcalf at the Metropolitan Room on 22nd Street in Manhattan? Is it off topic to our usual Noticing New York concerns? Could our only reason be that Shepley is, through the extended family, a cousin by marriage as well as perhaps are some others who get mentioned in what appears below?

Maybe it will all get connected. We are short of time right now and will leave you guessing. Perhaps the clues are in some of the links below. For the answer you’ll have to check back by clicking on this post later and find out how it is updated in the future. . . As indeed it will be.

Shepley Metcalf at the Metropolitan Room on October 24th

Lyricist Fran Landesman' is the native New Yorker who penned the jazz standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."

Something Irresistible: Shepley Metcalf Sings Fran Landesman. Sunday, October 24, 7 pm. $20.00 cover plus 2 drink minimum. Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Musical director Ron Roy on piano, Chris Rathbun on bass, and Bart Weisman on drums. Reservations recommended by clicking here or calling 212-206-0440.

If you want to get a preview listen go here. It is almost certainly incumbent upon us to give a Noticing New York mention to that fact that one of the songs on Shepley's album which she performs in her act is "In a New York Minute" which has lyrics that could be apropos to more than a few of our posts like:
It’s the perfect city if you’ve got a buck
But it shows no pity when you’re out of luck
The wry, frank and clever Fran Landesman lyrics are a big part of the evening's fun. Many of them play with the implication that life is most worth living when your are living it hard ("Scars") and perhaps making one's fair share of mistakes ( "I'm Not Taking Any Chances".)

I am not sure how much we are free to disclose (Shepley's Metropolitan Room performance engaged in some entre nous "what happens in New York stays in New York based humor") but one of our favorite songs about living all-out is Landesman's Hyde Side Blues available for a listen at Shepley's website if you click. The song's protagonist wants to see less of Dr. Jekyll.

The lyrics are by no means the only part of the evening's success. Ms. Landesman words were all put to music by Simon Wallace. (It was through Mr. Wallace that Shepley tracked down the song writing team when she was having difficulty finding them.) Shepley demonstrated the surprising dimensions adds by the music by reading a song aloud that started as a poem and then singing with a very different feeling accompanied by Wallace's music.

The evening presented many rare moments because even if "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is a well recognized song in the American Song Book cannon, most of the other Landesman/Wallace are rarely recorded if at all. Given their very high caliber one wonders why this is the case. Shepley is the first to be performing and recording them in the U.S..

Right now it looks likely that Shepley will return to the Metropolitan Room for several more engagements in March.- Update on this:

Shepley’s Fran Landesman show songs is returning to the Metropolitan Room on March 2, 5, 19 and 20, specifically:
Something Irresistible: New Songs by Fran Landesman
Music Director Ron Roy on piano
Chris Rathbun on bass, Gene Roma on drums
Wed March 2 at 7 pm
Sat March 5 at 9:30 pm
Sat March 19 at 7:00 pm
Sun March 20 at 4 pm
Here is Stephen Holden’s Times music review of a Shepley’s show: Traveling to the Stars, No Joy or Romance Needed, by Stephen Holden, March 8, 2011.

More Performances, Brooklyn Neighborhood Ones, at First Acoustics

First Acoustics? First what? Here is a link. And we wrote about it before: Wednesday, February 25, 2009, Adding Something Off Topic: A Few Notes. The First Acoustics performances are hosted in the space of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Brooklyn Heights at the corner of Pierrepont and Monroe Streets.

Upcoming First Acoustics concerts (usually Saturday evenings):

Priscilla Herdman
with Max Cohen
SUNDAY, November 7, 2010, 3:00 p.m.
All seats $20.00

Red Molly
with Pat Wictor
March 19, 2011
All seats $30.00

Janis Ian
with special guest Natalia Zukerman
April 9, 2011
All seats $30.00

We're about 9
with Barnaby Bright
May 7, 2011
All seats $25.00

Bob Cuningham Ensemble
May 21, 2011
All seats $25.00

And one day we are hoping . . . Maureen Kelly Stewart.

But this season you have already missed whom we saw:

Jonathan Edwards
with Judy Gorman (Judy is another Brooklynite from very nearby.)

The Nields (We have a story.*)
With Chris Brown (Accompanied by John Walsh)
* Digressing To Follow Through On A Superfluity of Connections: One of the great things about First Acoustics is that it is the kind of intimate environment where you will likely get the chance to have a few words with the performers while asking them to sign CDs of theirs that are available for sale.- The Nields are a delightful duo: Catch them when you can.- Speaking to Katryna Nields after the show I couldn’t help mentioning that one of my professors at Sarah Lawrence was a law professor with the last name of Neilds. “Jack Nields was our grandfather!” said Katryna.

I probably don’t need to confess it, as I did to her then, but I have always found it ironic, given that I chose to become a lawyer, that when I studied law with him Jack Neilds gave me the lowest grade I ever got at Sarah Lawrence. He gave me something like a B+. Sarah Lawrence didn’t hand out grades, using verbal written evaluations instead, but had actual grades in the administration office when you needed them to apply for graduate school. Low grade or not, he was a great teacher and I have always remembered him, including the way it would irritate his hearing aid if I let my metal ring ding the metal chair in which I sat during conferences with him.

I understand that a number of years later Jack Nields was a don and mentor to Rahm Emanuel (Class of ’81), the same fellow now leaving the Obama administration to run for Mayor of Chicago. Reportedly Emanual says he “got lucky right away” at Sarah Lawrence and `found himself' studying Supreme Court decisions under Nields. I also remember spending a lot of time in the library hauling Supreme Court decisions off the shelves.

One of the things I chose to focus on in my studies with Professor Nields was policing techniques that could make communities safer. That choice is perhaps not so surprising for that time: This was the 1970s in the aftermath of much of the urban destruction that ensued following the Robert Moses era that was just then coming to an end. Another connection that came from studying with Professor Nields is that he introduced me to the work of civil libertarian lawyer Paul G. Chevigny (now an NYU Law School Professor emeritus) who wrote two excellent books I then had a chance to read: Police Power: Police Abuses in New York City and Cops and Rebels: a Study of Provocation. The title of the first book is self explanatory. The second book is about when the police take the role of agent provocateurs.

Before Nields introduced me to his work I had no idea who Paul Chevigny was notwithstanding the fact that he and I had grown up in the same ten-story building on Gramercy Park. I knew about his father though. Paul Chevigny’s father’s was a writer and my father loved his book: My Eyes Have a Cold Nose. Hector Chevigny was blind and his book’s title referred to his guide dog named “Shadow.” Shadow was so named because Hector Chevigny's career had included writing scripts for the famous radio program (You recall: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”) and because it was obviously appropriate for a companion who was always at your side. The world being quite small it also turned out that Paul Chevigny's wife Bell Chevigny also taught at Sarah Laurence while I was there.

If you’ll sit still as we meander in this digression to make one last recommendation: “Election Day” is a remarkable documentary directed by the Chevigny’s daughter Katy Chevigny which, shades of the Gore/Bush presidential contest, shows the immense problems in our system of elections by combining the different stories of 11 citizens determined to vote in the November 2004 election. That means that there are at least three generations of remarkable Chevigny talent. Oh, speaking of threes, we found that “Election Day”completed a very satisfactory triptych to evaluate our election problems if you also watched "Recount," HBO’s dramatization of the Bush/Gore ballot-counting battle and the documentary “Hacking Democracy.” (And you see, this digression all started with telling you about going to see the Nields First Acoustics performance.)
And someone we didn’t see this season at First Acoustics:

Mike Bjella Jazz Quartet
and Camila Meza Group

While We Are Talking Brooklyn: Indy Brooklynite Ingrid Michaelson

Then there is Brooklynite indie-pop singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson who, with us, shares the same sort of extended cousinly relationship with Ms. Metcalf that we do. She’s touring a lot which takes her away from New York (playing Columbus, Ohio on October 21st) but she has a New York City engagement December 10, at the Highline Ballroom.

See the video and links below:

Here’s the link to another visually fun video we can’t embed here.

Here is Ingrid in a (09.16.09 ) duet with Greg Laswell doing new untitled song they wrote.

Ingrid and Greg will be getting married next fall.

And Then Even More Entertainment Specially Pertinent To Our Brooklyn Neighborhoods (Music Included)

Tickets Go On Sale for IN THE FOOTPRINT, the theatrical examination of Atlantic Yards controversy from The Civilians.

Click here for a video of "The Neighborhood Song" also appearing in a YouTube version embedded below.

For more video click here for the Gentrification or "Pardon the Crackers" scene and here for a lot more from their YouTube Channel.

We have seen the original version of In the Footprint ("Brooklyn at Eye Level") and we saw the short condensed cabaret version they put together using out-takes performed at Joe's Pub (at the Public) so we know the work is really good and a very entertaining evening. We'll definitely go see it in its third incarnation (and are looking forward to the movie as well).

The Joe's Pub version included the valuable addition of a scene that we didn't remember being in the first version, apparently based on an interview the Civilians did with an employee who worked with and was then fired by Ratner. That really benefitted the piece because it needed some insight into what was going on in the other side in that Ratner corporate world. Unfortunately the Ratner people were not giving interviews.

We admit to be being disappointed (only slightly) that the Civilians have not yet inserted into their piece the scene we suggested where (this is a true story) Ratner snaps his cell phone shut and, on the golf course, tells his golfing companion (a guy who owns a line of successful comic books)- “I just bought myself a basketball team!” (See: Tuesday, November 11, 2008, You Oughta Be in Pictures, . . On Stage, In a Book, In a Documentary.)

If they want to have another really good Ratner scene they can set it in the reception area of Ratner's office where, again absolutely true, Ratner was showing a live video cam projection on his wall of all the Atlantic Yards site property he didn't yet own as he awaited with arrogant assurance the New York Court of Appeals eminent domain abuse decision that would give it to him. See our Noticing New York piece: Tuesday, December 1, 2009, Unfair Substitution of Fiction For Fact in the Atlantic Yards Dialogue. In that piece we offered the following piece of dialogue “Actually, with this Court of Appeals decision I’m going to have to get a bigger wall!”
You can read what we wrote to figure out whether that dialogue would stretch the Civilians standards for strict verismo authenticity, notwithstanding that Ratner actually dared to project the land he wanted to steal for the visiting on the wall of his reception area.

Bloody Bloody Coincidence

The other day we picked a theater show to attend with an out-of-town visitor and we almost went to "In the Footprint" but instead wound up at "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," highly recommended by some Austin, Texas music aficionados who had just visited New York. It was Monday night and the theater was filled.* I am not sure exactly what to make of "Bloody Bloody" but its primary process sensibility seems to owe a lot to Monty Python's style of tangling with history (and perhaps a tad also to some Saturday Night Live skits). A (dead?) mule was hung upside down over the audience as part of the theater decorations' extended stage set. I nearly found myself expecting the unexpected Spanish Inquisition. Where Monty P. tends to deal with European history from a university student's standpoint, "Bloody Bloody" deals with American history (traveling fewer centuries back) from what appears to be a Midwestern high school student's perspective.

(* Reportedly, it was "the Public's second-highest-grossing production ever during an Off Broadway run this past spring.")

What I was startled to learn after the show was that in choosing between "In the Footprint" and "Bloody Bloody" for our evening excursion we were choosing between two shows with music and lyrics written by the same composer/lyricist, Michael Friedman. We would not have readily noticed this commonality given that the style of the music was, to us, so different. With respect thereto, it had to be pointed out to us by our New York guest that "Bloody Bloody's" Pythonesque approach is mashed up with an emo sensibility. If you are not following what emo is then you too would have missed the joke about Jackson's populist crowds' placards that demanded "Emocracy." Both "In the Footprint" and "Jackson" deal with politics, elitist trickery, and a fair share of populist anger. Footprint is the most tightly constructed from a standpoint of intellectual rigor. If you are choosing between the two shows, you are likely to find "Footprint" the more accessible and easier to relate to even though it deals with arcana such as what is "ULURP." Maybe not so if you are of an age where you just got your first credit card.

The "In the Footprint" Michael Friedman vectored connection means that "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" doesn't take us very far from our favorite Noticing New York subjects but we also found this: 35-year-old Mr. Friedman was previously an "urban planning consultant"! This we found in an Observer article about what a big fall Mr. Friedman is having that makes the case for Friedman's "Very Big Fall" while failing to mention "In the Footprint" as one of Mr. Friedman's fall achievements. (See: Composer Michael Friedman’s Very Big Fall, by Kimberly Kaye, September 28, 2010.)

This fall Friedman will also be present in the New York theater with his work on the predicted hit revival of “Angels in America.” The Observer article does credit Mr. Friedman for his past work with the Civilians. It also notes that Mr. Friedman “has three ambitious new projects in the works,” one of which is another Civilians project: “The Great Immensity,” about the global environmental crisis; “Pretty Filthy,” (with the Civilians) about porn and an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem's “Fortress of Solitude,” a story about two motherless boys in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Omnibus’ Passing Strange Mention of How Eminent Domain Haunts the Prokhorov/Ratner Basketball Arena

On October 23, 2010, Atlantic Yards Report covered Brooklyn Omnibus, a new song cycle “that considers what it means to call Brooklyn home” (created by the musicians Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the collaborators on the Broadway musical play Passing Strange) that also mentions the how ominously foreboding Atlantic Yards is to the community.

Under the heading “The haunted arena” Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder writes about a vampire song sung as an encore. Pointing out the nod to Thomas Wolfe's “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” Mr. Oder provided pertinent lyrics about the Nets Prokhorov/Ratner “Barclay” Basketball arena:

Only ghosts have eminent domain/we can't wait 'til the Barclays Center is done.

Only the dead have eminent domain/it's the dead's job to drive the living insane.

For some other ghost stories about the Prokhorov/Ratner arena see: Monday, January 19, 2009
A Fable for Our Times: Gehry and the Spirit of the Land.

(Below, Halloween being celebrated in Brooklyn Heights 2010.)
Foxily Making A Wolfe Connection

The windows of our own apartment look out into the windows of a brownstone where Thomas Wolfe once lived not long before he died (September 15, 1938). “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” appeared in The New Yorker on June 15, 1935. The plaque on the building across the way (see below) says that Thomas Wolfe lived there from 1933 to 1935 so it would, indeed, seem that Mr. Wolfe wrote “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” in Brooklyn Heights while living in that building across from us.

Noticing New York is still working hard to get to know Brooklyn. We were not hoping to haunt you with knowledge after we expire. Instead, our knowledge is to prevent you from being haunted.

And If You Are In Austin, Texas? Then. . . .

If in Austin Texas you should catch Continental Graffiti.

Continental Graffiti hasn’t been around all that long but it features Katie Holmes (no, not that
Katie Holmes, this one fiddles and sings) and Olivier Giraud who plays the guitar and sings. We think of them as the modern equivalent of the team-up of Django Reinhardt and St├ęphane Grappelli. Holmes is new on the Austin scene. Giraud is well known from prior bands he was in. They are both great.

For personal reasons we have a significant, special affection for their rendition of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." They better hurry up and produce a CD, something they haven't done yet. Oh yes, maybe also we can entice them to visit Brooklyn?

The best way to enjoy them may be at the Continental Club where dancers have very visibly worn out the linoleum and the cover before 9:00 PM on Monday night’s is nonexistent; just please donate to the band.

Check out the videos on their website below:

More Coverage

We must wonder why Continental Graffiti has not produced a CD yet. Surely they have sufficient material to produce one at least if they include all the American S0ng Book covers they do so well. Yes, doing `covers,' as opposed to one's own songs does require paying more royalties. There is also the question of the gritty authenticity of original product versus new, possibly repetitive editions of the already familiar. (This is also a question that relates to analogous concerns when creating a cities: Is it good to create faux recreations of earlier architectural styles?) Still, we love the American Song Book genre and that genre entails an entrenched tradition of covers. Usually the performers succeed in making new renditions entirely their own. One admonistic truism: If you are going to cover another famous artist's song make sure that you perform it at least as well as the original artist or perform it differently enough to make the performance your own. Continental Graffiti is safe on that score.

Rabbit Redux?

Speaking of copies vs. originals, Lena Dunham has a new film out, “Tiny Furniture,” that received a very respectful review in the New York Times. (See: Movie Review: Tiny Furniture; Girl Undefined: Post-College but Pre-Real World, by Manohla Dargis, November 11, 2010.) Ms. Dunham is actually a distant cousin of ours via our shared Dunham ancestry.

The Times review uses the film as an opportunity to provide this dissertation on the subject of authentic originals versus repetitive copies thereof:
One of the knots that Ms. Dunham requires you to untie while you’re watching “Tiny Furniture” is the extent to which she is playing with ideas about fiction and the real, originals and copies. Is the character Aura actually Ms. Dunham (the unique woman who lived in that loft) or is the director playing a copy of herself? Ms. Dunham doesn’t overtly say. One hint, though, might be the character’s unusual first name, which suggests that Ms. Dunham, at the age of 24 and herself a recent graduate, has read the social theorist Walter Benjamin’s 1930s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” one of the most influential (and commonly classroom-assigned) inquiries into aesthetic production and the mass reproduction of art.

Benjamin argued that an original work of art (say, a Rodin sculpture), has an aura, which creates a distance between it and the beholder. But aura decays as art is mechanically reproduced (say, for postcards).
One reason we believe that Aura isn’t an entirely authentic version of Ms. Dunham: In the film Aura has a pet white hamster; the real life Ms. Dunham, like us had pet rabbits. After babysitting for us she became our official rabbit adviser.

Another Cousinly Connection To Sing About, a French One

Another cousin of ours who is a singer performer is Jean-Paul Vignon. Jean-Paul also wrote several of his early French hits. If he doesn’t sound familiar it may depend on how old you are and how far back you can remember. If you memory is good enough you may recall that he was on Ed Sullivan many times and did a wonderful duet of “Boom/Boum*” half in French, half in English with Liza Minnelli. It was around the time that the twist was coming in (and yes the Beatles).

(*It was written by Charles Trenet. Another version of it was used several years ago in the film “Something's Gotta Give”)

I think that Jean-Paul’s very best recording is one that didn’t become a hit, “Goodbye, Goodbye, Colette,” a quiet beautifully crafted and sweetly sentimental song by Paul Vance who also wrote
"Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," and the Shangri-Las’ "Leader of the Pack."
Paul Vance is, by the way, by no means dead though he was one falsely reported to be so. “Goodbye, Goodbye, Colette” is an exquisite song that nobody else ever recorded and has been forgotten about but it could be a success today. I admit that I am almost certainly prejudiced on that subject because I was there when it was recorded. You see, connections like that count for a lot. (The flip side of Collette, "Ma Via (My Life)" was also written by Vance.)

Jean-Paul was once promoted as the “Young Chevalier” because none other than Maurice Chevalier himself had identified him as the young man who was his most likely successor. Notwithstanding, providing a good example of how the market often fails to work well to distribute older or niche genre music, of perhaps an 80 or so songs Jean-Paul has recorded, I can only find five that are currently commercially available (three are e-music downloads, two are from Amazon). The situation is improving, however, because not long ago there I could find none all.

The five songs to be found (all listed below) are all from Jean-Paul’s French pop star period before he came to the United States or hit the Ed Sullivan Show, Merv Griffin Show, Red Skelton Show, Tonight Show, etc. Two of the songs (those asterisked) were written, or co-written by Jean-Paul himself. However good the songs are, they should not be considered to represent the creme de la creme of Jean-Paul’s oeuvre. He certainly doesn't consider all of them among his best. In fact, he considers (I disagree) that when singing one of these songs he was in particularly poor voice.
* La pluie (J.P. Vignon - J.C. Pelletier)

Mon Amour (written by Charles Aznavour)

Je te tendrai les bras (written by Dorsey-Giraud)
Artist: Jean-Paul Vignon

* La fille du port (J.P. Vignon - J.C. Pelletier)

Le chant des moissons (written by P. Saka & H. Decker)
"Mon Amour" and "Le Chant des Moissons" were both on Jean-Paul's very first recording, recorded live in 1956, back when there was no such thing as editing such a record before it was pressed. The two songs on the flip side of that original 45 recording, "Madame la Lune"
and "Les Etoiles s’Amusent," were both co-written by Jean-Paul (with A. Lasry).

In fictional TV land (aside from meeting Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek Next Generation series) Jean-Paul, teen-idol fashion, visited Patty Duke on the Patty Duke Show, in “What's Cooking, Cousin?” That’s “Patty” who has (according to the show’s theme song): “only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights.” What sights would Patty see from Brooklyn Heights now? The development of Brooklyn Bridge Park, see: Monday, May 24, 2010, Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? An Examination of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Terms of the Politics of Development, Part I.

Pasticheing With the Pizzarellis

Our last Noticing New York piece about music in New York featured our recommendation to go enjoy the First Family of Cool, the Pizzarellis, and we specifically mentioned John Pizzarelli and his wife, Jessica Molaskey, of whom we are great fans. Here’s more about them.

The Pizzarellis not only connect magically with their audiences, they also go out of their way to have strong connections with their communities. This includes many special benefit concerts held to raise money for their children’s schools.

Well Schooled

You can see the Pizzarellis’ at Feinstein's or The Carlyle and spend perhaps $400 or more for a table for your group on any particular evening (Yes, Birdland: April 12-16, or the Metropolitan Museum: March 31st, are less expensive, as is maybe even the Algonquin) or, you might be able to catch one of these school benefits and spend only $30 per head (plus whatever you might want to spend on a CD for autographing*) and thereby support a good cause into the bargain. The last of these benefits was one we caught Sunday afternoon, January 30, 2010. It was their 16th annual benefit for the Anderson Public School at 77th and Columbus where their daughter goes to school.

(* NNY Recommended.)

The trick is to find out the where and when of those performances. We found out when Jonathan Schwartz announced it on WNYC the day of the concert. That is also the way we found out about another such benefit, the first one we went to years ago. At this latest benefit John Pizzarelli said that, running some numbers, they calculated that the sixteen benefits for the Anderson school had now brought in over $100,000. That’s not to mention that they have done other benefits for other of the schools their children have attended.

Plans (and Lyrics) Change

John mentioned, with appreciation, the Jonathan Schwartz on-air announcement of the benefit and that his announcement brought people in all the way from Long Island. By way of returning the favor, John then played a song written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, noting that Arthur Schwartz is Jonathan Schwartz’s father: “I Guess I’ll have to Change my Plan.”

The song is best known for Fred Astaire’s rendition of it in the Dietz and Schwartz movie musical The Band Wagon. In addition to live performances, John Pizzarelli has recorded two versions of it but (drat and double drat!) a version where he sings the song is not available in MP3 format at the moment. He did the vocal, accompanying himself on guitar, early in his career (1987) in a version that is available on vinyl on his album Sing! Sing! Sing! More recently (2008), he has an instrumental version with violinist Aaron Weinstein that is on their album “Blue Too” available on emusic. (Emusic is our very favorite site for getting music on the web. The Pizzarellis have been quick to embrace technology and much of their music is available on the emusic site.) Aaron Weinstein performs with the Pizzarellis at venues like Birdland and was also playing with them, wearing an endearing bow tie, at the Sunday benefit.

Delightfully, John Pizzarelli took the time to tell some of the back story to “I Guess I’ll have to Change My Plan” which is that the Dietz lyrics to the Schwartz melody were not the first. The song was originally written (in 1924) as the camp song “I Love to Lie Awake in Bed.” (Pizzarelli accidently substituted “like” for “love” telling the story.) The camp was Camp Paradox on Brant Lake in the Adirondacks and the first set of lyrics were written by none other than Lorenz Hart. (Born in 1895 Hart must have been about 29 at the time.) Having once been a camper there, Hart later rented a cottage nearby which gave him the chance to collaborate with Schwartz when Schwartz was a camp counselor. Who else went to the camp? Hart’s more famous collaborator Richard Rodgers who, we read, spent hours playing the piano rather than engaging in other camp activities. (One of the women in Pizzarelli’s audience that afternoon indicated that she too had gone to the camp.)

I was delighted that Pizzarelli brought this camp song story up. Though I first heard it more than a decade ago (one Saturday afternoon on David Garland’s old edition of Spinning on Air), I hadn’t heard the story since. Pizzarelli not only told the story, he sang the original lyrics in their entirety:
I love to lie awake in bed
Right after taps
I pull the flaps
above my head.
I let the stars shine on my pillow,
Oh, what a light the moonbeams shed,
I feel so happy I could cry
And tears are born
within the corn-
er of my eye.
To be at home was never like this.
I could live forever like this.
I love to lie awake awhile
And go to bed with a smile.
Princely Promotion of a Change of Plans

With “The King’s Speech” currently in the theaters vying for a bevy of Oscars, Pizzarelli missed another intriguing, now topical, part of the song’s back story. The song first became famous in Europe as the “Blue Pajama” song with the assistance of the Prince of Wales, who “repeatedly requested the song at nightclubs and formal events,” the Prince of Wales I refer to here is the one who became the (never-crowned) King Edward VIII of England for 325 days before he abdicated (in 1937) to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson of Baltimore, thus clearing the way for “Bertie” of “The King’s Speech” to ascend to the throne as King George VI.

Allegedly, the Prince took up with Mrs. Wallis when she was still married to her second husband. The Prince might have fallen in love with the Dietz and Schwartz song because of the song’s role in the story of the 1929 Broadway musical in which it was originally introduced, particularly the bent taken by its second verse. (These days you only hear, and can only readily find, the first verse.) The show was The Little Show. In it, the first verse describes the termination of a love affair because of the advent of an unsuspected husband. But in the second verse the singer decides to pursue the married woman anyway.

As The King’s Speech film tells the story, “Bertie” himself had his own a special relationship with music and songs. Because music is ingrained in such a deep part of the brain, singing songs was an effective treatment for his stuttering. For the same reason severely-wounded Congressman Gabrielle Giffords is reportedly using singing in her attempts to reclaim her faculties of speech.

Change of Plans for Princely Promotions

While The King’s Speech was an original piece of work and hardly a copy, the casting of Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury is a fun tip of the hat to how the story echos the famous work in which Jacobi first came to the attention of most of us: He played another improbable and similarly impeded head of an empire who ultimately surpasses everyone's skeptical expectations, ascending to power after all those ahead of him in the line of succession unexpectedly fall away- - - “C-C-C-c-laudis can't be emperor!” they once said.

The Local Gets Promoted by Schwartz

Pizzarelli paid more tribute to Jonathan Schwartz’s father with a second fairly well known Schwartz and Dietz song, “Rhode Island Is Famous For You.” That song, with plenty of wordplay, romantically riffs off all the local things for which various states are familiar. (More on the value of local things later.)

Schooled in Local Politics
Admittedly, the Pizzarellis do have something of a relationship with Jonathan Schwartz. They are, for instance, regular guests on his annual on-air Christmas show. Observation: Over and over again relationships crop up as very important in human affairs. Something to muse on in that regard: Why is it that, in politics, it so often seems that the influence of background relationships cause a problem while, in music, we almost always consider that relationships add something beneficial to the mix? (Of course, with New Orleans District Attorney and part time singer Harry Connick, Sr. – father of actor/singer Harry Connick, Jr.- you got both politics and music mixed together.)

Politics were in evidence at the Pizzarelli benefit concert. They traipsed in with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who, at the outset of the concert, stepped up to the microphone to say a few introductory words. He praised the Anderson School principal, interjecting that he thought she would make a great Schools Chancellor thereby taking a swipe at Bloomberg’s recently appointed Schools Chancellor Cathie Black. If this wasn’t clear enough to the rest of the assembly, Stringer threw in that he also believed a lot of people in the room would probably make a really good Schools Chancellor. The responsive groans and clapping showed that the audience was in emotional tune with Stringer’s snideness.

Notwithstanding, you couldn’t detect whether Mr. Pizzarelli had any sympathies with Mr. Stringer on this topic. I don’t know the Pizzarellis’ politics. Two key ingredients contributing to any Pizzarelli performance’s success are, in my opinion, good humor and comedic humor. The former, to which most of us aspire, does not always easily accommodate the dark takes on the political powers and the lack of respect for the common man you often find in the analysis offered here at Noticing New York. As for the Pizzarelli family’s skill with the comedic, that seems to come from their extraordinary timing, honed, I think, by their musical skills and coupled with an acute intelligence about human nature. The Pizzarellis slant toward intelligent songs. Ms. Molaskey’s next album is likely to involve Dave Frishberg. (She told us this after the benefit when we complained that we were unable to present her with a recent new album to autograph.)

Smarts Out of School

In 2006 Ms. Molaskey was performing with Mr. Frishberg at Feinstein’s in what Times critic Stephen Holden said “may be the smartest cabaret show you’ll see all year.” (See: Her Voice, His Tender, Cruel Songs, by Stephen Holden, October 19, 2006.) Holden also commented, “as a cynical pop commentator on the games people play, there is no more ferocious wit than the jazz songwriter Dave Frishberg,” saying Frisberg provides what he deems “the funniest punch line” of “his most famous song, `My Attorney Bernie,’ . . a scathing portrait of a high-powered lawyer by a client”:
He buys wine from the rare imported rack
That’s ’cause Bernie is a purist, not your polyester tourist
Bernie waves the glass around a while and takes a sip and always sends it back
Like Other Musicians . . .

By contrast, more of the humor of Ms. Molaskey’s husband John has to do with a sort of infectiously good-natured clowning. This was in evidence with John’s closing song for the afternoon, one he does frequently, that acknowledges his New Jersey roots: “I Like New Jersey Best.” Apart from the fact that we involuntarily wince at any mention of Bruce Ratner’s Nets (whether they will hopefully stay put in New Jersey or not) the song is amusing, partly because about halfway through Mr. Pizzarelli starts adopting different musical personas, starting out with imitations of Paul Simon (born Born1941 in Newark) and Bruce ("The Boss") Springsteen (born 1949, Long Branch, New Jersey) and then running through the likes of everyone (including non-New Jerseyians) from Bob Dylan to the Beach Boys, Dean Martin and Johnny Cash. At one point he switches back and forth between imitations of Billie Holiday and Madeline Peyroux the joke being that his impressions of both sound identical. Does Madeline Peyroux imitate Billie Holiday?

You come away from all this understanding that Mr. Pizzarelli is not only a gifted mimic but that his voice is a lot more supple than one might immediately suppose from the pleasant slightly nasal twang-ishness with which he usually sings.

At one point in the parade of parodies you think you are listening to Mr. Pizzarelli imitating Bronx-born Bobby Darin only to have Mr. Pizzarelli puckishly disabuse you of this notion: He archly states that he is really doing Kevin Spacey (born 1959 in South Orange, New Jersey).

Kevin Spacey used his own singing voice to play Darin in "Beyond the Sea" a biopic about Darin’s life. (It produced one of two 2004 biopic soundtracks worthwhile to own, the other being De-Lovely with another actor named Kevin, Kevin Kline, starring as Cole Porter.) Spacey is, himself, a gifted mimic as his singing in that film will attest, but if you want further proof of this you may still be able to catch, in the theaters, the film “Casino Jack” about Washington lobbyist and Republican political operative Jack Abramoff and the scandals that shipwrecked him. In that film Abramoff, played by Spacey, is depicted as being addicted to assuming the mannered delivery of different other actors to replicate their famous quotes from different movies. Spacey struts his stuff accordingly. (Don’t confuse Spacey’s “Casino Jack” with the Alex Gibney documentary about Abramoff: “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” Gibney also did "Client 9" the documentary about the fall of Eliot Spitzer about which we have written.)

A Sketchy Story About Tony Bennett

Seeing the Pizzarellis economically at one of these benefits or in the lush luxury of Feinstein’s each has its respective benefits. The following will illustrate both. We saw the Pizzarellis twice at Feinstein's (I’m going to skirt mention of the family event I missed part of in order to utilize my first highly-valued reservation.) The second time we saw the Pizzarellis was when my wife and I decided to introduce our young daughters to their first taste of cabaret. I made the reservation far in advance, hoping to get the best table possible. We conscientiously arrived early. Though these strategies had seemed well-advised I then found myself wondering why a close-to-the-stage table immediately beside us was still vacant. Then, just as the lights were lowering for the performance, Tony Bennett walked in to sit there. My mother (one of the celebrated Daly sisters) was with us. I had seen Bennett (and Diana Krall) perform at Radio City Music Hall with her in 2000, so as Mr. Bennett sat down I repeated to her something she had said to me at that time: “There’s the sexiest man alive.” Though my voice was low I believe Mr. Bennett heard me because, when I said it, Mr. Bennett turned and gave my mother a knowing nod. We were, I’ll repeat, sitting very close.

Now the good thing about seeing the Pizzarellis at their benefit concerts as opposed to Feinstein's is that, in our experience, they are more approachable than at perhaps any other time. More so than at, say, the Algonquin. This is where the advisability of buying CD’s for autograph comes in. As John Pizzarelli’s wife Jessica was autographing CDs for me- this was several years back at the first Anderson School benefit concert we went to- I was telling her the Tony Bennett story. “I remember that performance,” she said and then went on to describe how she and John had been a little bit worried because, during it, Mr. Bennett was keeping his head down in an absorbed way and looking up only periodically. The explanation for this?: In addition to being a superlative singer Mr. Bennett is an accomplished painter and he loves to do sketches. Everything became clear when, after the show, he went back to visit John and Jessica and the rest of the crew, including John’s bass-playing brother Martin, to show them how he had rendered them in sketches during the performance. (Here is link if you want to see a sketch Bennett did of Leonard Lopate while being interviewed by him on the radio. I wish I could link you to the sketches Bennett did at Feinstein’s that night.)

The cover art for “Bennett on Holiday,” Bennett’s album of Billie Holiday classics, incorporates a portrait of Billy Holiday Bennett did himself. (This information is per the inside of the album’s jewel case, “Portrait of Billie Holiday by Tony Bennett 1997,” apparently not otherwise discoverable on the Internet.)

Back to School to Face the Music Again (This Time It’s Taps)

Speaking of jazz musicians playing at New York public schools, one evening, years ago, I got a crucial perspective on the way our New York public schools were being run when I went with friends to see Wynton Marsalis (or was it Jon Faddis?) play at the Louis Armstrong High School in Queens. The evening was proceeding with an incredible amount of energy and Marsalis (or Faddis) was clearly having a marvelous time performing for an audience that included many black youths . The excitement was such time seemed to pass out of existence but then, just as the minute hand of the clock reached toward twelve to denote the hour (a fairly early one at that), a figure appeared in the doorway to the left. It was a like a comic book or a graphic novel with the figure casting as long black shadow into the room from light that streamed from behind. Silently the figure raised an extended finger and drew it sharply across his throat like a knife: the symbol for cut. It was the school superintendent, a well-paid white building keeper who was part of strong union. Marsalis/Faddis looked over saying something like “Aw, we don’t really have to quit now, do we?” The figure stood implacable. The school’s principal, a black woman I knew to have an incredible force of personality, rushed over to have hushed words with the man. The result was a very few extra minutes for Marsalis/Faddis to wrap up his performance. It was evident where the power was and how it was misplaced.

BTW: Wynton Marsalis often plays with clarinetist Dr. Michael White. I may similarly have a doctorate (one in law) but that Michael White is not me. . . . . Thinking about it again I am pretty sure it was Jon Faddis who played that night, but not to worry, Mr. Faddis also plays with Wynton Marsalis and Dr. Michael White.

Back to First Acoustics

There is so much more to say about First Acoustics. Livingston Taylor has performed there twice, opening their first season and closing their third. We missed his sister Kate Taylor: Drat and Double Drat! We are looking forward to the possibility that in the future Livingston and Kate could be returning to perform together on the same First Acoustics stage.

For those of you who may not know but think the names sound familiar, siblings Livingston and Kate are also siblings of James Taylor. Having seen him in two marvelous First Acoustic performances we can vouch that Livingston is a spectacularly engaging performer whether he is doing his own songs or those of others, often enough classics from the American Song Book. He chose some ASB selections accompanying himself on the piano when he closed the second season. Hearing Livingston play the piano was an unexpected pleasure.

One of the benefits (benefits?) of being a First Acoustics enthusiast and member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation that hosts it on Pierrepont and Monroe Streets in Brooklyn Heights is that I got “volunteered” to help erect the stage for Livingston’s performance. It was actually rather fun and good exercise but the hidden dividend to pitching in was that I was there when Livingston arrived to get ready for the evening and that meant that I got a backstage experience of how genuinely gracious and sweetly dispositioned Mr. Taylor is. In other words it’s not all an act unless he’s putting it on for the backstage crew as well.

I hope we all did a good job of making sure that the stage was securely and soundly executed.

A Stage or Two Removed?

Now compare this opportunity to get involved and be part of things with the way that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was avoiding labor costs for his concert series by utilizing the free labor of orange-and-white-stripe-jumpsuited inmates from Rikers Island. (See: August 16, 2010, Marty’s prison labor! Beep’s concert series gets inmates to cut costs, By Stephen Brown.) The Brooklyn Paper called this “Marty’s `con’-cert series.”) When the issue came to a head this summer the city told Marty that he won’t be able to use the inmates this way in the future. (See: August 25, 2010, City jail to Marty: Get your own workers! By Stephen Brown.)

The Brooklyn Paper reporting that the practice would be ending said that the Department of Correction “made sure the inmates weren’t from . . .” the communities where they were sent to work “so that the prisoners wouldn’t be seeing old friends while gathering chairs.”

(Above: A rendering of Marty's planned potato chip-shaped amphitheater to be built in Asser Levy Park. . . after a lot of trees are cut down around the park's periphery.)

Marty’s practice of using inmate labor had reportedly been going on for about 15 years but it got spotlighted by members of the Coney Island (and Brighton Beach) communities who were angry about plans for the new $64 million potato chip-shaped amphitheater planned to be built in Asser Levy Park and the increasing noise of concerts already being held in the park’s existing facility. The level of noise was actually great enough to be illegal. That was until Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council fast-tracked a special bill this summer to exempt these particular concerts from complying with the city's existing noise law concerning outdoor amplification close to houses of worship or schools.

"It's a clear end run around the existing law," said Norman Siegel, the well known civil liberties lawyer who is representing two plaintiff synagogues in their suit to stop the concerts when the law sponsored by a City Councilman from another borough (Queens: Peter Vallone, Jr. a Democrat from Astoria) was in the offing. After the "temporary" law passed the New York Times reported that Mr. Siegel criticizing it as "unfair," and saying "the opposition would continue" commented:
“They legitimized an illegality,” . . . “which is why so many people in this community are very upset. It smacks of favoritism.”
Marty’s Hiring Practices, 2010, 1995, 1990 and a Terrible Accident

Marty’s convict-hiring practice reportedly goes back only 15 years (that would only be back to 1995) . However, there was call for scrutiny of his hiring of convicts and allegedly doing even more work in connection to the concerts dating back to a terrible accident in August of 1990 when Markowitz, then a state senator, was using the concerts to build up his image. (Wikipedia puts it this way: “creating a series of oceanfront concerts and other festivals rather than drafting legislation.”) 48-year-old Curtis Mayfield, the performing musician known, among other things, for composing the soundtrack to Super Fly, was paralyzed and rendered quadriplegic when part of the stage collapsed during a windstorm. (See: Curtis Mayfield and 6 Others Injured at Brooklyn Concert, August 14, 1990.) Six others were injured, including three crew members and a 12-year-old girl. Even though Mr. Mayfield continued to work his health progressively declined as a result and he died in December 1999 at the age of 57.

To some this was the result of a freak accident due to an "unexpected gust of wind" when ''a thunderstorm caused overhead stage lights to topple over.'' Mr. Markowtiz is quoted as recalling that it was ''like a mini-tornado.'' (Tornadoes in Brooklyn?)

Not everyone viewed the event as an unpreventable freak accident. A letter to the editor in the Times called for Markowitz's hiring practices to be investigated. It was responding to an article about Markowitz as impresario (and "the only politician in the city who deliberately seeks to entertain" NEW YORKERS & CO.;On Stage With Senator Impresario, By Somini Sengupta, July 21, 1996). The Times had mentioned both the Mayfield accident and how "Mr. Markowitz persuaded the state to dispatch prison inmates to set up the stage for each concert" " to keep costs down." Here is the letter to the editor:
As a stagehand who lives and works in Brooklyn, I was outraged about your piece on Senator Markowitz. The stage and light tower collapse that permanently disabled Curtis Mayfield has never failed to upset me and many of my co-workers.

Mr. Markowitz's hiring practices should be examined closely. Brooklyn has some of the finest stage technicians in the country represented by Local 4 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Marty Markowitz has refused to hire Local 4 workers.

Instead, he chooses to take risks with the safety of the performers and audience by employing amateurs -- prison inmates -- to perform highly skilled jobs.

Rigging and setting up an outdoor show with electric lights and sound on tall steel towers requires skill and experience. The competent women and men of Local 4 have the experience and they are right in Marty's backyard along with all of his other consituents.

(See: Marty Markowitz: Senator, or Social Director? August 11, 1996.)

We can't determine whether or not hiring of inmates was the proximate cause of the Mayfield accident as this letter alleges but it is certainly clear that the hiring of prison inmates as cheap concert labor, together with the questioning of the practice, goes back further than recently reported.

Withholding Our Noticing New York Applause For The Political Ruffles In Marty's Potato Chip Extravaganzas

In an earlier Noticing New York post (under the heading “Marty Markowitiz’s Not-So-Real Charities”) we made clear the multiplicity of our concerns about Mr. Markowitz’s concerts which are ostensibly run as “charitable” endeavors:
1. The money taken in by these “charities” is readily used as pseudo-campaign funds exempt from any limits on what companies can donate.

2. Markowitz uses the charities to supplement the incomes of people working for him in non-charitable capacities.

3. Markowitz puts taxpayer money directly into his “charities” with no-bid contracts.

4. The Bloomberg administration funnels New York City money to Markowitz this way.

5. The charities are also supported by donations received from companies doing business with the city that are difficult to distinguish from outright kickbacks, including such companies as Forest City Ratner. Markowitz is famous for his irrational and unqualified support for Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment. Because of Markowitz’s support, Atlantic Yards stands to get over $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the project, plus effect a 22-acre land grab with associated eminent domain abuse and zoning-override windfalls. Between 2003 when Atlantic Yards came into the picture and 2008 when we last wrote about this, Markowitz’s “charities” pulled in between $680,000 and $1,00,075 from various Ratner-affiliated companies and allies. Similarly, Markowitz’s nonprofits got at least $170,000 in donations from the cruise ship industry when he helped convince the city to open a cruise ship terminal in Red Hook.

6. Further undermining his political independence and accountability to the public Markowitz’s charities also get funds from Bloomberg’s Bloomberg, L.P. with both Markowitz and Bloomberg refuse to disclose the amount.
(See: Monday, October 20, 2008, “Charity?” We Begin to Groan.)

Jeez, all this and the public still has objections to Marty's potato chip? The Markowitz take?: “This whole opposition is bogus.”

Nevertheless, you you can if you wish go to the concerts and see headliners intended to bolster Marty’s political image. The following list of artists who have played over the years that was woven into a recent largely complimentary Times article: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, the Stylistics, the O’Jays. Earth, Wind and Fire; the B-52s; Hall & Oates, John Legend, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, the Dramatics, Neil Sedaka and Brenda Lee, Aretha Franklin, and, of course, the unfortunate Curtis Mayfield.” (See: Bringing Fun to Brooklyn, - subheaded “Free Concerts Thanks to Borough President,” By Ben Sisario, July 15, 2010.)

We consciously avoid participating in events that distract and placate the public with spectacle. (See: Friday, September 24, 2010, Sports Culture Capper: Yankees, Professional Sports and Criminals Wearing Yankee Hats.)

Berklee College of Music Connection: El Frente

Livingston Taylor, for whom I hope we erected a solid stage (motivated by our freely adopted adopted convictions, not out of our having been convicted) ought to be a superb performer; he teaches “Stage Performance” in the Voice Department at Boston's Berklee College of Music.

We have a nephew, Alexander Crook, attending the Berklee College of Music and his band, El Frente, is getting a lot attention recently, including a battle-of-the-bands style performance at the Palladium in Los Angeles last month. This Friday night (on the late side) they will be performing here in New York at OS Art House at John Street Grill, 17 John Street, between Broadway and Nassau.* See the poster below. “OS” is apparently short for “Original Sessions.” 12:40 A.M? How will everyone get up in the morning to make it to D.C. in time to attend Jon Stewart's (and Stephen Colbert's) Rally to Restore Sanity?

(* This performance did not happen as advertised. It did not happen because, when it turned out that a number of things about the evening were not going to be as advertised, various bands scheduled to perform that evening did not.)

Alexander, a percussionist in the band, has studied native and aboriginal rhythms with masters in Guinea, Africa and Brazil. El Frente has been applauded as the best Latin band in Boston (See: Friday, August 6,2010, Best Local Musician or Latin Band: Rock/Pop, TORNASOL & EL FRENTE, By in which is part of a Best of El Planeta list compiled by Below is a video, more than a year old, from one of their performances also available at this link.

Dipping Low to “Dip It Low”?

Much of Alexander’s musical talent has probably been passed on to him by his father, Larry Crook. Larry is also a percussionist as well being as a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. It’s a like-father-like-son sort of thing. Surely some copies of some replicating music genes were passed along.

Speaking of copying things in the music field, if you Google Larry’s name another musician’s name that is going to come up at the same time is Christina Milian. That is because Dip It Low, a song with which Ms. Milian had tremendous success (some say it was her most successful), without permission incorporated music from a song, “La Sirena,” recorded years before by Larry and two other musicians (Thomas Turino and Dan Dickey). Dip It Low took twelve seconds of “La Sirena,” looped it to play continuously and built the rest of the Dip It Low melody over it. Dip It Low was on Ms. Milian’s second (2003/2004) album, “It's About Time” and was described by the New York Times as her “breakthrough American hit” and “one of the summer's most popular songs.” Ms. Milian eventually sued her producer Poli Paul (also of Black Eyed Peas fame) for this infringement. (See: Christina Milian Sues 'Dip It Low' Producer For Dipping From Another Song, 8/8/08, by Gil Kaufman.)

Wikipedia (together with a number of other sites that ironically themselves plagiarize from Wikipedia on this) currently says that Crook and the other two musicians “recovered over a million dollars (after lawyer expenses)” from Milian. That may or may not be true but part of the terms of the settlement were that the amount of the recovery not be disclosed. Noticing New York has frequently decried non-disclosure and gag order agreements in other contexts, for instance when developers are given proxies by politicians to exercise the public power of eminent domain and, similarly, when landowners are selling off pieces of the environment to gas extraction companies engaged in high pressure tactics to acquire land for hydrofracking. Is openness and information about control over public domain also important here? Maybe not. What about the issue of how freely musicians should be able to copy and take inspiration from the music they hear? That’s probably a harder question.

How much did Larry recover in his lawsuit? It is probably not safe to infer anything from the fact that he drives a Jaguar; it is likely he was driving it before.

Coming Insert on Copyright and Music Licensing Rights Coming

An insert is being drafted for this post which will be an extended discussion about copyright and music licensing rights and it will appear here. A preview of that insert has already been posted. That preview, just a portion of what is coming, is available here: Wednesday, March 9, 2011, An Insert Preview - Music Superstar Ethics: How Completely You Can Sell “You can say what you say, but you are what you are.” Jay-Zzzzus!

Perry Connected
Obviously although music is often the specific subject of this piece, much of it is also about the importance of connection. Music can assist greatly in making us feel connected, but conversely, doesn’t the music we listen to often mean a lot more to us when we have a chance to feel connected to the musician involved, when we are there, able to see the performer live, able to clap in appreciation, and when we sense that the musician knows they are performing, in an intimate way, for us? My family had a particularly wonderful experience enjoying music in a non-New York venue I am about to recommend to you. Part of the joy we felt was the joy of feeling connected to the performer. This is going to sound like a strange recommendation but if you are traveling and have the opportunity you might wind up enjoying some wonderful music in the Jacksonville, Florida airport. You’ll want the central atrium lobby area just outside the security cordons.

Indeed, this is what happened to my family this past New Year’s Eve day. Through a set of circumstances too bizarre to go into, fortune deposited us in the airport with five extra hours to spare. For that entire time into we listened to a young virtuosic soprano saxophonist by the name of Morton Perry. By young, I mean that Mr. Perry is still in college. Tall and thin and equipped with great stamina, Mr. Perry played without stop and without repeating himself for hours. He played many of our favorite songs and he played without referring to any written scores. We clapped for everything he played, getting occasional small nods and big smiles from him along the way. He was backed by the minimal accompaniment of a device emanating some recorded rhythms and quiet chords. When Mr. Perry finally did take the shortest of breaks we thanked him for his rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” a song which had special meaning for us on that trip. He performed a pleasingly unconventional arrangement of it. A few minutes later, in acknowledgment of our thanks, he played the song again, this time without his backup tape and using the more conventional and familiar arrangement. Eventually, after playing uninterrupted for about three hours straight, Mr. Perry did return to the beginning of his recorded back-ups and we heard some songs performed again, being especially pleased to hear “Over the Rainbow” yet a third time. (More on Mr. Perry after a digression.)

A Digression on Somewhere Over the Rainbow

For those of you willing to follow this recommended lead, here is an embedded link to a 2008 NPR story which is an absolute listening gem, a rhapsodic explication by commentator Rob Kapilow on why the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America was so on target in putting the Academy Award-winning "Over the Rainbow" at the very top of its list of the greatest songs of the 20th Century and why the original Harold Arlen arrangement is the superlative one. (See: 'Over The Rainbow,' From Kansas To Oz, October 15, 2008.) In the interview Kapilow illustratively plays the song’s melody as he explains its structure. To whet your appetite we’ll tell you it includes this synaesthetic observation by Yip Harburg, the song’s lyricist:
“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”
And, as a riddle to tantalize you further: Listen to see if you can spot the coincidence of the two lost dogs providing bridges. Kapilow sees the entire song as in essence a bridge, taking full octave leap to link two worlds, Kansas and the metaphysically metaphorical Oz.

Lyricist Yip Harburg has a second well-known, somewhat similarly themed rainbow song which was part of the score for Finian’s Rainbow, a revival of which was recently on Broadway. (The 1947 show has far better bones than the 1968 Francis Ford Coppola film with Fred Astaire would lead you to believe and its whimsical political satire was in many ways ahead of its time.) The rainbow song in Finian is “Look to the Rainbow,” some of its lyrics being:
On the day I was born,
Said my father, said he.
I've an elegant legacy
Waitin' for ye,
'Tis a rhyme for your lip
And a song for your heart,
To sing it whenever
The world falls apart.

Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow it over the hill
And stream.
Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow the fellow
Who follows a dream.

'Twas a sumptuous gift
To bequeath to a child,
For the lure of that song
Keeps me head runnin' wild,
It's a rhyme for me lip
And a song for me heart,
And I sing it whenever
The world falls apart,
(Last Broadway performance album available on Emusic.)

Over 100 artists have covered (recorded) its predecessor, "Over the Rainbow." The Judy Garland version with the perfect Harold Arlen orchestration is so iconic it is hard to rank it among the rest, but, setting that version apart, the soaring Eva Cassidy recording that was posthumously released on her 1998 Songbird album must be the one to beat. You can also watch Eva Cassidy singing another version, recorded for Easter, that was posted on YouTube April 4, 2010 (Easter). In June, Glee finished its 2010 season with a version of the song and also played it at the White House on April 5, 2010 (YouTube available) probably right around the time they were recording that episode (six weeks prior is pretty typical of the industry).

NPR’s Marketplace very recently reported that, 72 years after the song's initial release, “Over the Rainbow” is again at the top of the charts in Germany and France and maybe Japan next with a version performed by Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (known as “Iz”). (See: "Over the Rainbow" finds new life in Germany, Friday, February 11, 2011.) Back in December NPR ran a story about how this redefining edition of the song was recorded in 1988 not long before the singer had a severe heart attack. He was hugely overweight and died in 1997 at age 38. (See: 50 Great Voices: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: The Voice Of Hawaii, by Renee Montagne, December 6, 2010.) Iz’s now well known version, first released 17 years ago, is actually a medley that takes some liberties with the melody and melds in “What a Wonderful World.” (“What a Wonderful World” is the very last song that Eva Cassidy sang in concert at her farewell performance before she died of cancer at 33. Is that a coincidence?) Lyrics from “What a Wonderful World” that get incorporated via the Iz medley include: “The colors of a pretty the sky. Are also on the faces.....of people ..going by . .”

According to Marketplace the popularity of the Iz version has ignited a ukulele playing craze in Germany. (The Glee version, essentially a cover of Iz's reorchestration of the song deferentially incorporates a ukulele.) The official Iz video of “Over the Rainbow” does not include any medleying with What Wonderful World that gives the song an extended length of about 4:41. That video ends with a flotilla of boats including a Hawaiian canoe (and sails that say “Iz Lives) that ceremonially release Kamakawiwo’ole’s ashes into the sea.

Here is a Marketplace link to videos of covers of the song that includes the Glee episode recording and another of Neil Sedaka crooning it in Italian: Covering 'the Rainbow' Posted by Katharine Crnko on February 11, 2011. You can also hear the classic Eva Cassidy version there. Here is video of another live Cassidy performance where she is in much better voice than the Easter performance.

(Below is the official Iz verion)

Back to Mr. Perry
Mr. Perry is a sophomore at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He has an identical twin brother, Marlon, also a musician, who plays the drums. Much of this information is available on the Internet which we began searching to know more as soon as Mr. Perry’s music transfixed us. In fact, if you are reading this now it might be because you Googled “Jacksonville, Florida, Airport - - soprano saxophonist” as we did. The results we got then were not very helpful but this Noticing New York post should remedy that previously existing gap in the Internet and lead you to the information about Mr. Perry you are possibly looking for. The problem is that you have likely been left wondering what this article is all about- To find that out you are going to have to read a lot more of it.

When we talked with Mr. Perry we told him that we had just come from visiting our in-laws and explained to Mr. Perry that Larry, whom we were visiting, is an ethnomusicology professor at the University of Florida. As we talked Mr. Perry’s eyes softened and he asked us if we had heard of the Berklee College of Music. He confessed to us that he had ambitions of going there. Of course, this is the same Berklee College of Music we have mentioned elsewhere in this post and we, accordingly, told Mr. Perry that Larry’s son Alexander, with whom we had also just been visiting, was a student there so that, indeed, we knew very well the wonderful school he was talking about. We found Mr. Perry very modest given his appreciable talent. He told us he had learned a lot from another older saxophonist, Ron King, who also plays at the airport.

(Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Amazing Grace at Riverside Arts Market, June 5th, 2010. This version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is perhaps a little more bebop than what Mr. Perry played at the airport.)

Morton Perry from RAM on Vimeo.

(Also at Riverside Arts Market)

Mr. Perry also plays at Jacksonville’s Riverside Arts Market. Open March through December, the Arts Market is an entrance-free art-and-culture-and-food-and-entertainment market with lots of free entertainment and activities. Run something like a flea market, the vendors all bring in their own tables, canopies and displays. It opened April 4, 2009 at the instigation of Dr. Wayne Wood who imported the idea for it after visiting the Portland, Oregon Saturday Market. The Oregon market is similarly partially covered by an old bridge. The Jacksonville market is adjacent to Jacksonville’s historic neighborhoods of Riverside and Avondale.

Two More Music Notes

When we recently saw Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks again he played "Over the Rainbow" for us at our request. His last words upon concluding their performance at the end of the evening: "Support live music."

MORE on all of this later. . . .