Remembering Clifford

October 30, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Clifford Brown, the brilliant jazz trumpet player, would have been 89 today. He died at the age of 25 in an automobile accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It’s a poignant irony that one of his earliest jazz recording dates was with J.J. Johnson and included J.J.’s tune “Turnpike.”

Here is his best-known tune and recording — “Joy Spring.” Learning to play Brownie’s solo  (you can follow along with the transcription below) is part of the education of any serious jazz trumpet player. Ask Fabio.

After Brownie’s death, Benny Golson wrote a tune in tribute, “I Remember Clifford.” It is part of the repertoire of every trumpeter. Every trumpeter. There’s an old jazz joke:

A small combo — rhythm section and trumpet — has a gig, and at the last minute the trumpet player has to bow out. So they quickly get the first trumpeter they can find. The guy shows up with his horn, and as they’re talking about what they might play, he says that he only knows three tunes.
That’s OK, they say (they’re desperate). We can play them in different keys and different tempos, and somehow we’ll get through the night. What are the tunes?

“The Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and “I Remember Clifford.”

Not All Small-Town, Working-class Business Owners

October 22, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Cone-E Island, Catskill, NY last Saturday.

(Click for a larger view.)

The sign says Fall Hours are 12 to 9 p.m. (you can read it if you click to expand the picture), but even though this was a beautiful autumn day, Cone-E Island was closed.

“Wanna buy it?” called out a raspy voice. As I was taking pictures, a pick-up truck had driven up and stopped. The driver was a man of sixty or so, fat and wearing a t-shirt. I walked over and asked the obvious question. “Three-fifty,” the man said.

A chocolate brown dog that looked to be part pit bull poked her nose through the half-open window and sweetly licked my offered hand. “Her name’s Mocha.”

Catskill is changing. Once a working-class town, it now has a tattoo parlor, a micro-brewery with its own beer garden, stores selling quirky things like LPs or old film cameras from the 1950s. Artisans priced out of Brooklyn are moving to the area. The New York Restaurant on Main street serves truffle Parmesan Brussels sprouts and salmon with miso honey, ginger steamed rice, and blistered edamame.

Mr. Cone-E Island had owned other businesses in the area. He seemed like the epitome of the working-class Joe trying to make it on his own rather than work for someone else. I thought about him again two days later when the Times ran an op-ed by Florida journalist Darlena Cunha about how the impeachment story is playing in her state.

Working-class Republicans in Alachua County see Donald Trump as a white businessman who made a lot of money. They like to think that could be them. The only thing standing in the way of achieving that dream, they tell me, are policies that elevate people of color, immigrants and poor people without health care. In their eyes, Mr. Trump is a patriotic man doing the best he can, and those who go against him are traitors to the country.

Although Trump is rich and these Republicans are not, they still identify with him because they are thwarted by the same forces. They have the same enemies.

Republicans here can equate these “witch hunts” to things that have happened to them in their own lives. Just like they, unfairly, have not been able to move up in the world, so too is Mr. Trump, unfairly, being hunted down, his words and motives twisted to suit the needs of that same enemy. The investigations only strengthen their kinship with him.

I wasn’t in central Florida. But Mr. Cone-E Island’s girth, his dog, his pick-up truck — I wondered if he had gun in the cab — plus the demographic (older, White, male, small town) all suggested that I shouldn’t be swinging the conversation to politics. I’d stick to business. “This town is going upscale,” I said. “In a couple of years . . . .”

“By then it’ll be four-fifty,” he said, then added, “if this idiot doesn’t ruin the whole economy.” He went on. He wondered how many millions of our tax dollars went to Trump’s golfing trips, to the floors of Trump tower the government had to rent from Trump. “Trump's a businessman.” I said. I was going to add, “like you,” but I didn’t have to.

“What kind of businessman,” he said. “He stiffs his supplies, his contractors, his creditors.”  He could have gone on.

Well Mocha, I thought, I guess we’re not in Kansas. Or Florida.

No More Nigels

October 21, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Calvin Trillin once proposed that Americans and the English have a name exchange. English people would start naming their kids things like Sonny and LeRoy. American babies would be Cyril or Cedric.
“Think of how proud the English would be on the first year that every single linebacker in the National Football League all-star team is named Nigel.”
Trilling wrote this a while ago, and the NFL still has no Nigels. But neither does English professional soccer. Well, there might be one — Nigel Roe-Coker, a midfielder who Wikipedia identifies as currently a “free agent.”

Don’t look for Nigels to start popping up on British rosters any time in the future. In 2016 in the UK, no babies were named Nigel. None. In 2017, there were eleven, and last year, eight. You can still find Nigels walking around in England, but they are getting long in the tooth. Brexiteer Nigel Farage, probably the best known, is 55. And while there are no footballer Nigels, elsewhere in sport, over at the snooker table, you’ll find Bond, Nigel Bond, though his ranking has fallen to 99th and he’s roughly the same age as Farage.

This quintessentially English name has gone the way of the shilling and half-crown. And as with other names that have fallen from favor, it’s very hard to say how or why.

Quote TK

October 19, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Peter Navarro is an economist who now works in the White House as an adviser on trade. You can find his books in the non-fiction section of the bookstore, though that label may now include an asterisk.

In his 2011 book Death By China, Navarro quotes an expert on China, Ron Vara, on how nasty and dangerous the Chinese are as trading partners: “Only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath, a baby crib into a lethal weapon, and a cellphone battery into heart-piercing shrapnel.”

It’s a great quote. The only problem is that Ron Vara is fictional.  Navarro made him up (the name is an anagram of Navarro). Ron Vara has made appearances in other Navarro books. I haven’t read these, but I would guess the purpose is the same — to include a really strong quote, so strong that for Navarro to acknowledge it as his own would reveal him as a very biased non-fiction writer.

Navarro claims it’s all in good fun, a “whimsical device.” Honest journalists who play by the rules see it as “making stuff up” or more simply “lying.”

But what Navarro did is not all that different from the legitimate journalisitic technique of searching out someone who will give you the quote you want, the quote that expresses your own views but that you can legitimately attribute to someone else. “Quote TK” (quote to come) in the draft of a story means that the writer needs a little more time to find someone who will express a particular opinion. Honest writers may have to go deep into their contact list, but eventually they usually get something usable.

Navarro’s method of making stuff up has great advantages over honest non-fiction writing:
  • It results in quotes that are much sharper and that are guaranteed to express precisely the opinions you want expressed
  •  It’s much less work.
  •  And as the NPR story notes, it’s perfectly compatible with the current occupants of the White House.