A Winter’s Journey I: Bill T. Jones on Schubert

Yes, a repeat, but brand-new for these ears:  a stunning interview today on NPR’s All Things Considered between host Melissa Block and choreographer Bill T. Jones about Schubert’s “Winterreise.”   Talk about a driveway moment….or, more appropriately, a lonely-organ-grinder-moment….

Bill T. Jones on Schubert’s Winterreise

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Miscellaeneous Musings: the NY Phil, Howard Theatre, WYPR, No Depression, Pete Seeger…

Any resemblance to Mike “I Was Just Thinking….” Barnicle is purely coincidental….

  • Kind of amazing to hear the wall-to-wall media coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea….startling and gratifying to hear snippets of the New World Symphony in the middle of network newscasts. Worth reading:  Anne Midgette’s column in the WaPo on this not being a case of bringing Great. Western. Art. to poor benighted souls behind the Bamboo Curtain….

But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

  • Which reminds me of a similar history-making venture I helped to orchestra for NPR in 1999: The Milwaukee Symphony’s trip to Cuba, which was the first time a US orchestra had performed on the island since the Philadelphia Orchestra had been there in 1959.  ‘Course, it was a little easier for our NPR crew to move around the country than it was for the delegation traveling to North Korea this week…I remember that producer Laura Bertran even managed to lend some technical and logistical help to the struggling public radio station in Havana to broadcast the concert live on the island. (Oh yeah, they played Gershwin, too….the Cuban Overture, natch)  Click here to hear some of the music from similar symphonic excursions in the past,  and here for a similar Washington Post story on other “Diplomacy Concerts” of that past half-century.
  • On the other hand, for the same station to air during afternoon drive a six-month-old repeat of a Mario Armstrong “Digital Cafe”  feature?  About an Internet startup being Beta tested?   With a casual disclaimer that “some information may be out of date?”  Incredibly. Lame.
  • Pete SeegerIt’s nice to see Pete Seeger getting his props from PBS this week, with an American Masters portrait airing tonight on most PBS stations around the country. Except, that is, in DC, where despite Pete being on the cover of the Post’s TV Week,  the local pubtv powerhouse WETA inexplicably is running a show a three-year old show on Judy Garland.    Huh?   I’ll have more to say on Pete in a later post.

Avant Gershwin

WASHINGTON – The reason I’m posting from downtown D.C. this morning has to do with the lady on the left — jazz vocalist Patti Austin, who helped to usher in the New Year with a dynamic all-Gershwin concert at the Kennedy Center last night. Patti’s two-set show, backed by a crackerjack octet (piano, guitar, bass, drums, sax, trumpet, ‘bone) was part of Toast of the Nation, NPR’s annual all-night New Year’s Eve jazz party. Yr Hmble Srvnt was on hand to produce the show for the net.

In my previous life coordinating this production was Tension City; the logistics of pulling off six live shows through multiple timezones is only dizzying when it’s not downright frightening. By comparison, spending a day backstage at the KenCen with old friends and terrific musiciains, old pros all, was pure pleasure.

That’s not to say there weren’t the usual hiccups and anxieties that arise anytime you’re producing live radio. To be sure, there were. But it was all redeemed by the music on stage: some really interesting arrangements of Gershwin standards, mostly drawn from Austin’s recent CD called Avant-Gershwin. The disc has been getting a lot of buzz — a pair of Grammy nominations, and USA Today critic Elyse Gardner even had it down as her Top Album of the Year, edging out Junior Senior and Springsteen’s Magic. — and if we didn’t get the memo, Patti was there to remind us. (As a veteran showbiz producer, she’s not the type to let these PR moments pass…..)

But the praise is hard-won and well-deserved. Her voice was in top form, and the arrangements by Michael Abene are clever, quirky, and swing. You can check out a couple of the CD cuts (recorded with the excellent WDR Big Band) here. The Kennedy Center show was the first time that Austin has taken the show on the road with a pared-down octet, and the results were pretty impressive, particularly for the second set that we broadcast live to the nation. Though I have to say that my lasting memory was a haunting version of But Not For Me, featuring just Patti and pianist Mike Ricchiutti.

But don’t take my word for it: check out the whole concert on the new NPR Music site.

Update 1/2/2008: Critic Mike Joyce talks about Patti’s “Star Jones Moment” in his review of the concert in today’s Washpost. You can read the review here.

The Rest of the Toast

WASHINGTON – Don’t want to sign off from D.C. without tipping the hat to the other performers I heard playing on New Year’s Eve, sitting in the back as a guest in NPR’s Studio 4A control room. Among the memories:

*Forget Auld Lang Syne…the Trio Da Paz, (joined by the redoubtable pianist Kenny Barron) playing at the Jazz Standard in New York, welcomed the New Year at Midnight (on the East Coast, anyway) with a performance of the Antonio Carlos Jobim standard Chega de Saudade, featuring vocalist Maucha Adnet.

*Nachito Herrera (see earlier post) and the Steele Family Singers doing a Cuban-tinged tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant in Minneapolis.

*And an absolutely cookin’ set from the Convergence Sextet, led by trumpeter Greg Gisbert, at the great jazz club Dazzle in Denver. (This one was also recorded and broadcast in 5.1 Surround Sound, something we also did to ring in 2005.)

Unfortunately, for this jet-lagged traveler, (48 hours removed from the departure gate at Heathrow Airport), the blowout wrap-up show featuring the Count Basie Orchestra and vocalist Ledisi at the new Yoshi’s in San Francisco will have to be an online experience…way past my bedtime at that point.

A Tale of Two Sites

…both in the “music discovery” category (sometimes called “Music 2.0”) are worth investigating:

First is a site called MOG “a music asylum run by its inmates,” (with a tip o’the’cyberpen to UTunes Advisory Boardster Andrew Dell’Antonio for pointing it out). MOG uses an impressive amount of social-networking tools and techniques to build a site to (in their words:)


…your songs, music library, videos and thoughts on music with friends and mogger


…in the Web’s most raging music community.

…both in the “music discovery” category (sometimes called “Music 2.0”) are worth investigating:

First is a site called MOG “a music asylum run by its inmates,” (with a tip o’the’cyberpen to UTunes Advisory Boardster Andrew Dell’Antonio for pointing it out). MOG uses an impressive amount of social-networking tools and techniques to build a site to (in their words:)


…your songs, music library, videos and thoughts on music with friends and mogger


…in the Web’s most raging music community.


Get instant recommendations and personalized content at the click of a button.

Most impressive are the pages for artists, which are almost entirely generated by MOG users or wikipedia.

Besides on-demand song, video, and album listings, there are bios, photos, discographies, RSS feeds, commerce links, and links to fan sites and newsgroups. At the heart are easy-to-manipulate tools to contribute all of the above to the site, or to embed them in off-site blogs, etc. Veryy interesting.

And a bit buggy….one of the major drawbacks to MOG is that the audio files don’t necessarily appear in a separate player, so you can’t navigate and browse with a song playing in the background, which would tend to defeat a lot of the purpose. And, as is the case with almost all online music destinations, it’s heavily weightd towards rock/pop/singer-songwriters. For example, a search for violinist Julia Fischer (just named Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year) comes up empty.

(with a tip o’the’cyberpen to UTunes Advisory Boardster Andrew Dell’Antonio for pointing it out.

It’s almost the reverse case with the launch on Nov. 5 of the NPR Music site.

Full disclosure: A lot of this was Co-Project Director Ben Roe‘s blueprint while he was at NPR. So best to leave the prose to one of the participating stations: WFUV in New York.

NPR and 12 NPR member stations, including WFUV, have launched NPR Music, a new, free, comprehensive multimedia music discovery web site. There are five specific genre sections (Pop/Rock/Folk, Classical, Jazz & Blues, World and Urban) to explore, where you can hear songs and concerts, read reviews and interviews, scan the music news we’ve pulled together and find blogs from all over the country.
There are already 3,000 new and archived features, with 200 more getting added monthly. Some of the content will come from NPR and some from the member stations (like our interviews with Patty Scialfa and Gil Scott-Heron).
“WFUV and NPR each have great music resources, and together we can share that love with listeners,” says WFUV New Media Director Laura Fedele. “We’ve had some amazing music moments here in our studios, true personal conversations with artists, and now NPR Music can bring it all to music fans across the country who might not be FUV listeners… yet!” You can access the NPR Music site through our home page at wfuv.org.

Searchable Artist pages are also a hallmark of this site (plenty on Julia Fischer, though the archived content is thus far only scratching the surface of what exists at NPR and across public radio), which, if developed, could be a real boon to researchers and educators interested in editorial commentary, live concert performances, reviews, and first-person interviews with the likes of Terry Gross, Fred Child, Scott Simon, John Schaefer, et al.

37 under 36*

AUSTIN, Tx – on the road again, (for the UTunes project) and taking the opportunity to catchup on some reading. First up is the latest edition – a special issue – of Smithsonian magazine, titled “37 under 36: American’s Young Innovators in the Arts & Sciences.” The whole issue is a good read, and I’m reminded that back in the days when the RoeDeo WWHQ was in Takoma Park, Maryland I had a neighbor who was a Smithsonian editor. She told me that according to their research NPR and Smithsonian Magainze had about the highest overlap of reader/listenership in the business, which was later verified by some audience research at the Big Dog.
So, no surprise, I suppose, but some excellent (and brief) profiles of some very public radio-friendly artists in the issue, including Sufjan Stevens(profiled by KCRW‘s Nic Harcourt – how pubradio can you get?); jazzman Jason Moran (a fave o’mine – he played a couple of our NPR Jazz Piano Christmas shows, not to mention appearanLinkces on Fresh Air and Jazz Profiles); singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, and composer Nico Muhly, whose musical setting of the classic Strunk & White “Elements of Style” text (really!) got him touted as a Classical Musicians To Watch in 2006. (So did Mozart, btw, what with all that 250th Birthday fuss).

Beyond the artists, all 37 are fascinating people, including people in Dr. Wizard’s line of work. I also like the profile of del.ico.ius founder Joshua Schachter.