Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Quote of the Day (William Shakespeare, on Perseverance and Honor)

“Perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honor bright: to have done, is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery." —English playwright-poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Troilus and Cressida (1609)

Monday, September 17, 2018

TV Quote of the Day (‘Monk,’ Reviewing a Disastrous Blind Date)

Sharona Fleming [played by Bitty Schram]: “I'm going to Hell. I'm a horrible person.” 

Adrian Monk [played by Tony Shalhoub]: “Why?” 

Sharona: “I just told that woman, Michelle, that there was nothing wrong with you.” 

Monk: “She should have asked me.”—Monk, Season 3, Episode 3, “Mr. Monk and the Blackout,” original air date July 9, 2004, teleplay by Daniel Dratch and Hy Conrad, directed by Michael Zinberg

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Quote of the Day (Blaise Pascal, on the Approach to God)

“Jesus Christ is a God to whom we approach without pride, and before whom we are humbled without despair.”—French philosopher and logician Blaise Pascal (1623–1662, Pensees (Thoughts on Religion and Philosophy), translated by Isaac Taylor

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Quote of the Day (Jonathan Eig, As Baseball and Football Compete for Our Attention)

“In baseball, we can see our heroes’ faces. In football, players would be all but indistinguishable if not for the numbers on their backs and the TV closeups. Baseball is in our lives every day, through spring, summer and fall. It unfolds like life. Football comes and goes like a loud and drunken uncle.” —Jonathan Eig, “The Men of Autumn,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23-24, 2014

Friday, September 14, 2018

Concert Review: Veronica Swift and the Benny Green Trio at Chautauqua, NY

In late August, in the last Wednesday of the summer programming schedule at Chautauqua Institution, temperatures plunged, making the atmosphere feel more like mid-autumn than late summer. I hope that had something to do with why so many seats at the performance by Veronica Swift were open in the Amphitheater in this Victorian-era National Historic Landmark—and why so many more seats opened up as the show proceeded. 

I can’t think of any other reason why so many wouldn’t have sat—even leaped to their feet to applaud—through the set by Ms. Swift, one of the most commanding and compelling jazz vocalists of her generation.

“You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” the title tune of her upcoming CD, could also represent her promise not just to Chautauquans but also the wider jazz community. If there could be any reason why her skill did not leave more listeners that night embracing her enthusiastically, it might have been because she exudes confidence without inspiring rapture in return.

Almost exactly a year ago, Ms. Swift had scored something of a triumph on this same stage with a well-received performance with trumpeter Chris Botti. Accompanied by the Benny Green Trio, Ms. Swift had additional reason to believe that this August night a year later also belonged to her. The band’s leader, a veteran pianist, is a family friend who played with her late father 30 years ago, and has told San Diego Mercury News that she is “the greatest straight-ahead jazz talent I’ve seen emerge this century.”

Green, drummer Rodney Green and bassist David Wong demonstrated their decided beebop affinity with a few songs by themselves, including Hank Jones “Minor Conception.” But when Ms. Swift was onstage, she seemed to take particular comfort in Wong’s work, stretching and wrapping her vocals around his chords like a lazy cat. 

The morning after the show, a middle-aged North Carolina woman, a fellow visitor at the inn where I was staying, tried to express her feelings about the performance: “I thought she was good but not great. I say this as someone who likes jazz. But there was just something missing. Not that she wasn’t good, but she didn’t have much stage presence.”

Below-average weather in an outdoor venue can cause audiences to react without warmth. I’m sure that performers, with their sense of listeners’ moods, can experience a consequent letdown, too.
If Ms. Swift did, she displayed no visible signs of it, I thought, even as it became obvious that many audience members were heading for the exits.  She plugged gamely on through her hour-and-15-minute set. 

This was not the first time I had seen Chautauquans leave the amphitheater early. In fact, I had done so myself five years ago, when the combination of extra heat and humidity, along with leftover anxiety from a stressful afternoon incident, led me to step out on the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s unrelentingly grim opera, Peter Grimes. But I had waited till intermission before I left so as not to disturb the performers. The exits at the Swift concert were surely visible from the stage.

Well, as far as I was concerned, this was the listeners’ loss. They missed a singer who, while clearly influenced by jazz legends, showed her own distinct promise.

When Ms. Swift first walked onto the stage, her phrasing and delivery smacked of Peggy Lee. But midway through her opening number., Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out of You,” her vocalese colorings seemed more reminiscent of another female aficionado of the Great American Songbook, Ella Fitzgerald.

She then segued through a song (Mel Torme’s melancholy “Stranger in Town”) and medley (“I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore,” the Bobby Timmons-Oscar Brown Jr. chestnut “Dat Dere,” and Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie DeLange’s “Darn That Dream”) on the concept of tomorrow.

She then offered a popular tour d’horizon ranging from the Twenties and Thirties (“Pennies From Heaven”), through beebop, and touching down on the modern Broadway musical with Thoroughly Modern Milly.

In trying to establish a connection with the cool audience, Ms. Swift offered, in short between-songs patter, biographical tidbits about her father, a 1980s jazz pianist; her childhood on a farm in Charlottesville, Va.; her college days at the University of Miami; and her current residence in New York.

In the Big Apple, Ms. Swift has become something of a regular at the legendary club Birdland. She will appear there again Nov. 20-24. I intend to seek her out there, where the audience and intimate ambiance are likely to be more favorable than they were at Chautauqua.