A Dimm View of Life

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Phil Lasley and Detroit JazzStage

With the invention of the I-Pod and other MP3 devices, you can listen to music virtually anytime and anywhere. Music, even more than sports, has thrived through the ages. From Saint Ambrose (339) to J.S. Bach (1685), Haydn (1732) to Liszt (1811), Ellington (1899), Kenny Rogers (1938) and Ludacris (1977), music has been a popular pastime for literally everyone.

Styles change, but people love music. My favorite people are ones who appreciate many styles of music. I have written before about having a respect for country music although I do not go searching through those bins at Borders. Those who love to listen to Garth Brooks may not include Spyro Gyra or George Benson in their collections.

Phil Lasley has been playing the saxophone for years. When he was unable to earn money playing jazz in New York, he found work playing rhythm and blues, including playing with perfomers like Otis Redding and Jerry Butler.

Finally, he left New York and returned to his hometown Detroit and returned to playing jazz. Today, he admits that he is influenced by all types of music and plays a style of jazz often described as “Avant Garde”.

Detroit JazzStage, one of the best music podcasts available (look for the link to the left), presents the fascinating sounds and stories of Phil Lasley. To hear him talk about the music and the road that wound its way around to this moment is incredible. The music itself is sensational.

When interviewer Jim Gallert asks where he finds his inspiration, Laskey quietly pauses to say, “Sometimes you can wake up with a melody in your head and you can write something really nice in about ten or fifteen minutes. Then other times you’ll get bits and pieces which drives you nuts. You can never get it in its entirety or in its completion. It might take a month before you can finish it…or even longer.”

Thank goodness Lasley allows inspiration to take him where it leads. Music such as “Jasi” and Nkenge’s Blues” have such beauty. These two songs feature New York pianist John Hicks and my favorite living bassist (not yet succeeding Ray Brown, but coming close) Rodney Whitaker. JazzStage adds these to a more recent effort titled “The Lincoln Street Music Company”. This compilation takes jazz in many pleasing directions. “Dorian”, written by drummer Danny Spencer, is especially worth listening to more than once.

Detroit JazzStage packages us these songs and more in a pleasant hour long program. Visit the website and download this most recent offering. While you are there (here’s a quick unpaid commercial message), click on the icon promoting the Detroit International JazzFest 2006 coming up Labor Day weekend. Offering fantastic jazz performers such as Taj Mahal, Buckwheat Zydeco, Ahmad Jamal, Diane Schuur and Rodney Whitaker, the lineup for the holiday weekend is “killer”.

I am most excited to hear that Sergio Mendes and the Brazil 2006 will be there on Sunday. If you haven’t heard any of the Sergio Mendes bands, you are in for a treat. If you remember the Brazil ’66 and ’77 and other bands through the years, you know to expect a joyous spectacle.

Detroit is a great town for jazz the other fifty-one weekends of the year. On Labor Day, however, Detroit will be offering “Music On All Cylinders”. Check it out!

(Sorry, my old radio commercial writing habits sometimes leak out. Still, it sounds like the weekend is going to be "the bomb"!)

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Network Television: The future is dim.

Gone unnoticed in last month’s announcements of the slates of programs to be available on broadcast network television this fall is the fact there are no regularly scheduled times for network movies.

Since nearly the beginning of television, there have been broadcasts of movies on network television. Including movies from theatres getting their “Network Television Debut” to “Made-for-TV” films, there has always been a place in primetime for movies.

No more. CBS has pulled the plug on the “CBS Sunday Night Movie” franchise.

Movies on network primetime have been dwindling since HBO first went on the air. During the seventies, there was rarely a time when there was not a single night of the week without a movie of some sort being broadcast. They were cheaper than weekly series and sometimes more popular.

HBO and basic cable changed all that. Gradually, movies on television eroded away and all we are left with are poorly developed reality programming.

That does not mean that network television will never broadcast a movie. Remember that Disney still owns ABC. You can count on "Monsters Inc." showing up some Saturday night. The "Hallmark Hall of Fame" will continue to have programs on during the holidays for CBS.

CBS will still find a way to air Tom Selleck’s “Jesse Stone” adventures. NBC will continue to air “It’s a Wonderful Life” during Christmas for a few more years. So movies are not totally gone from the broadcast television landscape. They are just dwindling further down.

Not to be "Mr. Doom and Gloom", but be prepared for the end of broadcast television as we have always known it. Movies are leaving for cable. Sports are leaving for cable. Despite all the Katie Couric talk, news is going away as well.

The UPN and WB networks combined this year. I will say it hear first that eventually FOX will fold its network programming into its cable networks. Watch for American Idol to end up on FX within the next five years.

The only thing really keeping broadcast television alive is Oprah (she can move her show to the Oxygen channel when she’s ready), local news (they have not solved that problem yet, but it could go to local cable) and the Tonight show/Late Night with Letterman programs (which could go away when they retire, despite the announcement of Conan taking over for Leno). There is nothing else on broadcast television viewers can not get as good as or better from basic or premium cable channels.

In my view, broadcast television as we know it is weakening badly. Losing movies and sports programming are the early signs. By 2010 it will be more noticeable and everyone will be talking about it. By 2020, expect it to be nearly gone from the viewership landscape.

By then the television landscape could be dominated by three little words: Pay Per View.

Watch and see.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Odds & Ends: JazzStage, LCS and more

There are some random thoughts I would like to share with you…

Detroit JazzStage has a new podcast available! Tuesday this week they unleashed an hour-long broadcast with veteran sax player Phil Lasley! I will be listening this weekend and offer a full report next week.

If you have not visited the Detroit JazzStage website yet, you really must. In addition to a discussion about each show there are some valuable links. Check out the website for the upcoming Detroit International Jazz Festival coming up Labor Day weekend. Also, they have a link for the “Jazz Podcast Network”. This includes links to jazz music podcasts from Seattle, Portland and Orange County, California. I cannot wait to carve some time into my schedule to check them all out.


Recently, I wrote about the NBC program “Last Comic Standing” (hereafter referred to as “LCS”). I both praised the show’s producers for offering viewers a chance to vote for eliminated comics online, and complained that I did not understand the purpose or goal of the voting.

After further investigation, the website states that two of the eliminated comics will battle head-to-head during the finale. So, while we are watching twelve (now ten) comics fight for the title of Last Comic over the course of the next few weeks, those who visit the LCS website will be accessing and voting for their favorites among those comics no longer participating.

It will be interesting to see if they allow back in comics dropped from the show, such as Stella and April Macy. I doubt it, but we will see. Either way, the public will vote to have two eliminated comics come back on the final show to compete against each other (not the comics on the program each week). It is a great idea and I hope the finale has a great turnout!


At the ABC News website, under the heading “Technology and Science”, there is a discussion on network neutrality titled “Network Neutrality 101”. The article is pretty neutral on the subject so if you are unfamiliar with the subject, take a quick glance. It does not take long to read. This post is probably longer. Check the website, http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=2108558&page=1.

If you are familiar with network neutrality and understand how damaging it can be to the freedoms of web surfers, contact the senators in your area. There is a link to the left. Let them know how you feel. Your opinion does count!


The Cubs lost again last night. Rookie Carlos Marmol looks like he has promise, but this does not look like the Cubs year. If Wood and Prior can come back, Zambrano and Marshall can continue to pitch well and someone like Marmol or Hill can step up, with the improved bullpen headed by Dempster, Eyre and Howry, the Cubs have an excellent chance in 2007. If Hendry can avoid blowing up the team after the disastrous season so far, we can use this year to build the confidence of our young players and score big next year.

Wow. It is still June and I am already saying “Wait until next year”. That is so sad.


Ozzie Guillen, White Sox manager, has been told to take sensitivity training. Guillen has played and managed for the White Sox for years. Did the tirade on writer Jay Mariotti just take the team by surprise?

There is a fine line between “cute and unique” and “destructive and damaging”. Perhaps Guillen has needed this for a long time.

Final thought on Guillen: Guillen was quoted as using a three-letter word commonly used to describe a male homosexual. After his tirade he stated he did not realize that it was a reference to homosexuality. Considering Guillen’s heritage, I believe this statement. In the British colonies, the word is used to refer to cigarettes. George Carlin, who grew up in New York, has said that, during his growing up, the term meant a “sissy”, but not a homosexual male. It is entirely believable to me that Guillen meant to degrade and foul the name of Jay Mariotti, but not necessarily call him a homosexual male.

Perhaps, upon reflection, this is little consolation.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Robert B. Parker's "Blue Screen"

Robert B. Parker is one of the best American fiction novelists ever to dwell amongst us. That may be a strong statement, but every word is true.

Notice that I did not say “mystery novelist”. Parker’s more than fifty novels cover the mystery genre more than any other type, but even his mystery novels include romance, psychological thriller, action and other elements.

His books are thoroughly entertaining and I look forward to the two or three books he presents each year. That is why I was disappointed with his latest novel, “Blue Screen”.

To understand why “Blue Screen” was a disappointment, you have to understand the characters Parker has created. Parker developed Spenser, to be best remembered by the portrayal by Robert Urich on the television series during the 1980s. Spenser is a tough former Boston cop who is intelligent and hangs out with intelligent people. Spenser is funny and ethical and his stories are a joy to read.

In recent years, Parker has broken new ground creating two new characters in separate series. Jesse Stone is a former L.A. cop who has moved to Massachusetts, near Boston, to be a small town police chief. He is a rehabilitating drunk who misses his ex-wife. Tom Selleck has been successful portraying Stone in several recent T.V. movies for CBS. There has even been talk of a weekly series, but Selleck denies wanting to take that step.

Sunny Randall is a female ex-cop turned private detective. She paints and, like Spenser, loves her dog. Like Stone, she has ex-spouse troubles. Her stories have not made the trip to television although Parker has admitted in interviews he created the character for actress Helen Hunt.

In this, the fifth outing for Sunny Randall, the female P.I. meets up with Jesse Stone. Parker’s characters have been bumping into each other for years. This time the police chief and detective are trying to solve a murder together.

Unfortunately, the plotting this time is minimal. If you read the book cover notes, skip the first twenty chapters. Not much more happens than is printed there and it will save you some time. Still, if you read the first twenty chapters, you should have the ending figured out.

What Parker excels in is the writing. He is a master of making a story flow. This book is no different in that sense. My disappointment was in waiting for something surprising or exceptional to happen. It never really happened.

In my view, if you are looking for a summer read with one of the best writers still alive, and you have never read Robert B. Parker, rather than starting with this tepid adventure, leave the best sellers and head back into the stacks. Look for “All Our Yesterdays” from 1994.

“All Our Yesterdays” has none of the aforementioned characters. It is an examination of three generations of Irish northeasterners and their relationships with women. It is entertaining and a true modern masterpiece. You will not regret turning a single page.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

King Heffron and the "Last Comic Standing"

Television watching during the summer is not a favorite pastime of mine anymore. I remember watching bad summertime variety shows as a kid and reruns of programs that had been cancelled just to watch something. Today, the airwaves are still clogged with reruns and poorly conceived reality programs.

I still like to watch the Cubs, no matter how bad they are…again.

This summer there is a jewel among the limited first-run programs available. No matter how I want to deny it, I still enjoy “Last Comic Standing”.

When this show first aired I refused to watch. I have always enjoyed stand-up comedy and, when I was a teenager, I even wished I could do stand-up. That fire went out a long time ago when I realized that I am not as funny as I think I am.

It was because of the respect I had for stand-up that I would not give the show a chance. There was that reason and the fact I was working a lot of nights and not watching any television at the time. The idea of locking comics in a house for a chance at a prize held no curiosity for me.

When they brought it back for a second year, my teenage daughter encouraged me to try it. I was hooked in the way some people like to go to house fires or watch tornados. I knew it was far from being a “good” show, but I still could not help myself.

In my view, John Heffron was the best of the bunch. He was hilarious. I am still waiting for a huge movie or television show with him as the star or co-star. I know he will be huge someday.

My favorite bit was his take on women going out in groups. They never leave anyone behind. It was, and is, “fall-down” funny.

This year, the show went through the same pattern. They held auditions. These included people who should not be allowed in public, let alone on television. There were a lot of shots of Ross Mark staring down poorly conceived comic acts.

Buck Starr returned this year. Buck was a young man who followed Bob and Ross, talent executives picking forty people for the final round of auditions, all over the country. He was funnier this year, but the humor in him following Bob and Ross around was missing. This time it was just annoying.

Then they had the forty people chosen by Bob and Ross audition for twelve seats on the show. The funny part is that it likely is not a real audition. Last year “judges” Drew Carey and Brett Butler blew the lid off when their “selections” for the final ten people were not all chosen. Host Jay Mohr explained that the producers of the show could override the judges’ votes in order to make the show more “watchable”.

That leads me to believe that this year is no different. They had different judges watching the audition (Last year’s third judge, Anthony Clark, is now the host. He was probably given the job for not getting mad as the other two did.), but my guess is the producers already knew who they wanted on the show.

Those who were funny but failed to make the cut are included in an on-line viewer voting game. I am still not certain what the purpose is of voting, but I vote each week anyway. So far America has agreed with me twice out of three votes (Check out the website: http://www.nbc.com/Last_Comic_Standing/).

This past Tuesday night was the first night of real competition between the twelve finalists. Comics are already standing out. Roz was the only comic who understood the term “heckle”. She was dirty, which by itself does not impress me, but still made me laugh. She has a strong shot at winning. Bill Dwyer failed to impress me during the audition process, but was very funny this week. Chris Porter, a self-proclaimed Gene Wilder look-alike, had the unenviable task of heckling the comic with cerebral palsy, and made it work.

Two people were sent away. A pregnant comic named Stella was not my favorite and took every chance to put down the others on the show. She will not be missed. April Macy made constant references to her “sexual openness” which eventually worked against her. The unlikely hero of the night was Michele Balan, a fifty-one year old comic from New York who gathered lions share of the audience’s appreciation.

The biggest disappointment this year is host Anthony Young. He seems to be trying to do an impression of Survivor’s Jeff Probst when he speaks to the comics. I think the idea is to create tension, but it just comes off silly. At least Jay Mohr understood the program was about comedy and that comedy is supposed to be fun. During most of the show, Young looks like he has a gun to his head.

With all its warts, I still look forward to the next episode. There are ten people left. Most are very funny. I have not decided on one person I would like to see win, but it will be fun to watch the ride.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006


On June 21, 1970, in Crescent City, Illinois, there was a train accident. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, discusses it in a section titled “List of Rail Accidents”. It states “Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad Company's Train No. 20 derails in downtown Crescent City; propane tank car ruptures and explosions cause fires that destroy the city center. No fatalities.” That is a nice concise description, but it hardly scratches the surface of what went on that day.

Shortly after dawn, a young girl was delivering the Daily Journal newspaper to area residents. She heard the accident, but was busy with her task at hand. Suddenly, she felt heat. The heat was so strong that in began to burn her clothes.

The train had been heading east across central Illinois. It was powered by four locomotives and carried 109 cars. According to a study by Marvin Resnikoff for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office, a motorist spotted smoke coming from one of the train cars approximately ten miles west of Crescent City. Nothing is reported about whether the motorist contacted anyone and, with the train traveling over forty miles per hour, there certainly would not have been time to act.

The original derailment was recorded at 6:30 A.M. Of those attached cars, fifteen came off the tracks. Of those fifteen were nine tanker cars contained liquefied petroleum gas. One of the train cars sheared a nearby power pole causing electrical service to be cut off. The young girl’s father rushed her to nearby Watseka Memorial Hospital. There she was treated for first and second degree burns.

Fire fighters arrived and were trying to contain the fire which was burning intensely. Fire companies from 32 surrounding towns, including Paxton and Buckley appeared with 53 pieces of equipment. 234 firemen were on the scene.

Chanute Air Force in Rantoul sent a foam truck. They informed the local fire fighters that water would be unable to contain such a fire that including burning propane.

Shortly after 9:30 A.M., three hours after the derailment, two tanker cars exploded. One reported traveled over 200 yards as a result tearing apart many downtown businesses... Just before 11:00 A.M., a third exploded as well.

The fires burned until 9:00 P.M. Monday night. In all sixty-six people were injured, sixteen businesses were destroyed, seven others were damaged and twenty-five homes were destroyed.

Amazingly, there is video. When the accident occurred, news media made a beeline for the little town in Iroquois County. Someone who brought a camera was somehow able to record the damage of the initial accident received an added bonus of additional carnage.

Thirty-six years hasn’t dulled the memory of the residents of the area. If you bring it up to anyone fifty or older, they will recreate their experience of the day from the moment they opened their eyes in the morning until long after the sun set. Some even will get a little teary eyed remembering the hardships that followed and the struggle to rebuild a town that had buildings, and a reputation, badly damaged.

It seemed that everyone within a one hundred mile radius was aware and came to see the damage. Weeks later, people gathered in the bleachers of a crowded Crescent City High School gymnasium while the video was shown on a not-so-large screen. It was exciting to see the fire rise into the sky, not unlike pictures you see of the atom bomb being dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Someone with somber tone spoke about the horrible tragedy that befell the residents of Crescent City, Illinois.

If you ever drive through “Crescent”, as many Iroquois County residents call it today, you will see a sign directing you to a landmark. The landmark offers still pictures and a brief description of the events thirty-six years old. As you pass, you may not be able to recognize what happened years before, but to those who remember, the changes are obvious.

On the north side of the Route 24, there are very few businesses standing, even today. There is a basketball court and the landmark, but very few buildings. On the south side of Route 24, where once stood three story row buildings as you see in many small Iroquois County towns, is the equivalent of a strip mall, housing a bank, and dentist’s office and other small businesses.
The great train fire of 1970 is Crescent City, Illinois’ claim to fame. No one living there will ever forget Father’s Day that year.

In parts of the world far away, I wish that for them. I hope and pray they have a day like June 22, 1970 where they can stop worrying about any more destruction and begin to think about getting through the next day.

I hope and pray they can look back at a meaningless 36th anniversary of when the mayhem stopped.

Many milestones are fun to remember. They make us remember times and people we love. On June 20th, I will remember the people from a small town not so far away. I will remember what they lost and what they gained.

I hope that people living through a different type of terror will get that chance as well.


Sunday, June 18, 2006


Before I can sleep tonight, I have to clear my mind.

I had a wonderful Father’s Day with my family. Among the many happy turns the day took was that tonight I took my son to see the movie “Cars”.

Although I haven’t missed a Pixar feature film, I wasn’t too excited about this one. The early reviews have been mixed. Still, my son wanted to see it and, deep down, so did I.

Country music is not my favorite style and “down-home” humor is sometimes lost on me (Although I did see and laugh a lot at the ‘Blue Collar Comedy Tour’.), I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.

At its heart, the movie is about friendship, respect for self and others, and the discovery that life is not only about winning. It reminds us that newer is not necessarily better. Sometimes newer is just newer. To really appreciate our lives and the world at large, we have to step and look back.

Yesterday, I visited my parents who live in the town where I grew up. We talked a lot about people we used to know and things that happened years ago. They have a lot to offer about things that I can apply to my life today.

In my view, one of the many messages of the film “Cars” and one of the messages of my visit home is to remember the past a little each day. Take those thoughts and memories and apply them to your life going forward. You will be richer for it.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Network Neutrality

"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." – Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is widely known for his political activism.

I have chosen this quote to write briefly on the subject of Network Neutrality. According to savetheinternet.com, network neutrality “ensures that the public can view the smallest blog just as easily as the largest corporate Web site by preventing Internet companies like AT&T from rigging the playing field for only the highest-paying sites.”

Congress is discussing a way to allow more popular websites to have higher access while slowing down access by competitors.

Senators Olympia Snow (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) have introduced a bi-partisan measure, the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006”. This could provide protection for Network Neutrality.

Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) states at his website and in his weekly podcast, “It is because the Internet is a neutral platform that I can put out this podcast and transmit it over the Internet without having to go through any corporate media middleman. I can say what I want without censorship or without having to pay a special charge.But the big telephone and cable companies want to change the Internet as we know it. They say that they want to create high speed lanes on the Internet and strike exclusive contractual agreements with Internet content providers for access to those high speed lanes. Everyone who cannot pony up the cash will be relegated to the slow lanes."

I urge everyone to contact their U.S. Senator and let them know how important it is to protect your access to the internet.

To find your state’s senator, click http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state&Sort=ASC

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Working in radio was an amazing experience for me. I was exposed to different types of music and different artists I never would have listened to otherwise.

The format of our station was called “Middle of the Road”. That meant “inoffensive” music. We played classics hits like Andy Williams’ “Moon River” along side recent (at the time) hits like the Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”.

We played artists like Count Basie, Lou Rawls, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson and the Magic Organ. I still am not a fan of country music, but I have learned to appreciate the music. I can watch movies like “Walk The Line” and “O Brother Where Out Thou” and really enjoy the music they offer.

During my time on the air I really grew to appreciate jazz. From Dave Grusin and George Benson to Duke Ellington and Stan Getz, the rhythms and beat of jazz music really picks up my spirits. Unfortunately, I live in an area in Illinois that doesn’t have a jazz station within reach of my radio. I can drive twenty miles in nearly any direction and I’ll catch one, but I live in a dead spot.

I’ve mentioned before the fantastic podcast Detroit JazzStage. You can still catch last month’s podcast featuring pianist Rick Roe. Listen carefully to “Hop On Pop” and “Salt River Blues”, both of which include collaborations with bassist Rodney Whitaker. All the music that can be heard on the podcast is fantastic but these selections are standouts.

What I really want to share with you today is the wonderful Marian McPartland. I first heard her music working on radio. I used to play from an album titled “Portrait of Marian McPartland” and a song titled “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”.

Born in 1918, she’s been doing a radio program for NPR called “Piano Jazz” for over twenty-five years. Her program I can find on the University of Illinois’ fine radio station WILL, but its schedule and mine often conflict. Therefore, I have to satisfy myself with the podcasts available called “Piano Jazz Shorts”. They last anywhere from ten to twenty minutes and don’t do justice to the entire one hour program, but as close as they can.

In the coming weeks, you can hear her talk and play the piano with artists like Arturo Sandoval, Elvis Costello and Alicia Keyes. Not only that, they have scheduled a program she did with Clint Eastwood during the 1990s. I remember listening to much of that program when I used have a two hour drive to work each day. I was lucky enough to catch the program on the way home.

This was recorded not long after the movie “Bridges of Madison County” was released. This movie included many jazz selections and the apparently mismatched couple enjoy a fascinating discussion about music.

To the left, you’ll spot a link to “Piano Jazz”. I urge you to search for a station in your area, or at the least, subscribe to the shorter podcast. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

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