Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Herb Jeffries, adieu

News today that Herb Jeffries, once the featured singer with Duke Ellington's orchestra, has departed this world. One headline said he was "known for his luscious baritone," and his baritone was luscious, indeed. His best-known song was "Flamingo," and if you hit YouTube you can see a performance of it by Jeffries with Duke, including solos by Lawrence Brown and Johnny Hodges.

The headline also described Jeffries as an "African-American cowboy." It's true that he made movies for what was known as the "sepia market," movies with such titles as "Bronze Buckaroo" and "Harlem Rides the Range." But Jeffries's birth name was Umberto Valentino, his lineage was Irish, Ethiopian and Sicilian, and he looked Sicilian enough to hang out with the Corleones.

Herb Jeffries was one hundred years old.

"Flamingo--flying over the sea..."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Miles & Teresa

May 26 is the birthday of both Teresa Stratas (Toronto, 1936) and Miles Davis (Alton, Illinois, 1926).
Pity they never recorded together. He would have been great on her Kurt Weill album.

The Old DeeJay.

Friday, May 23, 2014

News--if not breaking, at least seriously cracked

Disturbing news for football fans--no, not the possibility of a CFL-Players Association dispute that threatens the 2014 season--much more serious, especially for those who remember and revere Regina's Taylor Field. As a further step toward the gentrification of football, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are going along with a plan for construction of a $278 million Mosaic Stadium, which includes--get this--a roof, designed "to quell the winds." Come on, wind has always been part of football in Regina. Football is (or was) a game meant to be played outdoors, in wind, rain, snow, heat wave, typhoon.

And a final note: try sneaking into Mosaic Stadium over a fence.

The University of Bucharest has produced what it calls "A Manual for the Advanced Study of Finnegan's Wake." In--and get this--one hundred and one volumes. The 26,000-page magnum opus is published by Contemporary Literature Press. We know you're eager to add this to your home library, and you're wondering what it will cost you. Answer: nothing. The announcement says "You can find us and download our books for free, including the full text of Finnegan's Wake." Internet addresses: http://editura.mttlc.ro/index.html and http://sandulescu.perso.monaco.mc/.

Finally, in the continuing sad destruction of the language, fewer and fewer people, whether in print or on air, seem to know the correct usage of "lay" and "lie." Broadway producer George Abbott knew. Still playing golf in his nineties, Abbott was on a course with his wife when he tripped and fell, face down, in a sand trap. "George," his anguished missus cried, "don't just lay there!" Abbott raised his head slightly, and said, "Lie there."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rubik Still Wins

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the creation of Rubik's Cube. Forty years of trying, and we still haven't gotten it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Queen Victoria: Two or Three Things You Should Know

It is Victoria Day, and while there are few of us left who remember that glorious day in 1837 when the 18-year-old Princess took the throne (which she then held for sixty-three years and seven months) there are celebrations (and a day off) throughout Canada and what is left of the British Empire.

In response to many queries, we now provide a few answers:

Q: What was Queen Victoria's family name?
A: D'Este.

Q: Was Queen Victoria musical?
A: Both she and Prince Albert were pianists and singers, and spent many a happy hour with Felix Mendelssohn. In her daily journal, the morning after Albert proposed marriage, Victoria wrote, "He sang to me some of his own compositions, which are beautiful, and he has a very fine voice. I also sang for him."

Q: Were her journals preserved?
A: The edited edition fills 111 volumes--one-third of what she wrote.

Q: Was she also a graphic artist?
A: She made some charming pencil sketches and watercolors.

Q: How tall was Queen Victoria?
A: At the beginning of her reign, four feet and eleven inches; at the end, four feet and seven inches. But she had added some inches horizontally.

Q: When she said "We are not amused," whom was she talking to and why?
A: Alexander Grantham Yorke was the unfortunate jester. Two stories: (a) He had been heard telling a joke considered unsuitable for the ladies of the court; (b--and more likely) He had been caught engaging in some monarchical mimicry.

Enjoy the parades. Watch for a tiny rotund lady wearing a crown.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Critter Sitter

Having successfully fulfilled a week as a Professional Goldfish Sitter, I have been besieged by requests for my services as a critter sitter. So far, I have respectfully declined offers of employment as a companion for the following:

-- Boa constrictors

-- California condors

-- Vampire bats

-- Ant farms

-- Black widow spiders

-- Flea circuses

But I worry about what Galen and Zoe might bring back from the San Diego Zoo. A postcard says they have become very fond of a howler monkey.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Goldfish Chronicles: V

Day five, and we're still alive! Whoo!

The Goldfish

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Goldfish Chronicles IV

"Thanks for leaving the TV on," said Ralph, as he turned a few laps in the bowl.

"Yes, it was very entertaining," said Minerva. "We especially enjoyed David Suzuki."

"I just wish," said Ralph, circling the coral castle, "we could tune out the commercials. Some of them are very upsetting."

"Especially," said Minerva, "that one for filet-o-fish."

"Yes," said Ralph. "We're not loving it."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Goldfish Chronicles III

"We're bored," said Ralph, the daddy goldfish.

"Nothing to do but swim around all day," said Minerva.

"Except," said Ralph, "ha ha--remember that Cole Porter song? 'Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it'."

"Oh, Ralph!" said Minerva. I thought she might have blushed, but with goldfish it's hard to tell.

"But wait," said Ralph, "that's what we need--music. Put some on."

"What kind of music do you like?" I asked.

"We're very fond of Schubert's Trout Quintet," said Minerva.

"'Splish Splash' is good," said Ralph.

"And 'Three Little Fishies in an Itty-Bitty Stream" is cute."

"But not 'Saturday Night Fish Fry'."

"No, we hate that."

"How about," I said, "'Salmon Chanted Evening'?"

"GEDDOUDA HERE!" they cried.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Goldfish Chronicles II

Galen and Zoe called this morning and said, "Don't forget to wish the mama fish a happy Mother's Day."

"Which one," I said, "is the mama fish?"

Zoe sighed. "Don't you know anything?"

Galen said, "The mama fish is the carassius auratur cyprinidae, more commonly known as the fantail."

"We call her Minerva," said Zoe.

"They have names?" I said.

"Of course they have names," said Galen. "The papa fish is Ralph, and their friends are Fillmore and Amy."

I said, "It sounds like 'I Love Lucy' with fins."

Zoe sighed again. "We should have gotten an app to look after the goldfish."

I said, "There's an app for goldfish?"

Galen said, "Don't mind him, Zo--he's pre-digital."

Zoe said, "I think he's prehistoric."

After they hung up I went to have lunch. I decided against the fish fingers.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Journal of a Goldfish Sitter

My neighbors Galen and Zoe, aged nine and three, have gone to San Diego to visit the zoo. Before leaving, they knocked on my door and asked if I would do something for them: "Would you feed our goldfish while we're away?"

I protested that I am irresponsible, unreliable and in all practical matters incompetent. "We know," said Galen. "But you're the only one left," said Zoe.

This is how I have become a goldfish sitter.

"You give them four pellets in the morning," said Galen. "And eight at night," said Zoe.

"And," she said, "don't stick your hand in the tank."

Why not?

"Because," said Galen, "it would upset the electric eel."

"And the stingray and piranhas," said Zoe.

"Have fun in San Diego," I said, and went to consult with my friend Jack Daniel.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

So long, Torts

So long, Torts--
That's the way it is in sports.
Gotta keep your suitcase packed,
Never know when you'll get sacked.

So long, Torts--
Hope you're not feelin' too outa sorts.
Thought you might stay forever,
But then they went and got Trevor.

So long, Torts--
You gave it a nice try.
Despite reports,
You turned out to be a nice guy.

So pour a drink
And get into some other team's rink.
Just remember one thing:
You already got a Stanley Cup ring.

So long, Torts.


The film "American Hustle" received ten Academy Award nominations, but not one for best score. A mistake, because Danny Elfman's musical collage--from Duke Ellington to Steely Dan, Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan to Donna Summer--is one of the best things about the film.

Elfman could have composed an original score--he has written some of television's best-known theme music--but chose instead to put together a musical backdrop using existing recordings. Perhaps the first to do this successfully was Jerry Fielding, for "L.A. Confidential," setting the period as ably as the art direction and set design.

For a long time film scores were dreary or unimaginative or overbearing or all three. Any number of 1940s weepers used part of "Daphnis et Chloe," and one is sorry Ravel wasn't around to demand royalties or sue. Then there were the ponderous scores Korngold wrote for Errol Flynn swashbucklers. For a time, movies had to have a lead song--think "To Each His Own" and "Till the End of Time."

Duke Ellington scored a couple of movies--"Anatomy of a Murder" and "Assault on a Queen"--but this wasn't his true metier. One of the first truly great scores was the one Leonard Bernstein wrote for "On the Waterfront" and another, which did win an Oscar--two, in fact--was Burt Bacharach's for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Gerry Mulligan pulled together a knockout jazz aggregation for "The Hot Rock," and Johnny Mandel has written all kinds of memorable movie music, for pictures from "The Americanization of Emily" to "MASH." And we can't forget David Raksin, who composed the still hauntingly beautiful themes for "Laura" and "The Bad and the Beautiful."

Off to look for a CD of Danny Elfman's "American Hustle" score. Music, maestro, please!