Monday, September 25, 2017

Trump Fields a Team

"Slap Maxwell here, with a PD Sports exclusive: President Donald Trump is launching a new team into the National Football League!"

POTUS: "That's right, Slap. I realized the only answer to these unpatriotic NFL players is to get out there and beat them on the gridiron. We're calling the team the White House Wallopers."

Slap: "Tell us about the team, Mr. President. Some star players on the roster?"

POTUS: "I've drawn entirely from my cabinet. We're prepared to steamroller the league"

Slap: "Tell us your starting lineup."

POTUS: "We've got Wilbur Ross and Sonny Perdue as guards, Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt as tackles, Mike Pence and Steve Mnuchin as tight ends."

Slap: "Quite a line. Who's at centre?"

POTUS: "Jeff Sessions."

Slap: "Jeff Sessions? Tiny Jeff? Why, centres take the most abuse on the line--he's likely to get killed."

POTUS: "So?"

Slap: "How about quarterback? Who's going to be calling the plays?"

POTUS: "Naturally most people expect me to be the key player on the team. Many people have said that if I'd played pro, I would've been the best ever. Namath, Montana, Brady--forget 'em. But I decided I'm more valuable directing strategy, working on offence."

Slap: "You're very good on offence."

POTUS: "I think you'll see us all wearing Super Bowl rings at the end of the season, even though we've lost some of our best players--Mnooch, who was a great speedster, and Steve 'The Monster' Bannon, but we'll still have Sarah Huckabee Sanders in there blocking. And we'll have some surprises. I'm putting Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao and Ben Carson in the backfield. Who says I'm not for diversity?"

Slap: "Well, Mr. President, it sounds like great entertainment ahead."

POTUS: "Wait 'til you see what else we've got: Sarah "Pom Pom" Palin heading the cheerleaders, Chris "Oreo" Christie as team mascot."

Slap: "What more can we say, except Rah Rah Rah, and Go, Team. Slap Maxwell, for PD Sports."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Don't Ever Invite Him Again

Donald Trump's appearance at the United Nations General Assembly made us think of dinner parties when someone says, "A business friend of mine is in town. Would it be okay if I brought him? He's a little loud, but really a very nice person."

Then the guy turns up and manages to insult everyone there, collectively and individually, dominate the conversation, criticize the food--"What is this stuff? Who eats this kind of thing?"--use the wrong fork, leer at the hostess, and empty the liquor cabinet.

The other guests leave, muttering angrily, vowing never to return if that guy is going to be there.

This, undoubtedly, is how many UN delegates felt as Trump bellowed and waved his hands. We're betting a lot of them turned their headsets to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

L'Shana Tova!

It is Rosh Hashanah, the "Head of the Year," and we are propelled into the year 5778.

One immediately starts to think of celebratory dishes--honey cake, cherry blintzes, potato-mushroom knishes, apple kugel, a fine smoked brisket, challah, tongue and chopped liver, pomegranates and dates, and gallons of Manischewitz wine.

Some of us remember fondly the Hadassah Bazaar, once held annually in Vancouver and other cities across North America. In Toronto, as many as 60,000 people would line up at 6:00 a.m. to get in.

It is ten years now, since the last bazaar was held, but we can still taste the honey cake. Mazel tov!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Autumn Playlist

Autumn is a season of golden serenity, but also a season of poignance and rue and farewell, and no one expressed this more lyrically than Johnny Mercer, who wrote the words for "Autumn Leaves," "Early Autumn," "Summer Wind" and "When October Goes."

Then there are Maxwell Anderson's memorable lyrics for "September Song," and Al Dubin's for "Indian Summer" and Sammy Cahn's for "The Things We Did Last Summer."

Less well known are "Autumn Serenade," by Peter DeRose, who also wrote "Deep Purple," and "'Tis Autumn" by the puckish practical joker Henry Nemo ("The Neem"). But I'm sure we can all sing "Autumn in New York," by Vernon Duke (ne Vladimir Dukelsky), and some will have their own memories of fall in Manhattan.

The original French version of "Autumn Leaves" is "Les Feuilles Mortes." A less golden title, but every time Yves Montand sang it to end his stage performances, the applause went on until the lights were turned off.

We'll be watching for you at that dance pavilion in the rain.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Resist the Impulse

September 18 has been declared National First Love Day. Well, if they can have National Unicorn Day and National Bow Tie Day and National Bubble Gum Day, why not?

But don't get carried away. Resist the impulse, sometime around midnight, after a couple of glasses of wine, to phone or e-mail the girl whose name you would have had tattooed on your 17-year-old biceps.

You have no idea how she may look today. And you definitely don't want her to see how you look.

Our advice: take Scott Spencer's "Endless Love" and go to bed.

P.S.: Speed dating does not count as first love.

Monday, September 11, 2017

One More Time Basie liked to say, but this is one more time for the Duke, not the Count.

In 1941, Duke Ellington was in Los Angeles, working on a musical called "Jump for Joy." Or not working. Henry Blankfort, the show's production supervisor, went to Duke's hotel to try to get some notes on paper. Here's what Blankfort found:

"Duke was in the bathtub. Beside him was a stack of manuscript paper, a huge container of chocolate ice cream, a glass of Scotch and milk, and Jonesy. Jonesy was his valet, and his job was to keep adding warm water and let out cooling water to maintain a constant temperature in the tub for the Maestro. And Duke was serenely scribbling notes on the paper and then calling to Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn would take the notes and play them on the old beat-up upright piano in Duke's room. Duke would listen and then write more notes...and almost four or five hours later, two more songs for the show were finished."

Gotta love him. Or, to paraphrase Duke's standard closing, love him madly.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

One for the Duke

More on Edward Kennedy Ellington, occasioned by reading Terry Teachout's biography, called, simply, "Duke."

Teachout, who earlier published a biography of Louis Armstrong (called "Pops") has done admirable research, and the book is especially good on the long-lasting Ellington sidemen: Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, Ben Webster, Jimmy Blanton, Barney Bigard, et al., on the fine singer Ivie Anderson, and on Duke's irreplaceable collaborator, Billy Strayhorn.

Only a mild quibble from this corner: In "Music Is My Mistress," Ellington wrote, "I don't drink any more. I retired undefeated champ about thirty years ago." Teachout writes that Ellington gave up drinking in 1939. But a decade or so after that, touring with the band through the Pacific Northwest, his beverage of choice, according to Terry Garner, was gin and milk.

Milk? With gin? Duke explained, "You have to be kind to your stomach, Sweetie."

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Reverend Duke

Duke Ellington, in his last ten years, wrote three programs he called "Sacred Concerts." And while these contain some memorable music, including the wistful "Come Sunday," which Ella Fitzgerald sang at his funeral, the most hymn-like of his work, it seems to us, is his recording of "Solitude" on the album "Money Jungle."

"Money Jungle" is a trio performance--Duke at the keyboard, with Charles Mingus, bass, and Max Roach, drums. Ellington was always the most orchestral of pianists, and his playing on "Solitude" is magisterial, the power you get from a commanding organist playing a Bach fugue.

Duke Ellington would never have been mistaken for a monk, but he did say, "God has blessed my timing."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Staying Sonny

September 7 is the birthday of Sonny Rollins, tumultuous and often eccentric jazz saxophonist and composer ("St. Thomas," "Airegin," "Oleo," "Valse Hot") born in Harlem in 1930.

It occurred to us that there are probably few octogenarians called "Sonny." But then we remembered Mel Torme's up-tempo spoof on Al Jolson's sentimental "Sonny Boy."  In Mel's version, it begins:

"Climb up on my knee, Sonny Boy--
Though you're eighty-three, Sonny Boy."

Happy birthday to Sonny Rollins. Long may he wail.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Surviving the 3-Day Novel Contest

Once again, survivors of the 3-Day Novel Contest have staggered in at the end of Labor Day, brain-drained and weary, dragging their split infinitives, dangling participles, battered syntax and irregular verbs.

Onslow MacAroony, a veteran of the annual literary Iron Man, was reached at the Caffeine Detox Centre. He said, "Every year when it's over, I vow never again. Next year, I'll just go to the PNE, eat foot-long hot dogs and sugary beignets, and get sick on the Tilt-a-Whirl. But I know, deep within, that when the Labor Day weekend approaches, I won't be able to resist, and I'll be getting out my Thesaurus again."

In other news, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats finally won a game. Great sighs of relief in Steeltown, reports Slap Maxwell, who took time out from covering the 3-Day Novel Contest to watch the less grueling action on the gridiron.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

3-Day Motto

"I can write faster than anyone who writes better than I do,
and I can write better than anyone who writes faster than I do."

                                                                                 -- AJ. Liebling.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Significance of Labor Day

Here we are, at the annual Labor Day weekend, and that means four things:

1.  You will not be able to wear your white Guccis after September 3.

2.  The Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos will meet once again in their internecine blood rivalry. We're predicting Stamps by 12, even though Slap Maxwell loves Mike Reilly.

3.  School is about to commence a new term, and students--and teachers--face the future with either eager anticipation or resignation and dread.

And now, for many of us, hunched over keyboards, the big event:

4.  The 3-Day Novel Contest--the 72-hour literary marathon, engaging word-spinners from wherever English is writ. It is the Iron Man event for storytellers. Some may view participation as masochistic madness, but there are hundreds ready to leap to their laptops, or their lined legal pads, or their scribblers. Len Deighton said, "All you need to be a writer is the stub of a pencil and the back of an envelope."

Good luck to them all.  And to the football players, the teachers and students, and the fashion police.