Fine Tuning: Country Music

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I arrived home from a concert last night (more about that in a minute) and discovered that our scanner had died on Kim. As this will inhibit photo reproduction somewhat in the near future, please bear with me while I take the opportunity to meander down a path and bring those of you who follow the personal aspects of my life up-to-speed.

Last week I hit the two year mark at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Since it also happened to be our Gala I didn’t really have the bandwidth to pay much attention to the fact – nothing like more than 600 people for dinner and a concert to distract you. Subsequent to that I was knocked low by a stomach virus which only left me considering whether or not to head to the ER or if urgent care would do. Mostly recovered with the help of time and the miracles of medicine, last night I attended a concert featuring highlights of Ken Burns’s upcoming documentary on country music (to air on PBS in mid-September) paired with our Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra which I had been looking forward to and I was pleased not to be denied the pleasure of it.

I will begin by stating that I know almost nothing really about country music. Unlike Kim’s family, my folks didn’t listen to a lot of music, but they did have a handful of folk music albums and as I stumbled into nascent consciousness about music I gravitated for a bit in that direction. My father had worked on a documentary for ABC News on Woody Guthrie and for some reason the soundtrack had to be recorded on our home stereo (resulting in a day of tip toeing around the house, interesting equipment and strange people for small child Pam which I still remember) and a pile of those albums remained with us. (Meanwhile, my mother was a fan of Joan Baez and the sound of her singing takes me immediately back to my childhood in a way few things can.)

As I poked and stumbled through what appealed to me musically I found my way to people like Jimmie Rodgers. (Blue Yodel No. 9 was featured in the concert last night with Wynton on the trumpet doing the Louis Armstrong part and Marty Stuart on guitar and vocal as Jimmie Rodgers. The 1930 recording of Rodgers and Armstrong found here via Youtube.) I liked the stories and the music stayed with me, but I didn’t have access to a lot of it and my musical attention, such as it was, strayed. I eventually found radio stations that played jazz and suddenly I was getting warmer. Some of you already know that in college I stumbled across early popular music genius Rich Conaty (memorialized fondly in a post here) who introduced me to the broader music of the 1920’s and 30’s that ultimately became the mainstay of my music diet.

I first discovered Rich’s show when spending the weekends in Manhattan during the fall of my senior year in college. I had exhausted the opportunities I had to work in life from the figure in the art program at my Connecticut college. I had been passionate about drawing and sculpting the figure from life since high school and so I arranged my classes in a way so I could come to New York on Saturday and take an early all-day life class at the Art Student’s League on Sunday and head back to New London early on Monday. I stayed in a small apartment my father kept so he wasn’t forced to commute everyday during the final years of his long career.

It was sort of exhausting and I didn’t know anyone in New York so most of those evenings I spent alone in the apartment, listening to the radio while I ate and before bed. (Yes folks, actual radio. Someday I will expound here on my love of the radio – I adored it as a child and have never entirely deserted my fondness for it. While I mostly access it via the internet these days, I will never forget my childhood fascination with my first transistor radio. It was simply, a really great thing.)

It was during one of those New York weekend stays that I first discovered Rich, who at the time, and on and off over his many decades at Fordham’s WFUV radio station, had both the Saturday and Sunday night slot. His Sunday night show was the one I grew to love and listen to faithfully over the years however and it rarely strayed out of the popular music genre or period. The Saturday night show was a tad more freewheeling – at least this is how I remember it all. I couldn’t say for sure, but I believe it was the Saturday show that featured early country music. It was a revelation and I always wanted to know more.

I lost touch with Rich’s show for a year or so after I stopped coming to Manhattan on weekends. The radio signal was weak and I could not pick it up in Connecticut although I did try repeatedly. It was a year or more later before I was back in New York and resumed listening to him, although another couple of years before life was settled into enough of a routine that I became a regular and devoted listener.

Over time I got to know Rich and in retrospect I could really kick myself for not asking him about that country music show. I am not aware of his devoting any substantial air time to the subject subsequently, not in a dedicated way. I think country swing was probably the tributary that beckoned and was new to my ears, but hard to say how reliable memory like that of decades ago actually is. It stayed with me, but in the fall of 1985 with limited knowledge of Manhattan’s resources, nor armed with much information, it was never an avenue I really explored.

(Bob Wills, San Antonio Rose, 1938 can be found here.)

wills1

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

 

Last night, listening to Ken Burns talk about the dawn of country music those dusty musical memories started to emerge again and the musical curiosity of a 21 year old Pam stirred and itched at my brain anew. As someone said to me after discussing how great the concert was, however, just another Friday night for you at Jazz at Lincoln Center and I thought, not quite, but it is the very best part of my job indeed.

 

Coffee

Pam’s Pictorama: This weekend I am waiting for the US Post Office to catch up with my photo acquisitions, and so today I am heading down one of those personal tributaries. Earlier this week I had a number of reasons to contemplate my deep attachment to coffee. The first occurred when I accidentally left my morning coffee at the deli, several blocks from my new midtown, high-rise office perch. It was one of those (many) chilly wet days we had early this week and the idea of retracing my steps was dispiriting – but so was the loss of treasured coffee. I resentfully made due with a cup from the dreaded Keurig (don’t mind it for a strong cup of tea, but not a fan for coffee) and slunk, sadly back to my office.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center offices are equipped a large kitchen right off the reception area. It has two refrigerators, toaster ovens, microwave, coffee machines, soda and snack machines and – most surprising of all – a dishwasher which they run nightly. Really, I could cook a full dinner for a family with what they have as a staff kitchen. (And, not surprisingly, jazz music plays in the public space all day which means you sometimes find yourself passing on the way to a meeting and stopping to listen to an especially fine Louis Armstrong moment as happened the other day, making me late for a meeting. However it is the kind of place where people are willing to accept that.) An office manager makes coffee for two large carafes daily, but my timing is always off and it goes fast. I arrive too early and therefore with outside coffee in hand. On this particular day the wait seemed too long.

Meanwhile, I read several articles about cold brew this week – perhaps not coincidental as we are heading into hot weather and the ever-calculating media is ready to turn our attention to purchasing cold drinks. I considered cold brew briefly a month or so ago when Fresh Direct accidentally delivered a couple of cans of cold brew coffee to us and I liked them enough to consider adding some to our order – until I saw the price (ouch!!!) and decided I would stick with my cheaper methods of coffee consumption.

I have experimented with several methods of making coffee over time – electric perculators and machines, French presses, expresso devices and paper filters – tried ’em all. In the end I returned to the method I grew up with and which now seems to be pretty much sneered at, the old fashioned perculating stovetop pot of my childhood. (I had a young colleague at the Met who found the concept downright exotic in a steam punk sort of way which made me feel very old.) Frankly, it fills me with great pleasure to smell and hear a pot of coffee perking on the stove in the morning. My parents have long switched to a complicated machine (which I do battle with each time I spend the night at their house), but it brings me back to early mornings in childhood and evokes a sense of comfort and pleasure that few things do.

I remember when I started drinking coffee in high school. I was rehearsing late for a school play and someone brought me a cup with milk and sugar and I was immediately hooked. Oh nectar of the gods, where have you been? I did away with the sugar pretty quickly and stuck with the milk ever since. Shortly after, when I began drinking it at home my father would say, ever single morning, “You’re too young to drink coffee.” (He continued to say it well into my twenties.) And I have a dim memory of my grandmother said that it would give you black knees when I was kid – a statement that in retrospect mystifies me even more now. (She also would say that chewing gum was made of giraffe hooves – even odder.) My sister Loren was less partial to coffee and I have no memory of this exchange or a similar one between her and my father.

During my brief stint of cooking professionally one of the older chefs who did a lot of catering explained why much coffee produced in those giant catering urns is so awful. It seems that if you don’t unscrew it entirely and take the urn fully apart to clean it, which is an arduous procedure, over time the build up creates an unacceptably acid taste in the coffee. Most people are lazy and just wash out what is easily visible. I never worked enough catering to test this explanation, but I have had a lot of bad urn-made coffee which makes me consider it anew each time.

I recognize that I am both less effective and less pleasant when under-caffeinated in the morning (although equally less fun when over-caffeinated later in the day – it is a balancing act many of us know) and therefore these days I do not generally risk leaving the house without initial coffee consumption. It is made with the above method and there is generally some in heavy glass carafes in the fridge for cold consumption as well. Therefore, my work cup of coffee tends to sort of be the icing on the cake and the reward for having gotten to work.

The new job required figuring out where my all important morning coffee would be acquired. Several places that were adequate for food acquisition were immediately eliminated for sub-par coffee. The issue with the purveyor of current favor is a tendency to set the purchased coffee down in an odd spot, away from the food I am buying, in a spot where I am likely to forget it. (I will add that I was fascinated to discover that the man who makes the coffee at this establishment has such a lovely singing voice that he is periodically pulled away from coffee making to sing a rather memorable Happy Birthday to seated clients on request. Clearly not a coincidence that he works with Carnegie Hall beckoning across the street.)

At home my preference is to drink my coffee from one of two substantial Starbucks labeled mugs that were given to me by a software vendor I worked with at the Met – or another wonderful, enormous Felix mug given to me a year ago by Mary Allen and Morgan Bakerman, my much missed colleagues at the Met. I was deeply fond of an equally large mug that Nickelodeon mag had given Kim years ago which sadly got broken. It is mostly about quantity for me – I prefer fewer trips to the pot. However, I also favor the mug shown here above was given to me many years ago by another former colleague, Bernie McCormack, many years ago, when returning from a work junket to Buffalo. Clearly those work with me understand my deep love of the stuff.

Felix mug

Tintype

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a tiny tintype which sat on my desk at the Met for many years. It almost was lost in the shuffle when I left – it had been turned over and stuck under something, but luckily one of my colleagues, Morgan, found it and sent it to me. I was very pleased to have it back and realized that, in a casual sort of way, I had been looking at it more or less every day for many years now. I believe it was given to me by a friend at the Central Park Conservancy, when I was first developing an interest in early process photography.

It is a nice scene, this long ago gathering under these lovely trees. The group is posed but there is something relaxed about them. Because of the nature of these singular images on metal, there is a lot of information even on this tiny one, only about 2″x 3″, a sliver of a picture – the snapshot equivalent of its day. Tiny though it is, this photo transports me to a different time and place.

One of the strange things about leaving a job after a long time is the things that you have accumulated in a more or less unconscious way are now piled in boxes, suddenly out of context, while you try to decide what is necessary and what fits into your new space, and to some degree new life. My office now is smaller than my former office and the folks at the new place tend to do all their meetings in conference rooms – each named for a jazz legend – rather than in each other’s office. (I now spend my days muttering about trying to figure out if something has moved to Lady Day, or if we can fit that many people in Jelly Roll or not – or where is Monk? And really, this is probably nicer than, I’ll meet you in 5A or 4B seems to be booked, but like so many things it is a learning curve.)

Some items moved without question and immediately to my new digs, such as the one-of-a-kind little wooden box Kim gave me which I featured in my post Kim’s Elephant Box. There is a lamp with a base made of old, black dice and the tiny, but nicely made plastic animals my friend Eileen has given me. Early sheet music of Pussy Foot Rag and Me-ow finding their way to the walls and slowly replacing a bad painting of a dog and some photos from the prior resident. However, at least for now, my beloved but fragile Happy Life Toy, in all of it’s gentle celluloid glory, has not yet found a perch in the new office. Since I find this toy has a calming effect on me, I might want to find a spot for it there soon.