Jan 06

Jazz: A film by Ken Burns ★★★

Betsy and I have just finished watching the Ken Burns series on Jazz. I had listened to a Teaching Company series on the history of Jazz, but that was a few years ago. I have only recently developed an affection for the Jazz genre. I remember my first exposure to jazz was in 1st grade Clinton School in South Elgin, Illinois. Our class was moved to the school gymnasium, along with other classes, for a special event. They were introducing the school to jazz, and had some jazz music playing over loud speakers. As a six year old kid, it seemed like rather unstructured, chaotic music to me. I wasn’t used to it. I never heard anything like it before. Then, many of the students were jumping and wiggling around in a very unusual manner; which didn’t make sense to me. Growing up in an Amish-Mennonite community, dancing was unheard of to me. In high school, I listened to easy-to-grasp classical music and the newly emerging rock and roll. The Beatles were ok, but the Rolling Stones really seemed to say more to the soul. Louis Armstrong always stood out to me as music that I had a strong attraction to; I remember well playing many times over his St. James Infirmary, and being spell-bound by his trumpet playing. Since then, my main interest drifted to more serious classical music, and Bach stood as first and foremost. Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich, and many other 19th & 20th century composers left me spell-bound. I decided to take up trumpet lessons early this last Spring, and ended up with a teacher whose trumpet career oriented around jazz performance. Though I dearly love to listen to music, and enjoy performing it, I do not possess an intrinsic talent for music. Why my instructor is so patient with me is a total mystery. I am sure he gets a good laugh with his family and friends whenever my pitiful lesson performance is brought up. Still, I find working on lessons to be something of great value and joy to me, even though I may never perform in public. Jim, my teacher, is totally awesome. He is slowly introducing me to jazz, and I am loving every minute of it. Assignments include listening to great trumpet players, and my listening has expanded from Maurice Andre and other classical trumpet players to the jazz genre. I looked on Amazon and YouTube for anything that included trumpet, and I was most pleased with what I found and heard. Jazz, like more complex classical music, takes time to appreciate. This film on jazz finally helped bring things together.

The series on jazz starts with New Orleans musicians like King Oliver, quickly shifts to Louis Armstrong, and then marches through the history of jazz up to the present day. Focus was placed on Armstrong’s career, the evolution of jazz in Chicago and then New York, and later Hollywood. Early New Orleans and blues gave way to big bands and swing, to music of WWII, to later Louis Armstrong and new evolutions of jazz; be bop, then Avant Garde, then fusion jazz. Note was placed on periods of time when it seemed as though jazz would go extinct. Special emphasis in this series was placed on Louis Armstrong. It seemed as though they were claiming that jazz was born with Satchmo and died with Satchmo. Other emphasis was placed on Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday. Mentioned just in briefest passing were the host of other great bands of the pre-war era: Stan Kenton, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. What was disappointing was two things. First was the total absence of a real jazz history. One cannot talk of jazz history without mentioning ragtime, tin-pan alley, minstrel singers, and other precursors to New Orleans jazz. In this series, Wynton Marsalis and his associates become the last dying hope of jazz. Contrary to the series, I don’t believe that jazz is on its dying breath. It is not as “experimental” as 20-40 years ago. It is more colorblind, including not only black performers, but white, hispanic and other races. There is virtually no mention of Mexicans, such as Raphael Mendez, or Cuban, such as Arturio Sandoval, or the Canadian Maynard Ferguson or the Oregonian Doc Severinson. Or Al Hirt. Or Allen Vizzutti. Or Bobby Shew. If one takes a serious look at the jazz scene today, it is more acceptable to the general public than ever, it is technically masterful, and it has been able to draw in many other influences, such as classical, to the jazz genre. I am surprised that Wynton Marsalis, “the last great hope to jazz”, was never mentioned in this film as having spent a number of years of his life playing mostly in the classical genre before migrating solely to jazz. Surely he has also brought a classical influence with him? Is it that jazz by necessity must come from the NY night club scene with primarily African-American performers?

Deficits aside, I learned much through the series, and would hope that others watch this series. It is hard to dislike any of the Ken Burns series. This is no exception to that rule.

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Jan 06

Mortal wound

Today I suffered a horrible accident that nearly left me dead. Not really, but I’m trying to sound dramatic. I was on my virtual reality trainer, riding through Gascony. I had traveled over an hour, had gone 16+ miles, and was a seething mass of sweat, drenched from head to toe. I had traveled only half the distance needed to complete this journey, when I suddenly found my body flying in reverse, hitting my head on the structures behind me, and then observing blood all over the floor.

Let me explain. I use the Tacx Neo2T trainer. I have my first bicycle that I purchased from REI 13 years ago mounted on the trainer. This gives me a close representation of actually riding in the outside world. The bicycle was an REI built bike, that I’ve had apart many times over. On the road, I now use a very fancy Trek Madone, the bike that Lance Armstrong used to win the Tour de France 7 times over. Instead of throwing away the REI Novara Trionfo, I repurposed it as my trainer bike, and have it set up during wintertime in my office. It’s there in the office, since I need a good internet connection to run the Tacx program, and was able to hard wire it to my home intranet which is based in the office closet.

Pressure was quickly applied to the wound. Moments later, my dear loving wife came running into the room thinking that I had a heart attack. After retrieving an ice pack and maintaining wound pressure for about 20 minutes, I hopped into the shower to clean the wound (and myself), then had Betsy superglue the wound back together. ER? Absolutely NOT! I detest hospitals. I’m a surgeon. I’ve removed massive sections of scalp from my dear patients, and actually had them survive me. I don’t need no stinking bloody ER doc to tell me that it’s just a flesh wound. I KNOW that it’s just a flesh wound.

Glued back together. Still messy, but it’s just a flesh wound.

On examining why this happened, I realized that the bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post broke in two. Since I perform all of my own bicycle repairs, I know that this was not a fault of an over-tightened bolt. It was simply a bolt that broke due to use fatigue. I suppose other things will break with time on the bike. I had the bottom bracket decompose on a training ride a few years ago, and this threw me off the bike, but no harm was experienced. Much of that bike has been rebuilt or replaced, the bottom bracket and gears/derailleurs being of no exception. Hopefully, I can get a replacement seat bolt at a local bike shop and be riding again in a few days. Here’s a photo of the bike and the broken bolt…

Bicycle mounted on trainer. You can see the seat post without a seat, which is lying on the ground.
The above bolt is fractured, causing the seat to fall off the bike. The lower two brackets sit on top and on bottom of the rails on the seat, and are secured to the seat post by the above bolt.

I now sit here about 1.5 hours after the incident. I still have a pulse, beating at my usual of about 55/minute. There have been no mental status changes. I do not have blown pupils. I imagine that if something like this would have happened on the road, tragic circumstances could have occurred. I never thought of an indoor trainer being a source of trauma, but it is. Unless you do nothing in life, you run a risk.

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