Entries from August 2005 ↓

Birdland

Over a hundred jazz fans turned out August 29th in Kansas City, Missouri to pay tribute to the late great saxophonist Charlie Parker on the 85th anniversary of his birth.

The fans, including over two-dozen musicians, gathered at Kansas Citys Lincoln Cemetery, where Parker is buried. The musicians played Nows the Time and Billies Bounce, and there was a parade with the Kansas City Youth Jazz Band.

About 30 of Parkers relatives were in attendance.

The tradition of paying tribute to Parker on his birthday died out after bandleader Eddie Baker, who had worked closely with Parker, died in 2001. The citys Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation disappeared as well.

As a result, many of the Parkers relatives feel that the saxophonist has been underappreciated in the city of his birth. Parker died in 1955 at age 35 and this year marks the 50th anniversary of his death. His first cousin Myra Brown contacted as many relatives as she could and organized an event with local jazz musicians, resulting in the largest celebration any of them could remember.

Elvis Sonny Gibson, a collector of Parker memorabilia who helped promote the event, said, This is overdue. Charlie Parker should always receive this kind of recognition.

Physical Education

Two years ago, I was walking down the street and caught my own reflection in a store window. I yelled, Hey, I know those guys!

I was what they used to call husky although the less tactful simply said fat. Riding a desk all day and snacking religiously on junk food, then eating sumptuous homemade meals nightly had added girth to my mid-section. Mine was not a six-pack, more like a keg.

I saw the error of my ways and got me to a gym where I have diligently firmed up and slimmed down. My weight is more than Id like but that may now be due to bone density rather than fat cells, and I have more energy, endurance, flexibility and strength. That burst of speed needed to catch the bus is no biggie now. I still dont have washboard abs (and never will, thank you) but between you and me, I have great legs.

I share all this to segue to a recent Canadian study that affirms what we already know: proper diet and exercise reduces the risk of heart disease in men. More than 19,000 men between the ages of 20 and 79 were studied from 1979 to 1995 with regard to their cholesterol levels. Men who were physically active had a 50 percent reduction in risk of dying from cardiovascular disease regardless of their cholesterol level.

Now knowing that exercise will make you healthier and actually going out and doing it are often two different things. Many of us can find every excuse to not do some form of physical activity. Obesity is a growing national health problem. We can blame elected officials for their lack of leadership on this issue but the real impetus for change must begin with each and every one of us.

Speaking of physical activity, the U.S. Open has gotten underway here in New York. Serena Williams defeated Yung-Jan Chan in an opening round match, 6-1, 6-3 to advance. In mens play, 18-year-old up and comer Scoville Jenkins turned in an exciting performance to defeat George Bastl of Switzerland 7-6 (4), 6-0, 6-7 (1), 4-6, 7-6 (5). But on a down note, in Juniors play, Number 1 ranked Donald Young lost his match to Italian qualifier Giorgio Galimberti in straight sets 7-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Finally, in what came as no great surprise to serious football fans, Maurice Clarett got his walking papers from the Denver Broncos. Clarett, who would be entering his senior year at Ohio State had he not gotten a swollen head and tried to go pro early, never impressed coaches and also had a slow recovery from a groin injury. After he clears waivers hell be a free agent, able to sign with any other team thats interested, if there are any other teams.

Moral of this story: Stay in school and get your degree. A pro sports career is an iffy proposition at best, but an education lasts a lifetime.

The Dream Sequence

I dont recall a lot of my nighttime dreams. Most are just a collage of images and impressions that stream across my unconsciousness at the end of a tiring day, never to be remembered again.

But last night I had an unusually vivid dream that so moved me as to awaken hours before I needed to on a Saturday morning.

I was seriously ill but while I was in my own bed, I was not in my own bedroom. This was a much larger room with more space and there were chairs around and nicer bedroom furniture than I own. People were coming to visit and stay with me during my illness, many of them friends and family, even many fellow bloggers that I know.

I had muscle and body aches along with shortness of breath and dizziness. I couldnt communicate well and labored to greet people. I even said the wrong name of someone I know well and quickly apologized. He didnt seem to take offense as he gave me a hug.

While no one would say anything there was the unstated expectation that this was some kind of a death watch. They were gathered around me for one last time.

It wasnt a sad occasion however. Someone was making food in the kitchen and everyone had a plate. There was music on the CD player next to my bed and folks were having a good time talking, laughing and sharing old stories.

At one point, someone innocently went to put on a CD of songs performed by someone known to everyone in the room. He wasnt anyone famous but looked like a young man I know from my gym (although I dont know if this person is a singer in reality). When the music started, someone gasped and said, Oh, you know you wrong for that. The person who had put it on didnt understand why the objection, and neither did I. I wanted to know why they thought it was wrong to play that CD. Someone said, Didnt you hear? He (the singer) just passed. It was suggested in whispers that hed died from the virus.

I was heartbroken at the news and began to cry, tears running down my face. Someone said, Turn it off but I insisted they leave it on, I wanted to hear the voice of this person we all knew, one last time. The mood in the room turned more somber and we all just sat quietly listening.

I was quite sad when I awakened. I dont know what it meant or why I saw these images and those particular people. Perhaps concerns about my aging grandmother and my fathers situation, the recent death of Brock Peters, the grim news about playwright August Wilsons failing health, or the planned remembrance and scholarship fundraiser in honor of Rashawn Brazell were all a jumble of thoughts roaming through my brain and they came together in some personalized version.

It has caused me to reflect on how fleeting life is and left me wondering, when my time comes, who will gather around.

Playwright August Wilson Is Diagnosed With Liver Cancer

August Wilson, one of America’s greatest playwrights and the author of an epic cycle of dramas about the African-American experience in the 20th century, is dying of liver cancer.The news was reported simultaneously on Aug. 26 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Pittsburgh is the writer’s birthplace, and Seattle is his adoptive home.

John Breglio, Wilson’s longtime legal representative, confirmed the diagnosis.

His condition was discovered on June 14 by doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. They recommended chemoembolization, which the Post-Gazette described as “cancer-fighting drugs injected directly into the tumor,” and a liver transplant. However, it turned out that the disease was at too advanced a stage for treatment.

Doctors have given him three to five months to live, the paper reported. Wilson is 60.

The shocking news comes just two months after Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatrewhich devotes each season to the work of a single playwrightannounced it had decided to push back an August Wilson line-up previously announced for 2005-06 to the 2006-07 season. The Wilson season is to begin in fall 2006 with a new production of Two Trains Running. The season was also to feature Wilson’s one-man show How I Learned What I Learned, which he performs himself.

With Radio Golf, now playing at the Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum through Sept. 18, Wilson completed his ten-play cycle, which chronicles the African-American experience in the past century decade by decade. The 1990s-set work involves real estate developers who look to tear down the home of recurring Wilson character Aunt Esther.

The other plays in Wilson’s grand undertaking (in order of decade which the drama is set) include Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney and King Hedley II. All have played Broadway, except for Jitney, which was an Off-Broadway hit. All of the Broadway productions were nominated for a Tony Award for Best Plays. Fences won the prize.

Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, for Fences and The Piano Lesson.

“I’m glad I finished the cycle,” Wilson told the Pittsburgh paper.

Wilson’s wife, Constanza Romero, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Wilson plans to fight the disease and hopes for recovery. “He’s taking it very well, with a lot of strength and determination,” she said. The playwright told the Pittsburgh paper, “I’ve had a blessed life. I’m ready.”

From Playbill.com

Copping a Plea

Newly imposed security policies around New York in the wake of the London subway bombings and the on-going war on terrorism are now having an impact on the film and television production community.

Last week the Screen Actors Guild advised actors who own police uniforms to no longer carry them to jobs. This week it was reported that on at least two separate occasions, performers who had their bags inspected as a result of the new subway search policies, were detained and/or arrested because they had legally-obtained police gear in their possession.

Although I am not actively seeking work in the profession, I am a member of SAG and own a full NYPD uniform and accessories. I purchased it many years ago, actually before I moved to NYC, but for the purpose of making myself more marketable for roles calling for police officers. It is an expensive purchase. I bought things in stages, but all told I seem to recall an outlay in the neighborhood of $500. However having such a costume and listing it on your resume can give you a leg up. If you already own one, then the production company doesnt have to rent the costume and props and instead simply pays you what is called a uniform allowance, essentially for the rental of your clothing. Same is true for people with costumes for nurses, firefighters, chefs, or anything else.

A police uniform pays for itself quickly, I might add. When I was last a working actor, cop roles were just about all I was getting towards the end. Uniformed, undercover, detectives, you name it, I was typecast as a cop. There was a short-lived CBS series awhile back called Big Apple on which I was a regular background player. The uniform and I got a lot of work.

Nowadays, unfortunately, there isnt a lot of production in NYC. Law & Order, L&O SVU and L&O Criminal Intent are about the only regular primetime dramas shot in the city and they call for lots of actors with cop uniforms. This new city policy not only affects actors but production companies as well. They are similarly prohibited from transporting police costumes to and from various shooting locations.

Unlike the arbitrary subway bag searches which are a clear violation of Fourth Amendment rights, I can understand and accept the rationale behind this measure. While we had to present proof that we were unionized professional actors before purchasing the costume and obtain signed letters from the city stating that we are authorized to own it, were it to become lost or stolen, anyone could pass themselves off as police officer and gain access to unauthorized areas.

But I do hope the city can come to some agreement with the production community to find a workable solution. New York City and State have recently taken major steps to try to bring more film and tv production to the city, new studio spaces are being planned in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, and it is an industry that contributes millions to the local economy annually. Anything that makes production here difficult creates another excuse for producers to use less expensive places like Toronto or more hospitable environments like Hollywood to try to double for New York City.