Entries from November 2007 ↓

Snubbed Again

A year ago I wrote these two articles about one of my favorite tv shows, The Wire. I was put out over the fact that the industry award givers seemed to overlook the glaringly obvious high quality of the show in favor of lesser quality formulaic offerings. Well, it’s going to happen again and apparently the injury is self-inflicted.

This year I am on the nominating committee for the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards that will be held next year. I will vote on nominees in the television category. After those votes are tabulated, the final five in each performance category will be put forth to the full SAG membership for final voting.

This past week, I received the booklet containing all of the actors and shows put in first round nomination and no one from The Wire is even listed. The oddity is that actors and their representatives are the ones who must submit themselves, so it seems the show’s cast members did not wish to seek recognition for their work. That’s sad, because they are head and shoulders above so many of the other dramas and actors who commonly get attention, yet none will be forthcoming.

As the show is set to begin it’s fifth and final season in January, let’s hope the cast won’t be so modest next year. Toot your own horn because in this business if you don’t, no one else will either.

Jazz Meets Hip Hop in Harlem

Innovative jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove brought his 19 piece big band to Harlem Stage and the beautiful performance space at The Gatehouse Friday for a sold out, one-night only concert that featured a special guest performance by hip hop artist Q-Tip. While the jazz police might scoff at such musical pairings, similarly inspired collaborations are nothing new for the Grammy Award-winning Hargrove, who has previously crossed genres with latin and funk performers and fronted his own hip hop/jazz collective.

The Hargrove Big Band jumped out of the gate right from the start and picked up speed, only slowing down after they’d finished their final encore some 90 minutes later. While all but a few tunes played were known to me, the dial was set on swing and his band swings hard. One could expect a group led by a horn player to give lots of solos to the brass section, but Hargrove was quite generous in stepping out of the spotlight. During the course of the evening, nearly every musician in the group got a chance to shine and they all made good use of the opportunity.

The Q-Tip segment illustrated the improvisational styles inherent to both jazz and hip hop. The band would lay down a beat and Q-Tip riffed off of it, making up rhymes on the spot, some better than others, but the fun was in the process. He’d lay out and let various sections of the band or Hargrove himself take a chorus before jumping back in. Since many hip hop artists are used to rapping against pre-recorded music or a simple bass line, to be backed by 19 musicians who can feed off whatever he created seemed enjoyable for both artists and audience.

Day after digestion

If the retailers and the media didn’t force feed us the message that today is “Black Friday,” would anyone really get up at 4:00 AM to go buy stuff they didn’t need?And why do they call it “Black Friday?” Black folks ain’t behind this mess and sure as hell ain’t reaping the benefits! Too many of us are getting separated from our hard-earned cash in the name of mass (or is it crass) consumerism.

Was it just me or were there fewer news stories about feeding the needy this Thanksgiving? I know we didn’t suddenly end hunger and homelessness. Maybe those stories just aren’t “sexy” any more.

Two reasons to get back to the gym now rather than later: First, it’s not as crowded now as winter sets in and people don’t feel like leaving the house, and second, it will get very crowded after January 1st, when people try to lose their winter weight and set New Year’s resolutions they won’t keep.

This just in: Due to global warming, Hell will not freeze over. Scientists say earth temperatures will never again dip to a level where Satan’s home could possibly turn to an iceberg. People who have been told to wait until Hell freezes over–before getting a raise, going on a date with that person who’s out of their league or some other such longshot–are now advised to wait until pigs fly.

Speaking of long waits and Satan, is it just me or does it seem like the whole world is waiting for George Bush to leave office before we get back to dreaming about a brighter future? Everyone’s life is on hold until then.

Even so, despite what should be a slam dunk, I am completely convinced the Democrats are fully capable of handing the election to the GOP. The presidential candidates have all forgotten the lessons taught us by the late Ron Brown. Brown was the DNC Chairman who engineered Bill Clinton’s victory by getting Dems to stop beating each other up during the primary. Vicious infighting in the past often left the party so fractured the nominees couldn’t build enough support and the nasty campaigning gave Republican candidates plenty of ammunition to use against them during the general election. I can see the same scenario playing out.

Finally, how come he’s still touring and not behind bars? I guess violating a minor isn’t as important as a music career.

The Real Story of Thanksgiving

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen – once.

The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.

But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

Read the rest here.

Preserving family history

Thanksgiving is just days away and while I’ve long since gotten over the whole Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock communing with benevolent, yet unsuspecting Native Americans story, I have always appreciated this holiday for the time I get to spend with family. It’s one of my favorite holidays actually, because it is less about crass commercialism (although the retailers have cleverly snagged the day after Thanksgiving as ‘Black Friday’) and more about people just coming together to enjoy each other’s company around a good meal. Like getting a special day off just to go out to dinner.

I’ll be heading “home” for the day. Despite being quite adult, thank you, my tiny apartment is just where I happen to live. Home is that place upstate where Mom still lives and where we all grew up. Another brother and his son, my nephew, will be there as well, along with my oldest brother, so there will be five for dinner. We were discussing the menu the other day during our weekly iChat and there will be several cooks in the kitchen.

While I’m home I’ll also get to do more work on a personal project I’ve undertaken. For the past three months I’ve been audio recording interviews with my mother, to gather family history and her personal stories about growing up, her immediate and extended family, living in the deep south during the depression and World War II, going off to college, meeting Dad, that kind of stuff.

In December 2005, my father died. About five months later, his younger brother and only remaining sibling passed. In September 2006, my mother’s younger brother died and then her mother passed last December. In August of this year, while I was on blog hiatus, we had a family reunion. I got to meet a lot of relatives I never knew before and see others I just haven’t seen in ages. Mom, at 82, is the second oldest member of the entire clan. This string of events made me realize that my access to information about my own family history currently resides in the mind of just one person and the clock is ticking. I’ve completely lost the ability to learn about my father’s side of the family since there are no more of his immediate family members alive.

It has been a fun and enlightening process that I highly recommend for anyone. I bought an iPod and a simple microphone that plugs into it, the iTalk, so I can then upload the audio and manipulate it in iTunes or burn a CD. I got the idea for this project from StoryCorps, although I’ve taken it a step further. We’ve done about three hours thus far and although they are relaxed and informal, I’ve tried to ask her about her life in a chronological order.

Mom doesn’t always want to answer every question and I often have to ask in more than one way to try to get more information out of her. What we might see as obstacles today–namely living in segregated New Orleans, Louisiana in the 1930′s–was no big deal as you hear her tell it. That was the way things were and you just worked around it. In some respects, it seems there was more of a sense of Black community then, because they had to do for themselves. Money was more likely to stay in the community as opposed to being spent in some large White business establishment.I have found out some surprising things too. My mother was in a girl singing group as a child, singing mostly spirituals. She displayed the meticulous and organized personality she would grow into very early on in life. And she didn’t take to my father initially, although apparently he liked her right from the start. He had to work on her. Their marriage lasted 56 years so he must have done something right.