“Searching for Sal” — A quest for the hole-in-one, and even more elusive truths.

Searching For Sal Cover (1)

Cover art for “Searching for Sal” by Mark Giaimo

In the spirit of searching for a season — specifically the backlogged and waterlogged golf season — I suggest you fill your rainy, chilly wait with Searching for Sal by Rob Zaleski.

The novel was published in 2012, but should serve the annual hope that springs eternal for the elusive hole-in-one. And for the hole in the sky that lets us see what might be beyond this life. The novel takes a light and deft touch with expansive, weighty matters and, for that, brings to mind Julian Barnes. Though she’s hardly a light-touch writer, Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Living with a Wild God explores similar thematic territory.

You see, in Zaleski’s tale, a hole in one does seem to open up that bigger, mysterious ontological hole in the sky. It starts with a pact, between a fiercely faith-bolstered Catholic named Sal Magestro, who often debates the existence of an afterlife with his steady-plodding, agnostic golf pal, Nate Zavoral.*

(Full disclosure: I am a longtime friend and former colleague of Zaleski, at The Capital Times in Madison, and played a golf with him, and with few other men who seem thinly disguised as characters in this book.)

Zavoral’s personality, quirks, physical build and golf game closely resemble Zaleski’s. Like  protagonist  Z, author Z’s swing is “too wristy,” a flaw “he attributed to his baseball days.” Another of Nate’s golf buddies says he’s “ the world’s most pathetic head case” regarding “the yips” while putting (Ah, if only I was nearly as good a golfer as Rob.).


Author Rob Zaleski at Vitense driving range in Madison, WI, with his grandchildren Yani (from Sierra Leone) and Zale.

So Nate’s a good test case for the mind-bending that ensues. In their quest towards the unanswerable question, Nate and Sal dream up a sacred pact: The first of them to die will assist the other in a hole-in-one…and thus signal existence of life after death — or not.

Like many Catholic priests, middle-aged, pasta-fortified restaurateur Sal is as lusty as he is holy. So he drops dead of a coronary while fornicating with Connie Frataro, a young waitress from his Italian eatery, who resembles Marissa Tomei.

Sure enough, Nate has barely wiped the tears off his driver when he knocks a ball off a wizened oak tree, which seemingly delivers it into the par-3 hole, for his first-ever ace.

Holy pepperoni Batman! Is this really Sal, signaling from the Pebble Beach beyond? The rest of the novel becomes an allegorical search for the lost golf partner, and Zaleski plays a fun-house-mirror fantasy golf-course with it, but also sends poor Nate through the gauntlet.

The metaphysical implications — and the public debate over them and the pact’s plausibility — swiftly gain the momentum of a Tiger Woods (in his prime) tee shot. Yet the pact’s story seems as dogged and as questionable as Woods’ own future.

Nate, a modest high school English teacher, has to explain things on national TV to Jay Leno, now slack-jawed by more than bone mass. The tale swirls into virtual spoof territory by the time Nate is invited to a Peace Council gathering of international religious and spiritual leaders in Seattle, bejeweled with the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama — and a video hookup with Pope John Paul II.

Zaleski is a superb, award-winning journalist who always went the extra mile for a great story or profile, but also knew where to pull up and honor truth as much as possibility. He doesn’t overplay the potential farce in his hand, and he builds suspense with deftly rendered details. Here’s Nate nervously standing at a microphone to address the august gathering of religious leaders:  “He reached inside his suit coat and retrieved a small cellophane baggie that contained one of the two copies of the pact — slightly crumpled and bent at the corners– that he and Sal had signed the summer of 1999. The Peace Council members all broke into wide smiles.”

The virtual Pope offers sage commentary on Nate’s prejudices against the Catholic Church but also treads lightly regarding grand spiritual claims for the golfer’s experience. Best of all, the Pontiff notes that, though he’d done “some kayaking and skiing” in Poland when he was younger, he understands that golf “is a very humbling game.”

That actually sounds like something the current Pope Francis would say. But that kernel of truth may underlie some of the more high-flown issues of this story.

The empirical mystery appears solved with a twist of an ending, which contains genuine emotional  power, and political resonance, especially for the situation of the young character introduced in the plot-turn. But are the bigger questions really answered?

Throughout this quickly unfolding odyssey, Nate’s existential queasiness is steadied by his wife  Brigitte — as rock-solid as the author’s real-life counterpart, Cindy — and by Rev. Mitch Crandall, who becomes his spiritual and political advisor, and is clearly based on the remarkable Rev. David Couper, a liberal former Madison police chief-turned-pastor.

zaleski rev

Author Rob Zaleski with Episcopalian Minister David Couper, a former Madison police chief who appears to be the model for the Rev. Mitch Crandall in “Searching for Sal.” Photo by Cynthia Zaleski

I came away from the book reflecting that once you think your tee shot has taken angelic wigs to the perfectly manicured promised land, something happens to shatter your sense of orderly and rational  existence, and situational odds.

The end may be no more conclusive than the image of Nate gazing at the sun-drenched sky, which adorns the book cover.

And yet, he might as well be staring down into that little four-and-a-quarter-inch hole of darkness on the green, which New York Times contributing writer Charles McGrath contemplated in an op-ed column Sunday on the golf hole and “the future of golf.” 1

There’s certainly a mystique to Nate’s shadowy little hole, and perhaps to the one all golfers aim for.

McGrath writes: “The origin of the hole is a burrow, presumably, discovered by some Scottish shepherd knocking pebbles with his crook, and even today the golf hole retains some of that burrow-like quality: It’s a refuge, a temporary lair into which your ball sinks out of sight and where you have to reach down and extracted it, as if it were hiding”… “like a mouse.”

Golfing metaphors can be as big as the ocean, and the life beyond, or as seemingly modest as something hiding in that small black hole, something with a life of its own. What we find might tell us a little bit about who we are for what we choose to chase in this life, and about what we might do once we discover what dwells in that hole, in the ground, and in the sky.

As Grace Slick once sang about the proverbial rabbit’s hole, “Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.”

Or try Searching for Sal. It carries your imaginary tee shot a long ways, into the sky and the shadows.

The book is available on Amazon.com


* I describe myself as an agnostic, but I’m an occasional attender of Unitarian meetings, and quite open to human experience. I have had two strange occurrences in the last year that might, at some point, be explained empirically. Yet the notion that these events were “signs from a departed loved one” fits perfectly, just as each ghost might have it. Perhaps I will write about this some day.






“Genius” Jason Moran ain’t gettin’ a big head. He’s updating Fats Waller for shows in Milwaukee and San Francisco…


Jason Moran and the Fats Waller Dance Party, South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, 901 15th Ave., South Milwaukee  414-766-5049, 7:30 p.m. April 26. $45-$20 adults, $39-$18 Seniors (60+), $20-$12 students

So, who is Jason Moran, really? Well, seems he took his MacArthur “genius” Fellowship and began messin’ with folks, in his latest musical project.  For part of the show, he transforms into the Harlem Renaissance pianist-singer-songwriter Fats Waller, wearing a giant caricature head.

If you go, and shout out something about his head getting too big, he’ll be asking for it, with that get-up. But he might just grin and say “Yo’ feets’ too big!” as Fats would have, in one of his most famous songs.

There’s actually a modest yet purposeful tone to his reflections on the touring project, which reportedly supports an upcoming CD of the show’s take on Waller. “It’s not really jazz, per se,” Moran said of the music, in an NPR interview with Janaya Williams. “It’s dance music. It’s club dance music. If you go to a club in the Village or Tribeca (in New York) or somewhere, this might be what you hear in the club pumping over a sound system. So it’s not jazz.”

Moran points out that Waller was a regular in clubs and speakeasies back in his day, and that some of his lyrics fit right in with today’s club music. “Fats Waller has his really crazy things that he says in his lyrics, too, about thugs being in the crowd, you know, ‘Put that gun away’; he says stuff like that,” Moran says. “It’s almost like those clubs that he was in were as roguish as some of the clubs today.” 1

fats 2

Courtesy www.etsy.com

That sounds like Moran, who’s also The Kennedy Center director and advisor for jazz, and will host a big multi-artist event at the Washington venue from May 4-11. * He’s also among the first jazz musicians to incorporate hip-hop into their music, notably on his excellent 2005 Blue Note album Same Mother, which thematically contemplated “Gangsterism on the rise.”

He’s also worked in multi-arts contexts, and is a collaborator. The giant papier-mache Waller head was designed for the show by Haitian artist Didier Civil. Moran conceived and first produced the Waller show in Harlem in collaboration with noted genre-bending bassist/singer Meshell Ndegeocello, who unfortunately will not be part of the South Milwaukee performance. There will be trained local dancers onstage for the show, though not those depicted in top photo, courtesy chicagotribune.com. Singer Lisa E. Harris will handle the vocals here, accompanied by Moran and his band.

Milwaukee-area trumpeter Jamie Breiwick will open the show with a group of Milwaukee and Chicago musicians playing all original material. 2

But the party’s designed to get people up off their feet, so bring your shoes for dancing in the aisles. In a 2011 NPR interview Moran spoke of the germination of the project to arrange Waller’s music for a dance party. It was “just to kind of put it back in the mind that Waller is dance music as much as it is concert music,” Moran says. “For me, it’s the recontextualization; what is the functionality of the music anymore? In music, where does [the emotion] lie? Are we, as humans, gaining any insight on how to talk about ourselves and how something as abstract as a Charlie Parker record gets us into a dialogue about our emotions and our thoughts? “Sometimes we lose sight that the music has a wider context,” Moran says. “So I want to continue those dialogues. Those are the things I want to foster.”


Jason Moran. Courtesy blogs.ottowacitizen.com

One senses the earnestly penetrating thought behind this interesting career turn, which skeptics might presume as little more than commercially motivated. Moran is one of the most impressive, ingenious and culturally-attuned musicians in jazz today, qualities which have earned him widespread acclaim including a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. The pianist-composer’s jazz influences include Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Andrew Hill, and now clearly, Waller.

Moran’s last two CDs, TEN and the soulful duo album Hagar’s Daughter with saxophonist-flutist Charles Lloyd, were among the best jazz recordings of their respective years. Moran’s current show evokes the great stride pianist-entertainer in his prime era, the 1920s and early ’30s. And yet, this show is Waller updated with “rhythms coming out of 1960s-and-beyond dance music: Motown, house, hip-hop,” according to New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff.

The Harlem Renaissance allowed urbane African American arts to flourish, and nobody did it with more flair, wit and virtuosity than Fats Waller. So party-goers might find themselves stepping into an easy speakin’ and jivin’ past, but find it all striding and hip-hopping to the present.

Here’s a teaser video for the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aEnjom1R84

* Moran’s Waller Dance Party is also scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 3, at Miner Auditorium in the SF JAZZ Center in San Francisco, with Nedegeocello. https://www.sfjazz.org/events/season1/fats-waller-dance-party



2 In South Milwaukee, besides Moran on piano and Harris on vocal, Moran’s band includes Leron Thomas on trumpet, Tarus Mateen on bass and Charles Haynes on drums.

Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick’s show-opening group will include Neil Davis on guitar, Dustin Laurenzi on tenor saxophone, Isaiah Joshua on Fender Rhodes electric piano, Mike Harmon on bass and Devin Drobka on drums.


Stemper’s “Persistence of Honor” (Preferred performance link) and other upcoming Stemper events



Here is a photo of the premiere performance of Frank Stemper’s “The Persistence of Honor,” in the Netherlands in 2009.

Here is a link to what composer Frank Stemper believes is the best recorded performance to date of  “The Persistence of Honor,” his piece for cello and chamber orchestra. This performance was by The New Chicago Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Edward Benyas, Music Director, with Eric Lenz on cello, on October 28, 2012 at Preston Bradley Hall in The Chicago Cultural Center: http://www.frankstemper.com/10ThePersistenceofHonor_000.mp3

I reviewed this composition in a recent Culture Currents blog https://kevernacular.com/?p=3450 based on a live rehearsal performance conducted also by Benyas, with a student of Lenz’s, Richard Davis, on cello on April 7 in Carbondale. I also referred to the score and this recording which is audible by clicking the “LISTEN” tab on Stemper’s website at http://www.frankstemper.com/STEMPER-COMPOSITIONS.htm

There are three more of Frank Stemper’s works upcoming:

APRIL 12, 3 PM Unitarian Church, Carbondale, String Trio (2008)Southern Illinois Chamber Music Society. 

JUNE 4, 4 PM Colorado State University, So It Goes (1999), Ensemble Pastiche

JUNE 22, 9 AM Zipper Hall at the Colburn School – Los Angeles, Isolated Criterion No. 2 (2008) Jacob Tews, violist

Go to Stemper’s site (above) for more information.


Stemper’s “Persistence of Honor” speaks volumes in pure music


Perhaps you haven’t heard of him, but Frank Stemper has built an auspicious career as a composer over his 30-year residency as director of the composition program at Southern Illinois University. He dwells beyond the fashionable circles of contemporary classical music which may catch periodic attention on NPR, or the rare forays of mainstream classical ensembles into contemporary repertoire.

Well, listen up (and below), judge for yourself. Stemper carries a strong reputation in many parts of the world as well as the U.S. by following his own vision, one that’s not easily pigeonholed or even marketed.

He is good enough to have been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award, and to receive an N.E.A. Fellowship. 1 He’s received enough honors and commissions to sustain a global reputation. And yet, the annual Outside the Box Festival of New Music he has long co-directed at SIU somehow reflects his own peculiar comfort area — out on the windswept fringes, perhaps not far from the precipice lurking over the tumble into obscurity. More specifically, Stemper has worked for many years exploring the formal and sonic possibilities of through-composed music in an expressionistic post-Schoenberg/Sessions/Carter mode and sometimes with strong jazz undercurrents (He began as a jazz pianist).

Some of Stemper’s most striking and indelible music has been driven by his social and political awareness — for example, “Secrets of War,” the vividly executed George W. Bush -era piece for orchestra and voices, and the 2007 chamber orchestra work “Global Warming,” stormy, fulminating musical statement on this vast geo-political issue. This was a point when climate change had reached a crisis mode — from the melting polar caps on down — in terms of human response to this creeping, increasingly devastating phenomena. And some of his most affecting and personal works are with texts, such as “A Love Imagined” — verse written shortly after poet Herbert Scott learned of the leukemia that eventually killed him — and “The Sensation of Waking,” with an autobiographical text by the composer. Stemper started early with text setting; his PhD dissertation work was Seamaster, a cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra, for which I provided a libretto. 2

Yet nothing has move me in Stemper’s oeuvre more than the “Persistence of Honor.” Though nominally programmatic, its emotional and dramatic power derives from pure orchestral music. The 10-minute work was commissioned and premiered by Het Wagenings Orkest ‘Sonante” in The Netherlands in 2009.

I had my first opportunity to hear it performed live at a dress rehearsal for the climaxing concert of SIU’s 2014 Outside the Box Festival, which centered on a retrospective of Stemper’s music, in honor of his retiring this year from his faculty position, though he will continue to compose, as he put it “without a net.”

Stemper marks the score of The Persistence of Honor with the instruction: “Mysterious, hazy.” And his metronome marking instructs that a quarter note be played at a fairly languorous 60 per minute tempo. (See link to page one of the score:)


A mysterious legato tonality creeps in with violins sustaining a high B, against which first the oboe interposes four notes a whole step higher, and the flute inserts a B flat, then two As and two more B flats, for a distinctly warped dissonance. This icy legato glaze is immediately “out there,” recalling Gyorgy Ligeti’s space music for 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Then the solo cello enters to somewhat ground the music, with a mordant descending theme starting with a high flatted C (or B) 32nd note sliding into several B flats. So with the bitonal seconds (B against B flat) Stemper immediately creates a conflicted, ambiguous tonality that — by the time the cello completes its submerging line — begins to get under your skin.

And then the primary rising melody arrives, a steadily repeated motif that you seem to get to know even as it changes slightly each time it is re-articulated. The motif illustrates Stemper’s composing process because, compared to many of his scores for larger ensembles, this score is relatively simple. “Composing for me is a process of drawing out the consequences (as I perceive them) of an initial idea … Once the idea has become specific enough, it begins to generate its own continuation…The sense of the large structure becomes increasingly clear as the work progresses.” This is actually a quote Stemper has appropriated from his mentor, the late composer Andrew Imbrie, who had a philosophy “in complete parallel to my own,” Stemper has said.

But beyond the way the motif formally generates the music, you hear the melodic theme reaching, yearning, and pressing beyond itself to an outer edge that has a magnetic draw for the listener. The effect is like pulling you to an edge that may seem dangerous or uncertain as the pathway lengthens and blends into shadow.

Considered in the political context the composer wrote it, a historical framework is evident. That is, the will for freedom by America’s body politic as a whole. A sense of Jesse Jackson’s idealized “rainbow coalition” quietly animates this music. It moves persistently, though not without struggle, and its foreboding sense of both past and the future harkens to Civil War-era leader Frederick Douglass’ great declaration, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” That combination of humility and willfulness — the persistence of honor — permeates this music and drives it forward into the imagination of the listener, and ideally the greater American public. The cello’s lower theme, a descending, querulous line fighting the tonality, signifies the undercurrent of struggle, the consciousness of darker forces, and the persistent challenge of the Obama era.


President Barack Obama in a photo portrait by Pete Souza

At the six-and-a-half minute mark, “Persistence” wills itself to a new depth and breadth of intensity, and then retreats again to self-questioning.  Here one senses it’s parallel to political reality in a polarized America. Troubled interior dialogue ensues, then the rising theme retraces its steps yet again in a lower, more oblique tonality leading finally to the work’s highest pitch at the end, like a signal to the future, or to a dream deferred now come to fruition, or failure. To the crux of the matter.

Stemper’s “Persistence of Honor” will measure and stand the test of time.


1 I nominated Stemper for the Pulitzer as a music critic for The Capital Times.

2 Given that collaboration and a lifelong friendship with the composer, I provide full disclosure of my connections to Stemper.

Addendum/correction: Although he was quite appreciative of my review, composer Frank Stemper wrote to make a couple of clarifications. Two of the compositions I referred to have broader thematic connotations than those I ascribed to them. Stemper notes that the correct title to his solo piano composition is “Global Warning” not “Global Warming” and that he was alluding to the pervasiveness of poverty, racism and international conflicts, as well as the human species’ selfishness and greed. He does lay great importance on the role of leaders. His program notes for the piece conclude: “Although this seems hopeless, there is at least one ideology that might lead to better conclusion for us: Art.”

“Global Warning” was written for the extraordinary Korean pianist Junghwa Lee, who performed it in Carbondale in April with electrifying power and precision.

Secondly, Stemper notes that “The Persistence of Honor” was composed before Barack Obama was elected, so the piece strives to pose musically the rhetorical question articulated by Charles Darwin: “Will honor rise above human evil, simply because it must in order for humans to continue?” Stemper is, however, profoundly impressed by what Obama has accomplished and stood for. He adds his piece does address “how our country became a complete country with his election — finally.” As such, he expresses a remarkable and rare optimism, though he says he’s cognizant of the current Republican Party’s lack of articulated ideals and obstructionism.


Dissenting thoughts on the Cuzner style

Cuzner MorganRon Cuzner (left), an active champion of the local jazz scene, greets saxophonist Frank Morgan, who spent much of his early performing years in Milwaukee and returned to play at the original Milwaukee jazz gallery and other area venues. Photo  (ca. 1990s) courtesy Pat Robinson.

My recent remembrance of beloved and peripatetic Milwaukee jazz radio programmer Ron Cuzner prompted appreciative responses from various musicians and fans. However, Cuzner’s presence was too strong and distinctive to prompt simply benign recollections.

Although most people appreciated the high and discerning quality of the straight-ahead jazz he played — except perhaps some advocating for more avant-garde music — there was a distinct difference of opinion on his one-of-a-kind announcing style.

I wanted to reproduce at least two of these comments along with my responses to them because they are from two people whom respect. The first, a recent e-mail exchange which combines intimations of dissent with humor, is from Mitar Covic, who was better known as Mitch Covic when he played bass for a number of Milwaukee-area jazz groups and bandleaders in the 1970s, including Buddy Montgomery, Berkeley Fudge and What on Earth?
Covic relocated to Chicago shortly after this collaborative efforts with Chuck LaPaglia at the Jazz Gallery when it opened in the late 1970s .

The second message was taken from the comments section of my Culture Currents blog, and written by Mike Drew, a long-time Milwaukee journalist. Drew covered jazz for The Milwaukee Journal in the 1970s and perhaps the 1960s. In the late 1970s, the Milwaukee television and radio beat became large enough that Drew took it over as a full-time job. This left the responsibilities of covering the revitalized Milwaukee jazz scene to first, Bill Milkowski (a noted jazz journalist and author now based in New York), and then myself. Drew still writes about jazz as a freelancer.


Mitar-CovicFormer Milwaukee bassist, composer and poet Mitar Mitch Covic. Photo courtesy Ron Seymour photography

From Mitar Covic:


Thanks for the Cuzner reminder. Of course I was a listener if not always a fan of his style.

And we had a volatile contretemps over my relationship with Chuck and the Jazz Gallery (I remind you that I lived in the upstairs apartment and shared the kitchen table with the likes of Barry Harris, Nat Adderley, Lee Konitz, and even a “bath” w. Sonny Stitt when he thought he had opened the door down to the club but fell into the tub with me……(we had to dry him out in both senses of the term). — Mitar

Thanks for the anecdote. I’m doing a follow-up blog, collecting some musicians’ responses to the first piece. May I use yours? I think I recall you alluding to differences you may have had with Cuzner. This adds nice color to my little story.
I remember sharing a toke once with Chuck and Dave Holland upstairs. However, I was not working that night. I had reviewed Holland the night before.
You weren’t really a business partner, right?
I was (not) a co-founder; that was all Chuck’s idea and capital. He cashed out a pension policy and sold his 30 foot sailboat to fund the place.
A couple of years later, when the club was in financial difficulties,  Cuzner put in a sizable chunk of money. I’m not clear what the deal consisted of, or even if there was a formal contract. You need to go to Chuck for that info.
Later after years in the Bay area Chuck returned to Chicago but became reclusive, and he has been off my radar for many a year now, including what state he resides in.
Plus he’s pushing 80 years now, so move fast. You might also ask him why the El Rukn gang from Chicago shot up the 2nd floor windows of the Gallery. Also I have a great Barry Harris anecdote, one I reminded him of when I saw him play a couple of years ago here in town. — Mitar 
I reproduced Covic’s response to my last query so it is very clear that Chuck LaPaglia founded the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery on his own financial resources and initiative. Yet the venue was a community-oriented concept which Mitar Covic contributed to. Chuck and Mitar had shared ideas about the gallery while working on programming and administrative aspects of  Century Hall, an East Side Milwaukee meeting hall and arts venue in the 1970s.
Here is Chuck LaPaglia’s response to Covic regarding Cuzner and the Jazz Gallery:

Kevin,I have been reading and enjoying your Ron Cuzner blog. Ron Cuzner was someone I listened to the entire time I was in Milwaukee. Being a late-night introvert I spent a lot of time listening to his music. Ron had the unusual ability to make the music come alive with words. During my time in Milwaukee I ran into a large number of  people who claimed that Ron introduced them to,and educated them about jazz. Ron’s show and the Wisconsin Conservatory were two pillars of Milwaukee jazz that helped convince me to open the Jazz Gallery.Although I got a lot of advice and support from Ron when I first opened the club, he never offered any financial support. I can’t imagine that  Ron would have had a “sizable chunk of money” laying around.  It is true that after a couple of years I was in financial need, and there were numbers of people who donated monies to keep the club alive. Ron wasn’t one of them.

As far as the myth about the gallery being “shot up” by a gang, the real story is as follows….One night, after the club had closed, an unusually belligerent drunk refused to leave. While I was upstairs counting the money the staff was downstairs dealing with the drunk. A friend of one of the waitresses decided to intervene and after some pushing and shoving (no punches were thrown) the drunk left the bar. About an hour later, I was upstairs relaxing with some of the staff including the waitress’s friend, when someone drove by and began shooting into the upstairs apartment. I went to the police but was never able to identify the drunk. The much maligned El Rukin gang had nothing to do with the shooting.

Mitar was an important advisor in the early years of the Gallery. He was actually living at the Gallery and was my in-house counselor. (You may remember your first interview at the Gallery involved Mitch) When you talk to Mitar let him know that even though I’m 80 years, you don’t have to move that fast to catch me. He is right about my reclusiveness, but I only rate as a semi-recluse.  I have always been a little introverted and shy, and I tend to withdraw from time to time. On the other hand my life has included intense interactions with the world. All part of being human.

Keep up  the good work — Chuck LaPaglia


Here’s the second exchange of comments.

Mike Drew:

Michelle just sent me this. Lovely, thoughtful, kind and knowing.

Makes me want to read more of you. Where can I find your stuff? Good to catch a glimpse of you the other night at Wilson Center.
Is there a review available? Your thoughts?
BTW. I was never big Cuzner fan. The music was usually fine and it was
great to have it there. I liked his taste but the style was too self-reverential and affected for me. I won lots of CDs on his name-the-artist contest, which kept me up to 1:30, but not as many as the Sentinel’s Keith Spore.
I worshipped Dave Garroway, WMAQ Chicago, for about six years in the mid and late ’40s at midnight to 1:30 a.m. I listened to most of his 1160 Club jazz too many nights in my mid to late teens. Also a stylist, but a genius. Hooked me on Sarah, Ella, Woody, etc. whom he played and then replayed, pointing out things he loved the second time around.
I wrote him once asking the value of my 78 of Bob Crosby’s The Big Noise from Winnetka.
Here was his reply to an enchanted 15 year old: “Dear Old Delicate Mike. Your precious platter is worth two lonely dollars. Oversized Alohas for those incandescent phrases. Peace, Dave.”
No wonder he made it to the “Today Show,” where he was its first, and best,

My reply:

Been out of town, Mike, but thanks for reading and responding. I can’t comment on Garroway’s musical tastes having heard him only as a television personality on Today. He sounds like he was his own sort of national treasure. Giving you some wide berth to hold up Garroway as a standard, I would acknowledge Cuzner as being perhaps a peculiarly Midwestern oddity, as a personality. But he was also very good and thoughtful man with a strong vision which usually requires a certain ego, both of which were generously evident on his program.

As I grew to know the music with this great assistance, I accepted the oddities of his manner like those of a jazz soloist with an indelibly personal voice. Yes, he was self-conscious at times, perhaps proud, but I found him self-parodying as much as self-aggrandizing, because of his remarkably dry sense of humor, and the odd catch phrases, and personal anecdotes that made him into a someone you could understand and somewhat relate to — as in the anecdote about his aunt who called him “Butchie.” I related to his loneliness.

I think his style was partly his way of taking a stand for the sake of the music, of saying this is worth your attention. After all, if “Solitude” isn’t, what is? So his pregnant pauses were meant for you to open your mind up, to honor this music as you experience it as the most vital and mature indigenous art form of our own nation and people. Perhaps that sounds a little highfalutin’, but in my mind Cuzner — and especially what he contributed to Milwaukee’s culture — like a nocturnal Robin Hood of jazz, grows in stature over time rather than the reverse. — Kevin (Kevernacular)

I believe Cuzner’s rhythmically nuanced announcing style brought people back to the music, which was an art of rhythm more than anything. Many listeners may recall his opinion on “my very favorite drummer, Billy Higgins.”

Here listen to Higgins, who played with a variety of straight-ahead and more cutting-edge performers over his long career. In this live festival recording listen to Billy flesh out the dep pocket of his groove with bassist Ron Carter. Higgins did it in and in obtrusive but quite infectious style. Ron would’ve loved this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaWW6XzZq2Q


A couple of urgent cultural and political readings of late

snyder_1-032014_jpg_600x610_q85The Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko attending a protest rally in Maidan square , Kiev, December 16, 2013. Courtesy New York Review of Books

Culture intersects naturally if uneasily with politics, which is why I’m compelled to note a few important readings I’ve done in news and cultural journals in the last few days because they resonate across our cultural spectrum.

First, the seemingly indispensable New York Review of Books, offers up the most troubling and compelling single piece of contemporary geopolitical and historical journalism I’ve encountered in quite some time. The operative word of the title is fascism as in “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine” by noted Yale history professor Timothy Snyder. He zeros in on the current geopolitical crisis in Crimean Ukraine with chilling insight into how Russia (read powermonger Putin) and the Ukrainian government have conspired in asserting a far-right policy of so-called Eurasianism, as a serious and seemingly far-reaching political saber rattle with the European Union.

Snyder describes insidious creeping racist fascism in the mounting movement, including fairly virulent anti-Semitism and other racial hatred including advertisements showing “dark skinned people eating watermelon and throwing the rinds to the ground,” and calls for gays who die in car crashes “to have their hearts cut out.”

He also explains the complexities of these ideological deceptions wherein we find the new and politically savvy fascists labelling their protesting and opposing contingencies as so many Nazis.

“What does it mean when the wolf cries wolf?” Snyder asks rhetorically. “Most obviously, propagandists in Moscow and Kiev take us for fools – which by many indications is quite justified.”

One of his concluding points: “The current Russian attempt to manipulate the memory of the Holocaust is so blatant and cynical that those who were so foolish to fall for it will one day have to ask themselves just how, in the service of what, they have been taken in?”

It brings to mind Hannah Arendt’s still-controversial and yet seemingly provocative comments about “the banality of evil.” Evil seems less banal today yet still conspires, in its new ways, to politically anesthetize us.

I urge you to read Snyder’s piece, contemplate it, and act as you see fit.


Also, in the latest Sunday Review of The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has an interesting quiz called “Do You Speak Dictator?”
It parallels Snyder’s concerns that international geopolitics are so chaotic and rife with corruption and moral compromise that we need maintain our guard more than ever. It’s a sad commentary that Kristof’s number two question — which leader has the higher domestic approval rating, Putin or Obama? — will reveal that Putin, after stealing Crimea rates higher with his public than Obama, after achieving quasi universal healthcare.

The quiz is an engaging work of cultural-political byplay, rife with urgent meaning: