21 September 2006

Stan Kenton

We lived on Linden Street at the time I was exposed to the music of Stan Kenton. My brother, Fred, and I shared a room on the first floor, just off the dining room, in which we had our work tables. Our father had built the tables especially for us. Fred’s was used for his radio/electronics hobby, and mine was for my model airplanes.

Of course, having the radio/electronics hobby, Fred had a record player. And also of course, he and his friend, Doug, started collecting records. At that time, only 78 rpm records were available, which contained only one tune on each side. (To contain the same number of tunes as currently on my iPod would have required over 1600 records.) The local record store, in downtown Rochester, had booths in which we could listen to the records before we purchased them.

One of the records that Fred bought was “Eager Beaver” by Stan Kenton and his orchestra. The flip side was “Artistry In Rhythm”. I had never heard of Stan Kenton, but was about to be baptized in his “progressive jazz”.

Being teenagers, Fred and I sometimes stayed up all night working on our various projects. And while we worked, we listened to music. Sometimes, the radio, sometimes records. And one time it was “Eager Beaver” played not once, not twice, but over and over and over. The record was finally worn out, which caused no end of consternation to Fred, but a certain degree of joy to me.

Well, sad to say, Fred went right out and bought a new copy of “Eager Beaver” to replace the worn out one. Without hesitation, I broke the old one over his head. And ever since, I’ve been a fan of Stan Kenton‘s music. Go figure!

20 September 2006

Two Black Crows

I was reading the Prologue in Studs Terkel’s book “And They All Sang” when an image flashed across my mind.

Grandma Goebel lived in a large two story house, well, two stories with a full attic and basement, with a large Dutch Elm tree in the front yard. From the sidewalk, you went up steps to the front porch, which held two rattan rocking chairs. Another step up through the large front door into the vestibule, then another door into the foyer, and you were finally inside. To the right was a coat closet. Also on the right was a stairway leading to the second floor. Straight ahead was another door into a dark hallway, with clothes hooks on the left, then straight ahead into the kitchen, then straight ahead again would take you into the pantry. Not just a small set of shelves but a full size pantry, with a refrigerator, that replaced the original ice box.

From the foyer, turning left were a set of glass doors that led to the living room. On one wall was a fireplace with a gas burner, the gas having long since been disconnected, but the false logs still in place. To the right, led to the dining room, every bit as large as the living room, but having a beamed ceiling. Off the dining room was a small room used as my Grandmother’s bedroom.

Upstairs had originally been four bedrooms, but by the time we moved in - in 1941 - one had been converted into a kitchen. Off the kitchen was a porch, open to the outdoors.

The attic is where my brother and I had our bed. Some of the original gas pipes were still to be seen on the chimney, which intruded into the middle of the attic.

But back to the dining room we go. There was a large upright Victrola phonograph machine in the room. There was a crank on the side of the machine to wind up the motor to turn the turntable. In the lower part of the unit there was a cabinet that held Grandma’s record collection. These were the old bakelite 78 rpm records, and very brittle. The machine used a rigid metal needle attached to a diaphragm to deliver the sound, so of course the extended use would gradually wear down the grooves in the records and produce an irritating scratchy sound.

I don’t remember all the music that Grandma had, but there were some classical pieces in there. The image that flashed across my mind, however, was a record of two men - the Two Black Crows - talking through a minstrel show-like routine which would make us laugh over and over. Corny jokes, to be sure, but laughable indeed.

Such a wonderful piece of furniture was that old Victrola phonograph machine.

05 September 2006


There was a program on PBS a week or so ago about Alan Lomax, who took over responsibility from his father to record folk music from around the world. (I had taped the program and had just recently watched it.) In an interview in the late 1950s or early 60s, Alan talked about the decline in communication between people. He said that a few people with access to a million dollars could buy and control radio and television transmitters, and that people with very little money would buy the receivers. He called that a major human problem - the ability to silence large groups of the population - by limiting access to information. In essence, everybody is "off the air" except the people controlling the transmitters.

What struck me is that we are now in the middle of reversing that process because of the proliferation of computers and the use of the Internet. We are achieving what Alan called "cultural equity" by allowing everyone to communicate directly with anyone who chooses to be a receptor - by allowing anyone to read what someone has entered in a blog. Amazing technology.