Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A tree falls

I was sorry to read Pinetop Perkins, a giant among bluesmen, has passed on. He died a week ago but I did not find out until reading this.

Pinetop was 97. You cannot say that he did not live.

I love the paragraph about how Perkins had smoked every day since 1922, ate all his meals at McDonald's and drank whiskey until he was 85 and had to undergo treatment for having an open container. These great old guys, they are passing away. My brother George and I were talking the other day about how the blues scene is gone, just gone. The old guys are all leaving us and the college kids are listening to crud.

I was one of the many, the millions, who partied with Pinetop when he was on the road. When he came to Buffalo he would play the Lafayette Tap Room. Pinetop actually liked my friend Lizzie better than he liked me but, whatever, he liked all of us. One night at the Tap Room he was mocking everyone out at about 3 a.m. when his gig ended because he wanted to stay and have drinks and a lot of people were going home to bed.

We stayed and had drinks with Pinetop! Lucky we did because now all these other people are regretting that they did not. Pinetop would have been about 85 then.

We also used to go see him and our buddy Robert Lockwood Jr. down in Helena, Ark., for the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Sigh, for days gone by, ain't that the blues?

I have lots of pictures of myself with Lockwood because we knew him better but I am not sure about Pinetop. I am going to have to search my house. Above is a picture I took from an Austin paper that ran with a story about Pinetop being 95. I would say the photographer deserves a credit. He is Will Van Overbeek.

Look at those long pianist's fingers. With Pinetop being so old that hand looks like some kind of sea creature.

Here is one thing that is a crying shame, as long as I am speaking blues. Looking around YouTube it is hard to find any video of Pinetop playing an actual piano. This is a blues I love but you can tell it from a mile away, that bland electric piano sound.

Oh, wait! There is this! Plus you get to watch the master's feet tapping under the piano.

Dear Pinetop.

He will be missed, along with the rest of them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The big sleep

The good news: A new photo of Frederic Chopin has been discovered.

The bad news is that it is of when he was dead.

That is the photo up above. Supposedly Chopin is lying in his coffin in the Madeleine Church in Paris. I do not think I ever knew the church Chopin was buried out of. Subsequently I did not go to it when I was in Paris. I would imagine the church was named for St. Mary Magdalene.

I did not expect the Madeleine Church to look like this. But it does!

Here is the interior where Chopin was lying when he was photographed. It looks kind of like my old church, St. Gerard's, which is now being shipped to Georgia.

Here is Gerard's, for comparison's sake.

I always thought it was kind of ghoulish that Chopin's heart was separated from his corpse at one point and brought to Warsaw. But it was, and there it still is, in Warsaw's beautiful Holy Cross Church.  

I do not get the idea that Chopin was much of a churchgoer during his life. After his death, though, he seems to have made up for lost time.

Here is a brain teaser for today, something you can think about as you go about your Tuesday.

Were you to choose an elegy for Chopin what would you choose?

Imagine you are making a movie about Chopin and you need something to play as the closing credits roll. What would it be?

That beautiful E major Etude?

So many choices.

So little time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mystery in the Steinway attic

They have found something creepy in the old Steinway mansion!

This is the mansion near the Steinway factory, in Astoria, in Queens, where the Steinway family lived once upon a time. For the past 80 years or something it has been occupied by a family named Halberian. Michael Halberian, who was in his 80s, died in December and now the auctioneers are cleaning out the house. 

That is a video of Michael Halberian up above talking about the house. He seems like a nice man and there is this touching story about him and the mansion by James Barron. Barron is the New York Times writer who wrote the obituary on Leonard Pennario and I always remember this crazy day I spent in California on and off the phone with him. He also wrote a book about Steinways called "Piano."

But back to the spooky story.

They found this trunk. When they pried it open it had four voodoo masks and -- this is really grisly -- a creepy little doll in a kind of coffin surrounded by rusty nails. The New York Post wrote about it under the terrific headline of "Piano Mansion Voodoo Shock."

The paper has a picture of it. Brrrrr!

Now there is speculation surrounding whose trunk was it, anyway. Could it have been the Steinways'? I doubt it. They were Unitarian Universalists if I remember correctly from reading a whole bunch of books about them. They were these stolid Germans and I cannot imagine them being into this kind of thing.

The question was raised as to whether this voodoo equipment could have belonged to a servant. Perhaps.


I went to the Steinway factory eight years ago. It is a memory I treasure. Howard was with me and while we were on the tour we stopped to chat with some workers and admire these centuries-old tools that were lying around. Then suddenly a whistle went off and we were swept out of the room with this giant tide of workers going to lunch. Ha, ha! We never did find the tour again!

We did, however, find our way to the Steinway mansion and we got a look at the outside. And I remember I wrote about it in the Buzz column which is the column I write for The Buffalo News. I looked it up today to see what I wrote because I recalled that something was not right.

And I had written about how Buffalo was not the only town that neglects our landmarks, that the poor old Steinway mansion, its lawn was covered with chickens, garbage can lids and -- this is the kicker -- Sunbeam parts cars.

People who own and display items like that, I think it would be perfectly possible they had a voodoo trunk in the attic. Perhaps they picked it up somewhere and never even opened it. Living in Buffalo I know junk collectors and that is the way we operate. Did I say "we"? I meant "they."

Also the more word gets around that you are a junk collector, the more junk comes your way. People say things like: "You like old stuff. I have this old trunk. I'm dropping it off at your house."

Whatever, there is one thing I know.

If I bought that mansion, I would call in a priest.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Renaissance woman

I have been thinking about the music of Palestrina ever since Sunday, when I heard a live performance as an actual Tridentine Latin Mass. I have already gone on about it in the paper and on my Leonard Pennario Web log but I have to write about it just one more time. There is this video now which I just posted.

Darn, I am almost visible but not quite! When they are panning down the aisle at the end of the Mass, you will see this guy in a big red jacket. I am a few pews behind him. He blotted me out.

The Palestrina was the "Pope Marcellus Mass" which I find fascinating. The Kyrie sounds as if it rains down from above. It has these descending lines which make me think of rain and of what Shakespeare wrote about the quality of mercy is not strained, it falleth like a gentle rain from heaven. 

Palestrina's music has a quality which makes me see it, I mean visually. I picture the melody lines, like colored bands. They intertwine and come apart and sometimes they all come together in a blaze of light. He will play one line, one note, against the others and you can feel the contrast, feel the slight dissonance, and then you feel it when it is resolved. It is like a push-me, pull-you thing. It happens again and again.

Oh, my! Oh, my goodness! I just went looking for a recording on YouTube to show what I mean and what do you know, someone has put up a synthesized version of the Kyrie from the Pope Marcellus Mass that does just that, shows the melodies with colored lines. Apparently I am not the only one thinking this! It must be built into the music.

Visually the Mass was fascinating too.The video shows the torchbearers. They file out before the Consecration and then they stay in place around the altar. I read somewhere that torchbearers are kind of an honor guard.

My sister was rejoicing that you did not have to hold hands during the Our Father. I am thinking it is time for that fad to be scrapped, you know? Everyone is sick of it.

My two nieces who, I guess you would call them "tweens," all they know is Communion in the hand. There was some anxiety on the way up to the altar rail.

It is dramatic to go back to the Renaissance!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Record highs

Something is happening to the vinyl business but I am not sure what. I am also not sure if it works in my favor.

It is my habit, when I need to relax, to go through the records at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. You never know what you will find, and it helps me unwind.

So I look through these records. And over the past few years I have found a lot of treasures. Lots of classical piano -- my favorite -- great gems from Rubinstein, Lipatti, Kapell -- sometimes you could see that some collector had maybe died and someone had just dumped his collection. I was amazed at the treasures I was finding, for nothing. I remember saying to my mom, this is so different from when I was a kid. When I was a kid, records were still the main thing. As a result, you would look at the records at Goodwill and all you would find was junk, stuff nobody wanted.

Well, guess what?

Those days are back!

I have not found a decent record at a thrift store in I do not know how many months.

It is getting depressing! The other day I went to Goodwill after my Zumba class and I even asked a clerk there about it. I asked where the good records had gone.

She said, "We're just not getting them."

Meanwhile, the record situation on eBay is changing too. I always keep an eye on the Pennario department. People sell records, vintage ads, etc. Mostly records. And recently, in the last month or so, I have noticed the prices becoming extremely irregular. Some are still inexpensive. But others are skyrocketing.

And the sellers are pricing them weirdly. For instance there is this Heifetz/Piatigorsky/Pennario box set priced at $99.99. On the one hand I am drawing myself up proudly, thinking yes, this is a magnificent set, this trio was perfect together, that's my Leonard! But on the other hand .... $99.99?

Here is a listing so you get the picture. Pennario playing the Khachaturian is $25.  Pennario's first Chopin Waltzes record is priced coolly at $39.95. His Bartok/Prokofiev/Rozsa sonata album ...

 is $34.95. A Gershwin album he made with Felix Slatkin is priced capriciously at $11.20. $11.20??? What kind of a price is that?

As Oprah would say, what is going on?

I do know that people seem to be paying more attention to vinyl. Gramophone magazine is planning a feature on the worst album art -- funny, the concept of album art has been on my mind too. A lot of people still appreciate the warm sound that records have.

If vinyl is getting more popular, though, the downside is that I do not think too many people are making new vinyl albums. I did see some new vinyl turn up at The Buffalo News, from some rock band. I am like St. Thomas -- if I had not seen I would not have believed. I did see it, with my own eyes! But surely those new records are an exception.

That means that with vinyl picking up, there will not be more vinyl, there will be less of it. It will be harder for me to get my hands on what I want.

Oh well. On the bright side...

What happens is not up to me!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jones-ing for Jonas

My friend Marta through whom I live vicariously resides in Los Angeles and in a couple of weeks she and her husband -- my piano teacher, Stephen Manes -- are going to hear the tenor Jonas Kaufmann in recital. I am envious and restless.

I chose the above picture of Kaufmann because I thought the red would look snazzy on the Web log. But you cannot have too many pictures of Jonas Kaufmann so here is another.

Ha, ha! This particular photo shoot appears to have gone a little bit awry.

Well, ahem. Back to Kaufmann and that wonderful voice. It is a funny thing about Jonas K ... I know he is a tenor but I keep wanting to say he is a baritone. He somehow manages to have the kind of tenor voice that makes you think he is a baritone. But soft! I repeat myself. I realize I had this in my head back when Mr. Kaufmann first came to my attention.

Here is the program for Kaufmann's recital which, I wish a giant hand could pick me up and put me down there right now. They put the program on the Internet to torture you, how about that?

He is singing Schumann's Kerner Lieder. I love that set of songs. You do not hear them as often as some of Schumann's other songs.

Not that we do not love those other songs. "In wunderschoenen Monat Mai..." It feels as if you are standing up in the morning in your pajamas and stretching. Jonas Kaufmann is singing "Dichterliebe" too at his Los Angeles recital. Sigh.

On the bright side, that is a beautiful video. It has the first three songs, one melting into another, with luminous images. Schumann nailed it, you know? I look back on the months of May that I remember when I was a teenager and in my 20s and they are equal parts beauty and misery.

"Und wenn du mich lieb hast, Kindchen..." That is a line I love!

La la la la la la la.


Oh well.

Time to pull my head out of the clouds and get on with my onerous Tuesday.