This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Took part in a "Speakeasy" panel discussion with New Orleans writers at Chickie-Wah-Wah last night, moderated by Susan Larson and recorded for WWNO. Other panelists included Cornell Landry, Greg Herren, and  Mona Lisa Saloy, who raised a few eyebrows and drew some spontaneous laughter from her mostly white audience by reading her remarkable poem on "the N word." Under Susan Larson's skilful questioning, I talked about my dual life as a musician and writer, and described my in-progress novel set in New Orleans. Chickie-Wah-Wah, which I had heard about but never been to before, proved to be  a very simpatico place—mainly because it was clean, didn't smell like a bar, and was not over-aironditioned—so I look forward to returning there to hear some music one of these days. And, who knows, maybe even to play some music.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Speaking on "Face the Nation" this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced Obamacare as "the biggest step ever in the direction of Europeanizing" American health care. That remark was breathtaking in its arrogance, chauvinism, and abject ignorance about the rest of the world. Before waving the concept of "Europeanization" as a bogeyman–like the Soviet Union during the Cold War—Sen. McConnell should learn a few facts:

• The U.S. leads in only one category of health care: cost per capita—$8233 in 2012, nearly three times the OECD average. [Source: OECD Health Data, 2012]

• The top five countries in the World Health Organization's rating of overall efficiency of medical care are European, with France at the top of the heap. The U.S. comes in 37th, well behind every European country and trailing the likes of Colombia, Morocco, Chile, and Costa Rica. [Source: W.H.O.]

• On life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 33rd (79 years). Number one is Japan (83 years). Six of the top eight are European countries (average 82 years). [Source: W.H.O.]

• On infant mortality, the U.S. also ranks 33rd with 6.81 deaths/1000 live births (just behind Cuba at 5.13). The list is headed by Singapore (1.92), with every European country but Poland posting a dramatically better record than the United States. [Source: United Nations World Population Prospects Report, 2011]

• The U.S. ranks 53rd in the number of physicians per capita. Leading this category are San Marino and Cuba, with all the Europeans high up the list and well ahead of the U.S. [Source: World Development Indicators Database]

By nearly every measure, the European countries (among others) post results far superior to America's. All of the European democracies have had universal health care for decades—Germany has had it since the 1880s. The U.S. is virtually alone among industrialized countries in not offering comprehensive  medical coverage to its citizens. And you can forget the scare talk about rationing, death panels, lack of choice, and interminable waits for treatment. Based on my own experience in France, where I lived and worked for more than 15 years, I was able to choose my own doctor, see him on short notice (he even made house calls), get subsidized prescriptions, and even have major surgery for a nominal cost, thanks to the Sécurité Sociale, comparable to a Medicare-for-all system. The government doesn't interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in any way—except to pay the bills. Admittedly, the system works less smoothly in the U.K., but even there, the results are far superior to ours.

One thing is sure: not a single European country is lining up to "Americanize" their system. Europeans are astounded to learn how inefficient, costly, and inequitable U.S. health care is—just as they are baffled by the recent example of government dysfunction in Washington. Obamacare will improve our system in many ways, but we will still lag behind the Europeans and other industrialized in this fundamental domain.

"Europeanize" American health care? Mr. Minority Leader: we should be so lucky.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Sylvaine is preparing for an interactive presentation and signing of her new children's photo book, "Some Birds..." If you have a little one, love birds, dig photography, know Sylvaine, or all of the above, please join us at Barnes & Noble, 3721 Veterans Boulevard, Metairie, LA 70002, Friday October 18, 7 - 8:30 pm.


Diane Fehring Reynolds has sent an email correcting several facts in my post on Bob Greene (which has been amended accordingly):

"I am Diane Fehring Reynolds, daughter of Ray & Rose Fehring.
I've been with Bob "to help him down the runway" and will stay
for another month or so, to complete his wishes.

I've just responded to your blog, correcting this info:

He died on Sunday evening 21:00, on October 13, 2013.(NOT the 15th)

NOT of heart problems. He'd a very successful heart valve replacement
last year, which was an experimental procedure. His was "a textbook case." Strong and sharp.

He actually died of lung cancer, which was very recently diagnosed.
Chemo was unsuccessful, so he stopped and let nature take over.
Energy depleted rapidly. He was ready to leave on his next journey.

No services. Remember him personally by playing something pretty.

Thanks to Diane for these corrections, and for all she has done for Bob.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

BOB GREENE, 1922-2013

I was saddened to learn that my friend, pianist and writer Bob Greene, passed away on October 13. Bob was a specialist on the music of Jelly Roll Morton, a lover of traditional jazz and New Orleans culture, and a world traveler with friends all over the globe. I first met him at Preservation Hall in the mid 1960's when he came down for a visit while working as a writer for Voice of America. He sat in with the band and I played with him on a couple of jam sessions. I was a young teenager then and he was in his mid-40s, but we hit it off right away. On a subsequent visit he treated me to a memorable round of oysters at the Desire café on Bourbon Street; I think we went through three dozen apiece. Years later, when I lived in New York, Bob and I teamed up to form a regular Tuesday night quartet at the Cajun Bar and Restaurant on 16th street. We would also meet up for dinners at PJ Clark's from time to time. When I was assigned to Paris as a TIME correspondent in the 1990's, Bob visited our house and filled it with his music, his infectious laughter, and his stories, all fuelled by gin and tonics that he liked on the stiff side.
I lost touch with him for a few years—there were some ruffled feelings over my failure to acknowledge a book he had sent me—but we patched it up two years ago when he invited me to play with him, Sammy Rimington, and Stanley King at a "History of Jazz" show he wrote and performed at Preservation Hall. We had a nice reunion over lunch at Manale's on Napoleon Avenue, reminisced, and promised to reprise the show the following year. He never made it back to New Orleans. He developed a serious heart problem and underwent surgery for an experimental heart valve replacement. The operation was successful, but he was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.The doctors gave him between 6 months and a year to live. He made 9 months.
My personal memories of Bob aside, he led a remarkable life as a writer and musician. In the early 60s he worked as a speech writer for the State Department, where he had occasion to encounter President John F. Kennedy. Several years later, he worked with Edward R. Murrow for the Voice of America. He spent many years working on a biography of his uncle Paul Blum, a founder of the OSS, precursor of the C.I.A. ( As a pianist, he worked with many of the best known musicians on the New York scene, recorded at Preservation Hall with trombonist Jim Robinson, and for a number of years toured with a show he wrote and directed called "The World of Jelly Roll Morton."
Bob was a larger-than-life character who touched the lives of many people around the world. I am happy to have known him. And I will miss him.

[A nice interview/profile with Bob appeared on the Sag Harbor Express blog in 2011:]

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Peggy Scott Laborde of WYES-TV(bless her heart) recommended Sylvaine's "Some Birds..." on her weekly culture and entertainment show "Steppin' Out" on October 11. It was great to get some media attention as this photo book for children begins to make its way into the bookstores. Word of mouth reaction has been great so far. Sylvaine has a number of signings and presentations lined up, and we'd love to see you at one of them if you're in the area. Here's her schedule so far:

Friday, October 18: Barnes & Noble, 3721 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, LA 70002—7pm-8:30pm

Saturday, November 2: Louisiana Book Festival on the Capitol mall in Baton Rouge, stand of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators—4-6 pm.

Friday, November 8: Barnes & Noble, 3414 Hwy 190, Ste. 10, Mandeville, LA 70471—3-5pm

Saturday, November 9: Octavia Books, 513 Octavia Street, New Orleans, LA 70115—3-5pm

Monday, November 11: Country Day Book Week, Metairie Park Country Day School, 300 Park Road, Metairie, LA 70005—10-11am

For more details on "Some Birds..." follow these links:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

MUSIC FOR THE SOUL: our meditation medley at Trinity Church

Last night, Lars Edegran and I played at New Orleans's Trinity Episcopal Church. The event was part of a regular Wednesday night series that presents live music as an accompaniment to prayer and meditation. There were no clergy present and not a word was spoken. We did a medley of 15 hymns, playing nonstop for one hour. Among our offerings: Abide With Me, Precious Lord, God Will Take Care of You, The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, Closer Walk, In The Sweet By and By, et al. Many of these numbers were previously recorded at Trinity and appear on our album "Hymns & Spirituals." Last night's rendition was especially moving because it was not a concert format, there were no introductions to the numbers, just music intended to communicate something deep to the fifty or so souls present. I love playing in this church because of my long family associations with Trinity and because the acoustics are so extraordinary. It feels like playing inside a Strativarius cello. The only slight mishap was that the piano had been left on its wheels and was too high for Lars to play on. He solved the problem by stacking three chairs on top of one another (see photo), which might be taken as one chair each for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Some idiot named Omar Üzit has been running around uptown New Orleans plastering his name all over public sidewalks in rock-hard globs of yellow epoxy. These sidewalks were recently re-done by the city and were in near-mint condition until Omar started his shenanigans. The crudely executed letters of his name are indelible: even of you chip them off with a chisel, they leave a dark stain on the pavement. I walk on these sidewalks almost every day to go get coffee at the CC on Magazine and Jefferson, so I guess I'll have to live with Omar for years to come.

Omar's ubiquitous moniker makes me think about the whole phenomenon of graffiti-writing. Why do people feel entitled to place their names and tags in public (and private) places, blithely defacing other people's property in the pursuit of some kind of self-assertion? It's true that graffiti is an ancient tradition and some of it is even useful to historians: gladiator scribblings on the stones of the Roman Coliseum, prisoner etchings on the walls of ancient cells, impromptu carvings on villas in Pompeii—all these things shed light on lives and times long past. As for today's spray-paint tags, some argue that they are a legitimate form of urban folk art, expressing the longings and frustrations of the voiceless and unempowered, bringing color and life into their otherwise bleak world. And some recognized artists began as graffiti sprayers—the most prominent example being the late, short-lived Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose paintings now fetch millions. Most graffiti, though, is just mindless, artless drivel, like a bad tattoo that you're stuck with forever.

How does Omar Üzit fit into this picture? Forget any pretension to artistic merit: his scatological, mustard yellow blobs lie on the sidewalk like petrified dog turds. Forget any historic or sociological information one might derive from them—apart from the assumption, based on his name, that he may possibly be a Turkish immigrant or a descendant thereof who doesn't have much respect for his adopted homeland. The only motivation I can see for Omar, like most graffiti-writers, is to affirm his own existence,  to glorify his own name in the place of any actual achievement that might merit anyone's attention. Okay, Omar, mission accomplished. Now that I know that you exist, I have one thing to say to you: I do not like you, Omar Üzit.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: thoughts on Nicholas Payton's anti-"jazz" crusade

Interesting interview with Nicholas Payton in the San Jose Mercury News, talking about his new album "Sketches of Spain" and his views, opinionated as always, on many subjects. I was struck in particular by his vehement objections to using the term "jazz." Interviewer Richard Scheinin summarized his opinion as follows:

"Payton (a jazz-Grammy winner) argued that jazz died half a century ago -- and that the word "jazz" is a racist term imposed on black musicians by white marketers. He prefers to call it by another name: #BAM, or Black American Music."

Payton himself elaborates on this theme in the Q & A:

"Jazz is the white appropriation of black American music. It's a caricaturization of the music that Bolden and King Oliver and Armstrong and others created, and the first documented jazz recording was by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. And as for "Dixieland" -- we know the connotation that "Dixie" has to the Confederate South and slavery. And "jazz," the word itself, is of dubious origin at best...And a lot of the early musicians refuted the title. They didn't want the association with the word." [The whole interview is available at:]

My personal view on all this:

 It is totally pointless to get hung up on nomenclature--what you call a thing. "A rose by any other name..." as Shakespeare put it. Terms like "rock n'roll" and "rhythm and blues" were also coined by white marketers of essentially black music. So what? Are we going to rename those genres too? And if you're going to call jazz "Black American Music," you are implicitly excluding anyone who's not a black American from the club. Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, and Django Reinhart wouldn't have any place under that tent. What if we decided to call Classical music White European Music? Where would that leave Wynton Marsalis's superb baroque trumpet recordings, or the operatic work of Jessye Norman or Leontyne Price? Jazz (a century-old term I will continue to use) is an inclusive music, a music that communicates across racial barriers, cultural boundaries, over oceans and continents. Today it is a world music. If that were not the case, it would have died in the 1920s. Whatever you choose to call it, the only thing that really matters is the music itself. And when Nicholas Payton lets his horn do the talking, all I can say is "Amen."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Got back to New Orleans late last night after a harrowing trip from Paris. The transatlantic flight was flawless, but on arrival at Washington's Dulles airport, the nightmare began. First, there was about a half-mile walk down a narrow corridor from the plane to the immigration area--no escalators, no courtesy cars, no pushcarts, no automatic sidewalks. After a cheek-by-jowl creep down the steps, we reached the bedlam of the arrival hall, filled by a serpentine line of probably a thousand travellers. Time from arrival to immigration control officer: 90 minutes. After collecting and transferring our baggage for the connecting flight, we hit another bottleneck at the security line. Time to clear security (which we had already done leaving Paris, by the way): 45 minutes. The walk (jog) to our departure gate, another half mile away from security, took 15 minutes. Not surprising that, after nearly 3 hours since landing in D.C., we missed our connecting flight to New Orleans. The United customer service desk re-routed us through Dallas-Fort Worth and we finally got home around midnight, nearly 24 hours after leaving Paris. We were not alone: from talking to folks in line, it was clear that hundreds of folks missed connecting flights because of the pathetic organization of this airport--the entry portal into the U.S. for millions of foreign visitors each year. I have had similarly horrific experiences at Dulles before, so I wouldn't ascribe this one to the government shutdown that, we are told, did not affect air traffic controllers, airport security personnel, customs or immigration police. It's just poor organization and inadequate infrastructure. I've been to airports in the Third World what were more efficient than this one. Was Ellis Island this bad?