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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


The coordinated attacks that struck targets in Paris and the suburb of Saint Denis last week put France on a virtual war footing. The carnage was horrific—at least 129 dead and 352 wounded. But even more shocking than the body count was the realization that the country was now confronted with a new kind of enemy: radicalized home-grown terrorists, supported from abroad, nurtured on a cult of death, and craving the transdendence of martyrdom. Unlike the assault on Charlie Hebdo last January, these assaults—the first suicide attacks on French soil—did not focus on a single symbolic target but sought to kill as many people as possible, raining panic and fear on the whole population.
      It began at 9:20 on a chilly Friday night with a bomb blast outside the Stade de France in Saint Denis, where President François Hollande was attending a soccer match between France and Germany. Mistaken at first for fireworks, the explosion was followed by a second, then a third detonation. As security officials whisked Hollande away to safety, they received reports of coordinated attacks in Paris: heavily armed gunmen had burst into the Bataclan music hall, firing indiscriminately into the crowd of rock fans and taking the survivors hostage; other attackers raked gunfire across nearby sidewalk cafes and restaurants, leaving a sprawl of bleeding bodies in their wake. By the time French security forces stormed the Bataclan shortly after midnight, killing one assailant as two others blew themselves up with explosive belts, 89 concert-goers were dead. Four other attackers were pulverized by their suicide bombs, three outside the Stade de France and one on a Paris street corner.
     Addressing the nation late Friday night, the president promised a “pitiless” response to the worst terror attack ever carried out on French soil. “What we defend,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion, “is our country but much more than that: it is the values of humanity.” On Saturday morning, he denounced the attacks as “an act of war” organized from “outside the country with help from inside.” The presumed author: the so-called Islamic State based in Syria.
      Invoking a little used law dating back to the Algerian War, Hollande declared a state of emergency that allows authorities, at their discretion, to carry out warantless searches, impose curfews, and ban public meetings. On Monday, addressing a rare joint session of Parliament at the Chateau de Versailles, Hollande called for a three-month extension of the state of emergency, increased assets for police and justice authorities, and powers to strip French citizenship from binationals convicted of terrorism. He said he would seek broader surveillance powers and a constitutional amendment that would enable the state to take exceptional security measures. On the military front, he promised to intensify French air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, aided by the arrival in the region next month of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. On Sunday night, French fighter-bombers aided by U.S. targeting information attacked the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, destroying a command center and a training camp. A second French air strike followed on Monday.
      By Sunday, French police had identified six of the seven assailants killed in the assaults—including four French nationals. A car with Belgian plates found near the Bataclan put authorities on the track of the possible eighth member of the commando. The suspect, Saah Abdelsalam, is believed to have returned to Belgium but remains at large. French and Belgian authorities also launched a manhunt for Addelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian and ISIS fighter believed to be the mastermind of last week’s assaults. A Syrian passport found near the body of one of the suicide bombers was traced to a man who had entered Greece last month as a refugee. The discovery raised new fears that foreign terrorists may be infiltrating the migrant flows into Europe and caused some countries, including Poland, to heighten their resistance to accepting new refugees.
      ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks with an online communiqué whose comic-book language would be ludicrous if the subject were not so dire. It praised the “blessed attack” on the “capital of abominations and perversion, which carries the banner of the cross in Europe.” The “accurately chosen targets” included “the Stade the fool of France, François Hollande, was present” and the Bataclan music hall “where hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party.” The statement closed with an ominous injunction: “This attack is just the beginning of the storm and a warning to those who want to learn its lessons.”
     The horrific events did come as a surprise. Indeed, French security experts had expected a big coordinated attack like this for months. In an interview published in Paris Match last September, Marc Trévidic, formerly the country’s top antiterrorism judge, called France “the principal target of an army of terrorists with unlimited means…and a desire, which they have expressed clearly and unceasingly, to strike us…The real war that ISIS intends to wage on our soil has not yet begun.”

Why France? Partly because France has been carrying out air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria as part of the 10-nation U.S.-led coalition. The attackers who burst into the Bataclan shouted, “You can blame Hollande for this. He didn’t have to intervene in Syria.” But that is only part of the explanation. As the ISIS communiqué suggests, France was also targeted because of its culture and lifestyle, its commitment to a kind of secular liberty and joie de vivre that is an abomination in the eyes of the islamists. The young rock fans had nothing to do with Syria, no more than the café patrons enjoying a glass of wine and a chat with friends at their sidewalk tables. “The targets are no longer identified,” says Gilles Kepel, a specialist on Islam at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. “The goal is to kill blindly. In their eyes, all those who live in France are Crusaders, disbelievers, or renegades. All the French are targets.”
     With its large Muslim population, France also offers a fertile breeding ground for Islamic radicalism, especialy among embittered youths in the crime-ridden, high-unemployment suburbs. According to Prime Minister Manuel Valls, more than 1500 young French Muslims have gone to fight alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Those who return, thoroughly indoctrinated, battle-hardened, and endowed with military training, constitute a potential cadre of terrorist fighters on French soil. It is no longer the “lone wolf” phenomenon, but the threat of organized, coordinated operations that worries French security experts.
     France is also an attractive target in terms of the jihadists’ overall strategy of dividing European societies precisely by provoking an anti-Muslim backlash. “They see Europe as the soft underbelly,” says Kepel, “because of its economic difficulties and ethnic tensions. Their aim is to create discord in the countries of Europe in order to eventually bring about a civil war on which they can build their utopia of the caliphat.” Indeed, the Paris attacks were followed by a series of anti-Muslim incidents, including the drive-by shooting and wounding of a Turk in the northern city of Cambrai by a man who later committed suicide.
      Hollande’s calls for national unity in soon ran into partisan strains amidst a hard-fought campaign around next month’s regional elections and the looming 2017 presidential contest. Former president and probable future candidate Nicolas Sarkozy called for more “drastic security measures.” “The war that we lead must be total,” he said, recommending, among other things, house arrest and electronic bracelets for suspected radicals, expulsion of hate-spouting imams and the closing of their mosques. That was in line with the hardnosed approach of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, who called for permanent border controls in place of the open-door Shengen agreement, “rearmament,” and a realignment of France’s diplomacy. “France must choose between its friends and its enemies,” she said. “Its enemies are those countries who maintain friendly relations with radical islamism.” Le Pen, a leading presidential contender according to the polls, seemed poised to benefit from the heightened fears of terrorism and insecurity, two of her main themes.
       The resort to stringent security measures caused some observers, with an eye to the U.S. Patriot Act, to worry that overreaction to the attacks may in fact result in a curtailment of French liberties and a more intrusive, repressive state. “Only a love of freedom permits us to remain free,” Laurent Joffrin editorialized in the left-leaning daily Libération. “To suppress liberties and propose laws of exception is already a surrender.”
       In Paris on Sunday, under blue skies, small groups gathered around makeshift shrines of candles and flowers on the Place de la République, in front of the barricaded Bataclan, and on the sidewalks near the cafes whose shattered glass windows still bore witness to the horror. Some prayed, some cried, some joined hands and sang La Vie en Rose. Two men and a woman held signs offering free hugs. Within days, life would slowly return to normal as theaters, museums and shops reopened and people went about their business. No one knows if or when the next attack will come. But it will be a long time before Parisians will be able to enjoy a drink at a sidewalk café, shop at a crowded market, or attend a concert without thinking of the events of Friday the 13th of November.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


 AT LAST! The new improved interactive e-book edition of SONG FOR MY FATHERS is now available for iPad downloads. In addition to the full text of this coming-of-age-in-New Orleans jazz memoir, there is an audio narration, some 100 vintage photos, musical performances, interviews, plus rare video footage of jazz funerals, parades, and recording sessions from the 1950s and 60s. Anyone who liked the print edition (and has an iPad) will get a real kick out of this multidimensional you-are-there version.

Here's how to get it: 1) go to Apple App store, 2) find and download "eLume" app from Orson and Co., 3) go on the app and choose SONG FOR MY FATHERS among their offerings, 4) pay and download the package--takes about 10 minutes, 5) enjoy!

For inquiries and download help:

Monday, September 7, 2015


Saturday September 12th, 8.00 pm. St Audries Bay Holiday Club
West Quantoxhead, near Minehead Somerset TA4 4DY
Sunday September 13th, 7.30 pm.
Plymouth Jazz Club at the Royal British Legion Club Tailyour Road
Devon PL6 5DH

Wednesday September 16th, 8.00 pm. Zelda's Jazz Room
Comrades Hall
Newbury Street,Wantage
Oxon OX12 8DJ
Thursday, September 17th The Memorial Hall,
Old Street, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, WR8 0RP
Friday, September 18th St Peter’s Church Frimley Green Road Frimley Camberley Surrey GU16 7AQ


Saturday, Oct. 17: Klein Willebroek, Belgium, with Fondy River Bullet Band

Saturday, Nov. 14: Le Gramophone, Grande Rue, Marly-le-Roi, France. 8 - 11 pm

Saturday, Dec. 12: Le Gramophone, Grande Rue, Marly-le-Roi, France. 8 - 11 pm

Friday, April 24, 2015


Sunday, April 26: JAZZFEST, Wendell Brunious All Stars, Economy Hall Tent, 12:30-1:25

Wednesday, April 29: Jazz National Park,  916 N.Peters Street, with Clive Wilson's Serenaders, 3:30- 4:45

Friday, May 1: JAZZFEST, New Orleans Legacy Band, Economy Hall Tent, 1:45 - 2:40

Friday, May 1: Palm Court, 1206 Decatur St., with Clive Wilson's Serenaders, 8 - 11 pm.

Saturday, May 2: JAZZFEST, Clive Wilson's N.O. Serenaders, Economy Hall, 1:40 - 2:35

Wednesday, May 6Palm Court, 1206 Decatur St., with Lars Edegran's Palm Court All Stars, featuring vocalist Topsy Chapman. 8 - 11 pm.

Wednesday, May 13Palm Court, 1206 Decatur St., with Lars Edegran's Palm Court All Stars, featuring vocalist Topsy Chapman. 8 - 11 pm.

Sunday, May 17: Trinity Artist's Series, with Tommy Sancton Trio, Trinity Episcopal Church, Jackson Avenue,  5 - 6 pm.

Tom Sancton Website:
Tom Sancton FB page:
"Song For My Fathers" FB page:

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Announcing the launch at the end of April 2015 of the "eLume" (enhanced e-book) edition of SONG FOR MY FATHERS, featuring the complete text, audio narration, 25 musical performances, 100 vintage photos, archival videos, interviews, etc. Available soon on the Apple App store and through Here's the whole story:

Monday, April 13, 2015


Sammy Rimington and I are looking forward to our tribute to George Lewis at Preservation Hall, Sunday, April 19, 3 - 4:30 pm. Both of us learned from George as young men and today we're trying to carry on the tradition. I am especially happy to be reunited with Sammy, since he's the one who gave me my first clarinet back in 1963! Here's a flyer advertising this special concert:

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Sunday, April 26: JAZZFEST, Wendell Brunious All Stars, Economy Hall Tent, 12:30-1:25

Wednesday, April 29: Jazz National Park,  916 N.Peters Street, with Clive Wilson's Serenaders, 3:30- 4:45

Friday, May 1: JAZZFEST, New Orleans Legacy Band, Economy Hall Tent, 1:45 - 2:40

Friday, May 1: Palm Court, 1206 Decatur St., with Clive Wilson's Serenaders, 8 - 11 pm.

Saturday, May 2: JAZZFEST, Clive Wilson's N.O. Serenaders, Economy Hall, 1:40 - 2:35

Wednesday, May 6Palm Court, 1206 Decatur St., with Lars Edegran's Palm Court All Stars, featuring vocalist Topsy Chapman. 8 - 11 pm.

Wednesday, May 13Palm Court, 1206 Decatur St., with Lars Edegran's Palm Court All Stars, featuring vocalist Topsy Chapman. 8 - 11 pm.

Sunday, May 17: Trinity Artist's Series, with Tommy Sancton Trio, Trinity Episcopal Church, Jackson Avenue,  5 - 6 pm.

Tom Sancton Website:
Tom Sancton FB page:
"Song For My Fathers" FB page:

Thursday, January 29, 2015


After Netanyahu is finished trashing Obama from the lectern of the U.S. House of Representatives, maybe Speaker Boehner (aka Agent Orange) should line up another distinguished orator: Kim Jong-un, who could speak out against Obama's freedom of the Internet initiatives and lobby for the North Korean cheese industry. Boehner's international outreach proves once and for all that Republicans are not the benighted provincials liberals take them for!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Robert Stone, 1937-2015
I was saddened by the news of author Robert Stone's death last Saturday at the age of 77. I have long been a fan of his writing, particularly the New Orleans-based novel Hall of Mirrors and the Vietnam novel Dog Soldiers. I just heard a wonderful interview with Bob on NPR, recorded in 2007. Full of humor, anecdotes, memories, wisdom. It was great to hear his voice again. It will be missed.
     I cherish the memory of a weekend in March 2008, when I invited Stone to speak at Tulane as part of the Mellon Lecture Series. You can see an online video of Bob Stone's interview, in which he answers questions about his writing and does a reading from Hall of Mirrors. What you can't see online is the drama that took place after a ghost stole his meds at the Columns Hotel.
     Here's what happened. As Tulane's visiting Mellon Professor in 2007-2008, I was responsible for inviting speakers and organizing their events. Bob Stone was one of my first choices. I contacted him by phone and he was eager to come to New Orleans, where he had spent some happy times in his younger years. I asked if he wanted to stay in a French Quarter hotel, perhaps near the St. Louis Street apartment where he had lived in the 60s. No, he said, he'd rather stay in some "interesting" place outside the noisy quarter. I immediately thought of the Columns Hotel, a stately and picturesque old mansion on St. Charles Avenue. That seemed fine with him.
     What he didn't tell me was that he had an advanced case of emphysema. He also didn't say that he  depended on a regular intake of Valium to calm his nerves. When we arrived at the Columns, we found that his room was on the third floor. The hotel had no elevator, so we trudged up the ornate wooden staircase, step by wheezing step, with me carrying his bag and Bob pulling himself up by the railing. He was tired from his trip and decided to turn in for the night.
     When I arrived at the hotel to have breakfast with him the next morning, he was in a terrible state. While he was taking a shower in his room, he said, someone had stolen his shaving kit along with his meds. The prospect of spending two days without Valium was causing him to panic. He was furious and sputtered vague threats at the hotel desk clerk if they didn't "cough up" his shaving kit. The clerk assured him that no one had been in his room that morning, but that wasn't good enough. Bob immediately checked out of the hotel and demanded that a porter bring his bag down.
     A veteran waiter at the Columns, meanwhile, pulled me aside and said, "It's the ghosts." What ghosts? "Don't you know the Columns is famous for its ghosts? They're children." How did he know, had he seen them himself? "No, no one sees them. But they play childish pranks, they hide stuff, and sometimes they push people down the stairs. When they touch you, you can feel that they have small hands. Children's hands." Had he been touched by them? "Many times."
     I decided not to tell Bob about the ghosts. In his agitated state, the story wouldn't sit well. Instead, I focused on practical matters: moving him across the street to the Best Western, and procuring some Valium so he could function during the rest of his visit.
     I don't take Valium so I called my cousin's husband for suggestions. Ray doesn't take Valium either but he knows a lot of people and, sure enough, one of his best buddies from college had a stash. It also happened that Ray and his pal Charlie were huge Robert Stone fans. Ray told me to bring Stone over to Charlie's house near the Fairgrounds and they'd fix him up.
     Stone was somewhat heartened by the news that help was in the offing, but still in a sour mood when I pulled up in Charlie's driveway. When Ray and Charlie answered the door, giddy at the prospect of meeting their hero, I whispered to them, "Just play it cool. I don't think he's in a real chatty mood." Bob pulled up behind me, breathing hard. As soon as I made the introductions, Ray and Charlie started quoting their favorite bits of dialogue from Hall of Mirrors. Bob did not seem amused, but perked up when Charlie produced a handful of blue pills. He immediately downed one (or more?) with a glass of water and, after a moment, relaxed enough to carry on a brief but civil conversation.
Robert Stone speaking at Tulane's Rogers Memorial Chapel
     Next stop was Walgreen's for toothpaste and toilet articles, then on to Tulane, where Bob was a guest speaker at Joel Dinerstein's seminar on "The Birth of the Cool." He was in great shape by that time and enthralled the students with stories about his adventures with Neal Cassady and the other passengers on Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus tour. That afternoon, I hosted a public interview and reading, which was well attended (Ray and Charlie were on the front row) and well received. That night, Bob was guest of honor at a dinner with members of the Tulane English department, held in a private room at Ralph's on the Park.
     When I drove him to the airport the next morning, he was an a good mood. He told me about a false sexual harassment accusation made against him, and later retracted, by a hysterical student at Yale, an incident that he would use as the basis for his last novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl. He said he'd had a great time in New Orleans and would be glad to return.
     He did: in December 2013, my former Tulane colleague Tom Beller brought him back for a lecture and reading. I did not see him on that occasion, but I presume he kept a close watch on his shaving kit and avoided any ghostly encounters.

Friday, January 9, 2015


I seem to remember that in 2003, all the war-mongering conservatives and neo-cons were denouncing the French as "weasels" because they wouldn't go along with an Iraq invasion that was based on totally bogus claims of WMD arsenals and Iraqi responsibility for 9/11. The French were bashed as soft-on-terrorism, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and worse. How interesting in the wake of today's spectacular anti-terrorist actions in France to see FOX NEWS, leaders of the anti-"Weasel" chorus in 2003, praising the French forces for their "excellent" police operation.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


The Charlie Hebdo affair has similarities to another recent terrorist act: the cyber attack on Sony films over the "Interview" movie that depicts the assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-un. The issue in both cases is freedom of expression vs the attempts of outside forces to stifle it.
President Obama's comment on the North Korean cyber attack was that we cannot allow anyone to "censor" free speech in America. He criticized Sony for initially pulling the film off the market in the face of North Korean bullying. (In what was basically a business decision, Sony later allowed limited distribution.)
In the case of Charlie Hebdo, the editors and cartoonists have always defied attempts at censorship of any kind. They knew they were taking huge risks but persisted in publishing provocative images to affirm their free-speech right to criticize the excesses of Islamic radicalism (among numerous other targets). If no one has the courage to soldier on in spite of the risks and threats, then the "censors" have won.
   The Charlie Hebdo staff paid a heavy price for their stance. Some will say they brought it on themselves, that they knew what they risked by tweaking the tiger's tail. But if no one dares do that, the tiger wins by default. They were like frontline soldiers staking out and defending territory for the others behind them—in this case, all of us who live in societies based on freedom of thought and expression. We should be grateful to them for their courage, and never give up the fight.


The cancer of Islamic extremism will not be excised by military action. Nor will it be wiped out by political repression. Nor will it be cured by the words of pundits and policymakers in the West. The cure for this cancer must come from within the affected body: the worldwide community of Muslims. In the wake of the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo, some Muslim leaders have expressed condolences for the victims and denounced the perpetrators, but not one, to my knowledge, has stood up and made the indignant, fiery, and morally persuasive speech that has long since been called for. The world is waiting for words like these from Islamic clerics and scholars:

Brothers and Sisters, a terrible crime has taken place in Paris. We must offer our condolences for the  twelve people murdered in the name of Allah. But the ultimate victims are the hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world whose religion has been betrayed and besmirched, time and again, by the acts of criminals and terrorists. How many times have we reacted to such attacks with tacit approval? How many times have we protested that we're not responsible for the works of a few extremists? How many times has our main concern been to shield ourselves from Islamophobic reactions to the obscene acts committed in our name? Brothers and sisters, it is time to put the blame where it belongs: in the poisoned hearts and minds of those who have hijacked and violated our most sacred principles. These outrages will continue until we ourselves rise up and drive these criminals from our midst. We must join together and make our voices heard, loud and clear: you who maim and murder in the name of Allah are not our brothers, you are our enemies. You have no place in our community, no place in our mosques, and certainly no place in Paradise. We will ostracize you and renounce you, the true and most dangerous of infidels. 

If such words were repeated in mosques, prayer halls, and schools throughout Muslim society, perhaps one day the extremist cancer would wither and die. Until then, Islam and terrorism will be linked, fairly or unfairly, in the minds of the rest of the world.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The Islamist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is an outrageous blow to freedom of expression everywhere. Among the 12 victims were some of the world's most talented satirical cartoonists, Charb, Cabu, and Wolinski, whose work over the years has mocked and pilloried corruption, political hypocrisy, religious extremism, and of course terrorism. They are the latest martyrs, alongside James Foley and Daniel Pearl, to the cause of freedom of the press. Among other things, this mass murder by Islamic fanatics will swell the ranks of Marine LePen's far right, anti-immigrant Front National. Shall we at last hear an upswell of denunciations by the world's Islamic leaders, or will their silence or tepid responses continue to condone the outrages that violate the very principles of their religion and blacken its image?