Category Archives: Jazz

The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Thursday


“It seems that fighting is a game where everybody is the loser.” — Zora Neale Hurston



Stand by for another big book release from a Bloomington author in 2013.

Phil Ford, professor of music history at Indiana University, looks to August for the debut of his “Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture.”


Phil Ford

Ford’s got a publisher, Oxford University Press, and is now in the process of securing his last copyright permissions — “I had a ton to manage for the book” — and correcting the odd punctuation mistake.

Dig conceives hipness as a part of the intellectual and cultural history of the United States from the 1940s through the 1960s,” Ford says.

The hip aesthetic has structured art and thought here since the end of World War II, according to Ford. He says American intellectual life has been profoundly affected by the storied postwar alienation from society.

The beatniks and the cool jazz cats of 20-year period after 1945 saw themselves as outsiders who had nothing to do with you, yet now you act and think in ways they did more than you or they would have ever dreamed.

The larger, dominant culture, Ford explains, aims to “foreclose” on creativity, self-awareness, and self-expression.

“The hipster’s project is to imagine this system and define himself against it,” Ford says. Think Jack Kerouac or Timothy Leary. “While hipsters have always used clothing, hairstyle, gesture, and slang to mark their distance from the consensus culture, it is music that has always been the privileged means of cultural disaffiliation.”

Terkel & Beats

Studs Terkel With Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, & Peter Orlovsky

Ford tries to define the concept of hip in the book and then follows its path from what he deems its birth year, 1948. For instance, Ford has found rare recordings of Beat Poets singing along to jazz records in 1949. “You can hear them trying on the hipster persona like a new suit,” Ford says.

Ford enshrines Norman Mailer, author of the seminal “White Negro” essay in Dissent magazine, into the hipster pantheon. “He couldn’t carry a tune in a Hefty bag but he developed a notion of writing as existential challenge that remodels the act of writing to something more like the act of sounding, something like a musical performance,” Ford says.

Book Cover

The City Lights Book-Length Edition Of Mailer’s Essay

Ford has been published in the academic journals Representations, Journal of Musicology, Jazz Perspectives, Musical Quarterly, and others. Dig is his first book.

One of the jazz titans Ford covers in Dig is the late pianist, songwriter, arranger, composer, and Zelig-like figure, John Benson Brooks. He worked with everyone from Zoot Sims and Cannonball Adderley to Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown but remains unknown today. Ford feels Brooks’ life in New York City’s arts scene from the 1940s through the ’60s would serve as a great basis for a history of that capital of hipness. Ford just might start writing that book once he gets the final Dig manuscript out the door.

So, be cool until August and then dig Dig.


You know it had to happen.

A Bloomington High School South kid has been overhead saying he’d pull off a Sandy Hook-type incident at the school tomorrow. Bloomington cops have found a small arsenal at his house and the kid’s been suspended. The guns belonged to adults in the home but the BPD confiscated the artillery nonetheless.

Bloomington High School South


And a kid at Batchelor Middle School has been suspended for bringing a BB gun to class.

Hard to know if the kids were just being, well, kids, or they were real threats to their classmates and teachers. Just this moment, though, no one’s taking any chances.

One observer has said that the BHSS kid needs immediate psychiatric treatment. Maybe.

Let me tell you a little story.

When I was 16 and 17, my circle of hippies and ne-er-do-wells that hung out day and night at Amundsen Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side faced a migration of gangbangers from the near West Side.

A Polish and Puerto Rican gang, the Almighty Jousters, started hanging around the park after they’d been rousted from their turf farther east by the cops and rival gangs. These guys were tough. They thought nothing of bloodying someone up for the slightest imagined insult. One of the Jousters, Little Willie, found himself in competition for an Amundsen Park girl with a guy from the neighborhood. Little Willie settled the dispute by breaking the guy’s jaw, ribs, and arm in an impromptu negotiating session held during the midnight showing of the movie “Gimme Shelter” at the Mercury Theater.

From "Gimme Shelter"

Backdrop For A Beating

The Jousters also liked to pack heat.

Even though I was a devoted peacenik, there was something about the Jousters’ hard coolness that attracted me. I became friendly with several of them. I even fantasized what I’d feel like carrying a pistol, as they did. In my fantasy, I’d feel important.

By and by, a consortium of neighborhood demi-gangs — the North & Nagle Boys, the Corner Boys, the Bank Boys, the Stompers, and others — agreed to join forces and try to evict the Jousters. The issue would be settled the old fashioned way, with a war. A date was set. It was a chilly Wednesday night in October. The park was packed with grim-looking teenagers from the area. The Jousters were due to arrive at about 8:00.

We had any number of guys in our midst who could handle their fists quite well. All told, we had about 50 guys ready to rumble. We smoked and chattered nervously, waiting for the Jousters.

At eight sharp, a couple of cars full of Jousters squealed up in the front of the park. “Let’s fuck these guys up,” someone said.

My pal Whitey and I had felt obligated to join the local army, even though neither of us was particularly noted for toughness. We glanced at each other, a wordless reminder that we’d previously agreed to run around the periphery of action and do our level best to avoid inflicting or suffering any kind of pain.

The Jousters exited their cars and stood gazing at our little army for a brief moment. We had them outnumbered five to one. “This is gonna be sweet,” another guy said.

At that moment, one of the Jousters named Crate — a guy even Little Willie gave a wide berth to — reached under his long coat and pointed a sawed-off shotgun at us. None of us budged — not because we were brave and tough, but because we were petrified. Whitey and I were on the verge of tears.

Sawed-off Shotgun


Like that, Crate squeezed off several blasts. The 50 of us local guys turned and ran like deer when we saw the first flash from Crate’s shotgun. I clearly remember hearing the pellets screeching and clattering past me across the pavement as we ran. Judging by subsequent audible pops, several other Jousters had outed pistols and began firing.

Only later did I realize I was concerned about soiling my pants for a hot minute.

The Jousters beat it as soon as they heard police sirens. The cops, who’d been miffed the gang had settled in our neighborhood but seemed to tolerate their presence to that point, now decided to get rid of them. None of us ever saw Little Willie, Crate, and the others again.

But for a while afterward, I remained enthralled by that image of the Jousters, standing before us, confident that they possessed the means to make us run.

At the time, I was working in a hot dog stand owned by a minor Outfit figure. Let’s call him Pat. I also served for a brief period as a driver for him and his “boss,” “Mr. Martin,” an Outfit member of slightly higher standing than Pat. Whenever Pat or Mr. Martin needed to do some business down on the West Side or in Little Sicily, they’d call for me to drive them there in their Cadillacs and wait for them outside. “Keep your eyes open,” they’d advice me as they got out of the car.

I never knew what I was supposed to be on the lookout for.

Pat carried himself with a Mob mien that “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos” aficionados today deem cool. Pat never raised his voice. When he was mad, he wore The Look — his jaw set, his lips a line, and his eyes staring. You couldn’t read any emotion on his face. That’s what was terrifying about The Look.

Harry Aleman

Fabled Hitman Harry Aleman With “The Look”

Pat kept a small pistol in an ankle holster in the backroom of the hot dog stand. Every now and again, he’d hold it lovingly and warn me to be careful. “Don’t touch this unless you gotta,” he’d say. He never elaborated on when that would be.

As Pat came to trust me, he left me alone at the hot dog stand more often. I started formulating a plan to wear the pistol home after closing the place at night.

I wanted to feel invincible.

For a period of about two months, I’d strap the holster to my ankle and walk around the hot dog stand toward closing time, just to get the feel of it. I wore bell-bottom pants so the bulge wasn’t noticeable. I learned to position the holster just so, so that I wouldn’t brush against it with my other ankle as I strode.

I practiced standing with my leg propped up on a carton of soft drink cups so that the bottom tip of the holstered gun would be visible just beneath my pants leg. After all, what’s the point of carrying a gun if other people don’t know about it?

I couldn’t wait to summon the courage to wear it home and, naturally, to Amundsen Park. Who knows? Maybe there’d be a moment during the course of a typical evening of hanging out when I’d have to pull the pistol out, just to make a point.

Pistol & Ankle Holster

Then I’d be invincible.

Somehow, some way, the three of us — Pat, Mr. Martin, and I — all got into hot water with the cops at the same time. Pat’s and Mr. Martin’s photos ran in newspaper accounts of their troubles. Mine was kid’s stuff.

In any case, the hot dog stand was closed and I was out of a job. I never got a chance to wear that holstered pistol home or to the park.

I was lucky.

That BHSS kid who bragged about planning to shoot up the place tomorrow was lucky as well. And that middle school kid was lucky he never fired his BB gun in the Batchelor hallways.

I don’t know if these kids need psychiatric help, any more than I might have needed help when I was 16 and 17, just for wanting to carry a gun

Guns are awfully seductive, and insecure teenagers are primed to be seduced by them.

Rather than worry about putting kids who dig guns on a psychiatrist’s couch, we ought to consider treating the adults who manufacture these things by the millions in this holy land.

The Pencil Today:


“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.” — Eugene McCarthy


One more observation from the sad tale of Diane Singleton, who was found dead near a creek Monday evening after wandering away from home earlier in the day.

More than 100 people volunteered to search for her Monday. The volunteers included friends, family, her fellow church-goers, her husband’s co-workers and students, and many others. Once again, Bloomington-folk have proven themselves to be caring and willing to go out of their way for their brothers and sisters.

Searching (photo by Jeremy Hogan/Herald Times)

Which is in stark contrast to the likely reaction of people in my old hometown Chicago. Sure, the word would have gotten around and people would have shaken their heads and clucked their tongues upon learning of the woman’s disappearance. “That’s a horrible shame,” a typical Chicagoan would have said. “I wish I could do something to help. Say, let’s get over to the Purple Pig for dinner — I’m dying to taste those prosciutto escarole bread balls.”


A lesser human than I am would become frustrated.

Once again, the world is refusing to listen to me. I mean, I’ve got all the answers, which I gladly share with the Earth’s seven billion residents on a daily basis here.

See, I’ve harped on this too many times to count already. Still, people continue to waste their time and effort doing things that…, that…, well, that are stupid.

To wit: someone named Felicity Aston has become the first woman to ski solo across the Antarctic. I remind you that the Antarctic is more than a thousand miles wide. It is the world’s largest desert. Mean temperatures during the summer (it’s the equivalent of late July there right now) range from -5 to -31F.


Locations in Antarctica experience a phenomenon known as whiteout. Here’s a description from an Antarctica travel site (go figure): “”Whiteouts are another peculiar Antarctica condition, in which there are no shadows or contrasts between objects. A uniformly gray or white sky over a snow-covered surface can yield these whiteouts, which cause a loss of depth perception — for both humans and wildlife.”

Early explorers learned to keep an eye on their fellow travelers, looking for signs of disorientation due to hypothermia. People can literally go mad in the frigid air and the howling winds.

Bet you’re itching to click on that site so you can plan next January’s vacation, no?

It’s in this frozen hell that Felicity Aston decided to ski, alone, for 59 days, in order to get from one end of the continent to the other.

A continent, by the way, that’s fairly well mapped, considering there’s nothing there.

So Felicity Aston isn’t doing the world a favor by pushing into an unknown land, striving to discover new flora and fauna, hoping to learn something about the biome that might benefit civilization.

No. She skied 1,084 miles, dragging her supplies on a couple of sleds behind her because…, well, because.


NPR Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep interviewed her this morning as she waited for the last flight out of Antarctica before the weather turns bad (turns bad?) for the year. She spoke of days when she was unable even to see her feet because of the driving snow. She could only keep her head down and watch her compass as she schussed across the ice shelf on those days.

Inskeep asked her if she was happy to get back to base camp and interact with people again after nearly three months of solitude. She replied, unsurprisingly, no. She did say, though, that she had to remind herself not to pee wherever she felt like it, as she did during her journey.

Nice of her.

At the conclusion of the interview, Inskeep told her, “Congratulations.”

Lucky I wasn’t the interviewer. I would have told her, “So what?”


Mitch Daniels gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress last night.

When it comes time for the GOP to select a vice presidential candidate in August, the party could do a hell of a lot worse than Daniels. They probably will.



Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks, you know that David Baker celebrated his 80th birthday on December 21st.

The Indiana University and Bloomington communities have been toasting him since November. The Jacobs School of Music threw a gala birthday bash for him Saturday night at the Musical Arts Center. Speeches were made, Michael McRobbie presented Baker with the President’s Medal of Excellence, students and fellow faculty members serenaded him, a proclamation by Mayor Kruzan was read declaring January 21st David Baker Day in Bloomington, and the Jacobs School announced the establishment of the David Baker Jazz Scholarship.

Baker, natch, is a legend and one of the top people in his field in the world.

So, troublemaker that I am, I decided to check the Herald Times database of public employee salaries, just — you know — for kicks.

Baker, as near as I can determine, made nearly $147,000 as a professor in the jazz department at the Jacobs school last year.

Good. I’m glad he gets paid handsomely for his contributions to that peculiarly American art form. I hope that the residents of the planet Kepler 22b, when they finally translate our radio transmissions, hear some of Baker’s music. They’ll get a good first impression of our crazy, mixed up world.

And how crazy and mixed up is it?

IU football coach Kevin Wilson made half a mill last year for the singular accomplishment of leading the Hoosiers to a 1-11 record. Tom Crean, the basketball boss, made 600 Gs. Of course, Crean’s guys are a tad more adept than the gridders.

I’m just sayin’.


Miles Davis plays George Gershwin‘s tune from the opera, “Porgy and Bess.”

That’s all I need to say.

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