Every day in New Orleans, Lily Keber rolls out of bed and walks to a flat, minor office building to meet her muse. Keber makes a cup of coffee with chicory, hooks up her computer and waits for what sounds like a dozen spiders to crawl across a piano.
Keber is making Bayou Maharajah, a documentary about James Booker: the Piano Prince of New Orleans; the black, gay, one-eyed junkie; the tutor of Dr. John and Harry Connick Jr.; the man who first called his fingers “spiders on the keys.”
“James Booker was one of our country’s greatest piano players,” Keber says. “You can find musicians who are good at classical. And you can find musicians who are good at street music. But it’s a special breed who can master both.”
A classical-music prodigy as a child, Booker grew up to originate a style of piano playing that few can emulate. Everything from his delivery of Chopin‘s “Minute Waltz” to his rendition of “Black Night” highlighted his talent: spiders on the keys, heart on his sleeve.
But in a town where soul queen Irma Thomas stands next to you at the dry cleaner and Dr. John turns up at the grocery store, people often take their musical legends for granted. Sometimes it takes an outsider like Lily Keber to remind everyone that genius is rare. Keber was born in North Carolina and schooled in Georgia. She moved to New Orleans just a few years ago.
“I knew Dr. John, I knew Irma Thomas, I knew The Meters. I knew the big names. And I didn’t know James Booker at all. I had never heard the name,” Keber says. “So when it eventually started to dawn on me that he was a real guy and he really did play this amazing music that’s coming out of the jukebox, that sort of floored me.”
Filmmaker Lily Keber with the poster for her upcoming documentary, Bayou Maharajah.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to Keber’s project is that James Booker is unavailable for comment. He died almost 30 years ago, before Keber was born.
“Many people have described him as a great conversationalist. And he loved people,” Keber says. “But then, if I ask them, ‘What was his family like?’ they don’t know anything. ‘How did he learn how to play piano?’ They don’t know anything. He could talk about anything in the world, except himself.”
Donovan performs on Ready Steady Go! in 1965.
Although much has been said about the way British bands invaded America during the ’60s, the original invasion was the other way around. The seeds of a cultural revolution were shipped to Great Britain from America in the form of records by country, R&B and blues performers such as Slim Harpo.
Another kind of music grabbed the ear of Donovan Leitch, whose family had migrated to London from Scotland and settled in the city’s northern suburbs. He says he was mad for jazz.
“It was the drums that I picked up first, and Gene Krupa at Carnegie Hall,” Donovan says. “I thought I’d be Art Blakey.”
For these hip, young fans of blues and modern jazz, the music was just part of a larger cultural movement that had its own style, which included tailor-made suits, fancy leather boots and motor scooters. They liked to think of themselves as “modernists,” or Mods. British writer John Pidgeon says that the most mod of the Mods — the real trendsetters — were known as “faces.”
“They were the kind of people you’d look at and go, ‘Oh, I wish I looked as cool as that person,’ ” Pidgeon says.
Earl Scruggs performs in Nashville, Tenn. in 2002.
The banjo player Earl Scruggs died Wednesday morning. A member of Bill Monroe‘s Blue Grass Boys and later a leader of Flatt & Scruggs with guitarist Lester Flatt, Scruggs helped define the sound of bluegrass. He died of natural causes in a Nashville hospital, according to his son. He was 88 years old.
Scruggs was famed for his three-finger picking technique, which revolutionized banjo playing and even took on his name: Scruggs style. Scruggs’ 1949 instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” won a Grammy award twice — once in 1968 after it appeared in the film Bonnie and Clyde, and again in 2001 for a recording that featured many celebrity guests. His picking was also featured on “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies TV show.
Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his career documenting folk music traditions from around the world. Now thousands of the songs and interviews he recorded are available for free online, many for the first time. It’s part of what Lomax envisioned for the collection — long before the age of the Internet.
Lomax recorded a staggering amount of folk music. He worked from the 1930s to the ’90s, and traveled from the Deep South to the mountains of West Virginia, all the way to Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. When it came time to bring all of those hours of sound into the digital era, the people in charge of the Lomax archive weren’t quite sure how to tackle the problem.
“We err on the side of doing the maximum amount possible,” says Don Fleming, executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity, the nonprofit organization Lomax founded in New York in the ’80s. Fleming and a small staff made up mostly of volunteers have digitized and posted some 17,000 sound recordings.
“For the first time, everything that we’ve digitized of Alan’s field recording trips are online, on our website,” says Fleming. “It’s every take, all the way through. False takes, interviews, music.”
“Alan would have been thrilled to death. He would’ve just been so excited,” says Anna Lomax Wood, Lomax’s daughter and president of the Association for Cultural Equity. “He would try everything. Alan was a person who looked to all the gambits you could. But the goal was always the same.” READ/LISTEN
For nearly six decades a Cézanne watercolor depicting Paulin Paulet, a gardener on the artist’s family estate near Aix-en-Provence, was familiar to scholars only as a black-and-white photograph. No one knew if the actual work, a study for Cézanne’s celebrated “Card Players” paintings, still existed and, if it did, who owned it.
But the watercolor recently surfaced in the home of a Dallas collector and is now heading to auction at Christie’s in New York on May 1, officials at the company said on Monday. It is estimated to sell for $15 million to $20 million.
Cézanne’s images of workers on his family farm — pipe-smoking men sitting around a table, their expressions dour, their dress drab, absorbed in a game of cards — are among his most recognizable works. Some are pictured alone; others are shown in groups of two or more. Paulet is the only one of the figures to appear in all five paintings in the “Card Players” series. READ MORE….
Some political analysts say truly independent voters account for just 10 percent to 15 percent of the electorate.
Lester Wilson doesn’t think of himself as a Republican or a Democrat. He’s not a card-carrying Libertarian or Green, either.
The one group he does belong to is the 40 percent of Americans who identify as independents — a group now larger than any single political party, according to a recent Gallup survey.
40% Of Americans Identify As Independents
But exactly how independent are the self-styled independents? READ ON…
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — All over the world cultural organizations are tightening their budgets and paring back productions. But Danilo Miranda faces a different challenge, one that makes him the envy of his peers. As the director of the leading arts financing entity in Brazil, his budget is growing by 10 percent or more annually, and he must figure out ways to spend that bounty, which amounts to $600 million a year.
Standing at the window of his office here one afternoon late last year, Mr. Miranda pointed to one of his group’s most ambitious initiatives. In the courtyard below, the avant-garde French troupe Théâtre du Soleil, based in Paris and led by Ariane Mnouchkine, was erecting a giant tent where it would begin a tour of Brazil.
Mr. Miranda’s organization, SESC, a Portuguese acronym for Social Service of Commerce, is also strengthening ties with American artists. It sponsors a jazz festival in conjunction with Nublu, the New York record label; has signed an “institutional partnership” with the Spanish-language TeatroStageFest company; and has presented work by David Byrne, the salsa drummer Bobby Sanabria and Robert Wilson. Mr. Wilson, a director whose works include the operas “Einstein on the Beach” and “the CIVIL warS,” is discussing a long-term collaboration with SESC, as is the Globalfest showcase of world music held in New York every January.
“Our fundamental guiding principle is to use culture as a tool for education and transformation, to improve people’s lives, and we’re in a position to fulfill that mission, thank God,” Mr. Miranda said. “Over the last decade our budget has been doubling every six years or so. It’s incredible, no?”
SESC owes its enviable position largely to a financing model that its leaders believe is unique in the world. A private, nonprofit entity whose role is enshrined in the national Constitution, the organization derives its budget from a 1.5 percent payroll tax imposed on and collected by Brazilian companies, so as the workforce in this nation of nearly 200 million people expands, so does the organization’s budget. READ MORE…
“Listen with regard when others talk. Give your time and energy to others; let others have their way; do things for reasons other than furthering your own needs.”
Hanoi, Hue, Danang and Saigon, were city names that were stamped on the American psyche a half-century ago, when the U.S. waged war in Vietnam. The once war-torn, Southeast Asian nation has made great strides to leave its troubled past behind. LISTEN………
My name is Dax. I am a poetic soul and for this week’s Pet Colum I decided to share a Haiku that I have always enjoyed. It makes light of our (dogs) occasional unpleasantries and highlights are positive qualities – the ones that make the unpleasant ones easily bearable. I added the end part – hope you like it.
I lie belly-up
In the sunshine, happier than
You ever will be.
Today I sniffed
Many dog behinds – I celebrate
By kissing your face.
For many people, computers have all but eliminated the need for paper file storage. The Dyvel Table by Silva/Bradshaw does away with drawers altogether. More Photos »
PHILIPPE STARCK was in town last week, ostensibly to introduce the Zik wireless headphones he designed for the French company Parrot. But Mr. Starck, who had just flown in from Paris, seemed more interested in holding forth on the future of design.
“What’s the future of design?” he asked rhetorically. “There is no future. When the product becomes bionic, in the end there is no product.”
The digital age, Mr. Starck said, has created a process of “dematerialization,” in which products like the Zik headphones are simultaneously shrinking and becoming smarter. “It’s the elegance of the minimum,” he said.
The end result? Eventually, he announced, we’ll all be implanted with microchips, and we’ll be the product.
Of course, that could take a while. As technology rapidly remakes most parts of our lives, the furniture industry remains largely slow-moving and low-tech. For many retailers, midcentury furniture designed 60 years ago still qualifies as “modern.”
Even so, in recent years a number of furniture designers have been struggling to adapt — in ways big and small, subtle and not so subtle — to new forms of technology and the proliferation of devices like the iPad, e-readers and ever-thinner flat-screen TVs.
In a way, they have no choice.
“The rate of technological change has gotten so fast that we need to inform the design to reflect it,” said Ryan Anderson, director of future technology for Herman Miller.
Pinon pine trees like this one dominate Rattlesnake Canyon.
Researchers haven’t given much thought to the effect of noise and noise pollution on plants. After all, plants don’t have ears — at least, not the kind you hear with — so there doesn’t seem to be much point. But thanks to ecologist Clinton Francis, that could be about to change.
Francis is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina. But he has spent the past few years in northwestern New Mexico, studying noise pollution in Rattlesnake Canyon.
Gnarled juniper trees and pinon pines dominate the canyon’s landscape of high mesas and rough sandstone cliffs. Tucked in among the trees are thousands of natural gas wells, about a third of them pressurized by ear-splitting compressors.
“They run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the exception of periodic maintenance,” Francis says, “so they are going all the time.”
Since 2005, he has been studying how Rattlesnake Canyon’s birds respond to the compressors’ nonstop racket. And it looks like the noise is having an effect. READ OR LISTEN TO THE STORY…..
The new compilation Echoes of Indiana Avenue collects rare early recordings by jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery.
When legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery died in 1968, the list of his recordings filled an entire page — single-spaced. Now, more space is needed, because a significant new collection of previously unreleased Wes Montgomery music is out this month on a new compilation, Echoes of Indiana Avenue.
The album features the earliest recordings of a jazz musician who became a pop star. Montgomery created hit recordings of “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “Windy,” and “California Dreamin’” — but hetook grief from jazz critics who thought he had tamped down his immense talent as an improviser to reach a mass audience.
On Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR editor and guitar aficionado Tom Cole speaks with Susan Stamberg about how Montgomery’s performance onEchoes of Indiana Avenue fits in the context of his iconic career. LISTEN……
I’m riding in the backseat of a vintage 1948 Buick RoadMaster running late for a flight at the Santiago airport. My head rings with a Pisco buzz, the result of a four hour lunch at the El Perón with an old friend. We reviewed lies and good times that we’ve shared while skiing the Rockies and Andes and in other adventures. In my mind I compare the old ride, belching out fumes and rattling down the highway to my old friend, Señor Tim Lane. Both genuine, classic originals…..
Our collective mental image of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has been informed, mostly, by the vibrant self-portraits she paintedover the years. But she also had a collection of photographs — about 6,500 of them — that were held privately for decades after her death at the request of her husband, Diego Rivera.
Photography was in Kahlo’s blood. Her father, Guillermo, a German immigrant, made his living as a photographer, which he learned from his father. And one recurring motif in Frida’s family photos are Guillermo’s photographic self-portraits.
That’s one thing, says Connolly, that might illuminate Kahlo’s work — or at least her fascination with the self-portrait: Perhaps she was channeling her father.
Though only a few of the photos in the exhibit are credited to Kahlo herself, it’s clear that she sustained an interest in the medium. Many of the visual artists in Kahlo’s circle were prominent photographers like Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Tina Modotti; some of their photos are found in her collection.
Above all, Connolly emphasizes that it’s just fun. “It’s fun to see snapshots of these people just living their lives,” she says. “It’s a window into her life.” A candid, sometimes humorous, portrait we haven’t seen until recently.
Why Arlington, Va., of all places? Turns out that’s the sister city to Coyoacan, Mexico, where the exhibit originated at the Museo Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo: Her Photos was curated and based on the book by contemporary Mexican photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, who, in turn, has photos in an exhibition in San Francisco.
The Washington Post has more.
SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.
They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.
What makes people creative? What gives some of us the ability to create work that captivates the eyes, minds and hearts of others? Jonah Lehrer, a writer specializing in neuroscience, addresses that question in his new book,Imagine: How Creativity Works.
Lehrer defines creativity broadly, considering everything from the invention of masking tape to breakthroughs in mathematics; from memorable ad campaigns to Shakespearean tragedies. He finds that the conditions that favor creativity — our brains, our times, our buildings, our cities — are equally broad.
Lehrer joins NPR’s Robert Siegel to talk about the creative process — where great ideas come from, how to foster them, and what to do when you inevitably get stuck. READ MORE OR LISTEN…….
On a road trip in SW Colorado the other day and picked up a fellow traveler. Name is Django, just like the gypsy jazz guitarist. Guess he’ll be a roomie if we all get along.
Madrigal is in a filmmaker’s home in Havana.
ON a mild January night, the unlighted street in the artsy Havana neighborhood of Vedado was quiet and filled with shadows. But as my companions and I climbed the steps of Le Chansonnier, the glow of chandeliers gleamed invitingly through the wrought-iron windows, and a low burble of music drifted onto the street.
Inside, we sipped tangy mojitos in the bar before settling down to a dinner of spicy crab and tender pork loin with eggplant, in a dining room whose simple banquettes and white tablecloths struck a chic balance with the soaring archways and molded ceiling.
This may not sound like a typical Cuban dining scene, and in many ways, it’s not. Decades of Communist rule have produced a host of state-run restaurants where, all too often, tourists struggle with leathery pork chops and try in vain to catch the attention of a surly waiter.
But a new crop of privately owned restaurants, known here as paladares, is bringing a dash of style — not to mention enticing food — to Havana’s normally lackluster dining scene. READ MORE….
Moot Davis’ new album is Man about Town.
Though guitarist Moot Davis grew up a New Jersey rocker, he had an appreciation for country music thanks to his West Virginian parents. But it wasn’t until he saw a certain cola commercial that he really turned a corner.
“It was either Coke or Pepsi,” Davis recalls. “Basically, the delivery man is wheeling a soft drink into a store, and as he’s putting in his product, he sees the opposing product, and goes and grabs one to have a drink of it. And then, ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ by Hank Williams starts playing. It just mesmerized me — it changed everything.”
Davis plays rockabilly, honky-tonk and what some critics have called “thinking man’s country” on his new album Man About Town. He discusses it with NPR’s Jacki Lyden and performs two songs. LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW..
Another very warm, sunny day (Friday) with variable high clouds and light backing SW winds. We’ll see a warm night with increasing SSW winds (110 knot jet) Saturday in advance of a large low pressure trough moving down the coast from the Pacific NW. The deepening trough is in response to a strong Jet pushing in from the Gulf of Alaska combining with a strong surface cold front. The winds first move into Utah/Arizona then western Colorado bringing more red dust (ooohh) ahead of the storm.
The trough has plenty of Pacific moisture and instability so spring thunderstorms should be present on Sunday when the front collides with the unstable air mass by mid-day. The southern San Juans will receive the brunt of the storm with snow levels dropping into the valleys by Sunday evening. Models in fair agreement producing 15 to 20 inches of snow above 11,000′ on favored SSW slopes by Sunday evening. Looks like a nice March storm.
Unsettled weather through Monday evening then a warm-up beginning Tuesday with a high pressure ridge building overhead.
When Greg Smith quit his job at Goldman Sachs, he slammed his former employer in a blistering newspaper essay. People don’t often quit with such a public display of vitriol. But when they do, it certainly gets attention. LISTEN TO THE STORY
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Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. The 150-year-old document has suffered damage from handling and light deterioration. You can learn more and get a closer look at the five-page proclamation at the National Archives website.
One hundred fifty years ago, in the summer of 1862, the Civil War was raging and President Abraham Lincoln was starting to scribble away at a document, an ultimatum to the rebellious states: Return to the Union, or your slaves will be freed.
Emancipation was a “military necessity,” the president later confided to his Cabinet. Lincoln called it “absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves,” Lincoln said, “or be ourselves subdued.”
“He knew that emancipation would start the tidal wave of freedom and that it was irreversible once it started,” says Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, “but he also knew that more work would be required.”
Holzer offers a rethinking of the Emancipation Proclamation in his new book, Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory. It’s his 42nd book on Lincoln and the Civil War.
Though revisionist critics now say the proclamation was weak — “delayed, insufficient, and insincere” — Holzer disagrees. He says Lincoln very carefully calibrated the timing and delivery of this act. READ/LISTEN TO MORE