June 19, 2014

Vijay Iyer: Jazz in the 21st Century

Where is jazz headed in a new century? With the pianist Vijay Iyer as guide, newly tenured as a professor at Harvard, it tends toward the experimental, with drummers, young musicians and slam poets. If it doesn’t always swing, it’s surprising and takes you in new directions. Will jazz be forgotten or just re-shaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?
Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music & Beauty, Part I
Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music & Beauty, Part II
Robin Kelley's Transcendental Thelonious Monk
Miles Davis' Kind of Blue

Where is jazz headed in a new century? With the pianist Vijay Iyer as guide, newly tenured as a professor at Harvard, it tends toward the experimental, with drummers, young musicians and slam poets. If it doesn’t always swing, it’s surprising and takes you in new directions. Will jazz be forgotten or just re-shaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?

Here’s a short sample of the show. Vijay Iyer brings you inside the head of a jazz improviser and describes the expressive give and take conversation musicians are having with each other. Click on the black bar at the top of the page to listen to the whole show.



As you can see by this infographic from Google, jazz audiences have been shrinking since the 1960s, supplanted by rock mostly, so the question is: will jazz be forgotten or just reshaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?

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And here’s the playlist from the show:

Thank you to Michael Lutch for the photos above.

Podcast • June 17, 2014

Robin Kelley’s Transcendental Thelonious Monk

Robin Kelley‘s superb biography brings the Thelonious Monk story back from the ragged edge to the creative center of American music. And it brings my reading year to a blessedly loving, gorgeously swinging, dissonant, modernist, and utterly one-off climactic note. There may be another jazz ...

Robin

Robin Kelley‘s superb biography brings the Thelonious Monk story back from the ragged edge to the creative center of American music. And it brings my reading year to a blessedly loving, gorgeously swinging, dissonant, modernist, and utterly one-off climactic note. There may be another jazz biography as thickly detailed, as audibly lyrical, as passionate, as thrilling as this one, but I can’t bring it to mind.

There’s a vastly detailed, fresh take here on an immortal jazz pianist and composer whose life is often remembered as freakish, at best impossibly mysterious. Not that jazz players hadn’t known from the early 1940s that young Monk was a giant, and ever afterward that those odd, distinctive Monk tunes (nearly 100 of them) are the exotic orchid-like treasures of the American song book.

But this was a man who mumbled at the keyboard, got up and danced around it onstage, showed up late and sometimes disappeared; who did time for small drug offenses and famously lost his “cabaret card” required to play in New York jazz joints. This was a man who suffered bipolar disease and finally died in 1982 in the care of the same rich European lady who’d been Charlie Parker’s last refuge almost 30 years earlier. It is an impossibly eccentric story until Robin Kelley fills in the life of an unshakeably original musician, and with endless family detail paints a fresh picture of a consistently generous friend, a revered and attentive son, father and husband, in triumph and trouble.

In this telling Monk emerges as (not least) a heroic African-American Emersonian at the keyboard. Monk’s insistence that “the piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” resonates with Emerson’s war on conformity and consistency. Monk’s stubborn, self-sacrificing attachment to his own aesthetic summons up Emerson’s “trust thyself” wisdom, and his advice that “a man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within.” “To believe your own sound,” (paraphrasing “Self-Reliance”) “… that is genius.” Monk knew.

One of Robin Kelley’s many arguments with the received wisdom on Monk is that, though he was the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem after 1941, and a cornerstone of the regeneration of jazz at mid-century, he belongs to no genre, no “period.”

I kind of break with tradition: I don’t see him as part of the bebop movement. I see his harmonic ideas as being fundamental to so-called bebop, but he wasn’t really out of that. He spent more time in the early forties hanging out in these old piano parlors, at James P. Johnson’s house, with the great stride pianists up in Harlem at that time, Clarence Profit, Willie “The Lion” Smith… He learned piano from an African-American woman who lived in his neighborhood named Alberta Simmons. Nobody’d ever heard of her until my book. She was a fabulous stride pianist. She was part of the Clef Club. She knew Eubie Blake and Willie “The Lion” and all these cats. And so, he grew up playing that and maintaining the old stride piano style because of three things.

One, they believed in virtuosity, but virtuosity that is expressed through your individual expression, not just through speed. How could you take a tune that everybody plays, like “Tea for Two,” and really make it sound like you, like your inner soul.

Two, Monk learned from these guys all the tricks that became fundamental to his playing: the bent note, for example. We say “Monk was so amazing because he could bend notes.” Well, wait a second. Listen to James P. Johnson play Mule Walk. He’s bending notes. It’s all about that. Monk learned all that from those guys, the clashing, the minor seconds, they’re playing that stuff back in the twenties.

And then, you mention Monk’s mumbling. Well, Willie “The Lion” Smith said in his own memoir, “if a piano player’s not mumbling or growling, you ain’t doing anything.” That’s old school.

What Monk did was take the oldest, rooted tradition of the piano, in Harlem, New York, all over the country. And then he combined it with a future we have yet to achieve. It’s collapsing space and time. And his whole approach to the piano is one that brings past and present and future together in one. And he had never ever left his roots as a stride pianist — all the way to the very last tune he ever played.

Robin D. G. Kelley in conversation with Chris Lydon, December 18, 2009

June 13, 2014

China Rising

China is in its own gilded age, says The New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, into a second generation of ultra-modern tech, a still-developing country bristling with billionaires. On the eve of Chris' trip to China, we're wondering how a country with nearly a century of poverty, collectivism, and authoritarian rule adapts to its instant prosperity?
Evan Osnos on China's "Age of Ambition"
Sino-American Relations: An Interactive Timeline

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Guest List

China is in its own gilded age, says The New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, into a second generation of ultra-modern tech, a still-developing country bristling with billionaires. On the eve of Chris’ trip to China, we’re wondering how a country with nearly a century of poverty, collectivism, and authoritarian rule adapts to its explosive (and vastly unequal) wealth.

Podcast • June 5, 2014

How Would Burke Makeover the GOP?

Next time on Open Source, the conservative hero Edmund Burke, the 18th-century British statesman who befriended the American Revolution, hated the French version, loved liberty and hated violence, and believed that empires like his and ours must answer to the whole world. Move over, Bush and Boehner. What if Edmund Burke were leading our Republicans in 2014?

Edmund-Burke-portrait-006

Guest List

David Bromwich introduces us to the conservative hero Edmund Burke, the 18th-century British statesman who befriended the American Revolution, hated the French version, loved liberty and hated violence, and believed that empires like his and ours must answer to the whole world. Move over, Bush and Boehner. What if Edmund Burke were leading our Republicans in 2014?

Ever wondered how the political map of the United States has changed over the past 225 years. Here’s an interactive map showing the liberal-conservative spectrum of the first 112 Congresses.

 

Reading List 

• Adam Gopnik offers a smart survey of the many Burkes in The New Yorker (paywall);

• Robert Kagan, “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire”, from Foreign Policy, to be read against Professor Bromwich’s excellent essay, “Moral Imagination.”

• Yuval Levin, presented as a Burkean intellectual historian and the new Irving Kristol;

• Mike Lind on the coming realignment of the political tendencies in America, breaking along more traditional conservative lines.

May 29, 2014

Reading Chekhov

Our “Reading Chekhov” series culminates in a full hour on the Russian physician who spun the small happenings of old Russia into some of the most popular plays in the world and into stories that stay with us and feel new. We're talking through the dreams, the heartbreak, and the truth of the writers’ writer.
Reading Chekhov IV: "The Student"
Reading Chekhov V: "The Teacher of Literature"
From Andre to Anton: The Writer's Writer
Chekhov's World, In Pictures

chekhov

Our “Reading Chekhov” series culminates in a full hour on the Russian physician who spun the small happenings of old Russia into some of the most popular plays in the world and into stories that stay with us and feel new. Andre Dubus III, Maxim D. Shrayer and Rosamund Bartlett are taking us through the dreams, the heartbreak, and the truth of the writers’ writer.

Chekhov’s phrases, scenes and lines keep expanding when they’re spoken aloud. He has the further peculiar effect of inviting digressions as we go – conversations and asides about all manner of things, philosophical and emotional, and not at all specially Russian. For our podcast project “Reading Chekhov,” we’ve assembled actors and storytellers to bring these Russian classics to life.

Guest List

"The Cherry Orchard" performed for the first time at the Moscow Art Theatre, January 17, 1904

“The Cherry Orchard” performed first at the Moscow Art Theatre, January 17, 1904

More Reading

  • Ben Greenman’s provocative, funny ‘translation’ of Chekhov’s stories into the language and world of contemporary celebrity, called Celebrity Chekhov;
  • An interview with Rosamund Bartlett in Passport magazine on her biography of the man himself — she calls Chekhov “one of the few people you end up admiring more rather than less having probed the details of his life”;
  • Maxim Shrayer discusses Nabokov and Chekhov with Five Books:

Nabokov’s stories go back to Chekhov and Bunin and the great Russian love story, in which desire and memories interact, mostly in unhappy ways for the characters, but happily for the reader.

I think that in Anton Chekhov’s presence every one involuntarily felt in himself a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more one’s self…

May 22, 2014

The New U.

Continuing our series on higher ed, we're hacking our way to a better model; call it New U. There won't be a football team or a building and grounds department and maybe no president and no tenure. We might think of adjuncts with more power. We could surely MOOC up in order to spend way down and eliminate the frats, kegs, mixers and majors. Where would you start in reimagining the American university?
Where Does All That Money Go?
Derek Bok: The View from the Top
Sebastian Thrun: MOOCs, Angry Birds, and Lifelong Learning

University_of_the_People_Logo

Guest List

Continuing our series on higher ed, we’re hacking our way to a better model; call it New U. There won’t be a football team or a building and grounds department and maybe no president and no tenure. We might think of more adjuncts with more power. We could surely MOOC up in order to spend way down and eliminate the frats, kegs, mixers and majors. Where would you start in reimagining the American university?

Reading List

When you look at the national statistics on college graduation rates, there are two big trends that stand out right away. The first is that there are a whole lot of students who make it to college — who show up on campus and enroll in classes — but never get their degrees. More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.

The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.

Realistically, it will only take a drop in the bucket in relation to the billions floating within the higher education industry. To exemplify how insignificant the support needed to reach individuals currently priced out of education is, take the recently launched $6 billion fundraising campaign at the University of Southern California and divide by 1000; the average $300 million university endowment in the U.S. and divide by 50; or the interest Harvard earned every 10 hours last year. Either way, the solution is $6 million: a tiny price in the world of higher education but a number that has the capacity to educate the world over.

May 17, 2014

Where Does All That Money Go?

College tuition is rising faster than medical costs, inflation, and certainly the income of 99% of Americans. Four years at a private university now costs as much as a new Ferrari, and a student at a public university can expect to graduate $25,000 in debt. But does anyone know where all that money is going?

By Kunal Jasty

College tuition is rising faster than medical costs, inflation, and certainly the income of 99% of Americans. Four years at a private university now costs as much as a new Ferrari, and a student at a public university can expect to graduate $25,000 in debt. But does anyone know where colleges are spending all their money?

Glossary

Academic Support – Academic administrators, academic deans, libraries.

Instruction – “General academic instruction, occupational and vocational instruction, community education, preparatory and adult basic education, and regular, special, and extension sessions.”

Research – Funding for research institutes, laboratories, and individual research.

Public Service – “Activities established primarily to provide noninstructional services beneficial to individuals and groups external to the institution. Examples are conferences, institutes, general advisory service, reference bureaus.”

Student Services – Admissions, registrars, student activities and organizations, student counseling.

Institutional Support – General administration and management, legal operations, fiscal operations, logistical expenses, public relations.

Operations and Maintenance – Utilities, insurance, maintaining campus buildings and grounds.

Depreciation – Losses in capital assets per year.

Scholarships and Fellowships – Grants, stipends, awards.

Auxiliary Enterprises Expenses – Residence halls, dining services, student health services, athletics, faculty housing.

Hospital Services – All expenses at a university affiliated hospital.

Independent Operations – Expenses “unrelated to the primary missions of the institution (i.e., instruction, research, public service) although they may contribute indirectly to the enhancement of these programs.”

Other expenses – “The amount of money (estimated by the financial aid office) needed by a student to cover expenses such as laundry, transportation, and entertainment.”

Net grant aid to students – The difference in the money a school receives in tuition, fees, room and board, and the amount of scholarships and fellowships it awards.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS glossary. Data from NCES.

May 15, 2014

Chasing the Dream: Arts School

Show biz is center stage next in our higher ed series: Two venerable private art schools in Boston's Back Bay—Emerson College and the Berklee College of Music—are booming, if you can believe your eyes. Both have built major gleaming signature buildings in the Back Bay. Emerson has a satellite campus in Hollywood. Berklee is teaching in China and has a campus in Valencia. More students are chasing the dream and mastering a craft, under a load of debt, with maybe fewer job prospects. Where's the line between chasing a dream and betting on a bubble?
Dealing in Dreams
Chris Cooper & Marianne Leone: Becoming Actors
Art-School Advice: To Go or Not To Go?

isep-berklee-valencia-campus-night_1_0

Guest List

• Roger Brown, president of Berklee College of Music.

• Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College.

• Chris Cooper & Marianne Leone Cooper, local stars: he an Academy Award winner, she a Sopranos regular and memoirist.

Show biz is center stage next in our higher ed series: Two venerable private art schools in Boston’s Back Bay — Emerson College and the Berklee College of Music — are booming, if you can believe your eyes. Both have built major gleaming signature buildings close to downtown. Emerson has a satellite campus in Hollywood. Berklee is teaching in China and has a campus in Valencia. More students are chasing the dream and mastering a craft, under a load of debt, with maybe fewer job prospects. But where’s the line between chasing a dream and betting on a bubble?

Harvard’s Helen Vendler, the preeminent poetry critic, is pushing the arts, period. At Harvard and everywhere, she wants to advise admissions officers about the value of creative talent. Would T. S. Eliot, Buckminster Fuller, Matt Damon, and Adrienne Rich have a tough time getting into Harvard today, as in fact they did back in the day? Today, Vendler says, “We need to mute our praise for achievement and leadership at least to the extent that we utter equal praise for inner happiness, reflectiveness, and creativity; and we need to invent ways in which our humanities students are actively recruited for jobs suited to their talents and desires.”

Who’s dreaming here? There’s a reason so many students chase finance: it pays, and many young people leave school in serious debt. At what cost to the students? And to expressive arts? And to our national culture and our reputation?

This week our reading list takes the form of advice from the artists, and a provocative speech from our guest, Lee Pelton, “Can Higher Ed Save Itself?

Below, Duke Ellington and Herb Pomeroy at Berklee College of Music in 1957.

HPDuke-banner

May 8, 2014

Who Needs College Anyway?

On the way to commencement season, what’s college really good for, if the cost is out of sight, and your degree doesn’t point you to a job; if there’s too much drinking, cheating and grade inflation; if it’s not safe enough for women; what if the whole bloated model is outdated in a digital age? Who’s got a better idea? Schools are almost out, but will they still be there in September?
Higher Ed By The Numbers
What's the Matter With College?

Guest List

Liz McMillen, editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Joseph Moore, president of Lesley University

Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor at the University of Virginia and cultural historian

Thomas Frank, founding editor of The Baffler.

On the way to commencement season, what’s college really good for, if the cost is out of sight, and your degree doesn’t point you to a job; if there’s too much drinking, cheating and grade inflation; if it’s not safe enough for women. What if the whole bloated model is outdated in a digital age? Who’s got a better idea? Schools are almost out; will they still be there in September?

Reading List

• Liz McMillen’s talk, “What is College For, Anyway?” tells you the signal changes in the college experience over a generation;

• In a New York Times blog, Suzanne Mettler argues that college is not leveling the playing field, it’s doing the opposite;

• Thomas Frank’s essay from The Baffler, “Academy Fight Song;”

• Siva’s blog post, “Going Public the UVa Way;”

…We must stop using business language to describe universities. It’s not only misguided and inaccurate, but it also sets up bad incentives and standards. The University of Virginia is a wealthy and stable institution, a collection of public services, a space for thought and research, a living museum, a public forum, a stage for athletics competition, and an incubator of dreams and careers. But it’s not a firm, so it’s certainly not a “brand.”

…and the case he makes in Bookforum for “academic calling in a neoliberal age”;

• Clay Shirky on the coming money crunch in higher ed;

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

• We’re also reading two public worries about the university from two different sides of the conversation. The first is Noam Chomsky’s recent talk, “The Death of American Universities,” published at Jacobin. Chomsky sees universities caught in a corporate drift; he wants us to double back in search of the old Enlightenment idea of  learning. Education’s not filling a vessel, but

…laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure… But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education.

• David Brooks wrote about Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova meeting in Berlin in his column “Love Story.” Two thinkers meet, turn over the canons in their heads and recognize each other. The story ends with Berlin collapsing, lovestruck, on his bed back at home.

I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.

Does this sound nostalgic, or are minds meeting in this way on American campuses? What do you think? Leave a comment or send us a message.

April 17, 2014

What Do We Make of The Big Bang?

In the beginning was the Bang. We’ve got visible proof of it now, thanks to blockbuster discoveries made at Harvard and predicted at MIT. But are our heads too cluttered with creation myths to come to grips with the beginning of everything? So we're clearing the deck to listen to wisdom of the physicists: where did we come from, what are we made of, what happens next, and why? And what do we do with what we're learning?

Antarctica: South Pole Telescope

Guest List

Prof. Alan Guth, the theoretical physicist at MIT who predicted cosmic inflation more than thirty years ago;
Prof. Max Tegmark, at MIT, the specialist on the cosmic microwave background;
Prof. Robert Kirshner, the observer-physicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Clowes Professor of Science.

 

In the beginning was the Bang. We’ve got visible proof of it now, thanks to blockbuster discoveries made at Harvard and predicted at MIT. But are our heads too cluttered with creation myths, and the matters of the day, to come to grips with the beginning of everything? We’re clearing our heads to listen to the wisdom of the physicists, in their words and images, to get to the bottom of some pretty basic questions.

Our “Top Ten” Questions:

1. Where did it all come from?
2. Where is it going?
3. What is it made of?
4. What is driving it all?
5. How big is it?
6. How will it all end?
7. What is real?
8. How do we know?
9. Where do we come into it?
10. Is there any meaning to it?

guth

A page from Alan Guth’s 1979 notebook, in which he theorizes cosmic inflation