Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jazz Great Freddie Hubbard Dead At 70

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Freddie Hubbard, the Grammy-winning jazz musician whose style influenced a generation of trumpet players and who collaborated with such greats as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, died Monday, a month after suffering a heart attack. He was 70.

Hubbard died at Sherman Oaks Hospital, said his manager, fellow trumpeter David Weiss of the New Jazz Composers Octet. He had been hospitalized since suffering the heart attack a day before Thanksgiving.

A towering figure in jazz circles, Hubbard played on hundreds of recordings in a career dating to 1958, the year he arrived in New York from his hometown Indianapolis, where he had studied at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music and with the Indianapolis Symphony.

Soon he had hooked up with such jazz legends as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane.

"I met Trane at a jam session at Count Basie's in Harlem in 1958," he told the jazz magazine Down Beat in 1995. "He said, `Why don't you come over and let's try and practice a little bit together.' I almost went crazy. I mean, here is a 20-year-old kid practicing with John Coltrane. He helped me out a lot, and we worked several jobs together."

In his earliest recordings, which included "Open Sesame" and "Goin' Up" for Blue Note in 1960, the influence of Davis and others on Hubbard is obvious, Weiss said. But within a couple years he would develop a style all his own, one that would influence generations of musicians, including Wynton Marsalis.

"He influenced all the trumpet players that came after him," Marsalis told The Associated Press earlier this year. "Certainly I listened to him a lot. ... We all listened to him. He has a big sound and a great sense of rhythm and time and really the hallmark of his playing is an exuberance. His playing is exuberant."

Hubbard played on more than 300 recordings, including his own albums and those of scores of other artists. He won his Grammy in 1972 for best jazz performance by a group for the album "First Light."

As a young musician, Hubbard became revered among his peers for a fiery, blazing style that allowed him to hit notes higher and faster than just about anyone else with a horn. As age and infirmity began to slow that style, he switched to a softer, melodic style and played a flugelhorn. His fellow musicians were still impressed.

"The sound he gets on just one note. I know he does all the flashy stuff and the high stuff and it's all great but ... he'd play `Body and Soul' on the flugelhorn and it was just that much better again than everyone around him," trumpeter Chris Botti said in an interview earlier this year.

I Remember Clifford - 1984

Body and Soul

Friday, December 26, 2008


SISTER Gail, the most meditative prep cook I've ever seen, sister Mwandishi, her husband and son, Vincents both, joined us for Christmas dinner. We had butternut squash soup, stuffed mushrooms, herb and garlic crusted prime rib, cranberry glazed turkey, butter poached lobster with wine drunk leeks, stuffed peppers, stuffed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, cranberry relish, homemade rolls, sweet potato pie, sweet potato pecan pie, mixed berry cobbler, and a caramel pound cake that created so much drama in the baking, I thought for sure it would be ruined.

I need not have worried. Mwandishi reminded me that Granddad, my biological grandfather whom I never met, had a love affair with caramel cake. Once, back when I first found them, Granddad sat in the passenger seat of my car looking out into the dark night as I drove from Portland to Boston. Perhaps he was making his presence known when that cake was overflowing in the oven, smoking up the kitchen like a barbecue pit.

After we could finally pull ourselves up from the table, stuffed as the stuffed vegetables, we opened gifts. My nephew was the star of the show. Of course.

The weather outside was blustery but mild. Most of the snow from the big storm days before melted. Inside, the wood burning stove blazed. The aroma of cinnamon and garlic and baking yeast mixed with the music of Yuletide as Nat King Cole crooned about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Growing up, it wasn't until Daddy piped in the great singer's voice from his basement barroom did Christmas officially come to pass in our home.

I miss Daddy terribly. Wanted to call him up to hear him tell me what he he had cooked for the day, but his spirit was all over the place. Looking in the cupboard for something else, I found his Pabst BlueRibbon mug and placed it at the head of the table. Job fought off tears. Mama said she could hardly get out of bed Christmas morning. Spent most of the day at my godmother's and was in good spirits when she got home. Gina was sick as a dog. Most she could do was drop some peel and eat shrimp in a Zatarain's boil like he used to do and call it a (holi)day.

It's only the second Christmas without him. More emotional even than the first.

We carry on.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

President Obama Says Goodbye To His Beloved Grandmother

HONOLULU (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama paid his last respects on Tuesday to the woman he called the rock of his family, the grandmother who helped to raise him, before scattering her ashes from a Hawaiian shoreline.

Madelyn Dunham, known to Obama as Toot, short for Tutu, the Hawaiian word for grandmother, took him in when his mother went to work in Indonesia and put him through private school.

Dunham was one of the main formative influences on Obama's life but she did not live to see him win office. She died of cancer at 86 just two days before he won the November 4 election.

The demands of the presidential campaign meant Obama was unable to fly to Hawaii for her funeral. But on Tuesday, he finally bade her farewell at a memorial service attended by friends and family, including his wife Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha, and half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Obama is in Hawaii for a two-week Christmas holiday before he resumes his preparations to take office as president on January 20.

Media were kept away from the First Unitarian Church in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. After the service, Obama and about a dozen others traveled to Lanai Lookout on the southeast corner of Oahu, scrambling over a wall and down to the rocky shoreline to scatter his grandmother's ashes.

It was the same place where Obama had scattered his mother's ashes after her death more than a decade ago.

Obama's sister said in a statement earlier that the memorial service would allow him to "grieve and emotionally process" the loss of the woman he called the rock of his family and whose name he frequently invoked on the campaign trail.

"She proved to be a trailblazer of sorts," Obama wrote in "Dreams from My Father," his best-selling memoir, saying his grandmother was "the first woman vice-president of a local bank" after starting out as a secretary to help pay the costs of his unexpected birth.

Obama last saw her in October, when he abruptly left the campaign trail and flew to her bedside, saying he did not want to repeat the mistake he made with his mother, who died of cancer in 1995 before he was able to see her.

In interviews and speeches, Obama has attributed many character attributes to his grandmother, who raised him in the absence of his traveling mother and his father, who lived in Kenya.

"She's the one who taught me about hard work," Obama told a packed stadium in Denver in August when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination.

"She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life."

At an election rally on November 3, the day after her death and the day before his election as president, Obama gave his grandmother a poignant epitaph.

"She was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America," he said.

"They're not famous. Their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard. They aren't seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing."

(Reporting by Mike Gordon, writing by Ross Colvin, editing by Anthony Boadle)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Rick Warren Delivering the Inauguration Invocation

I DON'T like Warren one bit. But I'm not bent out of shape over his inclusion on the program. He's not going to be a cabinet secretary. He's going to deliver a prayer. Barack is doing what he said he was going to do and while I understand some of the outrage, much more of it annoys me in its self-indulgence. GLBT people are hurt by what happened with Prop 8 in California on election day. I get that. But Barack, who was against the referendum, is telling the religious right that he's still willing to listen to them. They are, after all, still part of America. As my mother, who's an evangelical and doesn't "believe in gay marriage" but participated in my wedding anyway, is wont to say, "How can you expect anybody to listen to you if you don't listen to nobody else?"

On divisive social issues, there must be civil engagement between the extremes. Otherwise nothing will change.

Rev. Joseph Lowery is delivering the benediction. He happens to be a Black minister who is pro-gay. I'm not surprised that those so outraged by Warren say nothing of Lowery.

Quiet as it's kept, many white gay activist leaders flatout refuse to look at some of their biases around race and ethnicity.

Comments of Jill Christine Duson, President, Maine Electoral College

December 15, 2008 Augusta, Maine

We meet today to make official, the outcome of the general election held on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008.

We electors, two selected by the statewide popular vote and two selected by the popular vote in each Congressional district, gather here today to cast Maine’s official public ballots for President-Elect Barack Obama and Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden.

We members of the 2008 Maine Electoral College, thank you Madame President, Madame Speaker, Madame Chief Justice and assembled guests for your attendance here today to bear witness as we conduct this momentous task.

I thank my fellow electors for permitting me the privilege and honor of presiding over this historic gathering.

In the words of the first African American to give a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention: “Now that I have this grand distinction what in the world am I supposed to say?”, questioned Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan at that 1976 gathering.

I am Jill Christine Duson, a descendant of Moses Duson, husband, father and a slave on the Jones Plantation near Culpepper, Va.

Born in 1953 in Chester, Pa., I attended segregated schools until a court order required a group of 5th graders to be bussed across town to the white schools.

No one would have predicted this day, for the third of five children of a divorced mom struggling to raise a family on welfare. And now here in the Chamber of the House of Representatives of the State I have called home for 25 years, what am I supposed to say?

Zachary Walker, was the last Pennsylvanian to be murdered by a lynch mob. Next year on the 100th anniversary of his death, a marker will be placed at the site where my great grandmother’s brother was dragged and tied and set afire in full view of the citizens of his community.

Who could have predicted that his great niece would serve as the first Black Mayor of the largest city in the whitest state in America.

“What in the world am I supposed to say ? …? ”


I am STAGGERED by outcome of the 2008 election. I am STUNNED by the overwhelming nationwide success of Barack Obama. I am UNDONE by the margin of his victory here in Maine.

We are here today to ratify that outcome, a victory for Maine, and a victory for our uniquely American democracy. And, a victory that is about so much more then Barack Obama and Joseph Biden.

Congresswoman Jordan said: “The American dream is not dead. It is gasping for breath, but it is not dead.”

With this election, some 30 years later, we drew a deep bracing lungful of air into our democracy. And, if the America that Barack Obama speaks about is a fairy tale, it is a fairy tale built on the hopes and dreams of those who crafted this democracy; it is a fairy tale that many of us believe in.

Just like Mainers all across this state, we electors made this campaign of hope our own. Just like Mainers all across this state, we fully engaged in the work of breathing new life into this democracy. With this election, we take a leap of faith not in a single messianic individual who we hope will deliver us. We take a leap of faith in ourselves and in our neighbors and together we take collective responsibility for our government.

The votes we cast here today will be counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6th. And on January 20th, Barack Obama will take the oath of office to serve as President for red and blue and purple America.

And, just like the incoming administration, we are challenged to transition from campaigning to governing.

Soon a new Congress will convene in Washington and in Maine we will convene municipal and legislative bodies with new and seasoned faces and diverse perspectives and concerns.

In the aftermath of the 2008 election season that energized so many, we will all be winners so long as we stay engaged.

Together we have something here in Maine that others admire. Together, we can respond to those who feel disengaged, unheard and powerless about the direction of our government, our economy and our future, with the spirit of Dirigo, I LEAD.

In so many ways Maine is indeed the way life should be. We have an environment, a people, a spirit worth nurturing and preserving.

Together we can collect and join the pieces required to realize a vision for Maine’s future that is resilient and hopeful, inclusive and doable.

I will close as I began with a quote from Barbara Jordan:

“What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.”

We four electors, look to the next four years with great hope, deep commitment and personal accountability to our democracy.

And, we say

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The View From Here


Emotional Electoral College Ceremony

THIS PAST MONDAY, I attended the constitutional process of Maine's Electoral College ceremony in the Chamber of the House of Representatives at the State House in Augusta, Maine, to legally elect Democrat Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States. I dressed for the occasion. I took a ton of pictures.

And I wept.

Most of my friends know that I can't stand the Electoral College. I'm a democratic (small "d") purist. Our president ought to be elected by popular vote. One person, one vote. Look what happened in 2000. We're still paying for it.

So while I've heard most, if not all, the arguments for and against, I stand firmly against.

But it's here to stay. I can't imagine the small states ever ratifying a constitutional amendment to eliminate it. Every four years, presidential electors will perform their constitutional duty, like it or not. I wasn't about to miss this one. What I witnessed at the staid ceremony left me breathless.

I could have missed the history of the Electoral College presented by Neil Rolde. The wife of Robert O'Brien, elector at-large and my delegate roommate in Denver, whispered in my ear that Rolde needed to work on his delivery. I responded that he was a perfect symbol of the College - old, stodgy, and white. He finished by reminding us that slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of enumeration and representation in the House of Representatives a mere 150 years ago.

Shortly after this reminder, the electors chose a Black woman to preside over the official proceedings. Portland Mayor Jill Duson, the first Black mayor of the largest city in the whitest state in the union.

In remarks from the rostrum, Duson drew attention to the historical significance of the election of America’s first black president, evoking Barbara Jordan.

Citing the cultural shifts in our history since she attended a segregated school as a child in Pennsylvania, Duson said her role as president of a state’s Electoral College electing a Black president was stunning.

“What in the world am I supposed to say?” she asked. “I say Amen, hallelujah and well done.” Earlier, she delivered a heartfelt rendition of the National Anthem in her soothing contralto.

Jill was also an Obama delegate to Denver so I got to know her a bit. I've asked for the full text of her emotional closing remarks at the end of the ceremony and will update this post when I receive them.

Three generations of Talbots were also in the room. From a local paper just after the election:

Gerald Talbot, 77, was overwhelmed as he watched the TV coverage of Obama's triumphant speech Tuesday night. It shook him as a man and a father. He thought about the pleas he made to his children:

"You can do whatever you want to do," and, "Don't let anybody step on your neck."

Talbot, a Portland native, served as the first black man in the Maine Legislature and has written extensively on racial history. Among his works is a textbook he co-edited titled "Maine's Visible Black History."

Obama's accomplishment felt like an accomplishment for America, Talbot said.

"Your heart does cry," he said."You felt it in your heart, your soul and your mind."

Talbot hopes to attend Obama's inauguration in January, though he knows it may be a struggle getting into what may become the biggest inauguration in U.S. history.

"One of my daughters is working on it," he said.

His daughter, Rachel Talbot Ross, leads the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a role Talbot himself once filled.

Rachel was also a delegate to Denver. In fact, she was the one who received the "I'm going to kill all the Black people in Maine" email right after Barack Obama was declared the nominee by acclimation in Denver. She reported the missive to the Secret Service, and within an hour, the man was arrested back here in Maine.

We don't buckle to death threats. Not after all we've been through. Ain't nobody gonna step on our necks. And so the three generations of Talbots who comprised all of the Black people in the room along with Jill, her son Nate, and myself, rose up with all the other attendees and applauded with jubilation when Jill announced that Barack Obama had officially won all four electoral votes in Maine.

It was electric. And while I snapped pictures, I cried a river.

After the ceremony ended, the electors certified the final vote, and signed the sealed envelopes which Gerald Talbot will deliver to the U.S. District Court as official messenger.

The whitest state of Maine's first Black state representative, with his offspring in tow, hand delivered the electoral college ballots for the nation's first Black president.


Obama Taps Adult Adoptee As Secretary of Agriculture

Obama has chosen former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to head the Department of Agriculture. According to Wikipedia,

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tom Vilsack was orphaned at birth and placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage. He was adopted in 1951 by Bud and Dolly Vilsack, who raised him in the Roman Catholic faith. His adoptive father was a real-estate agent and insurance salesman, and his adoptive mother was a homemaker.

There's been lots of talk about Obama's diverse cabinet. Add this "category" to the list.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Surviving Tuskegee Airmen Invited To Inauguration

THIS is extraordinary.

Inauguration Is a Culmination for Black Airmen

When the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black force of elite pilots, emerged from combat in World War II, they faced as much discrimination as they had before the war. It was not until six decades later that their valor was recognized and they received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can give.

Now, the roughly 330 pilots and members of the ground crew who are left from about 16,000 who served are receiving another honor that has surpassed their dreams: They are being invited to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s first black president.

“I didn’t believe I’d live long enough to see something like this,” said Lt. Col. Charles A. Lane Jr., 83, of Omaha, a retired Tuskegee fighter pilot who flew missions over Italy.

“I would love to be there, I would love to be able to see it with my own eyes,” he said, chuckling on the phone as he heard about the invitation. But, he said, he had a “physical limitation” and was not sure he would be able to attend.


Mr. Obama has acknowledged his debt to the airmen, issuing a statement in 2007, when they received the Congressional Gold Medal. It said in part: “My career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trail-blazed.”

My father, as some of you know, was a Tuskegee Airman. He wanted to be an air traffic controller when he returned from the war, but was offered a job as an airport janitor instead. I told his story in my book and read it at his funeral.

He passed away weeks before the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal.

And now this.

All the while I was fighting for the election of Barack Obama as president, I felt like I was doing it for my father and toward the end, for my father and my nephew.

I think I'm going to be a mess in very short order.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Feast

WE CATERED a private holiday dinner party for 12 guests last night. The group of friends has an annual party every December at the venue in the area, but had never been all that satisfied with the food wherever they chose to go. So they gave us a try this year. Hubby works with one of the guests. I catered her son's graduation party at her house over the summer. The menu:

Thai Shrimp Dumplings in Coconut Milk with Lemongrass

Carrot Soup with Orange and Ginger

Fall Salad with Apples, Dried Cranberries, Candied Pecans in a Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

Grilled Tenderloin of Beef and Butter Poached Lobster over a Lobster, Corn and Sweet Potato Biscuit with Citrus Butter Sauce and Butternut Squash Puree

Heaven's Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis and Fresh Blackberries

We cooked all day, decorating along the way, stayed up late into the night, and pulled the whole thing off without fussing. Two of the guests said it was the best meal they'd ever eaten in their entire lives.

The biscuits were an unexpected hit. Even I was surprised. Never built them before, couldn't even find a recipe, so I suppose I can claim an original creation. I concocted the dough early enough in the day and baked one to taste. If they were a complete miss, I'd have a chance for a do-over. Hubby, a biscuit connoisseur, approved.

I also never prepared an entire beef tenderloin. Marinated it for a day in garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine and herbs. Started it outside on the grill so it could get a good flavor and finished it off in the oven. Let it rest, covered with foil, for half an hour before slicing. It melted in the mouth like butter.

Speaking of which, we used 5 pounds of butter to make this meal. Five pounds. And 18 lobsters. The stock pot was ecstatic.

I've worked in lots of restaurants, but only in the front of the house. Much as I've always loved to cook, when watching the chefs and cooks behind the line with multiple pans on the fire, I used to think, I could never do that. Well, last night, as I whisked and stirred and shimmied and shook pots and pans of squash puree and butter poaching liquid (two kinds) and cream sauce and sweating leaks, all the while biscuits were baking and that precious log of beef was resting, I stood outside myself and watched with the same awe.

Like Daddy was standing over my shoulder watching with me to make sure I didn't mess anything up.

Of course hubby was also nearby. He built the dumplings and the soup and served as all-around prep cook, dishwasher, busboy, host, and waiter. We both wore all those hats, actually. Later, as we soaked our sore bodies in the jacuzzi, he said he understands now why so many people in the restaurant business turn to cocaine.

I prefer warm baths.

It's always a bit nerve wrecking to make such a meal when you know you have no margin for error. To hear the moans and groans at first bite give way to the peace-filled quiet of people eating good food made my night.

I went to bed satisfied. And proud.

Sunday With Seal

One last time. The most recent version with a different verse. For Elize.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Big Gamble

GOOD FIND. Obama gambles on Hillary Clinton (Financial Times): This is about as diplomatic an expression of how I feel about her as Secretary of State as I've read anywhere:

[...] the main question is whether Mrs Clinton can subordinate not just her opinions but also her political ambitions to making the Obama administration a success. That must be in doubt. Her husband's financial entanglements and irrepressible flair for scandal are further potential pitfalls. In weighing all this and choosing her regardless, Mr Obama has taken quite a risk -- one that, in our view, is difficult to justify.

Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77

Odetta at Radio City Music Hall in New York for a "Salute to the Blues" Benefit concert in 2003. Nancy Siesel/The New York Times

Odetta, the singer whose deep voice wove together the strongest songs of American folk music and the civil rights movement, died on Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She was 77.

The cause was heart disease, said her manager, Doug Yeager. He added that she had been hoping to sing at Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Odetta sang at coffeehouses and at Carnegie Hall, made highly influential recordings of blues and ballads, and became one of the most widely known folk-music artists of the 1950s and ’60s. She was a formative influence on dozens of artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.

Her voice was an accompaniment to the black-and-white images of the freedom marchers who walked the roads of Alabama and Mississippi and the boulevards of Washington in the quest to end racial discrimination.

Read the rest...

Too bad she wasn't able to hang on till January 20. Wasn't meant to be. Here's her singing "House of the Rising Sun."

The View From Here

Monday, December 01, 2008

Day Without Art

The original World AIDS Day. AIDS ravaged the artist community so badly that museums and galleries and theaters were compelled to go dark every December 1. Today, we go dark.

Get tested. Get treated. Get educated. Get involved. Fight the disease. Not people.