At Lincoln Center

A few weeks ago, I played an album by the jazz saxophonist Henry Threadgill to a composer I know, and asked him to guess who wrote it. Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is an extended suite for an octet, and, like many of Threadgill’s compositions, full of jagged rhythms and mind-teasing patterns. ‘Milton Babbitt?’ my friend suggested.

Babbitt was an academic serialist composer and the author of a notorious article, ‘Who Cares if You Listen?’ But he also dabbled in jazz, or rather, in ‘Third Stream’ music. The Third Stream, a synthesis of classical music and jazz, was first dreamed up by the French horn player and composer Gunther Schuller, in a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University. More »

After the Olympics

Athletes are now arriving in Rio for the start of the Paralympic Games next week. The predictions of unfinished stadiums, Zika outbreaks and rampaging crime at the Olympics last month proved largely unfounded. Brazil won more medals than ever before, with some powerful symbolic victories for its ordinary citizens. The men’s football team avenged their 7-0 World Cup defeat against Germany. Brazil’s first gold of the games (for judo) was won by Rafaela Silva, a black lesbian from the City of God favela. Maicon de Andrade Siqueiro, who got a bronze medal in the taekwondo, trained around his work as a builder and a waiter. El País described him as a fighter not only in the stadium but, ‘like so many Brazilians’, in life. More »

Trump in Aspen

Until 1880, Aspen, Colorado was known as Ute City, after the Native American people who inhabited the valley. During the silver boom of the 1880s it was an extremely prosperous small town. There are still traces of that era, including the Wheeler Opera House. It came to an abrupt halt in 1893 when the silver market collapsed. The place was moribund for fifty years until the Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke, who liked to ski, saw the potential of the place as a resort. Among other things he created the Aspen Institute where industrialists like himself might be exposed to Aristotle. The Aspen Center for Physics, where I have been coming since the 1960s, was originally part of the institute. This used to be a pretty funky town. In 1970 Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff. There were some wealthy people like Paepcke but they pretty much faded into the background. Either you could ski or you couldn’t. Things have changed. There are now fifty billionaires who have some sort of property in Aspen. Three of the Koch brothers – Charles, David and William – have roots here. (William is the poor Koch brother, worth only $2.3 billion.)

Donald Trump does not own any property here – though he once tried to build a hotel – but he has left a trail. More »

The Van Gelder Sound

When you’re listening to jazz in, I would argue, its greatest and most significant incarnation, a folk-based, body-based chamber music recorded during the 1950s – Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane et al – it was probably recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on analogue equipment in his parents’ living room in Hackensack, New Jersey, a room specifically designed for their son’s sound recording and where he made use of hallways and alcoves to tease out acoustic effects. By day, Van Gelder worked as an optometrist in Teaneck. He died yesterday at the age of 91. More »

German Lessons

I started teaching a German language course in a small town near Frankfurt in February, taking over a class of 12 adult students who had been meeting for three hours a day, four times a week, for two years. First they had to learn the Latin alphabet, and many struggled with writing from left to right. Now most of them can understand a letter from the local authority. Four came to Germany from Afghanistan, three from Ethiopia, two from Bulgaria, one from Bangladesh, one from Tibet and one from Yemen. Their average age was about fifty. Some of them have lived here for more than thirty years, but weren’t allocated to a language course until 2014. German governments used to assume that ‘guest workers’ and refugees would eventually go ‘home’, and integration was a low priority. More »

By the Black Sea

In winter, the Black Sea earns its name. The waters churn and it’s easy to imagine how the Evangelia ran aground in October 1968, leaving its rusting carcass to become a tourist attraction off the Romanian coastline, a few hundred metres from the Costinești shore. The resort was still under development then – the Romanian Communist Party intended it to be a summer camp – and in winter a dull gloom dims the colourful buildings. It’s empty much of the year; a problem that was noted at the time of construction. The first wave of Communist-era resorts were built in the late 1950s and 1960s without concern for expense, but in 1967 Ceaușescu demanded building costs be halved: ‘We must take into account that these hotels are not being built in Bucharest, Brașov, or other parts, but at the seaside, where they remain unused for eight months of the year.’ More »

Racism, Pure and Simple

affiche_d_voil_ge_bureau_psych_arm_e_francaiseFour armed police officers approached a Muslim woman on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice yesterday and demanded she remove some of her clothes. According to some news reports she was wearing a ‘burkini’, but she was in fact dressed in leggings, a tunic and a headscarf. As newspapers published photographs of the incident, L’Obs ran an interview with another woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Siam. She was asked to remove her headscarf on the beach at Cannes last week. She refused. Some fellow beachgoers took her side, but others shouted ‘go home’. She is a former flight attendant from Toulouse, whose family has been in France for three generations. She said that she had felt humiliated in front of her daughter and family, and described the incident as ‘racism, pure and simple’. More »

Dixie Fried

Jim Dickinson – whose 1972 record Dixie Fried is about to be rereleased – grew up in Tennessee but I met him, fifteen years ago, in North Mississippi, in the double-wide trailer he lived in at his Zebra Ranch recording studio. He’d played with just about everyone by then: Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones (that’s Jim next to Keith Richards), Aretha Franklin. ‘Cadillac Man’, a song he’d sung with the Jesters in 1966, is the last great Sun Records single that I know of. So I don’t think Jim needed to live in a trailer. But he liked to – in part, I suspect, because he liked to say that he did. More »

Brexit and the Housing Crisis

George Osborne, before he reinvented himself as Rambo, when he was still the ‘austerity chancellor’, committed Theresa May’s government to spending a huge sum to prop up the housing market. The combined total of grants, loans and guarantees devoted to helping developers and homebuyers is set to exceed £42 billion between now and 2020 (similar to the cost of building four new Trident submarines). It’s supposed to achieve two things: build a million new homes and double the number of first-time buyers. An equally important but unstated priority is ensuring that house prices continue to rise. After the EU referendum, all three targets look much tougher. More »

Around the World in 100 Diaries

diary map

The first LRB Diary – A.J.P. Taylor on nuclear disarmament – was published on 4 March 1982. It ‘inaugurates a regular feature of the paper’, Taylor’s contributor’s note explained. ‘The Diaries will be by various hands. Clive James’s will scan.’ Since then there have been more than 800 Diaries on close to 800 subjects, many of them reporting from different parts of the world (few have scanned). Clicking on the image above will take you to an interactive map on which you can explore 100 of them.

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