Van Cliburn dead at age 78

The very first classical music record I purchased, probably in 1972 or 1973, was “Chopin’s Greatest Hits,” played by Van Cliburn. I purchased it as much for mine, as for my mother the piano teacher’s, enjoyment. That little gem, containing a wonderfully lyrical and slow rendition of Chopin’s second Scherzo, Op.31, started me on my journey as a classical music fanatic that I’m still on to this day.

Chopin’s Greatest Hits, the first classical album I ever owned.

Read the rest at the Dallas Morning News.

Pianist Van Cliburn, one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century and a resident of Fort Worth’s Westover Hills suburb since 1986, died Wednesday morning at his mansion at age 78.

He was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive bone cancer in August and was noticeably frail at a September appearance at Bass Performance Hall.

In an unprecedented intersection of music, media and Cold War politics, Cliburn burst onto the international scene in 1958 as winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. The competition was widely assumed to be a showcase for pianists from Russia and its satellite countries. The surprising triumph of a tall, gangly, wavy-haired Texan with enormous hands, all soft-spoken politeness, was splashed all over newspapers, magazines and television screens. A Time magazine cover hailed “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.”

“In many ways, Van brought the United States into the classical music world of the 20th century after World War II,” said Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School in New York, Cliburn’s alma mater. “His triumph at the Tchaikovsky Competition was not only an exceptional achievement in its own right, but a symbolic representation of the quality of music-making in America.”

So daring was the jury’s choice that it required the approval of the Soviet Union’s new premier, Nikita Khrushchev. But the 23-year-old pianist, whose playing had an unhurried grandeur that seemed from another age, had already enchanted the Moscow audiences. In years to come, his repeated returns to Russia would continue to draw adoring crowds. Cliburn became, in effect, a powerful ambassador for peace between two rival superpowers.

“Van looked and played like some kind of angel,” Russian pianist Andrei Gavrilov told Cliburn biographer Howard Reich. “He didn’t fit the evil image of capitalists that had been painted for us by the Soviet government.” […]

Rest in peace, Mr. Cliburn, and thank you.

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Dave Brubeck, R.I.P.

I can credit the man who passed away today at 91, Dave Brubeck, with my discovery of jazz.

Born out of a post-adolescent loathing and hatred of all things disco, I discovered an album at my local record store that I still have to this day: “Adventures in Time,” a sort-of greatest hits two-record album with the Dave Brubeck Quartet that absolutely floored me when I listened to it. And listen to it I did, over and over again. Thanks to Maestro Brubeck and the amazing music he wrote, I discovered his amazing saxophonist, Paul Desmond, and subsequently Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Duke Ellington (one of America’s greatest composers, by the way), Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and the rest of the pantheon of jazz gods that I’ve come to love as much as my beloved classical music.

Thanks, Dave, for lighting the fire in me. Godspeed and may you rest in peace.

Dave Brubeck, the jazz pianist, composer and bandleader behind the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet, has died at age 91.

The death of Brubeck, whose composition “Take Five” became a jazz standard and the bestselling jazz song of all time, was confirmed Wednesday by the Associated Press. Brubeck would have turned 92 Thursday.

According to the AP, Brubeck died of heart failure after being stricken while on the way to a cardiologist’s  appointment in Connecticut.

Brubeck, born Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif., was the son of a cattle rancher. His mother was a classically trained pianist. Although he studied zoology at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, he came to love the music department. While serving in the Army during World War II, Brubeck formed the band the Wolfpack.  After the war in the Bay Area he experimented with music groups and styles.

In 1951 he and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond created what would become one of the most popular acts of West Coast jazz, the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The quartet’s most famous song was “Take Five,” from the 1959 release “Time Out.

During his career, Brubeck also created standards such as “The Duke” and “In Your Own Sweet Way.”

In a 2010 article on the occasion of Brubeck’s 90th birthday, the Los Angeles Times interviewed the jazz legend and noted that although jazz may not occupy the center of the musical universe, even people who know little, if anything, about jazz know of Brubeck:

“Through more than 60 years of recordings and performances at colleges, concert halls, festivals and nightclubs all over the world, Brubeck put forth a body of work — as pianist, composer and bandleader — that is as accessible as it is ingenious, as stress-free as it is rhythmically emphatic, as open-hearted as it is wide-ranging.” […]

Indeed. Here are his two enduring classics:

Blue Rondo a la Turk

Take Five

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Download music, pay the artist

Three articles that underline the need to support musicians and their intellectual property.

All excellent.

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Great news for Frank Zappa fans

Great news announced on the official Frank Zappa website on June 12. Finally, I’ll be able to buy them all and keep a catalog of one of the most fertile musical minds of the last century:

[…] Back home where it belongs, the music of FRANK ZAPPA is now back in the hands of the ZAPPA FAMILY TRUST.

To celebrate this, the estate has signed a global license and distribution deal with UNIVERSAL MUSIC ENTERPRISES to release 60 of the iconic composer’s recordings. The roll-out kicks off July 31 with 12 recordings, with another dozen recordings to be released monthly through the end of 2012.

“The ink is not yet dry on The Zappa Family Trust’s worldwide deal with Universal Music Enterprises,” says Gail Zappa. “They made us the offer we couldn’t refuse–for all the right reasons. It is a win-win for all of us, but mostly for Frank Zappa. Long may his baton wave. We are so ready to go.”

“The artist and composer, Frank Zappa, is one of the most important and influential artists in music history with his prolific body of work, including his breakthrough rock ‘n roll concept albums. We are honored that Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust have entrusted us with his legacy. We intend to honor him and bring high quality releases, digital and physical, for his new and longtime fans,” said Bruce Resnikoff, President/CEO, Universal Music Enterprises (UMe).

Now fully back in hands of the Zappa Family Trust–headed by Zappa’s widow Gail Zappa–the releases will honor the iconic legacy of the composer, musician, bandleader and filmmaker. ZAPPA was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 (although the family would like to know where it is). The official biography: Frank Zappa, American composer, 1940-1993.

The UME deal is for the entire Zappa Catalog as it appeared on Frank Zappa’s own independent label, Barking Pumpkin Records. Many of the original analog masters have been re-mastered for this occasion. Yes that’s right, you heard right. The entire Catalog, in all its spiffnificent glory will launch July 31, just in time for Frank Zappa’s daughter DIVA’s birthday– an occasion that will be celebrated along with GAIL, sister MOON UNIT and brothers DWEEZIL and AHMET.

For more information, go to

The initial 12 FRANK ZAPPA releases included in the ZAPPA/UNIVERSAL deal set for July 31 are as follows. **Date signifies original year of release.

1. Freak Out! (1966)
2. Absolutely Free (1967)
3. Lumpy Gravy (1968)
4. We’re Only In It For The Money (1968)
5. Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (1968)
6. Uncle Meat (1969)
7. Hot Rats (1969)
8. Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)
9. Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)
10. Chunga’s Revenge (1970)
11. Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971)
12. Just Another Band From L.A. (1972) […]

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Excellent customer service matters, redux

Two further incidents that illustrate why companies need to treat their customers right if they are to retain their business:

First, my Bryston 3B-ST power amplifier. High-end audio manufacturer, Bryston of Canada, is one of those rare companies that back up their products with a serious warranty. I mean really serious. All of their analog products — preamplifiers, power amplifiers, etc. — carry a fully transferable 20 year warranty. Yes, you read that right. 20 years. I bought a used 3B-ST in December 2005 from a gentleman on Audiogon and inherited part of his original warranty. Last Saturday the amp exhibited extreme overheating in the right channel. I called Bryston on Tuesday and they said the amp was still under warranty and to send it in for repairs. I will find out in a couple of weeks what the problems were. Thank you, Bryston, for your superb service and confidence in your products.

Second, our Maytag washing machine. It broke the day after my Bryston. (Yes, it was a fun Memorial Day weekend.) We purchased the washer 13 months and 27 days ago. The warranty, of course, is twelve months. How convenient. I called Maytag and told them their product was an example “planned obsolescence” and that they needed to step up to plate and fix it at no charge. The first customer service rep, a typical drone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about satisfying the customer, declined. When I escalated it to a supervisor, she agreed with me. Repairs will be made next week.

Treating the customer fairly and with respect for the hard-earned dollars they spend purchasing a product or service is paramount. Bryston is an extreme example; the confidence they have in their products is self-evident. Maytag? Well let’s just say that when you have to fight for what is right, a customer tends to view the company with a jaundiced eye…

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Excellent customer service matters

Recently, my son stopped using the $50 Otterbox Defender case we had purchased for his iPhone 4S. He said it was too bulky. He’s a teenager, after all, and he can’t be seen with a belt clip. I started using the case for my iPhone 4S and discovered it was a damn strong and well designed protector for the device.

One little issue cropped up: the rubber surround that encloses the plastic case that encloses the phone (yup) started tearing in one spot and I was afraid it would finally come apart. I called Otterbox and explained the situation. The very nice young lady who took care of me said that they had redesigned the case with a stronger material and, since the plastic surround had also been redesigned, she would send me a new case at no charge.

Wow. That is the way to keep a customer for life. Thank you Otterbox for backing up your product. I’ll keep buying.


Compare that with my experience in February 2011 with InCase, detailed in my letter to CEO Dave Gatto:

Dear Mr. Gatto:

I am long-time Mac user and owner of six Apple devices (seven if you include my Mac). I am a consumer of third-party peripherals and accessories for all of them: my iPad, my two iPods, my iPhone, my two AppleTVs, etc. I consider myself an educated consumer who wants to buy quality accessories commensurate with the quality I’ve come to expect from Apple.

Enclosed is an Incase iPod case I purchased at the Apple Store in late 2009 that I no longer need. As you can see, the gold paint has worn off the plastic. This was after only eight months of use by my son, not a boy who mistreats his gear. The attached email exchange explains all the salient facts regarding this iPod case, as explained to your customer support department.

Needless to say, I’m extremely disappointed, not only in your customer support, but in your product. It boggles my mind that a product that retails for $30, and that was used for only eight months, can exhibit such a level of wear and tear. I just purchased an Otterbox case for my son’s iPod, which has three times the level of protection of yours, at the same price. I can’t envision ever buying another Incase product again, considering the lack of value I’ve gotten from my purchase, and the inability of your support department to please a ticked-off customer.

Keep the case with my compliments. I have no further use for it.

I never received a response from Mr. Gatto.

InCase will never get my dollars again. Otterbox will. End of lesson.

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Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

There are very few people outside of my family that I can say have had a positive effect on me. Ronald Reagan was one such man. Another of these died this evening. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple was another.

Since 1984 when I saw a Mac for the first time I started following the fabled company that started the PC revolution in 1977. One man and his singular vision revolutionized not one but several industries. His technological vision was such that from kernels of ideas he created the first personal computer, created a computer with a graphical user interface, practically invented the digital publishing industry along with Adobe and Aldus, changed the way we listen to music, buy it, interact with it. And, he gave us the best damn smartphone ever developed. I am sitting here, writing this on one iteration of that computer, my iMac, and next to it are my iPhone, my Apple router, my iPad, and my iPod. They just work. Thanks to Steve.

Jobs was a genius, no doubt, but his kind of genius is not the E=MC2 kind; his is the evolutionary kind whose life’s work, when taken in toto, amounts to a greatness few ever achieve, a greatness that touches so many lives with positive energy and delight. His company, built in his image, will continue to thrive and delight us with new products that I and millions upon millions of other people will buy. But Steve Jobs, the man the visionary, the creator, will be missed terribly. They only come around once in a generation. My generation has just lost its luminary.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

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Steve Reich and the politically correct censors

Over thirty years ago I purchased a 2 LP sampler from the ECM label that had strange and beautiful music on it. The ECM label specialized in European and avant garde Jazz. The album had a little gem on it that I kept playing over and over again. That gem was a snippet from a work titled Music for 18 Musicians by a composer I had never heard of named Steve Reich. The music captivated me. It was repetitive, rhythmic, melodic and harmonic in ways that were so new to me that I couldn’t get enough of it. Needless to say, I bought the full LP (long since worn out) and have two versions of the work on CD in my collection. One of his other great works, also in my collection, is a piece titled Different Trains, that mixes tape recordings of the voices of holocaust survivors and blacks during the civil rights era, into the rhythm and fabric of music for string quartet.

Steve Reich is one of America’s national treasures, a great composer who has broken the rules and written exactly what he’s wanted to write how he’s wanted to write it. That’s why the kerfuffle that has erupted over his latest release was so surprising to me. It seems some members of the artistic left were not happy with the cover art on his latest album. Big Hollywood has the scoop on why the cover was changed and why Reich, sadly, gave in to the demands to kill the cover that was deemed inflammatory by some.

[…] The artistic community is anti-censorship right up until the second it decides it wants something censored. Then it piles on.

A little background.

Steve Reich is a Pulitzer-winning composer who lived a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes hit on September 11, 2001. He was out of town at the time, but his family was home. They barely escaped, but the experience was so emotionally traumatic that it was only as the 10th anniversary of this monstrous crime approached that he was able to finally express his feelings through his art. You would think the artistic community would praise him – well, you would think that if you had not been paying attention and still believe that it possessed the capacity for shame at its own rank hypocrisy.

Reich’s composition was called “WTC 9/11.” As described by Terry Ponick at the Washington Times, it “is a short, three-part work that blends live music with the actual recorded sounds of the day’s events playing in background and foreground.” The CD was originally scheduled to be released on 9/11/11, but a completely unexpected (if you don’t understand the Left) uproar occurred.

The uproar? Take a look at the original cover photo above.

Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? The sight of that jet being guided straight into the South Tower as hundreds burn alive in the North Tower makes you think about how 9/11 was not just some random tragedy that befell us, as if by mere misfortune or a twist of fate.

It makes you think about how it was a calculated act of murder by people who wanted to enslave or kill us, and who still want to enslave or kill us. And the artistic elite can’t let that thought cross your mind.

Slate’s Seth Colter Walls is suitably mortified that the simple image is so…simple:

Given the piece’s complexity, it is surprising to see that the first studio recording of WTC 9/11, due to be released by the esteemed label Nonesuch Records just days before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, is being marketed with cover art that looks like something swiped from Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign press shop circa January 2008.

Yeah, it’s surprising that was piece called “WTC 9/11” and inspired by the events at the World Trade Center on 9/11 might have a cover that actually depicts the World Trade Center on 9/11. Sorry, Seth, if it’s a little on-the-nose for you. Now go complain about poetry that rhymes.

The “controversy” – to the extent rank censorship by self-appointed guardians of the public consciousness constitutes a “controversy” – over Reich’s chosen cover art has delayed the CD’s release until the 20th. That will give the informal Ministry of Truth time to scrub away the cover image that might give rise to unapproved thoughts. […]

And that, my dear readers, is the essence of the sad, sick world we live in today.

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The end of an era, redux

It is ironic that yesterday, the day I finally recovered all of my data and operating system files on my Mac due to my second hard drive crash four days ago, and was able to do so because of the fantastic tools available to me because I use a Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs announced his resignation as CEO of Apple. I can’t say enough about what his company’s products have meant to me over the years. Read the essay Walt Mossberg wrote in All Things Digital:

Steve Jobs’s resignation as chief executive officer of Apple is the end of an extraordinary era, not just for Apple, but for the global technology industry in general. Jobs is a historic business figure whose impact was deeply felt far beyond the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, and who was widely emulated at other companies.

And now, for the first time since 1997, he won’t be the company’s chief executive.

To be very clear, Jobs, while seriously ill, is very much alive. Extremely well-informed sources at Apple say he intends to remain involved in developing major future products and strategy and intends to be an active chairman of the board, even while new CEO Tim Cook runs the company day to day.

So, this is not an obituary. But his health is reported to be up and down, and even an active chairman isn’t the same as a CEO.

CEOs resign every day, so why is this departure so meaningful?

Most people are lucky if they can change the world in one important way, but Jobs, in multiple stages of his business career, changed global technology, media and lifestyles in multiple ways on multiple occasions.

He did it because he was willing to take big risks on new ideas, and not be satisfied with small innovations fed by market research. He also insisted on high quality and had the guts to leave out features others found essential and to kill technologies, like the floppy drive and the removable battery, he decided were no longer needed. And he has been a brilliant marketer, personally passionate about his products.

More here from The Wall Street Journal.

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Of Macs and Men

I love my Mac. When I bought it almost five years ago it was liberating to get away from the slavery of WinTel machines. Back then, all Windows had was XP, not the best OS they designed; that honor goes to NT and in the nineties and Windows 2000. They were pretty bullet proof. XP was not. (Windows 7, the OS on my son’s laptop is, hands-down, the best OS Microsoft has ever designed. Period.) I was desperate to get away from the daily crashes. the slow boots, and sundry other issues that plagued my custom built tower PC running Windows 2000 and then XP.

I was thrilled to get a Mac after lusting after them for over twenty years. I am a huge Apple fan: I own an iMac, an iPhone, an iPad and used to own an iPod until 2009. I’ve used their products and I love them. I use them for listening to music, watching movies, writing, news, photo editing, you name it. We depend on these devices. Without them we’d be in a world of digital oblivion.

However, while I can’t say the bloom is off the rose, I am a little upset over the hardware issues I have encountered with my iMac. As of this writing, on Saturday night August 20, 2011, I am in the midst of my second major hard drive crash on my late 2006 vintage iMac. The first crash occurred in 2008, barely two years after buying it. Three years later I have experienced the same problem — and know of two other examples of sudden hard drive crashes in Macs happening within the last year alone! Something is not right. I’m very careful with my machine, backing it up on a regular basis using Carbon Copy Cloner (a must-have utility for every Mac user), running repairs on disk permissions frequently. In other words, I take care of my machine. After Thursday night’s sudden and near catastrophic crash, I ran DiskWarrior 4 (another must-have utility). It was able to recreate a usable bootable disk for me from the old dead drive that took almost 20 hours to clone to a fresh new drive. I am now using this as a boot drive to fix my main drive.

I am now in my second full day of fixing my Mac. My advice to fellow Mac users is simple: beware and take care of your machines. Be religious — no, fanatical! — in your backups and maintenance routines. Shit happens and it will happen when you least expect it. In the future I’ll be running Disk Warrior at least once a week and backing up nightly, if not every couple of nights to a clone of my main drive. Do it for your continued computer mental health. If not, you will regret the day, when your precious music, photos and documents, your digital life are gone. Forever.

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