Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Bob Washut and Jazz Band One

George Clinton and P-Funk wasn't the only concert I attended last weekend. Friday night I went to see Jazz Band One, widely regarded as one of the top college jazz bands in the country. I've been going to their concerts since I came to school here, and this might have been my final one. I didn't realize it until I got there, but what was billed as a "normal" Jazz Band One concert was turned into an event called "Celebrate Washut", named for the bands director, Bob Washut. Washut came here in 1980 and by 1982 Jazz Band One had been named the top college jazz band in the nation. He is recognized as a top educator, clinician, composer, arranger...everything you would want in a person in your music program. But after 22 years he's decided to step down as director of Jazz Band One. He'll continue at the university, working with students, writing and arranging music, and directing Jazz Band Two, but now the torch has been passed to a new director (the current director of Jazz Band Two). Things won't be the same without him there on stage leading the band. I'm not saying that the band won't be as good, but Washut always gave this super-cool vibe that eclipsed words, and it always made concerts enjoyable for me, and I think it has a lot to do with what makes him such a good educator.

As for the concert itself, it was probably the 2nd best jazz concert I've seen them do (the concert with Matt Wilson a couple years ago might have been a bit more enjoyable overall). They played quite a few songs written or arranged by former members of Jazz Band One, with one being guest conducted by the composer and another featuring the composer/arranger as a guest trombonist. There were several speeches made about Washut, one from the dean of the college and one by the president of the university. One of the departing seniors spoke for the band, and Washut gave some choked-up words of thanks to the audience. He said he wanted to go out with that years' seniors, and I can't blame him. I've listened to all of them for the past 4 or 5 years and I think I'll miss them, too. Jason Danielson on piano, Greg Aker and Rick Stone on sax...ah, you haven't seen anything until you've seen Rick Stone play the sax. To hear is one thing, but to see is a concert all by itself. But it wouldn't look the same without Washut standing quietly on the side of the stage, not really directing at all. I'm glad I'll remember Jazz Band One the way I've come to enjoy it so much in my time here.

Monday, April 22, 2002

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic

Put a glide in your stride, a dip in your hip, and come and join me on the mothership...

I went to the George Clinton and P-Funk concert last night and was very impressed. George might be getting a little old, but he still puts on a great show and gives you your money's worth. The concert started about a half-hour after the posted time, but we ended up getting funked for over 3 hours, and I got the feeling that they went longer than they were supposed to (the lights went on and the microphones got shut off, but they performed for at least 15 minutes after that, just having a good time and shouting lyrics at the crowd). I know a thing or two about P-Funk and what their shows were like in their heyday, and I was glad to see they're still doing some of the same things - guys wearing crazy costumes (or almost no costumes at all), songs that don't seem to ever really stop (I think music stopped about 5-6 times during 3+ hours), and people coming on and off stage at almost any time (I counted anywhere from 5 to 35 people on stage). Now if they could have only gotten the Mothership into the West Gym...

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Robert Fisk

Yes, another speaker! Robert Fisk is Britain's most decorated foreign correspondent, having reported from the Middle East for 25 years. His speech was titled "911 - Ask who did it but for heaven's sake don't ask why." Fisk lives in Beirut and has interviewed Osama bin Laden 3 times. At first, Fisk's speech struck me as anti-American, but I quickly saw his point - the journalism that we're used to hearing is far from unbiased. The events of the Middle East are often heavily skewed in Israel's favor and many people are led to believe that injustices are only committed by one side, which simply isn't true. For an example of Fisk's view of the world, check out this interview of Fisk conducted shortly after September 11th. The title of his speech was very appropriate, and it made me realize that the world is an easier place if you don't ask yourself why people commit such horrible acts. But they have their reasons, and we should all open our minds and try to understand what they are. If you are interested in watching the Middle East from Robert Fisk's point of view, you can check out the Independent, the London-based newspaper for which Fisk writes.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Sir Ernest Shackleton

No, the university isn't bringing in Sir Ernest Shackleton to give any speeches (see previous two entries). Shackleton is best known for what I consider to be the greatest survival epic of all time. On December 5th, 1914, Shackleton and his crew of 28 men left South Georgia Island and headed for Antarctica. They would not set foot in civilization for another 497 days. Forced to sit out an Antarctic winter while stuck in the sea ice, Shackleton and his men eventually abandoned ship and pushed their lifeboats across the ice and into the water and headed for the nearest land. From Elephant Island, Shackleton and 5 of his best men took one of the boats and headed across nearly 800 miles of stormy ocean for South Georgia Island. The trip took 17 days and was followed by a grueling 36-hour march across the island to the whaling station. From there it was another three months before a ship could be secured and the weather was suitable to return to Elephant Island for the remainder of the crew. Not a single man died during the entire ordeal.

I read Caroline Alexander's book about Shackleton and the Endurance a couple years ago and I've since been fascinated with the story. Last night and tonight, cable station A&E is showing a movie about Shackleton and his failed expedition to the South Pole. It stars Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton and so far I am quite impressed. I recommend the movie and just about any other book or video about the expedition, as it's a truly amazing feat of courage and survival. If you missed the movie, don't worry - A&E is acting fast and releasing it on both DVD and VHS tomorrow (Tuesday). This set will include the movie, a behind-the-scenes documentary (they filmed in the Greenland ice pack), a 2-hour History Channel special about Antarctic exploration, and the A&E Shackleton biography. I'm picking mine up tomorrow at Best Buy, of course.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

My university brought in yet another fine speaker last night - General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. This one was a much bigger occasion than Greg Gumble on Thursday night, complete with valet parking, non-free tickets, and about 50 or so protesters. Protesters at this university are somewhat amusing - when it comes to campus activism, we aren't exactly Berkley, Iowa City, or Madison. The focus of the protest were the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died since the Gulf War, assumably because of the sanctions the rest of the world places on that county. I believe our sanctions are the result of a distrust of Saddam Hussein, a man we essentially chose to leave in power. If you're going to protest Schwarzkopf, I really don't think this is the right topic. I read his autobiography twice and I know how he felt about not "finishing" our military action in the Gulf War. The decision to leave Saddam in power was clearly made higher up. Oh well, I suppose some people just need something to protest. Just think - if it weren't for the leadership of Schwarzkopf and men like him, they could have been protesting the continued occupation of Kuwait.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Greg Gumble

Tonight I went to listen to Greg Gumble, the CBS sportscaster, give a speech about "The Spirit of Competition". He was pretty good - he balanced funny and serious stories and showed some video clips, but where he really shined was in the question and answer period. Here was my big chance to ask a question first posed by Bill Simmons, ESPN's Sports Guy in his article "Diary of a March madman:

"4 p.m. New topic: Why doesn't Clark Kellogg ever look at the camera? We can't figure it out. It's like he just saw the Blair Witch. Clark, Camera Two. Camera Two!"

Since Clark Kellogg is Greg Gumble's broadcast partner, this was my big chance to get to the bottom of this. I sent the results of my inquiry to the Sports Guy:

"In your "Diary of a March madman" you asked (at 4 pm) why Clark Kellogg never looks at the camera. Greg Gumble spoke tonight at my university, and during the Q&A time I decided to risk embarrassment by asking him to solve your mystery. He's not sure what Clark is looking at, either. He said he'd ask Clark, so if you ever run into Greg someday, hopefully he'll have your answer."

Yep, that's me just trying to help my fellow man and make the world a better place.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Think before you shoot

Here's an interesting story from the Denver Post. Apparently a couple of young males thought it would be fun to go out into the street and shoot their paintball guns at people passing by. Unfortunately, one of the people they shot at was a kid (probably 15 or 16 years old) who was carrying a real handgun. He fired back, hit one of the paintballers in the head, and now their little prank has put somebody into intensive care. Just sad. You can easily find enough blame to spread it around to everybody. I'm left to wonder where the kid with the handgun developed that kind of aim...maybe he just got lucky...or unlucky...

Monday, April 01, 2002

A great day? Almost...

There are so many good things about today that could be so much better. First, it snowed this morning, but I know it will melt away within a few days. Second, it was Opening Day for the Cubs, but they lost in the bottom of the 9th. Third, the NCAA basketball tournament championship game is tonight, but Kansas didn't make it so I'm left to grab a seat on the Indiana bandwagon. I think the ramifications of April Fool's Day extends a little farther than we all might think...