Jazz Around the World

Recently, we have been curious about the readership, especially since thejazzmonger blog went through a protracted period of idleness last year. So, I checked into our usage statistics a little bit. We found some surprises… some very pleasant surprises. First, we have been averaging around 65 hits per day, recently, with the high being 82 hits and the low being 50. So the traffic has been pretty steady. That’s good, I think.

Kudos are due to the great folks at WordPress for providing a terrific vehicle to let one speak to the whole wide world. If you have ever given any thought to expressing yourself in blog form, I encourage you to check out the great package of services and assistance  provided there.

But, what really surprised us was where the visitors are logging in from. Naturally, most connections originate in the United States, with the United Kingdom and India (both predominantly English-speaking countries and very heavily wired-in) coming in second and third. It was the overall distribution that was a revelation. Over the last seven days, we have logged visitors from thirty-eight (38) different countries.  And I am quite stoked about that.

Any disappointments? Yes, a couple. We would really love to be picked up more in Japan. The Japanese are well-recognized as sincere fans and aficionados of good Jazz. One fine exampleof this is the excellent site Jazz in Japan, edited by Michael Pronko.  Not only does he thoroughly cover the Jazz scene in Japan, but he writes with passion and talent on some surprisingly (for me) provocative subjects, such as Jazz and ZenThis guy has stretched my horizons considerably. Maybe our problem, here, is that thejazzmonger just doesn’t measure up to this kind of material. Michael gives us something to shoot at.

And the Japanese are not just fans. Many important contributors to the genre are from Japan. A case in point is one of my favorires, Gota Yashiki, about whom thejazzmonger wrote lovingly some time ago (Cf: http://wp.me/ppvVJ-al).  thejazzmonger needs to put in some serious thought on how we might appeal to this sophisticated audience, in the future.

Another disappointment is the low showing from Switzerland. I have some family, and a couple of good friends in Switzerland. We bagged one hit for the week. C’mon family!

We draw some encouragement, though, from what we think are pretty good numbers in some other places. Fifty-three hits from India and Pakistan, combined. Twenty from Greece! The Greeks have plenty going on, right now, so we are gratified that a few of them had time to drop by. One hit from the Russian Federation, probably Vladimir Putin, unwinding from another election rout.

WE invite any, and all, visitors to come back often, comment as you see fit and, please, drop us a note via the “Contact Us” link, introduce yourself and let us know where you sign in from.

Here is the chart

thejazzmonger Cited in Ms. Magazine

Ms. Magazine, in its online edition of Feb. 23, 2012, offers an excellent article on the struggle of black actresses to find suitable roles in Hollywood films, from the very beginning to the present day.

The discussion is prompted by the current nominations of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars, respectively. Should Davis or Spencer win, there will be much discussion of the fact that the first black person (of either sex) to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel. She won the  Academy Award in 1939 as Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. The issue at hand is that McDaniel, Davis and Spencer are all cited for playing characters who are maids.
Author Janell Hobson writes about the struggles of the extraordinarily beautiful and talented Lena Horne to avoid being recast as an “exotic” (read “Latin”) instead of as a black woman. To her ultimate credit, Horne flatly refused and saw her film career wither.

Young Lena Horne

Beautiful, Supremely Talented - Lena Horne

Hobson discusses “Soundies,” musical performances by singers like Lena Horne and, especially, Big Bands such as the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra.When Hobson mentions “Soundies” she does it as a link to our story of June, 2009. (Link here: thejazzmonger on “Soundies”)

It is very gratifying to have an eminent publication such as Ms. cite our work.

Turning to the current controversy about film roles, let me say that I think it is a mistake to criticize, or otherwise demean, the roles and excellent performances presented by both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. The story told in The Help, book and movie both, is a good one. Their two characters are strong, vividly-drawn and, without doubt, women who are far more than their occupations. We should not be seeking to eliminate the existence of maids in films that depict an earlier time. What we need are stories, scripts and films that give life to people and stories of women who are not maids.

American-made movies have always had a dearth of strong roles for women, all women, really, but for black women, in particular. For a short period in American film history, there was a coterie of dominant actresses (Joan Crawford, Betty Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner) who “carried” films. IT was their name and, often, their name only that was above the title. The entire film was the story of the character, a woman, being portrayed by one of these preeminent actresses.

Consider just a couple of films from these four giants of an earlier era:

Barbara Stanwyck: The Lady Eve  &  Double Indemnity

Betty Davis:  Now, Voyager  &  Dark Victory

Lana Turner:  The Postman Always Rings Twice  &  Imitation of Life

Joan Crawford:  Mildred Pierce  &  The Women

Isak Denisen aka Karen Blixen

Kren Blixen (aka Isak Denisen)

What happened? Why did great stories and meaty roles disappear, for the most part, from American films? Sure, Meryl Streep is nominated every three or four years, and wins about as often. But too often she is getting the Best Actress nomination for films like Postcards from the Edge, Music of the Heart or The Devil Wears Prada. It was all the way back in 1985, in Out of Africa, that we last saw her stretch in a role that carried the entire film. I f an actress of Meryl Streep’s talent and stature can’t find a truly outstanding role in more than 25 years, what hope does a raft of talented but relatively unknown actresses have?

The problem, my friends, is  the lack of books & scripts about women. Isak Denisen’s book, Out of Africa, was published in 1937. Denisen (real name Karen Blixen) was a marvelous story-teller with a unique and intriguing personal history on which to draw.

One has to think that there are good stories about women, and women’s lives, that are just being passed over by Hollywood brass in favor of cartoon boys, remakes about CIA operatives

and Vampires. Nowadays, when Hollywood does give us a film dominated by females, it’s just a group of women making a female installment (Bridesmaids) of The Hangover.

Esperanza Spalding’s “Black Gold”

I have written, previously, about the beautiful and supremely talented Esperanza Spalding. She is, unquestionably, the brightest light  among the younger practitioners of Jazz. — Bassist, composer, arranger, singer, this young lady is a quadruple threat of the highest order.–

She is out with a new tune, Black  Gold, in collaboration with another young singer, Algebra Blesset. The song speaks of the importance of young black people being cognizant and proud of their history and heritage. The video for the song (see below) does a wonderful job of emphasizing how African history, particularly its Cultural history, is almost completely ignored in American and European schools. Check it out:

That’s Esperanza on the right, with her hair characteristically brushed out to the max. This girl is as lovely as she is talented and that is saying quite a lot.

Listeners familiar with her stunning 2008 Heads Up International debut, Esperanza, and her best-selling 2010 release Chamber Music Society, were well aware that the young bassist, vocalist and composer from Portland, Oregon was the real deal, with a unique and style-spanning presence, deeply rooted in jazz yet destined to make her mark far beyond the jazz realm. That judgment was confirmed on February 13, 2011, when Spalding became the first jazz musician to receive the GRAMMY® Award for Best New Artist.

Her next album, Radio Music Society, is due out in March, 2012.

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