Maurice White, Penguins & Single-parent Households

Three disparate items in that title, but they are connected. Trust me, they are, even if only in my convoluted mind. Bear with me or, if the weather is hot where you are, BARE with me.

Maurice White is the founder and the creative genius behind most of the work of the super-group Earth Wind & Fire. He wrote much of their music, often working together with the late Charles Stepney. He sang lead on their recordings, countered by the soaring falsetto of Philip Bailey. Maurice produced records for EWF and many other stars such as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Cher. He was also the guiding hand behind EWF’s elaborate live performances, working with magician Doug Henning (and his young assistant David Copperfield) to develop elaborate staging and special effects. With everybody, including The Phenix Horns,  in motion, lavish costumes and pyrotechnics, Earth Wind & Fire always delivered an outstanding show, in keeping with their terrific music.

I defy you to keep all your body parts still as you experience this 1979 performance of EWF’s  Boogie Wonderland

Now that you have enjoyed that, it is time for the Penguins connection. The talented folks at Warner Bros. gave us the wonderfully entertaining animated film Happy Feet. The film won a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It is a great movie, a heart-warming story and just jam-packed with terrific music. Not too far into the film is what I think is the best musical production number EVER in an animated film. Sit back and enjoy this:

So, now you get the connection between Maurice White, EWF and Penguins. How do we get to single-parent households? Mumble and Gloria, the two penguins you saw featured in that great musical number, are Emperor Penguins. The plot principles for the movie Happy Feet are drawn from the excellent National Geographic feature-film documentary March of the Penguins. Written and directed by Luc Jacquet and narrated by Morgan Freeman, this movie was also an Academy Award winner for Best Documentary & Best Documentary Feature. The film tells the incredible story of  the Emperor Penguins’ will to survive in the harshest environment on Earth, an area so bleak in the winter season that it supports no other wildlife. Each year, as the season heads toward winter and the sun virtually disappears, the penguins march some 60 miles, from the sea to their ancient breeding grounds.

March of the Penguins DVD

March of the Penguins DVD

Once the mothers lay their eggs, they must get back to the sea and gorge themselves to recover. The precious egg is carefully handed off to the father, a transfer that must take place in a matter of a few seconds to prevent freezing the embryo inside. The father nestles the egg on top of his feet and wraps a pouch of its lower belly, heavy with feathers and warming fat, over the egg. There, he incubates the young chick inside. Huddling together for warmth, in temperatures that reach -80 degrees and winds of up to 112 MPH, the devoted dads take turns being on the outside of the group, absorbing the worst of the icy blasts.

Needing plenty of time to replenish their body fat, and with a 60+ mile march each way, the mothers are gone for as long as NINE WEEKS!!!! For more than 60 days, these penguin fathers go without a single bite of food. Exhausted, hungry, pounded by the icy winds, they shuffle between the slightly warmer middle of the huddle, and the severely frozen exterior, keeping their baby alive.

Eventually, the eggs hatch and the youngster is quickly stuffed back into the safety of the warm belly-pouch and cradled on the father’s feet. There the dads stand, waiting, patiently, determinedly for the mother to come back with food in her belly to feed the young chick. And all that time, Dad knows that once his relief shows up he has that same 60+ mile walk to get to the sea before he can finally eat. In all, he will likely go nearly three months without a single morsel in the harshest climate imaginable.

You men know how you get much hungrier, tend to eat more, and burn it off easier in the winter? Think about going through next winter, from December 21 to March 21, on nothing.

The most recent statistics show there are about 13.6 Million single parents in the United States, raising some 21.2 Million children.  Approximately 84% are mothers, and 16% are fathers. About 1% of the mothers are widowed. In all the other cases, there is a divorced or separated husband, or some kind of a biological father, somewhere. In all too many cases, that father has little or nothing to do with the education, care and nurturing of his children. Those men (or boys) should be ashamed. Tales of mistreatment by the ex-wife, discomfort and embarrassment about their personal circumstances, too busy at work, whatever, these are nothing compared to 80-below temperatures, 112 MPH winds and starvation, true starvation,  for up to ninety days.

They ought to show March of the Penguins to every boy in America, beginning in about the fifth grade, and repeat it every year through high school. You want to talk about role models for our young men? Don’t make any babies that you are not willing to suffer and stand in the strong winds for, each and every day.

Emperor Penguin family

Emperor Penguin family

And you guys that have a child out there somewhere, never mind about trying to prove to the world that you are a MAN. Prove to me that you are AS GOOD AS A PENGUIN!

Deal with your kid(s) EVERY day. Some way, somehow. Every day!


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Les Paul Leaves Us

This is a post that I hate to have to write. Les Paul, musician, inventor, industry-changer and all -around great guy passed away today in White Plains, NY. Les was 94. Up until just a couple of months ago, he was still playing his guitar, live, every Monday night at the Iridium Jazz Club, in New York City.

Although he always considered himself a Jazz guitarist and never put out a Rock record, Les was, literally, one of the founders of Rock ‘n Roll. The inventor of the solid-body electric guitar; the creator of over-dubbing and multi-track mixing, Les Paul is at the heart of the modern recording industry. An inveterate tinkerer, he built his own equipment and then taught the mainstream manufacturers, like Gibson Guitar Corporation how to duplicate it.

I became a fan when I was just a kid, watching the Les Paul & Mary Ford Show on TV. It was purportedly filmed at their house (Les & Mary were married for fifteen years) and the performance of a couple of songs would be woven into some small episode of daily life like Mary planting new flowers. I remember one show where Les explained some of his unique recording techniques and the home-made equipment behind it.

In the late 1930s Les formed The Les Paul Trio with bassist-percussionist Ernie Newton and Jim Atkiins (Chet Atkins‘ half-brother). The trio played on Bing Crosby‘s radio show and Les backed Bing on several recordings. When Crosby made an investment in Ampex Corporation, he secured for Les one of the first commercially produced reel-to-reel tape recorders, the Ampex Model 200. Les immediately began to tinker and he added a second playback head, mounted in front of the standard record/erase/playback. This allowed him to record a live track on top of an existing recording, the first instance of “overdubbing.”

Here is a link to an archive of several of The Les Paul Show which ran on NBC:

In 1980 a documentary of Les’ life and career was released called The Wizard of Wakeshau. Just a couple of years ago, PBS produced an updated version featuring current interviews with Les and some of his appearances at the Iridium Jazz Club. Keep your eye out over the next few days for your local PBS station or other cable channel to be running one of these shows. It is time well spent learning about one of the giants of the music business and one of the nicest guys ever.

Vaya con Dios, Les!


Cover of "All Day Music"
Cover of All Day Music

No, this is not announcing another documentary about World War II or Vietnam. This is in reference to the musical group WAR, and one of my local PBS stations ran a one-and-a-half hour concert last. They will be repeating it tomorrow (Thursday, June 4). They are in fund-raising mode and are using several music concerts during evening broadcast hours throughout the week to draw their  target donors. Monday night they ran the most excellent David Foster: The Hitman concert. Catch that one , if you get a chance.

The group that performed was fronted by one of the founding members of WAR, keyboardist Lonnie Jordan. Several other members of the original group perform under the name The Low Rider Band. WAR is most often identified as a rock band or, more specifically, a purveyor of 70’s Funk. Those familiar with some of their major hits like The Cisco Kid, Low Rider, The World Is a Ghetto and Why Can’t We Be Friends? would probably see the validity in that.

The stations in your area might not be running these programs this week, but keep your eye out for their pledge drive week. It has to be coming up soon. Hopefully, you have not already missed the Spring/Summer drive. Another program my local stations have run is Chris Botti: Live at the Boston Pops. It is a great show with terrific guest stars including Sting, Katharine McPhee. The Chris Botti show also introduced me to a new talent, Sy Smith.

Doesn't she look like she can really sing?

Doesn't she look like she can really sing?

So, why am I, the jazzmonger, plugging a concert by these guys? Listen to them do All Day Music and Slippin’ Into Darkness and tell me that’s not jazz. And this question of “What can we talk about in reference to jazz?” puts in mind of an interesting discussion I have been participating in over on Kevin Kniestedt‘s “Groove Notes” blog, which you can find at:

Kevin is a gentleman and a scholar, and the dj hosting The Grooveyard on station KPLU. He also hosts an online jazz streamcast. Kevin knows his stuff. He recently posted about being “taken to task” by a listener of his radio show. The sin was having played the title track from Steely Dan‘s Aja album. Here is how Kevin stated the problem:

It was this most recent complaint that came across as far more angry than your average letter. In fact, the note made it quite clear that after hearing a particular song, the individual was “through” listening to my program.

The song in question was the title track to the Steely Dan album Aja. The complaint, in short, was that Steely Dan didn’t play jazz, and that Aja wasn’t jazz and didn’t sound like jazz, even if Steely Dan was a jazz band by nature.

And he concludes with this

So did I lose this one? Did I cross the line with Aja? Should I have just responded with “Jazz is free, it has no boundaries”? Should I have said “I’m the DJ, I’ll play what I want”?

Maybe I did the best thing I could do, and just not write back.

I responded, as did several others, that Jazz by its very nature is free-form and should be inclusive. plus, I added, why do we have to wall ourselves off from all other good pieces of music in order to be a jazz fan? Seems nuts to me. Go here:

to check out the whole discussion, AND put your two cents in.

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