Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Black Music Month

<bDUKES FANS “Hot fun in the summertime”…Sly and The Family Stone It is now past mid-June, and summertime is around the corner. As I age, summer is harder for me; heat and especially humidity can be rough for us oldsters. My wife and I came to dislike going through August in Philadelphia, so we started taking two-and three-week camping trips in August in the Northlands. We would head up to each of the Finger Lakes in New York state, occasionally to the Poconos, and once to the Adirondacks. And we almost always ended our Augusts camping outside of Kingston, Ontario and attending the Limestone City Blues Festival in that town. So this June, and the unusual heat wave we are in now got me thinking about that. But it is still June, and this month has one of my favorite celebrations. June was declared National African-American Music Month by President Carter in 1979, and I love the attention that our contributions to the rich stew that is American music gets during this month. There are a lot of great concerts and festivals, and there is also an array of streaming documentaries. Some of them I have mentioned in previous newsletters: Soulsville, USA. about Stax Records, and Standing in the Shadow of Motown, about Motown records. Over the past few months, I have also watched a couple of new to me documentaries about James Brown and Son House. It is always exciting for me to discover new films about people I love and who influenced me, so I recommend these films highly. If you are on this mailing list you obviously know that there are lots of way of celebrating Black music. And the power, joy, and soul stirring depth of the music never stops. It still moves and inspires me. Happy African-American Music Month to you all. James Brown : Bing Videos Son House : Why You Should Listen to Son House | His Life and Music | Delta Blues ( Standing in The Shows of Motown Stax: Soulsville USA | Official Website for the HBO Series |

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Hot Fun In The Summertime

DUKES FANS: “Summertime and the living is easy..” George Gershwin In a few weeks it will be the time that I recall looking forward to with great joy and delight. Summer vacation will be here, and regular school will be out for several months. I was a public-school student, and I used to look forward to the close of school with great enthusiasm. Summer vacation was the start of new adventures and was a great time. When I was in elementary school summer vacation meant a number of things. I grew up in the AME Church, so there was two weeks of Vacation Bible School. There were also trips to Coatesville, PA to spend a week or two at my Aunt Jane’s house. Seeing my father’s brothers and sisters and other family members and going to sleep to the sounds of the train carrying things to and from Lukens Steel Company are fond memories for me still. Summer also meant playing halfball and hopscotch on the street in my neighborhood with my friends, and eventually playing on a neighborhood baseball team with traveling games in different sections of Fairmount Park. That was a great experience for me as it broadened my sense of the world As I got older, it also meant trying to earn some money for myself. I did that by delivering newspapers, doing shopping for older neighbors, and collecting bottles from people’s trash and exchanging them for dimes and nickels at Dubin’s Lumber yard in the years before recycling. When I was even older-junior high school it meant taking a class or two at the Franklin Institute, which I really loved, and spending time at Bill Bennetts Farm Day camp on the ground of what is now Saul Agricultural high School in Roxborough. I did have to go to summer school once, as I failed Algebra 1. That was a terrible summer. In high school I worked for two summers under a Federal program for youths from low income families. One year I was a janitorial assistant at Central High School, and for the other I was a roadie for the Central High School Orchestra. I loved that! Listening to them rehearse and helping to carry their gear and attending their concerts got me interested in classical music, and that expanded my ears. I am truly grateful for that experience. All of this got me wondering once just where the idea of summer vacation came from. Initially I thought, quite erroneously, that it was a vestige of the days when so many Americans lived on farms and in rural areas. That was not true; it turns out that people in rural areas need the greatest number of workers in spring and fall and not summer for planting and harvesting. Early rural public school calendars reflected that need. The rise of the current form of summer vacation is due, instead, to the urbanization of the country and the desire of some public school advocates and reformers, such as Horace Mann, to bring rural and urban school calendars more in line with each other. It was also believed that 12 months of being in a school building was bad for students emotionally and, especially in hot urban areas, exposed them to disease. So by the late 1800’s what we think of as the “normal” school year was in place in much of the country. By the early 20th century, summer break ax we know it today was an established entity. I like the idea of summer vacation. As a student it gave me time to do things I really liked and learned from, and as a teacher for 40 years it gave me a break to learn new things, not think about school for a while, and to spend important and wonderful time with my family. It was almost always a good time for me. So I am hoping that students, teachers and families alike all have a summer this year that truly works for them. “Homework, they shout; is over and out. Vacation time has begun” (Chuck Berry. (Here is a link to Chuck Berry’s ode to Summer Break: ) (Many people are questioning the need for summer vacation and are arguing for some form year round school. Here is a PBS selection about that:-(you have to go through an intro to a show about disco; hang in) )

The Magic of Surprise

>DUKES FANS: “Being a sentient being makes one capable of experiencing surprise. But surprise is not going to come up to your door, knock, and ask to be let in. To encounter it, you have to be out in the world, heads up, and open to it.” Anon. I love that quote. It is one of the ways I try to meet the world, and if there are times I am not in that frame of mind and I can recall it, it helps me get back to that openness to the world. I am thinking about that quote because of experiences I had Tuesday in the wilds of Phoenixville, one of my favorite towns. I was In Phoenixville to record some harp on a track by my friend Paul Michael, a great guitarist, songwriter, and singer who used to live and play in the Philly aera for years. We did the recording, and I went off to the Phoenixville Library to see if I could display a poster for The Dukes’ upcoming show at Steel City. While in the library, getting water and getting out of the hot sun, the bus I planned to take back to King of Prussia Mall as the first leg of my trip back to Philly arrived 5 minutes early and passed by. Another one wouldn’t come for an hour or so. I was loudly upset for a bit, then I breathed deeply and decided to respond to the situation rather than just react to it. I decided to walk a few blocks further on Main Street to Steel City to get a bottle of water. In so doing I passed a record store-yes, a genuine record store with vinyl records-that I had not noticed before. I went in to see about dropping off a poster, and the sign in the door of the shop announced an LP entitled “Radical Optimism” Hmmm. I went in, introduced myself to Shawn, the owner, showed him the poster, and things somehow took off. We went from talking about what radical optimism meant to both of us, to talking about the blues in Phoenixville-yes, he is a real blues fan-to talking about our youths, what being in a record store means and feels like, and our relationship with blues, jazz, and gospel music. I flipped through various record racks and had the feeling of again picking up, looking at and reading an LP cover. It turned out that Shawn Cephas' father, James, owned King James records, a legendary chain of 3 Philadelphia record stores. One was at 52nd and Market Sts, near where I grew up, and I listened to and bought some of my earliest jazz records there. We then talked about clubs we had both been to, such as The Aqua Lounge, and The Second Fret, and memorable concerts we had been to as well as special moments listening to the radio years ago and before the internet and You Tube. It was an amazingly wonderful experience, and I made a new friend. And it only happened because I missed the bus and for some reason, decided to keep walking instead of stewing in my disapointment a So surprise is out there waiting, and it can come in wonderful and totally unexpected ways. Yes, sometimes surprise brings unpleasant things to us that we have to face and deal with, and that can be painful and tough. But often it is something small and delightful that gives us something that inspires us, makes us smile, brings a laugh, and reminds us that there are good things and good people in the world. We just have to be out there and open to it. (Shwan’s store is Forever Change Another great record store is Hideaway Music on Germantown Ave in Chestnut Hill : )