From the Desk Of: Eugene Marlow
Marlow Has Music & Journalism in His DNA

The article Marlow Has Music & Journalism in His DNA is drawn from a podcast interview Dr. Eugene Marlow gave on “College Talk”—a weekly video program exploring the lives and work of the people of The Weissman School of Arts & Sciences at Baruch College. Marlow has been a professor at Baruch since 1988.

The Marlow podcast interview is entitled Jazz and the Evolution of Media in the 21st. Century. The program is hosted by Dr. Aldemaro Romero Jr., Dean, Weissman School of Arts & Sciences, Baruch College (CUNY).


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“No Day But Today” A Lesson in Risk & Courage

Production of "No Day But Today" Maple Hill High School, Rensselaer, NYThe Marlowsphere Blog (#137)

A few weeks ago my wife and I attended a musical revue—“No Day But Today” —mounted by the Drama Club of Maple Hill High School in Rensselaer County (in upstate New York, across the river from Albany). Our niece, Rachel, a junior, was one of the featured performers.

The other students—ranging from freshman to seniors—presented songs from a host of established Broadway musicals, including “Something Rotten!,” “Cabaret,” “Footloose,” Hair,” “In The Heights,” “Avenue Q,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “Rent,” among a few others. Instead of a presentation of song after song, the students wrote a script with a story line that led from one song to the next. It made the show enjoyable and move along nicely.

The set was virtually a bare stage with some scaffolding-type ladders upstage. The costuming was mostly black with splashes of red. The lighting was nominal (the light cues were clunky, at best). The sound system was funky. Throughout the performance a student’s electronic microphone would go in and out; regardless, the mostly family-filled audience was highly forgiving  and, of course, enthusiastic at every turn.

The performances ranged from highly engaging to “yes, we know this is a high school show.” Some students had great voices and inherent stage presence (our niece included). Most of the students had nominal voices—one male student sang a duet an octave lower than necessary. You could hardly hear him, even with the microphone.

At the end of the 90-minute performance, the 27 student-performers took their collective bows, and the pit band (guitar, drums, and piano/synth) was given its due, as were the backstage crew, sound technicians, lighting folks, teacher advisors, stage manager, and director. Flowers were abundant. Milling among the audience after the house lights came up, congratulations were had all around. You would have thought the show had just earned a Tony for “Best Musical.”

Production of "No Day But Today" Maple Hill High School, Rensselaer, NYIt was a 90-minute show perhaps typical of middle school and high school shows across the country. Will it ever make it to a larger audience? No. Was it heralded in the local press as the show of shows of 2017? No. Was it a spectacular moment in the annals of The Maple Hill High School Drama Club? Perhaps.

But none of this matters.

What matters is that this “musical revue” happened in the first place. What matters is that these 27 participating students took the initiative to mount this performance, write the narration, engage students and parents to support the performance, and get on that stage and take the risk to put on a “live” show despite the fact that the school has no official drama club, much less a budget for one. They did this on their own.

Whether highly professional or barely amateurish, the act of taking the risk of putting on a live creation, regardless of the content, is an act of courage and actualization. And to be doing this in one’s tender adolescent high school years is even more reason to applaud it.

The show’s director, Emma Grace Myers, put it even more plainly. In the program she points out that “Theatre education has proven to:

  • Improve SAT scores
  • Improve teamwork, leadership, and collaboration skills
  • Improve skills and academic performance in children with learning disabilities
  • Improve problem-solving and reasoning skills
  • Improve self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-discipline
  • Improve overall responsibility, confidence, empathy, and poise.

“No Day But Today” had two weekend performances, but I’m certain the memory of it will linger a lot longer, whether consciously or not, in the minds and bodies of the students who participated in it. And there should be more of this, especially Production of "No Day But Today" Maple Hill High School, Rensselaer, NYthat once again in Washington, D.C. there are two-dimensional thinking conservative politicians who perceive that to “Make America Great Again” means doing away with the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

There are approximately 98,000 public schools in America, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s latest statistics.  How many of them follow the model of the Maple Hill High School Drama Club is a matter of speculation; there are no statistics to provide a firm picture of this kind of “performing arts” activity. But it would be a striking movement forward if most of these public institutions supported and nurtured the kind of positive event that “No Day But Today” represents.

The fine and performing arts can reflect the positive character of a nation; not walls and trade tariffs.

Eugene Marlow, Ph.D., is an award-winning graduate of the High School of Performing Arts (New York City) where he studied drama, dance, and music.

All photos by Jan Sileo of “No Day But Today” Maple Hill High School Drama Club, Rensselaer, New York

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Veterans Day Is About Remembering

Honoring All Who ServedThe Marlowsphere Blog (#136)

Veterans Day is this Friday, November 11. It became a national holiday in 1938 twelve years after Congress passed a resolution to celebrate it as a national event. It is coincidental that this year it is celebrated in the same week as America’s national and state elections, pitting at the national level one candidate who has a deep knowledge of the military and the international consequences of war (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and another candidate who never served in the military and has bragged about his greater understanding of ISIS than the generals who deal with it every day (Donald Trump).

Whatever the outcome, Veterans Day is about remembering. Remembering that in the last 100 years millions of people, military and civilian alike, have died in two world wars and several regional and civil wars, some of which are still raging today, such as the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and war-like terrorist events in places like Paris, France.

We should remember that putting on a uniform is not child’s play or a John Wayne movie. Putting on a uniform makes you a target as many policemen all over this country have known for some time and even more so in the last couple of years. However, a Army Service Uniformuniform also endows the wearer with responsibility and duty to one’s comrades, community and country.  It is also symbolic: symbolic of authority and, in a sense, symbolic of the collective power of people and machines that can protect and destroy.

Veterans Day is certainly about the people in uniform. We should remember that those who put on a uniform served not only our country on the frontlines, but also directly the people behind the lines: families, friends, communities. In a larger sense, those in uniform past and present help perpetuate the concept and practice of democracy.

The question now is: what will we remember about recent and past military events? Will we remember, for example, that the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan was about liberating the Afghani people from a repressive, fanatical regime cloaked in religious precepts while protecting Osama bin Laden? Or will we remember it as revenge for 9/11? I think we have forgotten, but the Taliban have not. It is ironic that we once helped the Taliban with arms in order to defeat Russia’s presence there. The Russians ultimately had the good sense to leave. Why don’t they also have the good sense to leave Eastern Ukraine and the Syrian regime?

What we need to especially remember is that this is a time of war on a global scale, not just militarily, but economically and philosophically. There is a war of cultural values going on all around us and this war will not abate soon.

I would like to think that in the future we will remember this time as a time not of business as usual, but as a time of great stress and confusion that in the long run will bring many voices to the planetary table. We have traveled to a place of a global economy, Military Cemetarybut there is no global culture. This journey has been and will be littered with the bodies of many people, some in uniform, others not. We will perhaps remember that there are no innocents in this matter and that change is not a gentle process. It is painful, but the result could be a new beginning.

We need to embrace this period of change. Change is the constant in the universe.  Those in uniform are on the front lines and risk their lives in periods of culture clash.

Eugene Marlow, Ph.D. teaches courses in media and culture at Baruch College (City University of New York). He is a four-year United States Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War.  He co-founded the Annual Veterans Day Luncheon at Baruch College, CUNY in 1998.

Eugene Marlow, Ph.D.
November 7, 2016

© Eugene Marlow 2016

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Kids + Jazz Is Alive And Well

"Jazz for Kids" at Jazz StandardThe Marlowsphere Blog (#135)

It would be easy to make the statement that the younger generation (however you define it) is not being exposed to jazz, America’s classical music, and that is one major reason why jazz is not a popular music anymore.

Well, it would be easy, but it would be a mis-statement for several reasons. Jazz has not been America’s popular music since the end of World War II and the advent of bebop at almost the same time. Jazz went from a dancing and listening music, to a listening music, and sometimes to a hard to listen to and understand music.

Nonetheless, in New York City, at least, there are several ongoing instances of kids, that is students not yet in college, who are being exposed to jazz, not only as listeners, but also as participants. The instances include the jazz program at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music Art and Performing Arts (used to be the High School of Performing Arts and the Music & Art High School before 1982), the jazz program at the Dalton School, the kids initiatives at Jazz@Lincoln Center, and the “Jazz for Kids” program at Jazz Standard, one of New York City’s leading jazz clubs.

I visited the “Jazz for Kids” program a couple of weeks ago, on October 16—a Sunday—when Jazz Standard opens its doors to a program it has been running and promoting for many years. I arrived at around 11:30 a.m. It was an amazing sight in this David O'Rourke, guitarist and bandleader "Jazz Discovery" program for kids at Jazz Standardleading basement jazz venue. On the stage—a stage frequented on Monday nights by the Mingus Legacy Band and on other nights by many of the world’s leading jazzers—was a somewhat diminutive young girl (turns out she was nine and a student at Saint Ann’s located in Brooklyn Heights) at the piano performing Gershwin’s “Summertime.” She also worked through the standard “Blue Bossa.” She was accompanied by a much older, and much more accomplished upright bass player and drummer. Granted, she was no Joey Alexander—she played all the chords on “1” and her improvising was highly formative—but nonetheless there she was performing in a jazz trio.

It turned out she was auditioning to become part of Jazz Standard’s “Jazz for Kids” program, a Sunday afternoon program, during the school year, curated by guitarist David O’Rourke.

Irish born David O’Rourke was introduced to the U.S. jazz scene in 1982 via Bucky Pizzarelli and Les Paul. Influenced by Pat Martino (with whom he studied and now collaborates), David has performed with jazz legends Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Jackie McLean, Billy Higgins, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Davern, Jack McDuff and many more. His arrangements have been recorded and performed by many jazz legends, as well as the RTE Concert Orchestra (Ireland) which he guest conducts.  David leads his own 20 piece Big Band (The O’Rourkestra), co-founded and directs NYC’s Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra and the Jazz Standard Discovery Program.

orouke-n-kids-capFollowing this audition, groups of junior high and high school students one after another took over the stage to rehearse. The quality of the playing was significantly higher, especially the bass players and the drummers. One pianist in particular, a senior level student from LaGuardia High School (at Lincoln Center) displayed a high level of technical ability and confidence. In a very quiet way he commanded not only the piano and the stage, but also the other players.

The instrumentation among the students was what you might expect: piano, bass, drums, guitar, alto and tenor saxophone. The tunes they played also met expectations: “There’ll Never Be Another You,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Back Home in Indiana,” among other jazz standards. The by-play among the musicians was also standard fare: a few choruses all around, trading fours, and incorporating quotes from the bebop litany, Monk, and “Trane” in their evolving improvisational technique. An appropriate mix of ethnicities was also present: white, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian.

However, the star of the afternoon, for me, at least, was Max Borak, an 11-year-old vocalist who performed Jerome Kern’s Oscar-winning song “The Way You Look Tonight.” Not exactly the kind of tune you would expect an 11-year-old to choose to sing, but then Max Borak is not your usual kid. I spoke with him briefly after he concluded his rehearsal. Turns out his singing model is Max Borak, 11 year old singerFrank Sinatra. Apparently, when he was younger he saw the movie “The Parent Trap” and fell in love with Sinatra’s rendition of the song of the same title. Try to imagine Wayne Newton’s voice in the body of an 11-year-old who is not yet five feet tall. This “kid” displayed poise and audience connection way beyond the norm. His use of the microphone also showed a professional understanding of stage mechanics. You’ll hear from him one day.

The afternoon audience (doors opened at 1 p.m., show time at 2 p.m.; no cover, but the food costs) was mainly parents, friends of parents, and people generally supportive of young people playing jazz. The program benefits everyone: the “kids” who get to perform and gain from the experience, the parents and friends of parents who get to see their kids grow professionally, and the Jazz Standard which gets to bring in an audience on a Sunday afternoon which otherwise would be dark.

The question that has to be posed is this: from what circumstances do these “kids” come to perform jazz? Why aren’t they looking to emulate any number of pop music icons that bombard all forms of media every day? It’s clear each musician understood the correct, professional stage demeanor required, understood how to relate to an audience, and knew how to relate to one another. What is influencing them?

The answer lies in two places. After doing a little questioning with David O’Rourke and several audience members it was obvious that many of the 16 or so students present that afternoon had parents who were either musicians themselves or had connections in some way to the music business or show business. Second, the educational system they were in was also a very strong influence. In this one afternoon they were students there from a specialized school—LaGuardia, a New York City high school one has to audition to get into—or a private school, such as Saint Ann’s or the private school in New Jersey Max Borak attends (even though he lives in Riverdale in the Bronx).

If anything is a truism it’s that where you come from will have a strong influence on your future. Jazz Standard’s “Jazz for Kids” program provides an ongoing environment for these future professional musicians, but it’s the parents and their school environment that provides the evolving talent.

Eugene Marlow, Ph.D.
October 31, 2016

© Eugene Marlow 2016

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Book Review: “Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music” by Paquito d’Rivera

The Marlowsphere Blog (#134)

Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music

Letters to Yeyito (Restless Books, Brooklyn, NY, 228 pages, softcover, 2015) by world renowned reed player Paquito d’Rivera has the sub-title “Lessons from a Life in Music.” Fact is the book is much more than that.

It is more than a litany of lessons from a life in music for one major reason: Paquito d’Rivera. If this book had been written by less than an accomplished jazz/classical musician than Maestro d’Rivera, it would have less meaning. Fact is Cuban-born clarinetist and saxophonist d’Rivera is celebrated for his artistry in Latin jazz and achievements in classical composition. He has received 14 Grammys, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, and the National Medal of the Arts.  He is the only artist to have won Grammys in both classical and Latin jazz categories.

But it is not this wall of awards that gives Letters to Yeyito its literary heft. Not only does the author offer a highly descriptive account of life in Cuba under Fidel Castro, he also provides a detailed account of the many people who have crossed his musical path and the family and friends who have surrounded him. More than the lessons, the page after page mention of people in his career is what gives the book its life.

The list of musical mentors and colleagues is lengthy. And it is not just name-dropping. Many are familiar in their own right; many others are less well known, but nonetheless important to his evolving career.

Here’s a partial list: “Charanguero” flutist Jose Fajardo, pianist Rafael Somavilla, guitarist Carlos Emilio, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, bassist Carlitos Puerto, trap drummer Enrique Pla, trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, pianist Mike Longo, composer Lalo Schifrin, the twins Placido and Domingo Calzadilla, Stan Getz, Earl Hines, David Amram, Mario Bauza (an old friend of Paquito’s father), alto clarinetist Rudy Rutherford, bassist Ron McClure, drummer Billy Hart, Ray Mantilla, John Ore, Mickey Rocker, Ben Brown, Paquito d'Riverapianist Joanne Brackeen, Rodney Jones, Bruce Lundval, jazz event entrepreneur George Wein, pianists Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, bassist Israel Cachao, local guitarist Carlo Emilio, saxophonist Phil Woods, saxophonist and flautist Frank Wess, soprano Martina Arroyo, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, bass guitarist Lincoln Goines, drummer Portinho, pianist Michael Camilo, trombonist Conrad Herwig, Argentinian saxophonist Oscar Feldman, and cellist Yo Yo Ma. Again, this is a partial list.

There’s also Uncle Ernesto, Jesus Canon the grocer, and old lady Cheché, among many other family members, friends, peers, and Castro-ites from his native Cuba.

If there’s a life lesson in this book it is that talent and high musical accomplishment attracts like talent and accomplishment.

Paquito d’Rivera’s  Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music offers the reader a first- hand account of life in Castro’s Cuba from a musician’s perspective. But more than this, it underlines the importance of family, friends, mentors, and peers in the development of a musical career.

Eugene Marlow
September 19, 2016

© Eugene Marlow 2016

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