Tag Archives: music


TED Conferences: For Genuine, Original Thought

This post-holiday time, this bleak mid-winter, has always put me into a thoughtful, planful (if there is such word) sort of mood.  I don’t think I’m alone either.  Seems to me that the chaps who plan the World Economic Forum feel the same way which would possibly account for this event being held at the end of January each year.

The Davos event is very attractive to many people. There’s an appeal to rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the world – Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Bono  – dining sumptuously amid elegant surroundings, and discussing important topics (sorry “Important Topics”) in one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland. Could just be that the skiing around Davos is good, too.

With all the events around the current worldwide economic trouble, interest in this year’s Davos event should be particularly high.  This event, though, has never really interested me.  Somehow it falls short.  There seem to be two groups of people at this event: the A-listers who headline the events, and the people who want to ‘network’ with them.  The whole thing has a feeling of a high school, model UN conference.  Like the cool kids in high school and the kids that wanted to hang out with the cool kids in high school.  Like Tyler Brule.

The forum’s website says the 2009 meetings will be ‘focused on managing the current crisis’ and will be attended by 1,400 chief executives, 250 public figures, and 41 heads of state. In other words, a lot of the people who got us into the current crisis.

I much prefer TED.com, an organization more geared toward original and innovative thinking.  In addition to well-known figures such as Al Gore and Rupert Murdoch – who will be found on the Davos circuit, too – TED events (which stands for technology, education, design) typically feature such interesting thinkers as Joshua Klein who invented a vending machine for crows as a means for researching and demonstrating their surprising intelligence and Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist whose deafness didn’t prevent her from being accepted to the Royal Academy of Music and whose talk on ‘feeling music’ provides a fascinating alternate understanding of sound and performance.

As with Davos, participation in the TED Conference is pretty limited but the TED talks, as they’re called, are readily accessible on TED.com and, unlike Davos, are worth watching whether right away or months or years later.  When I listen to Ken Robinson describe how schools could easily be performing much better or Malcolm Gladwell characteristic use of the engaging anecdote to help us understand the impact of personal choice, I am left thinking that the solutions to the world’s problems are much more likely to come, however serendipitously, from this group of thinkers than from Davos.

If your attention span is on the short side, listening to Richard St John’s ‘8 Secrets of Success’ will be three of the best-spent minutes of your life.  And you could do it from Davos, if you really need to be there.


Evelyn Glennie, ‘How to Listen With Your Whole Body

Richard St John, ‘8 Secrets of Success


About Town Featured People

About Town: Irv Williams

A good sax player, over long years of playing ought to become known for range, deft handling of ‘the axe’, mellow tone, and skillful phrasing.

Irv Williams has mastered all these skills and more to attain a revered status, certainly among local jazz fans.

I’ll always remember Irv – not just for his skillful musical phrasing, but for one, very telling phrase. I was hosting an event at the University Club in the early 90s where he and his trio were hired to play. The crowd had assembled and, many of them having gotten their cocktails, started to have that ‘what now?’ look that crowds get.

Irv was sitting serenely in a chair at the far end of the room near the piano watching the crowd but showing no signs that he was on the verge of producing the mellifluous tones he’s known for. Although he came highly recommended, I’d never met the man before or heard him play so I walked over to introduce myself. We chatted briefly before I was able to bring myself to the key question: “When do you plan to start?”.

He looked me in the eye, paused for a two count, and let me have it:

“I play when I get a scotch and I’ve been paid.”

My eyes locked with his, I snapped my finger for a waiter and pulled out my checkbook, scribbling out Irv’s payment with a wry smile all the while taking his words to heart. The evening clicked along beautifully from there and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since.

In the years that followed, I’ve trekked all over town to hear him play. There were the gigs at the old Bristol Cafe in St Anthony Main and that lounge at the Doubletree Hotel in Minneapolis in the late 90s.

Recently, the LSW and I sat through a couple of Irv’s sets at Il Vesco Vino, the Italian restaurant that replaced The Vintage. Ably accompanied by pianist Peter Schimke, Irv is clearly as comfortable as ever blowing out a range of tunes, mostly mellow and gentle but with occasional bursts of energy. As always, too, he welcomes the audience request but will adjust the range and tempo of these standards to his liking rather than play them as we might be accustomed to hear them in what we might think of as their definitive, recorded versions.

Irv is a gentleman and a generous performer, but, in keeping with the best tradition of jazzmen, make no mistake – it’s his world and you’re just passing through it.

Williams and Schimke perform Saturdays from 8-10 at Il Vesco Vino and have just released a new CD called “Duo”

People Theater | Music

Steven C Releases ‘Signature’

Writing about music is difficult. Actually, writing meaningfully about music is difficult. So if you don’t care to watch someone struggle in the effort, stop here.

For those of you still reading (and now I know who slows traffic just to look at a crash) let me say that some people do it very well. Stanley Crouch, for instance. has a gift for helping the reader feel the jazz in his words. I’m not talking about reviews of performances or events. That’s something altogether different.

Speaking about music is maybe a bit less difficult but only a bit. When doing so, you’ll likely get the sense of your audience’s understanding of music and the piece or artist under discussion. But a person is still constrained to the use of words that, musical though they can be themselves, at best only approximately describe the beauty of sounds using words. Also it’s best to avoid phrases like ‘tumty-tum, dah, dah, dah’ if you wish to be taken seriously. Again, those who do it well stand out clearly. Karl Haas and Leigh Kamman were two of the best at this.

Often the person best able to discuss the music is the composer/artist herself. You’ll know this yourself if you ever listen to Marian McPartland’s conversations with her fellow musicians.

Steven C does it well, too. Very well. Hosting a series of free concerts celebrating the launch of his new CD “Signature” over the weekend, Steven unwittingly showed his skills as a potential lyricist as he discussed the inspiration for his new work.

Playing to a full house on Sunday afternoon (Well, not nearly full, really. You should see the place – it’s  huge. But there were only as many people there as he would allow in), Steven spoke of inspirations – of his daughter Chloe dancing in circles; of Sunday evenings as the ‘compressed weekend’ of a busy performer; of hymns; of 114 years of life speaking to him through his house; of nature; of explorations; of journeys.

Nuance and emotion comes in the music as well as the words. The George Winstonesque ‘Deep Within’ is a lush and mellow tribute to musical roots. ‘Secret Circle’ managed to communicate the joy of family and a hint of melancholy. But ‘Signature’ is upbeat and suggestive of sunny afternoons.

The result of Steven’s inspirations is thoughtful and genuine. Think of it all as words, then music, by Steven C. But think of the whole thing as one delightful conversation.