Friday, November 23, 2007

DEMOCRATS UNITE! Team of Rivals approach is the answer!

There are moments in history when drastic times demand drastic measures. It appears we have now entered into just such a time. With the last eight years of the Bush administration, we the American electorate, have capitulated our interests and our rights. We have allowed the dynastic rule of the Bush family and their sycophantic cronies to manipulate our policies to enrich their patrons at the expense of both our national interest and our stature in the international community of nations. Despite a litany of failed or poorly executed policies, that were the result of installing too much power in any one political party, we failed to depose the emperor with no clothes, G.W., when we had the chance in 2004. Instead we showed our displeasure by swinging the legislature to the Democrats, retching the legislative majority from the Republicans in a desperate attempt to see-saw the balance of power with the hope of righting the nation’s ship, that seemed destined to be scuttled by the ineptitude of its skipper’s prowess. History reveals that a government with a balance of power between the two political parties serves it’s constituency far better than one that is predominantly ruled by one party or the other. It seems that one party dominance gives license to unchecked pork barreling, and rampant ideological excesses and can be ruinous to the interest of the country. Despite the shift in power to the Democratic leadership in the legislature and with the realization of a lame duck Bush presidency, we remain quagmired into paralysis by a lack of real leadership. With such an important election ahead of us, we must use extraordinary means to assure that real leadership is allowed to rise to the surface, as it inevitably does in times of need, and forgo political business as usual.

We need a change of direction in this country and a change of vision to lead us into the next century. Leadership requires sacrifice even at the expense of ego and personal gain. In the history of this country perhaps no individual represented a more subdued ego and artful ability to bring together disparate rivaling factions at a time of major crisis than did Abraham Lincoln. In 1860 the Republican party was hardly yet the party of Lincoln. As historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin so masterfully recreates in her wonderfully relevant “Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” the party had a formidable group of experienced, esteemed and politically powerful candidates for their nomination that year. The team included the esteemed William Henry Seward, thought by most to be the likely nominee; Edwin Bates, a strong regional character and Salmon P.Chase the powerful and ambitious former governor and senator of Ohio. The rise to the top of the unlikely rail-splitter from Illinois, Lincoln, was ultimately achieved by his shrewd and astute understanding of politics as much as it was by his being able to be perceived as a singularly uniting candidate that could stand for a compromise to the many varied constituents. When he was ultimately nominated to almost everyone’s surprise, he immediately went to work on healing the wounds that derisive political elections can produce. Ultimately, when he became the President elect, he used his great skills as a leader and conciliator to engage his former adversaries into serving their country with their distinctive talents within the confines of his cabinet.

Today, the Democrats have a similar dilemma. We as a country are faced with a myriad of issues that require real leadership and vision. We desperately need someone who can rally a “team of rivals”, as did Lincoln, to succeed with the tasks that lie ahead. We have seen the results of a Clinton presidency for the eight years prior to George W. Bush. While it was certainly a less acrimonious reign then the present administration, it had a chance to set policies that could have been visionary in health care, the environment, social security, international diplomacy, national security and education but generally provided less than stellar results on these issues. Why? Because despite William Jefferson Clinton’s considerable personal charm, his ability at being a conciliatory leader who could get past personal slights or disagreements for the sake of progressive reform was sorely lacking. Instead his policies became opinion poll driven and lacked any sense of personal commitment or vision..Like a rudderless ship his administration’s direction was subject to the winds of approval ratings and lacked the determination or will to really accomplish major policy goals and fundamental change.

The current front-runner of the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton, has campaigned using precisely the same tactics that served her husband’s popularity so well. She has become the artful dodger of the political process. Her answers during the debates are designed to carefully avoid taking any stand at all, so as to be sure not to alienate anyone. She has managed to skillfully avoid having to be daring, bold, progressive or committed to anything of real substance. He stand on the war is ambivalent at best. Her commitment to health care reform, while once a mantra that she carried the torch for within her husband’s administration, has now fallen victim to the industries lobbying efforts. Her waffling approach to major issues confounds any clear window into her true intentions or understanding of what she actually does stand for. In almost all opinion polls to date she is an alienating candidate that when pitted against the very uni-dimensional and polarizing Rudolph Guilliani loses to him in the general election! Can we afford to have her become the standard bearer for the Democratic party at such a critical time?

It seems that the remaining Democratic field has a distinguished group of candidates, many of whom might not be able to garner enough votes to be President on their own, but who each offer a distinct choice and vision as well as a chance for true change. Most of the candidates do not have enough support individually to fight the formidable Clinton. Dynastic politics in this country are making it difficult for new comers to challenge the well oiled machinery that is developed from previous tours of duty within American politics. This was true of the Bush family dynasty and is also true of the attempted Clinton family dynasty. Perhaps now is the time for Lincoln’s “team of rivals” approach to securing the nomination?

The unfortunate truth is that if the remaining Democratic candidates, Obama, Edwards, Biden, Richardson, Dodd and Kucinich do not band together before the primaries have proceeded to the point where Clinton’s nomination is assured, than the Democratic party runs the risk of losing four more years to the ideologues that predominate the Republican party nominees. Can we really afford to let that happen?

The Democrats need to show some leadership, some self-sacrifice and some creative thinking. They should unify the party behind a set of stated policy goals that all of the candidates can publicly support. After these goals have been hammered out from the differences between candidates, they must then unanimously pledge their individual support to the newly unified platform of principals and affirm their support for whoever is fairly chosen to run for the Democratic nomination as President on those principals. Once the party is united behind a thoughtful and compromised approach to the problems at hand, the remaining candidates should offer their services in a unified pre-election cabinet that would allow the American people to see that the formidable skills of this team approach will not be squandered by petty politics or ego driven one-upsmanship.

It is the history of the Clinton’s to punish those who get in the way of their ambition and reward those who support their ambitions despite otherwise unsavory conduct. Even with Ms. Clinton’s recent success in crossing party lines to accomplish tasks during her term as US Senator, one gets the feeling that this was all done to set the stage for her ascendancy to the Presidency and not a true heartfelt change in the politics of retribution. This approach is not conciliatory and so the chances of this “team of rivals’ approach to be realized under a Hillary Clinton nomination is highly unlikely. As the Clinton’s owe much to those advocates who have stayed true to their ambitions, we can expect more of the same under a second Clinton presidency. Why repeat the past? That is why the remaining candidates must subdue their own egos and find common ground to unite under a platform of forged principals and approach this nomination with a “team of rivals” approach before the nomination is lost to Ms. Clinton.

This approach is a return to sanity. It allows for differences in opinion but galvanizes the party from the fractured assembly it has become into a force that can effectively compete with the more unified approach of the present Republican party. This may be the only way for the Democratic party to assure victory in November. Democrats unite!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Richardson Gaining as Hillary Slips in New Hampshire

Here is a link to an article from New Hampshire polling results that shows the momentum that is finally gaining traction for Bill Richardson! At the same time New Hampshire voters are starting to see through the Hillary Hype and her support is dwindling. There may still be hope for a change in this coming election.

Check out the story for yourselves and have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Letter to Bill Richardson

Dear Bill:
I was watching you closely last night along with the other candidates. I personally thought your performance was the best yet! You had thoughtful and courageous answers to serious questions and I thought you deserved to be singled out as a candidate that showed rising promise against the bickering and infighting and back biting of the other so called leading candidates.
I was especially alarmed that Hillary Clinton couldn't even give a simple definitive answer to the softball question of whether she preferred pearls or diamonds! In typical Hilliaryspeak she simply answered with no answer "I want them both????" Surely geared to not choosing what she truly wants so as not to alienate the alternate constituent. Is that what we want in a President? I think not.
Your courageous answer about putting human rights before national security was deemed by the talking heads as being a Faux pas. I disagree. If we maintain a firm, unwavering policy of putting human rights first and living by what we preach, it will serve to strengthen our national security not weaken it!. People will no longer react to our two faced policy of preaching one way but doing what is expedient when it seems to serve our purposes. I am not for a weak national security policy, but I do not believe maintaining human rights is mutually exclusive to maintaining a secure and safe nation. When you lie with dogs you inevitably get fleas, so if we expect others to live by our values we surely must demonstrate that our values are not for sale or not compromised by fringe elements who see totalitarianism as the only way to secure some one's warped idea of safety. That logic brought the Germans to their knees in World War II!
You have sound ideas and I believe you are a fresh, untainted alternate to the other candidates. I am perplexed by the media's lack of picking up on anyone but the supposed front runners in after debate commentary. I was sure your performance would have been singled out, if only to comment on how much improved your delivery seemed. To the contrary, after debate commentary is so slanted to the front runners as to almost obscure the possibility of you or any of the non-front runners from having a chance. It is pitiful that we are served so poorly by a media that has no interest in fairness, equal time or equal exposure.
I am sorry for going on but this really disturbs me to think that we as a voting public are not given adequate coverage or thoughtful debate with the fairness that would allow for intelligent choice at the polls.
I am sending you another contribution and I hope your message is given more coverage, because it deserves to be heard.
Thank you for trying,
Ralph Miriello

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The attached article from the Washington Post tells a woeful story about politics and corruption as usual even in the once untouched terrain of our most remote state, Alaska. Seems that it doesn't matter how far away you are from the mainland. You are still within the exaggerated reach of oil company revenues and the long arm of corruption. Despite being perceived as a land of pioneers who prefer to be left alone and not bothered by the follies that the rest of the lower 48 put up with; Alaskan's are waking up to the realization that business as usual for Alaskan politicians comes with a price that far exceeds the $1654 stipend each individual citizen of the state receives yearly as a result of oil revenues. The scandal seems to touch some who seemingly were previously thought untouchable like Senator Ted Steven a multi-decade senator! Only goes to show you that the smart money always follows the money. Unfortunately the real crime is that Alaskan's can be kept pacified so cheaply and for so long!!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Hello friends, those of you who are still here. I know I have been totally ignoring the blog and I do apologize. Life can sometimes be very hectic and some things have to take precedence over others. PRIORITIZE!!! That is the key.

I have been watching the election campaigning very closely and though I haven't commented much as of late this article in the Des Moine Register seems to me to be a harbinger of things we could expect to be "business as usual" if Hillary Clinton were elected as the democratic nominee.
The Clinton machine seems to deny everything at first only to fess up in incremental pieces and grudgingly, until he whole truth becomes apparent. Do we really want more of the same for the next four years?

I am still backing Governor Richardson as the most reasonable, honest, intelligent and untainted of the candidates. Whether he has a snowballs chance in Hell. is unfortunately the present reality. But, methinks, that if there was a groundswell of support that showed his viability in Iowa, then perhaps he would gain some traction as an alternative to the Clinton machine. Don't get me wrong, I believe strategically that an Edwards Obama link up is the natural progression to any true challenge to the Clinton juggernaut, a two for one team approach that may galvanize the disparate branches of the party. But as a single candidate, Richardson could easily become a dark horse favorite, a conciliator and bridge candidate that unifies if he is seen as having a chance early in Iowa and New Hampshire. That is why I personally donated to his campaign fund. No illusions here, just tired of accepting the dynastic predilections that we seem to be having when it comes to choosing our leaders, especially our presidents.

As far as the Republicans go, McCain, the most honorable of the candidates, has backed the wrong horse when he went to bat for GW on this War in Iraq. Thompson is better left an actor. Romney seems to have the Clinton disease of saying what people want to hear when he needs their votes. Guilliani, while a formidable mayor and a powerful force in his own right; he has certainly shown poor judgement in his choices. His choice of Kerik, his choice of women and no matter what anyone says his relationship with his children speaks volumes about the real man.

Here is the link to the Des Moine Register article.

I hope my proselytizing hasn't turned too many of you off!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

ECM : The label that keeps on tickin'

I spent the night last night listening to some of my old vinyl with one of my sons.
I am inevitably drawn to the seventies music of the ECM label. Manfred Eicher was a genius about identifying amazing musicianship in its infancy. He gave a working recording platform to many different astounding musicians and had the ear to record them in multiple and varied combinations. His work with Eberhard Weber; Ralph Towner: Miroslav Vitous; Steve Kuhn; Jack DeJohnette;Dave Holland; Jan Gabarek; John Surman and others is still a joy to my ears and some of the most creative music to this day. I tip my hat off to him for the wealth of music he has allowed us to have the pleasure to experience and share with the next generation.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Santa Fe Journey & the Bee House on Baca Street

& The Bee House on Baca Street

By Ralph A. Miriello ©2007

In a never ending quest to determine where we may someday like to settle for the next phase of our lives, my companion, Stefania and I decided to take a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico recently. We decided that after raising seven children between us we would start to plan how we might actually spend our coming years in an environment that was sympathetic to our own sensibilities.

Stefania is an intuitive, a shaman, an accomplished feng shui practitioner and foremost a healer and she has long found the New York metropolitan area to be somewhat lacking if not devoid of the soul and spiritual connection that allows for acceptance of what she does and how she sees things. I myself aspire to much less. I am a builder who has done his share of participating in the unchecked growth and economically driven development of the tri state area over a thirty-year career. Despite my recent conversion into trying to encourage and develop building in a more “green” and eco friendly way, I have viewed myself as part of the problem and not yet part of the solution to the deteriorating quality of life we are experiencing in this area. I hope to become an active agent for change going forward.

We both however, have seen the light and have made a conscious effort to try and discover a place where the next leg of our journey could be more comfortably traveled in a way that would be more true to our reclaimed sensibilities. To this end my partner chose a trip to Santa Fe where we would also combine the trip with a visit from her brother Marco and sister-in-law Sylvia who were to meet us there from Los Angeles.

I must admit to being less than overwhelmed with her choice of destinations to explore. This is not to say that I had no desire to see the place. In fact the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous. I had just finished a book Blood and Thunder that was predominantly about the mountain man and western scout Kit Carson, who made his home in Taos, New Mexico. The story is filled with references to various points of interest like that include Santa Fe Trail and Taos, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the surroundings, so I felt somewhat connected, at least from the historical point of view. I had never been to the desert except for a one time drive through Nevada, on the way to Las Vegas, as part of a coming of age cross country adventure that I had done with my best friend Doc in my early twenties. Neal Cassidy had nothing on us. Stefania’s motives were certainly purer; she had long read various articles about the people of Santa Fe and their affinity to be slightly ahead of the curve in matters of spiritualism, energy conservation and a more holistic approach to health and well being. She was anxious to find a place where her natural gifts were honored, where the climate was a bit more temperate and where the cost of living was more affordable. With this in mind we made our way to the one of the oldest cities in North America.

Santa Fe is the third oldest surviving city established by Europeans in North America behind Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. It is the oldest capital city in North America established, as such, by the Spanish in 1610. It is also a city of altitude with an elevation of 7320 feet above sea level. This unique combination of a seasoned past, elevation and the stark quiet of the desert give it a charm and identity all its own.

After disembarking our flight from Liberty Airport in Newark to Albuquerque International Sunport in New Mexico at 12:30 am, we spent the night in a pedestrian but adequate Courtyard by Marriot. The next morning, a courtesy breakfast of OJ, toast, Cheerios and coffee in our bellies, we rented a modest Suzuki sedan and made our way toward mystical Santa Fe. Santa Fe lies directly on I25 approximately 67 miles or a little over an hour from Albuquerque. The late June day was unseasonably hot and yet the humidity was nowhere to be found. The net result was a comfortable, sunny drive through the high desert between the two most major cities of New Mexico. On the way we were struck by the lack of trees that we are so accustomed to in the northeast. In its place the desert expanses offered, pinion pine and sage and a rustic, craggy geography comprised of multi-hued reds, oranges and browns. On the ride up we also became aware of the large Native American presence, which was amply represented by the various tribes that comprise the New Mexican population, and the conspicuous presence of their individual reservation territories with their thriving gambling casinos. The influence of the strong Spanish heritage was also evidenced by the customs, language, foods and architecture throughout.

As we climbed in elevation, Albuquerque is 2000 feet lower than Santa Fe; we could see the sacred mountains in the distance. Santa Fe is bound on the west by the Rio Grande Trench and to the north and east by the Sangre de Cristo or “Blood of Christ” Mountains. Further to the north and deeper in the mountains about an hours drive from downtown Santa Fe lies Taos, known for its fine skiing, its cottonwood and aspen forest, part of the Carson National Forest and a breed of settlers that are seemingly a world apart from the rest of the state.

We make our way into downtown Santa Fe with our GPS firmly stuck to the windshield of the Suzuki and are surprised to find it a perfectly manageable city. By the crowded standards we are familiar with back home as our guide, it’s a pleasure to be able to navigate through this quaint city without ever feeling threatened by huge traffic jams or unruly, pugnacious drivers rushing to get somewhere. We perceive courteousness, even on the roads during rush hour (hardly a rush) and that immediately puts us at ease despite our lack of knowledge about the intricacies of the various highways and byways we must navigate through. After taking a short tour of the downtown and viewing some of the older, pueblo style adobe buildings that still stand, we approach the rail yard section of town, a seemingly bohemian area that appears to be in the throes of somewhat scattered but current development. Our navigational tool directs us to Cerrillos and then to our destination street Baca, where we have rented a house by the nom de plume The Bee House. At first we are somewhat surprised by the shabby appearance of some of this neighborhood. These are obviously older homes built in the Pueblo style with adobe walls and flat roofs. Some are well kept little jewels that have been tenderly restored maintaining their original charm while others seem to have borne the worst for wear. With remnants of rusted cars in driveways and pick up trucks left to rot on scraggy red dirt yards littering some of these neighborhood houses we felt like Stefania’s brother Gianmarco who had made the arrangements had perhaps made a mistake by securing our lodging over the Internet. After finding our way to the address listed, we parked our Suzuki in a dirt driveway that was adjacent to a curve in the winding road. With a little trepidation we got out of the car and knocked on the door to the little adobe cottage that was supposed to be the Bee House. The screen door was open and there was no one around. We had called ahead to the proprietor who had been freshening up the place as we drove into town, so she knew we were close. We assumed she had left it open for us and proceeded to inspect the place with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Much to our delight the place was immaculate. After riding through the area we expected to be as disappointed with the place much as an on line dater is usually disappointed with their first date with the next Cate Blanchette or Keanu Reeves look a like. The rooms, the kitchen, the bedrooms, the bath, the kiva style fireplace and the living room all looked consistently like the photos we had seen on the Internet and didn’t give us pause to think we had been mislead. The fact that the proprietor had left the house opened also gave us reason to believe that our first impressions of the neighborhood might have been a bit too hastily developed.

Satisfied that we could safely and comfortably make this our camp for the next few days we began to unload the baggage from the little Suzuki. Soon we were greeted by the proprietor a cheerful woman in her early forties, dressed casually in khaki pants and a short-sleeved blouse. She introduced herself as Amy. Soon Marco and Sylvia arrived from the airport in their own rented car and after hearty hellos and a careful inspection of pregnant Clyvia’s bulging belly we settled in and chose rooms.

After a sincere hearty welcome, Amy showed us around her unusually pleasant little rental including a brief explanation as to where to find fresh towels and sheets and how to operate the laundry. She also gave us a brief tour of her backyard where she had percolating four active beehives and so the name The Bee House. The hives were not like any I had seen before; no rounded mounds as pictured on my Golden Blossom honey jars.

Her hives were comprised of corrugated metal over what appeared to be old metal washtubs and Amy explained they were similar to the ones used by African beekeepers. She assured us that the bees were perfectly docile and that we should not be expected to find them a bother at all during our stay, which was comforting. She also informed us that she was residing in the other adobe home a mere fifteen yards directly behind our rental unit and that she could be within shouting distance if we required anything or needed to ask her directions. This at first seemed disconcerting but we soon found her close proximity to be nothing but delightful and her local knowledge an invaluable resource.

We found Amy to be a very gracious innkeeper. She provided us with some honeycomb dripping with fresh honey from her hive the next morning and we anxiously devoured the sweet gooey, light amber nectar with a little bread at breakfast time. She also turned out to be a fascinating wealth of information, about the area, about bees, about good and inexpensive restaurants and strangely enough about the growing movement of fellow concerned residents with environmental sustainability and building methods. She was a part of an organization called the Bioneers, a local group dedicated to environmentally responsible living as well as a student of adobe and other construction techniques specific to the area. This I found particularly interesting being a builder myself. In fact this was one of the underlying reasons why my companion and I were so interested in exploring this area. We wanted to see what progressive people were doing in these areas of sustainability, energy conservation and holistic living. After Marco got up early and brought back some coffee and fresh baked pastries much to the delight of the rest of our crew we were ready for our first day’s adventure.

I had previously done some research prior to planning our trip and was interested in seeing how they did things here in Santa Fe compared to the methods we employ back east. We took a ride to see a development that was recommendation of friend. Las Campanas or “The Bells” is a high-end residential golf oriented community perched a few miles northwest of the city. The facilities include private stables, a swimming pool and cabana with well appointed eating and drinking facilities and several gated communities within an approximately 5000 acre development all surrounding a professionally designed golf course. The homes have to meet certain design criteria and while it is not fully built out presently, the development has been substantially completed enough to provide the owners with a sense of community while still maintaining its exclusivity.

Stefania and I made a visit and we were accompanied by a knowledgeable, firecracker of an agent, named Johnnie who took us through some of the various options that could be available, from building sites to pre-built homes. As it was late in the day, our tour was a somewhat hurried but quick overview. I was particularly impressed with some of the high end finishes that were apparent in some of these elegant homes; diamond finish plaster walls and ceilings, adobe like exteriors of different hued stuccos, heavy solid wood doors, arched openings, traditional wood slat & beamed ceilings, and the traditional flat roofs with abundant skylights were some of the features we found. The use of traditional trim around doors and windows, baseboards at floors and crowns at ceilings are all refreshingly foreign to this type and style of construction.

What I found particularly unsettling; however was the lack of any energy star rated homes within the development. When asked about the employment of solar, geothermal or other more advanced energy conserving methods, Johnnie felt it was something that people who bought here were not terribly concerned about. Being an energy star accredited builder myself I found this lack of awareness somewhat contradictory to what I had heard about New Mexico and frankly disappointing.

I took a moment to sit silently in the back yard on a covered veranda of one of the houses that were for sale. The yard overlooked a fairly wide hollow of sage and craggy rock outcroppings with matching houses across the hollow sharing a similar view back towards us. I was taken by the serene but stone cold silence of the place and it sent me away thinking, that while Las Campanas was a stunningly beautiful, urbane and exclusive project, this was not the type of living that would draw me to New Mexico.

The next day we took a fifty-minute drive up to Taos. We stopped at Kit Carson’s home, which was smack in the middle of town and a bit of a disappointment to me. Kit was one of the first mountain men and scouts of any notoriety and to think of his home, once on the border of the great western wildness, now in the center of a developed downtown was a bit anticlimactic for me! After driving a short distance out of town we came upon Taos Pueblos and strolled leisurely through the Pueblo Village there, with its Native American artisans and rustic adobe structures. The village is said to be one thousand years old and the old buildings were surprisingly, still being used by artist to work from and in some cases live in while also serving as a tourista destination. We walked from one abode to the next checking out the various offerings. Native jewelry of silver and turquoise was in predominance but we also saw beautiful tribal drums made from the trunks of cottonwoods and aspens and strung tight with the skins of Elk, Deer or Cow. The larger the drum the deeper the sound, with some simulating the deep tonal utterances of the booming thunder of an afternoon storm, and others the short shallow ping of an woodpeckers peck on a hollow cottonwood. We came across a marvelously talented native potter who specialized in horsehair decoration fused into his classically fired vessels. His name was Tony Mirabel, not a particularly Native American sounding name to my way of thinking, but none the less a name that was common amongst several artists that we visited. Tony’s work was authentically individual and the pride he displayed in his work was obvious. He was at first somewhat aloof not really paying much attention to the tourists that milled in and out of his shop. We discovered he was a Pueblo Indian and he told us that clay pottery that like he makes was not indigenous to his people, an honest revelation. After engaging him in some conversation about his works and marveling at the delicate details of his horsehair applications he warmed to our presence and got up from his bench from where he was working in the back of his shop. He saw the Greenwich Motor Car Show emblem on my souvenir, red Mercedes baseball cap and mentioned that he had many clients from Greenwich, CT. “They don’t even ask the price.” He offered. I smiled and said we were not to be mistaken for those people. We both laughed. We did however find a beautiful and affordable small vase that my companion was especially fond of and I purchased it for her. We continued our conversation and he recommended the best drum maker in the village, his cousin, another Mirabel. My shamanic companion was in search of a particular sounding drum for use in her ceremonies. Before we left Tony graciously permitted me to take his photograph standing in the threshold of his arched adobe studio doorway bathed in the shadowy backlight of his op skylight. I noticed that even here the skylights were secured with burglar bars to prevent intrusion, a somewhat disappointing reality. His picture captures his solid, craggy, unmistakably Native American persona, beautifully framed by his adobe studio surrounded by his art and memorializes for me the artist to the piece of his work that we purchased.

After a wonderfully simple but authentic lunch at Mike’s kitchen, a local favorite haunt in Taos, we rode out to see Spaceship Earth. This is an area out near the Rio Grande Gorge, which we also had the pleasure to visit. We arrived just minutes late to take the last tour, but we saw enough on our own to see what all the fuss was about. The area features at least a dozen or so homes in a relatively stark desert like landscape. Each home, in their own individual and somewhat odd way, incorporates recycled materials in their construction while being purportedly designed to have minimum impact on the environment as well as being energy efficient. We saw houses made with recycled bottles and aluminum cans, recycled tires and other normally discarded products. Most structures were partially dug into the earth to both minimize their heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer and to be relatively unobtrusive in their visual impact n the serene desert environment.

Spaceship Earth is indicative of Taos and the people this mountainous maverick town attracts. Check this out for more info.(
The beautiful mountains and fauna of the Kit Carson National Forest surround the area; of which the famous ski resort is just a part. The people who settle here are known throughout the State as being a breed apart. Part rugged western individualist; part environmental activist; part outdoorsy oriented adventurers; Taos emoted this very special feeling in all of us.

On our return trip we stopped at the Rio Grande gorge, which was somewhat of a surprise. The gorge itself was a deep chasm that was obviously the result of millennia of water carving its way through the reddish brown mountains that run adjacent to the river. The gorge was impressive in its depth and length. The myriad of colors that patterned the cascading walls spoke of layer upon layer of different eras buried long ago, only to be exposed by the endless powerful cutting force of the once driving river. The historically famous river meandered below, in my judgment, at least fifty feet from the top of the gorge and seemed like a faint remembrance of the powerful river that once was

On the way back to Santa Fe we again stopped in Taos. The girls wanted to view the shops and pick up gifts for the children back home while I went in search of an authentic western belt for one of my sons and a handsome but manly Native American crafted silver ring for another. After we had checked out the stores we were interested in we darted our way through an afternoon shower to a combination art gallery/café for some long deserved refreshment. The place had a wonderful open-air courtyard that was covered with wild indigenous flowers and the sweet aroma of sage was in the air. Since it was still raining we settled in a corner table overlooking the courtyard and immediately ordered our margaritas. Stefania declared these margaritas to be the best of the trip and we sampled some light fare, which was equally delightful before we made our way back to Santa Fe. I questioned the waitress who appearance reminded me of the punk rockers from the lower east side of New York City and asked where she was from. She was a transplanted Californian who had traveled extensively; made her way to Taos but was now thinking of going to spend some time in Europe. She was a teacher when she wasn’t plying her trade as a waitress. We asked what she thought of the New Mexico and Taos in particular? She offered that Taos was one of the only places she had lived in that she would consider returning to settle. We all thought that this was a pretty strong validation of what were we all feeling.

We made our way back to Santa Fe and with the windows on our Suzuki wide open and with the endless fields of sage flanking the road for miles on both sides, we were pleasantly treated to the powerful aroma of this sacred herb wafting through the car.

The next day we proceeded to explore the old plaza in downtown Santa Fe. There we strolled by the Cathedral of St. Francis and by the many stores and restaurants that were in abundance on the various side streets. Stefania wanted to look at the local Native American street market, where Native artisans from around the state displayed Indian artistry. We found one particularly authentic artisan, whose work was especially appealing and listened intently as he described the “medicine” that goes into each and every one of his spiritually inspired pieces. His name was Roddy Lee Guerro from Albuquerque and he described himself as half Apache and half Navaho in ancestry. He explained how his father taught him the medicine of his people’s history and how he eventually came to appreciate that it was his duty to pass this tradition on through his work in silver and stones. He in turn passed the trade on to his daughters and they now all simple blanket, the blanket creating the borders of his small patch of space amongst the flanking other Native artisans that were on either side.

He explained how much of the jewelry displayed in many of the stores were
products made in Mexico and often not made by authentic Native American artisans as
sometimes purported. We found out that he and the others had typically stood on line
each morning for hours waiting to be chosen by lottery for the fifty or so spaces
designated to Native American artisans for the coveted open-air market spaces. Often
times he and others were sent away with out a spot despite some traveling from hours away. His jewelry showed design features that embodied Native American themes and his polished turquoise and other stones were carefully chosen for their unique graphic beauty and wonderful colors; and of course there was the magic that was part of his work that was missing in others. His medicine that he had been inspired to infuse in his art through his ancestral heritage was his work’s defining quality.

We were unprepared to spend the kind of money that his work commanded that morning but we told him we would return the next day flush with cash, unfortunately for us, Roddy was one of those artisans who were sent home the next day for lack of space.
My overall impression of the open-air artists market was one I realized of sadness.
Few of the artisans appeared to have the quiet majesty and absolute sense of pride that Roddy had exhibited to us. Most seemed to be quixotically following a pattern that borders on victimization subject to the whims of tourists who are blinded by the true nature of the people behind the craft. I know this will sound like a somewhat cynical view of the artists market but it resembled in my mind an extension of the images of displaced indigenous peoples trading hard earned goods for trinkets outside of an old Army Fort.

Santa Fe offers a variety of wonderful eateries and fine restaurant dining some of which we had occasion to visit. No trip to the plaza is complete without a visit to the famous La Fonda hotel on San Francisco Street where margaritas are always in order. One afternoon we made our way to this grand landmark and tried to have a drink in Bell Tower overlooking the plaza. Unfortunately for us the Tower was closed until later on in the afternoon and we wound up settling for a couple of icy margaritas and some cold Negro Modelos with some chips and salsa in the lobby bar. The central courtyard dining area was basked in sunshine and had a wonderful open air feeling to it surrounded by a bustling wait staff and decorated with local floral arrangements. We attempted to get a table to enjoy our drinks but were told that we had to eat lunch there to be seated. Since we had already eaten and were only interested in the ambiance and drinks we made our way to the accommodating but more subdued bar. We also made our way to the large adobe like fireplace at the far center of the lobby and delighted in taking pictures at this landmark location.

On another evening we made our way to a Middle Eastern restaurant that Sharveen, a friend of my companion’s brother and now a resident of Santa Fe, took us to in his monster truck of a Ford pickup. The foreboding look of the vehicle with its air shocks elevating it so high that you could envision the driver dropping a rope ladder down to the curb to allow you entrance into its cab posed an especially funny scene when Gianmarco and I had to hoist Cylvia, seven months pregnant, into its elevated rear cab. Despite the truck’s loud rumble and diesel exhaust as well as its ominous dark window tint, we were surprised to find out that this unlikely vehicle, a renegade from a Mad Max movie, was really an eco-friendly if not totally practical form of transportation. It seems that Sharveen, being a stunt driver for movies and commercials, had this truck outfitted to burn vegetable oil, a tank of which he carried in the back bed, and when that wasn’t available there was always the local bio-diesel station! I marveled how very cool this was as we made our way to his Middle Eastern treasure of a restaurant. There in a shopping center storefront was a little gem of a restaurant, Cleopatra Café, where we all had wonderfully fresh hummus and pitas as well as other traditional Lebanese and Greek dishes.

On another occasion we had dinner at the Zia Diner Restaurant, an Amy pick, where we experienced home style cooking from a wide varied menu that included one of my favorite’s homemade meat loaf. Eggs any style were also the order of the day; all in all a pleasant and affordable experience. We closed the place at 10:00 pm (this ain’t New York people)and the staff while all ready to leave for the evening never rushed our departure.

Amy, our beekeeper/hostess, also suggested that we reserve one night to go to Tomasitas, a local Mexican restaurant that is know for its generous portions, good food and pleasant atmosphere. We were not disappointed with the food, the service or the atmosphere. The place is a converted railroad station in the now trendy rail yard section not far from our Bee House lodging. The fare is Mexican with good margaritas and a neighborhood family atmosphere. This was the one time however during our entire stay that we encountered an extremely unpleasant person. I had been commenting to my party that the one overriding factor that most impressed me about the Santa Fe area was the overwhelmingly friendly and accommodating response we all received from all the people we met.

We had found generous and friendly people all through our stay from the president of the Santa Fe local chapter of the Homebuilder Association, with whom I had prearranged a meeting and who spent some of his gracious time discussing the building opportunities in the area; the various Native Americans we met at the Pueblo Village or at our trip to the chapel at Chimayo; or the transplanted artist couple that ran a remote but surprisingly urbane art gallery of wood carvings and metal sculptures on a remote road half way between Santa Fe and Taos, in Las Truchas. Universally everyone was extremely kind, not pushy or overly aggressive and seemingly genuine. That was the case until we came across this dour patron at Tomasita’s, who we had the misfortune of sitting adjacent to. When we arrived at the restaurant we had a party of seven. It consisted of my companion Stefania, Gianmarco, Cylvia, Marco’s friend Sharveen and his wife Marianne, and their five year old daughter Tuesday. Tuesday was a little cranky and tired and like all young children a bit noisy, but not demonstrably so. Tomasita’s is a nice restaurant but by no means an exclusive, stuff shirt type of place where occasionally cranky children should be expected as a normal possibility. Despite Marianne and Sharveen’s best efforts the little girl was somewhat agitated. This behavior apparently caused the elderly lady next to us an undue amount of grief. With a dour look on her face as she sat tellingly alone eating her dinner, she began to uncomfortably stare at us in a mode bordering on disgust. She then told Marianne that she should control her child more in a restaurant and not allow her to disturb other people’s dinner. This was too much for Sharveen who until then had been trying to accommodate his fellow diner’s peace by walking Tuesday and keeping her occupied away from the table most of the time. Her obvious lack of understanding and continued complaints made us all the more hostile, with all of us exchanging menacing glances and occasionally some words. She eventually left but not without staring us down and complaining to the manager on her way out. He promptly told her that she was in a family restaurant and shouldn’t come here if she was unable to cope with children. He then came over to our table and apologized for her behavior which we found extremely gratifying. This reaffirmed our opinion that Tomasita's was as a fine place to eat and imbibe.

As I alluded to before we had also made a trip to the sacred holy chapel at Chimayó,
which is twenty-four miles north east of Santa Fe, along Route 76, sometimes called
“the high road to Taos”, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.Chimayó is the location of a
shrine and a destination for many hopeful people with various aliments who go there in
search of their faith and sometimes a cure. Built around a well where according to tradition a crucifix was mysteriously discovered on three separate occasions after being transported from miles away, the chapel in this slightly remote mountain village, is a small but charming church with a small area set aside to the left of the altar where the well is now housed in a shrine like room. The walls outside the well chamber are lined with pictures, crutches, canes and offerings from many believers that have come to the chapel and been cured of their maladies. The small room housing the well is where patrons go with plastic bags in hand to scoop up the sacred dirt from the very location where the crucifix was first found back in 1810. We dutifully took some time to pray in the chapel and as is her tradition, Stefania lit several candles for all those she chose to so honor. We then proceeded to the well were we were forced to stoop below a short archway into the little chamber that housed the well. We were not alone and patrons dutifully waited in line to get to the well, say their offerings and scoop some of the healing dirt that is so coveted by the believers. When our turn came we bent down to the side of the well where a convenient garden hand shovel was provided and we filled up our plastic containers with the magic dirt. I felt strangely moved to say a few quiet prayers and took my little piece of this New Mexican earth as a remembrance. Despite my reticence to believe in such things, I found myself taking some of the earth and spreading it on my knees, over areas that were subject to chronic aches, somewhat hopefully, all the while wishing no one was watching. It occurred to me that with all the dirt that has been removed from this location since 1810 by cure seekers, the seemingly inexhaustible supply must either come from some other source or is miraculous replenished as the wine was at the Canaan feast, but I chose not to dwell on this incongruity. The little town of Chimayo is also know for its particularly prized chili peppers and we could not leave without taking a bag of the potent powder.

Toward the end of our stay we went to explore the artist gallery section of Santa Fe off Canyon Road, which lies to the east of the downtown plaza area. Apparently, Santa Fe is home to the third largest assembly of art galleries behind New York and San Francisco, and most of them wound up nestled, neatly along the Canyon road corridor. Stefania having once been exhibited artist herself was particularly interested in the kind of work that could be found in the galleries.

We had made plans to meet Sharveen and Marianne at a place called the Teahouse on Canyon Road. The place was a local neighborhood café that offered a myriad of fine aromatic teas from around the world, as well as coffees, and snacks. We chose to sit in the lovely outside rock garden under the shade of a large tree. This is what Starbucks should aspire to. The inside was bright and wired for Internet; locals were perched at various tables with their laptops while other more relaxed patrons enjoyed the ambiance and aroma of the Teahouse. Stefania and I found the area around Canyon road to be one of the most appealing neighborhoods in Santa Fe. The feel of the area exuded a sense of community while at the same time being a somewhat private neighborhood where one could walk to and from the various activities in the area while being shaded by tree lined streets with beautiful and carefully restored adobe constructed homes. All in all a very pleasant environment and yet minutes from the downtown plaza area.

After our pleasant sojourn at the Teahouse, we made our way to an art gallery owned by a friend Marianne. The Corazon Gallery had a stylishly designed a long narrow white stucco walled gallery that was very tastefully appointed, displaying some fine limited edition art from various local artists as well as metal sculptural work done by the proprietor herself, Heidi. The art was appealing and there were postcard reproductions of some of the limited edition prints available for those of us who wanted to come away with a piece of the experience at a more affordable price. We checked out Mary Ann’s upscale clothing boutique, which was in the area and said our goodbyes to her and her blissfully sleeping Tuesday.

All in all we found our trip to Santa Fe and Taos to be one that was well worth taking and one that had us scratching our heads trying to figure out how we too could make this place something more than a one-time visit. Who knows what the future will bring but Santa Fe and especially Taos hold a special place in my mind as destinations where a better more gentile way of life is possible.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

An Interview with Pianist Steve Kuhn

Living Jazz History
An Interview with Pianist Steve Kuhn
July 6, 2007
Ralph A. Miriello

It’s a warm summer Friday afternoon, the first Friday after the Fourth of July holiday and I am a bit nervous as I enter into the condo complex in Dobb’s Ferry where I am about to conduct an interview with the jazz pianist Steve Kuhn. It’s my first interview and I am wondering how the hell I ever I came to this place.

Doing an interview with a prominent musician was something I didn’t take lightly. Being a fan, I sometimes feels somewhat in awe of those who can so easily produce the evocative sounds that move and entertain us so much. Not being a formally trained musician was also a factor that I was well aware of and I felt I had to over compensate for this short coming by being especially well prepared. To this purpose I started my research with diligence and inquisitiveness. I carefully checked out his biography on his website, as well as other bios on the Impulse and Sunnyside records sites, and in the media. I searched the web and discovered a carefully constructed discography and with this invaluable tool I was able to fashion a time line for the questions that I was trying to develop.

As I delved deeper and deeper into this artist’s life and work I was surprised to discover how truly important his insight might be, especially since he was present at the center of some of the most important jazz history of the last fifty years! I was surprised to find out that he was brought up in Brooklyn but spent a lot of his formative years in Boston. I discovered he had played with the post be-bop trumpeter Kenny Dorham and was befriended by the great pianist Bill Evans! I learned about his encounters with fellow students, Gary McFarland, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman at the 1959 Lenox Summer Music Program, a musical life defining moment. By going through his discography I learned that he had played with virtually every major jazz bass player of his era from Paul Chambers and Scott La Faro to Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez, Steve Swallow and Buster Williams. I discovered that he had spent years living in Scandinavia and toured Europe in the late sixties and that he was one of the first pianists to successfully bridge the so called “Third Stream” style of music, fusing classical arrangements with jazz improvisations in his and Gary McFarland’s October Suite back in 1966. I discovered that his compositional skills started in the late sixties and that his preferred format was the trio. It was apparent that it had been his life long ambition to record an album with a complete string orchestra and that this culminated in his recent offering Promises Kept a record he is most proud of.

I also learned that he had been interviewed several times before by various competent interviewers, most with considerable more skill than I have, and that it would be a formidable task to find out something new, and to ask different questions than those that had been asked so many times before. I had hoped to find some insight into the music and the choices and the people that he had encountered in his fifty years of playing music professionally during one of the most prolific and important times in American contemporary jazz music. I had also hoped to find a little bit more about the man behind the music.

With this in mind, I entered Steve’s unassuming condominium home, video recorder in hand and questions in tow, with a great deal of respect and also a great deal of trepidation. It was two days after the fourth of July and he had a small American flag propped on the top of a large evergreen bush that stood sentry at the entrance to his front door.

He greeted me at the door in his loosely hanging short sleeved shirt and a pair of well worn jeans, a man at home in his modest but comfortable surroundings. We entered past his galley kitchen, through the living room and down a short flight of stairs to this lower level, skylight lit family room that housed his ebony Baldwin grand piano, two humongous state of the art speakers, a sophisticated tube amplifier and bookcases filled with CDs.

I had entered into the inner sanctum and I hurriedly set up my video camera and recorder positioning him seated at his piano in the hope that I might get him to interact with it at some point during the interview.

I found him to be a man who was extremely gracious and forth coming, with no hint of self consciousness or doubt in who he was and what he was about. The ease with which he spoke to me and the comfort within his own skin that he exuded dissolved all the anxiousness that I was experiencing prior to meeting with him. My natural passion for the music and the artist started to take over and we began the interview.

The most compelling part of our discussions about his early childhood is the revelation that he was somewhat of a musical child prodigy. With neither parent being a musician his inspiration came from the playing of his father’s 78’s of the big band era and swing.

The most defining moment in his formal musical education was his experience with the teacher Madame Chaloff in Boston. It was Madame Chaloff, who became a surrogate mother as well as a musical mentor to the young Kuhn. “She was my main teacher, who tore down certain technical habits that I had already developed……and reeducated me.”

Madame Chaloff, a well known teacher in the Boston area and the mother of Woody Herman saxophonist Serge Chaloff, taught him the Russian School of Technique, about which I wished to know more and I asked him to demonstrate on his piano for me.
“You center yourself on the keyboard….you let your arms hang loose so that there is no weight at all, you have curvature at your hands so you don’t play flat fingered and then its all about the sound you want.”

His absorption of this technique has served him well, as he is able to summon all the power as well as the nuances of this instrument with his extraordinary control. He explains, while seated at his piano, how you gauge the power of the sound you want from the instrument by visualizing how far down into and through your body you want the sound to emanate from. “(Coming down from) the toes being the loudest….the first digit of your finger being the quietest.” He explains further “…which is like playing a horn, the analogy being the fingertip being your mouth and the key being the mouthpiece of the horn.”

I likened it to the act of consciously sending breath through the whole of your body during meditation, to which he readily agrees. “It’s all about getting the sound from the piano that you should get and allowing the sound to flow from your body.”

I was interested on his first hand knowledge of black/white integration in bands in the fifties especially in Boston. “It was fine. No problem, everybody was together.” His smile belies a time when things were simpler and less complicated, when musicians just thought about the music.

He is a Harvard graduate and admits frankly to being somewhat surprised at having had the opportunity to attend such a prestigious institution, but he clearly took away from there an education that has served him well throughout the years.

His well documented experience at the Lenox School of Music in the summer of 1959 was obviously a musical turning point in his life. He discovered the likes of George Russell, John Lewis, Günter Schuller and was cast together with fellow students Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman and Gary McFarland. He also met the pianist Bill Evans and the trumpeter Kenny Dorham and both would prove to offer life lines to the young musician when he made his way to start his career in New York.

It is here that I sense the first conflict between his love of improvisation and his classical training and sensibilities, for it is here when paired with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry that he finds himself somewhat confused as to his role in the making of the music. “To comp with them in the traditional way, laying down chords made no sense….” He found himself “strolling” around their musical directions as they delved into a more non harmonious approach to the music. This didn’t sit well and the same discomfort would later be revisited when he played with John Coltrane.

When he eventually traveled to New York to start his career he was landed a gig with the trumpeter Kenny Dorham, an under appreciated talent according to Steve, who he says became somewhat bitter at not getting his due along with the other giants of his era Miles and Dizzy. This gig with Dorham became an important step to his eventually being able to join in John Coltrane’s newly formed group, clearly a milestone in this young musician’s life. He was twenty one at the time.

“You played at the Jazz Gallery on St. Marks Place right?” I asked.
“That was the only place I played with him….eight to ten weeks….then ultimately McCoy Tyner took my place……..Six nights a week that was the way it was in those days. …..It was just extraordinary!” “We were playing a repertoire of stuff on Giant Steps…..then he got into Impressions …then he didn’t quite know (where he was heading)…He eventually went the course he did, away from all that dense harmony to almost inharmonic (sense) .”

“Did you feel up to the task?” I probed.
“Some of the time I did and some of the time I didn’t.”….basically when I heard McCoy with him, he just wanted a carpet, he didn’t want anybody to fuck with him, so to speak…” “He really didn’t articulate that to me. I said John is everything okay? And I’ll never forget this he said…I respect you too much as a musician to tell you how to play.”

When asked about the most significant part of his experience of playing with Coltrane we find the true nature and commitment of this musician.
“Just being around someone who for the first time in my life that was completely dedicated to the music. There was no interest in drugs, he wasn’t screwing any women, he was married. He really was just focused on the music going forward.”

Even with this apparent simpatico concerning the purity of the musical quest I got the sense that these two artisans were treading off in different directions.

Steve and I talk about some compositions of Coltrane that I had seen him perform and he explains the comparison of the structures of tunes like Miles Davis Tune Up and the similarities with Coltrane’s Countdown which is apparently a derivative of the Davis tune, and which is a song that Steve has recorded. He also demonstrates a few bars of the Richard Rodgers tune Have you met Miss Jones and tells of how he once spoke to John about the similarities between the release in this popular song and Giant Steps a Coltrane original. This is just further proof of how often interrelated musical influence from disparate sources can be.

After his time with Coltrane, his musical odyssey continued with the saxophonist Stan Getz. I am surprised to find out that it is his relationship with the bassist Scott LaFaro that ultimately brings them together.
“So when Stan called Scotty…”looking to form a band, Scott told Stan ….I’ll join you but I want the rhythm section that I want. Scotty was maybe twenty four.”
“How audacious.” I responded to the idea of a young LaFaro making demands to the older, more established Getz.
“But he could back it up. He was great, an extraordinary player.” Steve insists without hesitation. It becomes apparent that Steve’s relationship with Scott was closer than I had realized. The two had formed a trio with Pete LaRoca Sims and had aspirations. “Yes, we made a little demo together…Japan put it out, just to hear Scott on it is worth the price.”

Scott LaFaro had a relatively meteoric rise in the world of jazz bass. With only six years behind him on the bass, he revolutionized its playing by introducing guitar like responses to the instrument’s repertoire and adding a conversationalist aspect to the role of the bass in jazz. The work he did in the famous Bill Evans piano trio, at the time, with drummer Paul Motian, is often considered some of the most seminal playing ever produced in the trio format.

And what about his work with Evans? I queried.
“Scott loved Bill but he also felt somewhat constrained. With me I guess he felt that he was with someone with a similar attitude, I don’t know. So he was looking to leave Bill but at the same time it was work and he was (also) with Stan so he had a pretty good situation going unfortunately, the accident.

Here the previously composed pianist is obviously moved by the recollection of the untimely death of his former collaborator and friend. His pained expression belies the personal grief of a lost friend and lost opportunities as he describes the crash, the burning car, Scott’s propensity to drive fast and his own grim remembrances of the only identifiable remains of the wreck being Scott’s St. Christopher’s medal.

Despite Steve’s obvious emotional ties to Scott’s memory I press him further.
“What made Scott LaFaro so special? “

“Well he had incredible harmonic knowledge and had incredible ears so he knew exactly where you were going and then he could take you from there. If you were up to it you could have a real conversation.” “…nobody that preceded him played like him.” “He knew what the function of the bass was, he could play the bottom….he played it more a like a guitar….he could walk…..he could do it all.”

Ultimately their performance together with Getz and Pete LaRoca Sims at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival in New York would be the last time Scott ever performed in front of a live audience.

No discussion about Scott could be left without asking about Bill Evans, one of the most influential jazz pianists of his era, and a strong influence on Steve. Steve’s first experience watching Bill Evans once back in his college days made him realize he had to find and take his own musical path.
“Jesus, this guy is doing what I am but he has gotten it together, he is so much more developed than I am. It sort of threw me. But I loved what he was doing… except now I had to take a little detour and try my own way…” “ Bill knew about the sound, the piano sound we were talking about. One of the things I admired about him was that he had extraordinary technique, but you never heard that technique the way you would with Oscar Peterson, for example…..”

Less is more” I interject
“Less, exactly…” he offers in agreement.

I think this sums up Steve’s approach to playing succinctly. While he has a phenomenal command of the entire keyboard, more so than many modern jazz pianists, and formidable speed and technique, his wizened playing makes use of these attributes sparingly and to great effect. His overriding maxim is sparseness can speak volumes.

Steve’s coming of age with his own musical compositions started with his introduction to another great jazz bassist Steve Swallow when they both played in Art Farmers band. “Swallow was the one that got me started writing originals…..He sat me down and said you got to write some music….he challenged me. At the time I was living in Sweden…….” It seems Steve went off to Sweden to follow a love interest, a Swedish film star and vocalist named Monica Zetterlund.

Prodded by Swallow, Steve started to write prolifically during this period and played extensively throughout Germany with bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christiansen as well as with Monica. Again as with so many musicians of this era, in search of acceptance of his musical identity he found Europe more understanding and appreciative as well as economically more viable. He ultimately lived in Stockholm from 1967 to 1971.

After returning to the United States his association with ECM records produced a seminal album that featured Steve Swallow, Jack DeJohnette and Sue Evans. The album Trance
was my first exposure to Steve and I was immediately captured by its driving Swallow bass lines, subtle DeJohnette cymbal work and Steve’s hypnotic piano work.

We talk of people he wishes he could have played with or opportunities lost in the last fifty years of being a professional musician. He had one opportunity of which I was unaware.
“I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to work with Miles. I had a chance to, I was with Stan Getz at the time and Miles was looking to form a group with Ron Carter and Ron called me and asked me if I was interested in joining his group. ……Miles was very erratic in terms of dependability. His band would be in Chicago and he just wouldn’t show up……It was economics. I was working with Stan and I was doing pretty well so I said no. I regret it because I missed out on it and would have loved to.”

And who is the only other living player he still would cherish playing with?
“I never worked with Sonny Rollins…..that might be nice. I don’t know now in this day and age.”
I offer “Wouldn’t a Sonny Rollins and Steve Kuhn concert be a wonderful event?”
“I don’t know. I am sure Sonny wouldn’t think of it, if I wanted to pursue it perhaps. I have the utmost respect for him, he is one of my heroes!”
In my own Machiavellian way I hope Sonny gets a chance to read this, is moved and perhaps this concert would not be a mere fleeting dream.

We spoke of his influences, Tatum…..”"God", really had it all.” Errol Garner, Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Horace Silver and of course Bill Evans.”
“What About Monk?” I questioned.
“More so his music than his playing. .....he didn’t have great technique but he had enough of a technique to do what he wanted to do. His compositions were extraordinary!”

We talk of his contemporaries, Chick, Herbie, Keith McCoy and Paul Bley and where he gets his musical inspiration these days. I get my musical inspiration from “…..people I meet, relationships I have ….I listen to classical music…..when I was younger I used to hang around all the time, going out every night at sessions or hearing people at clubs. I just sort of ran the gamut.” “I just take the time to synthesize these experiences and put my stamp on it if I can.”

I’am interested in his experience playing with seasoned players like Ron Carter and Al Foster, with whom he has played on his recent release Live at Birdland and comparing the synergies of his playing with a younger rhythm section like David Finck and Billy Drummond.

David and Billy “……don’t have the history (that Ron and Al do ) but they listened to and know the history, that’s very important. Some of the younger players think that the music started with late Coltrane. They don’t know, for example, how Coltrane was influenced by the rhythm and blues and had an incredible knowledge of standard tunes. …all the way back to Louis Armstrong.”

On a personal note I ask him about whether he felt that drugs and alcohol were ominous shadows that lurked over the music industry and if so how they affected him?

“Yes in the beginning when I came to New York most of the people I was hanging around with were involved and so I got peripherally involved myself, without getting into details.”

We spoke of a Sheila Jordan interview, ( Sheila has been one of the few vocalists to have played and recorded with Steve over the years), where she offered that not being understood and times of self doubt were the times when drugs and alcohol became easy distractions.

“It is a lonely feeling. You can be depressed. She has had some issues too….” Personally ….I was looking to get the career going and what not and it was very frustrating, it was difficult and it would have been very easy for myself to get involved in that situation. But I dabbled; I never got heavily into that situation,”

I questioned him about any personal experience he may have had with reverse segregation or prejudice being a white musician in a predominantly black musical culture. “In the mid sixties, I was in Sweden…..before (then) there was always an embrace when (musicians) would see each other….now there was a bit of standoffishness.” “I mean I understood it but I figured in …..jazz music we were exempt from that.” “… this day it is still there to a certain extent, not for me particularly, but I feel bad for young white musicians for example, who really can play and don’t get a chance to play in mixed bands…”

Being a fan of fusion I am taken by his stark but steadfast refusal to view fusion music as anything but a foray into electronica. There are no apparent redeeming qualities for him in this music. He prefers acoustic jazz despite having dabbled with electronic keyboards in the past. He is somewhat pessimistic in his continued view that jazz music may have run its course. “ I hear, the little I hear of the other players is revisionist history. They are playing the bebop or post bop and playing the hell out of it and doing it extremely well…..but in my view I haven’t heard anything that has made me change my mind ….that the music may have run its course and that is the way it is.” “In terms of innovation like Coltrane, or Bird or Miles or Ornette for example I haven’t heard anything beyond them that is truly innovative.”

We talk ultimately talk about ballads. His latest album is a Japanese release titled Play Standards, and I mentioned how I had heard that Miles once said that he loved ballads too much to keep playing them. Steve, smiling, unabashedly professed his love for them and refuses to deny himself or his audiences the pleasure that they invariably bring.
Ballads “… are an important part of the literature…” “….a great vehicle for expression and there is art to it. As I have gotten older I’ve gotten more appreciative of to play them, the challenge that is involved.” Laughing he offers “Perhaps Miles said that with his tongue in his cheek.”

This is perhaps the most revealing aspect of Steve Kuhn the musician and the man. At sixty nine he has lived through bypass surgery several years ago and has come back, by his own admission with a new an reinvigorated urgency to his playing. He evokes sensitivity and passion in his musical offerings that comes from a genuine dedication to his art, a dedication that consciously sacrificed many personal indulgences that most of us routinely require to live.

“Is the musician’s life a personally difficult one?” I question.

“Absolutely. I made a conscious decision years ago…..I didn’t get married or have children,… I mean I did get married once, but no children. Because economically I would have to do something else in order to support the music.” “I have done nothing but music all my life, I never had another job…..but in order to do that I sacrificed having children which I regret to some extent, but it was a conscious choice…..”

“I had opportunities early on to go out to California and get into the studio scene…” also “….offers to teach in schools full time.” I just wanted to play, so I made that choice economically. I paid the price and still do. “Raising his hands, he sweeps them in a gesture that offers the expanse of his modest living room as an offering. “This is my castle right here. I am grateful to have it, but it is not about the money.”

What does this proud man wish to be remembered for?
“Just the music that I leave comes from the heart. It’s honest, it’s pure, there is no bullshit, I never compromised.”

And this is the essence of Steve Kuhn the man, the musician, the pianist. At the heart of his playing, which he readily admits is now probably at the zenith of his skills, is a portal to his heart, his musical heart. With its subtle nuances that are the product of his life long experiences being intimately involved with some of the jazz world’s true icons and some of jazz histories most amazing experiences. His sage playing utilizing a staggering technique that he unleashes sparingly, all the while harnessed by the egoless matured sensibility of an almost minimalist’s approach.

I ended the interview and sat with him on his couch trading personal stories. At my request we listened, together, to his wonderful rendition of Henry Mancini’s Slow Hot Wind from his Live at Birdland recording, over his state of the art stereo system, the one true extravagance I witnessed in his humble abode. He humored me by playing a solo rendition of Trance on his Baldwin and I left thinking I just spent the last two hours with a living giant of the jazz world, a true gentleman of extraordinary kindness and a master of creating this sensitive art from the seat of a piano.

Steve Kuhn will be playing at the Jazz Standard on July 18th & 19th with George Mraz and Billy Drummond. He will join saxophonist Joe Lovano at Birdland for a Coltrane birthday celebration on September 18th and will be appearing at the Iridium on September 28h for one night as part of a tribute to Bud Powell with Eddie Gomez.

Anyone who has not seen him perform owes it to themselves to witness how a living legend, one of those who has lived some of jazz’s rich history can demonstrate what a lifetime of dedication to the music can offer.

©Ralph A. Miriello, 2007

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

And now come the floods!!!! Waders for Sale in The Northeast.

Great article about new report by the Union of concerned scientists and their dismal forecast of what lies ahead for the North eastern United States with the continued unabatement of current emissions and the continued increase in the resultant global warming. It is a scary thought that we see the global warming train coming but somehow we can't seem to marshal the physical and mental energy or political will necessary to do anything about it. See This New York Times article for yourself....

The Gnesh on My Desk

I stared at the wood carven image of the seated Gnesh. The rich sandalwood statue is about ten inches high and three inches in diameter. While he was seated in an ornately decorated chair with an upper shading canopy, it was not immediately apparent when viewed from the front. He appeared to be balanced on one right foot, which dug firmly into the pedestal base of the dais upon which he was mounted. His other left foot hovered, bent almost floating in a classic sitting half lotus position defying gravity under the weight of the formidable mass of the intricately carved figure’s elephantine body. The right hand was positioned next to his bulging belly in an outreached motion that could almost mimic the stop hand motion of a school crossing guard, but in an ever so peaceful way. The left hand had positioned itself into a delicate upright pattern with its fingers and thumb resembling the prongs of a setting of a diamond ring, with the fingers delicately propping up the left side of the upper canopy, meant to shield him from the sun, in an amazing show of willful strength and balance. Being a Gnesh , and having four arms, his other left hand also clung to the upper support on the left side of the canopy while his other right hand firmly held the right side support arm for the upper canopy on the opposite side. Draped over his voluminous belly was a set of prayer bead that hung precisely to the point where its circular ring pendant hung perfectly over his belly button, like so many concentric circles. On his upper chest another set of prayer beads were carved to position them so as to hang at the precise intersection of his two bulbous pectorals accentuating his symmetry. His massive ears were truncated to end where they intersected with the canopy’s side supports, a ritual cutting that undoubtedly would have been extremely painful for normal mortals, but of course he was a Gnesh. His wide set eyes stared intently straight out with an all knowing look that gave away nothing. His tusks were not threatening as they protruded petitely from his face appearing more as if they were a part of his ornamentation belying their use as a formidable weapon. His trunk was beautifully proportioned to the rest of his figure and he twisted it to form an exquisitely graceful curve that overlapped onto itself in a perfect demonstration of complete mind over body control. Atop his massive skull was a headdress of such an ornate nature as to put to shame the crowns of European royalty or the most elaborate headdress of a prominent Aztec chief. The tranquility that the figure exuded was like a breeze of fresh herbs in the morning garden, the scent of sage in the high desert or smell of pines on a mountain walk to the senses of the mind and the spirit. His presence on my desk is a never ending joy and a wellspring of renewable energy for me.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Minimizing the Punch List in Construction Projects

What is a punch list?

In all construction projects the divergence between the plans and specifications and the finished product or unfinished work can result in what is called in the industry a “punch list”. As a job nears completion construction personnel often find it valuable to create a list of items that remain to be completed by the various subcontractors employed on the project. This is an ever changing compilation of unfinished, poorly executed or incorrect work that has occurred during the construction project. On good projects it is regularly updated and culled until the final completion date and sometimes can continue past the point of occupancy depending on the urgency of the end user. Competent, conscientious construction professionals are acutely aware of the short comings of some of the work that has been performed by the various subcontractors under their domain and are constantly trying to manage these issues to their conclusion. Construction professionals are in turn reminded by the architect, and in turn the end user (usually in the form of an Owner’s construction representative), through the use of a separate punch list of items that they have deemed fail to meet their individual expectations or the design and intent of the drawings. This back and forth process often is repeated multiple times and can be daunting, time consuming, frustrating and extremely unproductive. It becomes inherently obvious that whatever one can do to minimize the need to generate these various punch lists, the more likely that the client will ultimately get a better end product with less stress, acrimony and at a lower cost.

How can we minimize the punch list?

Building projects are generally the result of a required or perceived need for a new structure for a specific use in a specific location. To this end architects and site planners as well as other professionals are engaged by the party wishing to create the new structure. The design and planning phase of any construction project is the most critical phase in minimizing the eventuality of a long and arduous punch list. Several factors can all be contributory to the smooth and accurate execution of the project:

• Architects must carefully spend the time necessary to evaluate the client’s needs and to ensure that the client is fully aware of what is being proposed, if necessary by the use of three dimensional simulation that visualizes the two dimensional drawings into three dimensional format that is more client friendly.

• Engineers and surveyors must methodically perform the necessary research to accurately determine the probable site conditions and peculiarities of the specific site geography and geology to ensure that the design meets the site requirements.

• Construction professionals in conjunction with the architect must establish a strong and cooperative link to local authorities having jurisdiction over the project to ensure compliance as well as to address local considerations.

• Qualified construction professionals should be brought to the project as early as possible, if necessary on a consulting basis in the planning stages of the project to ensure feasibility of execution of the proposed design and compatibility with project’s proposed economics.

• Lending institutional representation should be involved in the planning stages to ensure that cash flow requirements for the project meet the expectations of the project schedule so as not to impede the natural flow of the construction.

If all of these considerations are taken into account in the planning and design stage of the project they will go a long way to minimizing the generation of an untenable punch list at the end of the project.


Punch list items are often generated by poor architectural planning. This can be the result of ill conceived ideas that have not been thought out to their conclusion and are simply a concept in either the client or the architect’s mind with no consideration for ultimate cost, feasibility of execution, time considerations or compatibility with site conditions. This is not to say that creative concepts done through unconventional methods should not be employed, to the contrary they should be encouraged, but they can only be properly executed and meet expectations if they are carefully planned and correctly implemented well in advance of actual construction.

In the past master builder’s were able to execute almost any architect’s concept given enough time, enough money and sometimes when attempting untried concepts, through trial and error. Some of mankind’s most impressive structures were the combined result of visionary ideas, unlimited budgets and master craftsmen who were given the necessary time to complete the work envisioned to near perfection. The magnificent cathedrals of Europe are testament to this process.

Today’s building projects are usually restrained by unreasonable limitations of both time and money. Modern buildings have become by necessity a practical compromise that try to achieve a desirable, functioning product at a reasonable cost and within a very restricted time period.

In order to achieve this architects and planners are usually required to create detailed drawings and specifications that meet or exceed code requirements, address their
client’s needs can be practically executed by a competent builder using conventional methods and can be accomplished within a specified time and for a specific cost.

Understanding the Clients Needs:

It becomes imperative that the architect first and foremost thoroughly understands the client’s needs. He must see the operation of the client’s business, take into account human engineering and determine the culture of the environment he is trying to create. Once he has settled on a design that meets both his and his clients aesthetic sensibilities, he must ensure that the client does, in fact, understand the design and can truly visualize the end product. Many punch list items are not the result of incomplete or incorrect work. They are the result of the client not truly understanding the space until it is built and walked through. When this occurs the change orders shortly follow and this jeopardizes the timing, cost and ultimate customer satisfaction.

Changes made after the fact are extremely expensive and counterproductive and while they are inevitable, especially with some client’s whose requirements at times seem transitory, they are a formidable part of many punch lists. It is helpful if the architect anticipates this problem by creating three dimensional visualizations to help the client understand the space. Actual samples of materials and finishes to be used can often time assist the client to come to terms with what they are actually getting. New more affordable computer aided tools go along way to making it a reasonably standard procedure to convert two dimensional plans into three dimensional perspectives and virtual reality touring of the proposed space.

It is also imperative that the architect coordinate with a qualified construction professional during the design process so that the feasibility and cost considerations of the proposed design are addressed prior to their actual construction. Long gone is the time when architects were mandated to perform years of training in the field with the trades, visually absorbing the techniques that they would be specifying and intimately understanding the use and limitations of some methods they would want to employ. Consequently punch list items are sometimes the result of poorly conceived ideas that are not made apparent until they are attempted to be executed. This results in compromises due to time or budget restraints and these compromises can often wind up on punch lists since they usually do not fulfill all of the design criteria as originally intended.


Coordination of construction trades is probably the single most contributing factor to the development of punch list items. Here is where it is incumbent upon the qualified construction professional to actually mentally build the project prior to the start of the actual construction. By doing so, the construction professional can anticipate coordination problems between various subcontractors before they become insurmountable or require some compromise.

Since modern buildings require a multitude of engineering and architectural professionals to design the final product and since few architectural firms have all the engineering disciplines required on staff, the hiring of multiple outsourced professionals on a single project is a common practice. This means there can be multiple engineering professionals for structural, mechanical (i.e.; plumbing; heating, ventilating and air conditioning), electrical; telecommunications; security; fire protection; fire alarm; energy management; computer systems; process power; conveyance systems etc.) Despite the best efforts of the architectural team, the coordination of these systems with the architectural drawings and with each other is daunting.

It becomes the formidable task of the construction professional to as Harry Truman once said make sure that…”the buck stop here.” The construction professional must again mentally build the project prior to the actual construction and bring to the architect all conflicts of coordination that he can anticipate. He must often do this in conjunction with his mechanical trade subcontractors, who can aid in offering design solutions that can be practically achieved and integrated into the overall plan. These suggestions can then be incorporated into revised drawings prior to or concurrently with the commencement of the actual construction. These conflicts can be anticipated and properly designed for, thus eliminating a major source of potential punch list items.

During construction a conscientious construction professional can, by careful monitoring of the various trade professionals and by utilizing their individual expertise in a cooperative effort, anticipate problems through the use of weekly or if necessary daily progress meetings and can minimize or eliminate details in work that will not meet the client or the architect’s intended expectations.

The bottom line is that while it is inevitable that the punch list is a working tool in the construction industry that is here to stay, the onerous and unproductive nature of the lengthy and ominous punch list can be minimized by the use of careful planning and diligent monitoring by knowledgeable professionals throughout the project cycle. As in Japanese influenced production facility techniques, the use of feedback from qualified participants that are part of the process throughout the project can only lead to a more successful end product and a more satisfied client.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chinese products can be hazardous to your health!

An article in the Toronto papers concerning China's planned execution of a government official. He was found guilty of accepting bribes from Chinese pharma companies without properly testing the products before their release to the general public, shows how rapidly expanding countries can let many products go to market without proper testing or government controls. How does that make all you Walmart shoppers feel? Aparently several people DIED as a result of his allowing some untested products on the market for a few yuan. Seems like China has their own solution to this problem....execution! You might want to check out where your dog food or toothpaste comes from too. Seems like the Chinese are fond of using a here to fore unknown tooth decay fighting ingredient ANTIFREEZE!

Now if we could only get our politicians to show some of our offending entities or their corporate leaders a fraction of this kind of punishment for unscrupulous corporate behavior we might get more thorough self management. Without it we will all be subject to the morality of the purse!

Here is the link.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Steve Kuhn Solo Piano at the Fazioli Salon

Steve Kuhn Solo Piano at The Fazioli Salon : May 26, 2007

It was an almost balmy night in New York to start off this Memorial Day weekend as we strolled leisurely past Carnegie Hall and made our way to a small piano salon just down the street from the venerable concert hall. Tucked away at 211 West 58th Street the Fazioli Salon is the brainchild of Jim and Genevieve Luce and it is a treasure of a concept that deserves our attention and support. They simply put together fabulously accomplished pianists with a work of musical and visual art , the Faziloi piano, and showcase both in a limited and intimate setting . The room is inauspiciously in the rear of the Klavierhaus piano showroom, which showcases these Italian made masterpieces of musical sound and aesthetic design. The size of the room limits the attendance to about twenty-five lucky individuals. Being one of the lucky ones for this solo performance by the pianist Steve Kuhn was a treat not to be missed.

Steve Kuhn is a local treasure who seems to have been somewhat overlooked by the jazz media and mainstream jazz fans. Although a contemporary of the more lauded Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, Kuhn is a fabulously accomplished artist in his own right that has created some memorable performances over the years. He has an illustrious career that included stints with Kenny Dorham, Stan Getz, Art Farmer and briefly with John Coltrane. In the trio format where the interplay between piano and base is so extraordinary and which he demonstrably prefers, he has been accompanied by such luminary base players the likes of Scott La Faro, Miroslav Vitous, Steve Swallow, Buster Williams, Eddie Gomez, Gary Peacock, David Finck and Ron Carter. His discography is astounding in its depth and variation. With this infusion of musical influences, Kuhn has forged his own unique percussive style of playing that was wonderfully alive and vibrant at his solo performance at the Fazioli salon.

In his dapper signature black pants and jacket, he was introduced by Jim Luce, the master of ceremonies, as the maestro and he surely proved that to be the case. He started off the first of two sets with a wonderful medley of “Once upon a Time” that slowly transformed itself, ever so subtly; into the Johnny Mandel Johnny Mercer tune “Emily”. He played several of his own songs including “Two by Two” from his recent album “Live at Birdland”, which he recorded with Ron Carter and Al Foster, and a wonderfully textural version of his powerfully rhythmic “Oceans in the Sky “ which he originally recorded back in 1989, with Miroslav Vitous and Aldo Romano, and is now wonderfully rethought on his newest release “Promise Kept”. He seamless melded Claude Debussy’s La Plus Que Lente into Billy Strayhorn’s Passion Flower, a performance so perfectly blended as to make the two songs seem destined to be paired with each other in precisely this way. During the performance the maestro showed a particular affinity to the saxophone greats of the era that have apparently had tremendous influence on his musical sensibilities. His homage to Coltrane, Rollins and Parker was paid separately by brilliantly executed renditions of “Countdown”, “Airegin” and his ending piece of “Confirmation”. His connection to the spirit of these players, especially Rollins, cast a spell on both him and his audience.

Since the Fazioli salon is such an intimate setting, I was able to intently watch his technique and fully appreciate the sound that he created from the depths of this truly magical piano. I was told that each piano is made by hand in Italy and that perhaps only one hundred a year are fashioned. The piano’s wonderfully full resonance was especially adaptive to Kuhn’s particularly percussive but lyrical approach His fluttering left hand created a wave of sound that builds tremendous tension in his playing while never losing its sensitivity. His masterful use of the entire keyboard with both hands being amazingly free to cross traditional boundaries of base chords left and melody right showed a technique not often exhibited with such confidence and ease. His subtle use of singular notes at appropriate times done with a distinctive stab of his right thumb or the precise pounding by his left fist verified his mallet like approach that was reminiscent of a drummer’s punctuation on this marvelously percussive instrument. The result was surprisingly never brash or discordant, but to the contrary created a wonderful counterpoint to his amazingly beautiful and lyrical interpretations rendered by his incredibly swift and sensitive hands..

The night proved to be awe inspiring on several counts. The maestro Steve Kuhn is a treasure that should not be missed. The Fazioli piano is an instrument to behold both sonically and visually and the Fazioli Salon piano series is a true New York music lovers treasure. You can check out the salon’s remaining concert venue at

Copyright Ralph A. Miriello 2007