• 'How To Get Away With Murder' Recap: What Would Annalise Keating Do?
    Annalise Keating: both sinner and savior, cheater and the one cheated on, powerhouse and broken one. This unending dichotomy of characteristics makes her such a force to watch as she struggles through the news this episode that her husband is (still) a cheater and probably a murderer. What would Annalise Keating do (WWAKD) is the new catchphrase for the show, and at the beginning of the episode, we have no idea what she’ll do next.

    But back to the flash forward that kicks off every episode: This week is Laurel’s episode. The timid girl we found in episode one has been replaced by a brilliant force with nerves of steel. She confesses to sleeping with Frank after her phone goes off mid-body disposal, but poignantly points out that she doesn’t know why her murderous quintet cares -- after all, they’re not friends.

    Back in present day, which is six weeks before the murder, we finally get a sympathetic client. We have no idea where Annalise found this kid who shot his cop dad for abusing his mom, but we’re going to go with she just didn’t want the cops to win.

    In the Keatings' bedroom, Annalise is ready to rumble over the incriminating “penis picture” (why we’re calling this a penis picture instead of a dick pic is beyond me, but then again Sam Keating was dumb enough not to use Snapchat). In the ugly fight that follows, Sam reveals that Annalise was his mistress before he divorced his first wife. As she puts it, Sam likes his mistresses weak and broken. He claims Lila wanted him to fix her problems, that the affair was just sex.

    The staccato way that Annalise questions him heightens the tension, and the two of them eventually resort to biting and throwing pillows. The final shot of Annalise rocking back and forth is beyond disconcerting -- how could our hero be so off her game?

    Of course Bonnie is creeping at the bottom of the stairs, and we find out later that Annalise knows she has a thing for her husband and doesn’t seem to care. Pretty odd, considering she was paranoid about him having affairs with other coeds.

    The entire fight was juxtaposed against Annalise’s safe zone -- her classroom. There she’s impeccably dressed, made up, and thoroughly in charge. This week’s lesson argues that picking and gaming the jury is essential for cases that run on emotion, and Annalise appears to be on top of her game despite her husband’s potentially murderous past.

    Back at Wes’s apartment, Rebecca decides to waltz on over to steal some of the pepperoni pizza she smelled (for the record, if stealing guys’ pizza is the new hot pick-up tactic, we’re so in). Anyways, Rebecca decides she likes Wes now and turns on the charm. She straight up asks why he’s so obsessed with her, and he really doesn’t answer her. BECAUSE IT’S CRAZY. The sexual tension is growing between the two of them, but it just doesn’t make sense. Besides both being outcasts, they don’t appear to have interacted enough for Wes’s level of obsession.

    In the Keating household, Annalise is downing straight vodka, as wine and tequila were already taken as the drinks of choice for the protagonists of Shonda Rhimes’ other shows, “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She then decides to go visit Nate (did she drive drunk? It’s unclear). Hot stuff owns up to lying to her about Sam’s whereabouts, but he doesn’t give a reason for his deception. He also doesn’t give Annalise what she really wants because he thinks she got him fired (nice going, Bonnie).

    In the flash forward, we find out that Frank lied to Laurel about something, and she’s pretty mad about it. She also just killed someone, so that’s slightly distracting. Small problems.

    Back to the case of the week, and Connor outs a juror he connected with over Humpr, the new Grindr (fantastic fake app name). Does Connor have to use his sexuality EVERY episode to help with the case? We’re glad you’re working on all cylinders, but come on dude, you have other weapons in your arsenal.

    Back to the woods, and Michaela continues to fall apart over her missing engagement ring. We’d be upset if we lost that sparkler too, and you know, killed someone. For some reason, Michaela should be the one returning the trophy for Asher, but she is in no mental state to do so. So this episode’s hero, Laurel, steps up to the plate.

    Back to the courtroom, Annalise turns on the charm for the jury, but best case scenario is a hung jury. Laurel decides she cares too much about the case and wants to get a mistrial through whatever means possible. She sneakily plants info about jury nullification for the jury, which is very much against the law. Annalise decides to use Laurel’s tampering to nullify the jury, so of course the client of the week gets off with probation and some counseling. At least he appears to deserve justice.

    Back at the Keating household, Annalise straight up asks Sam if he was at Yale the night Lila was murdered. He comes clean, but feeds us a line about Lila being suicidal and him looking for her. Annalise believes him as much as we do, so she brings in Rebecca to see how much our favorite goth neighbor knows about the identify of the man who sent the dick pic.

    Rebecca lets loose, saying she used to be in juvie and that Lila considered Sam to be Mr. Darcy. However, goth girl doesn’t seem to put the picture with the face until she sees the matching wallpaper upstairs in the Keatings’ bathroom. BUSTED.

    Back to our murderous timeframe, and Laurel shows up all fire sooted up and begging for Frank’s help. This murderous quintet isn’t going to get far if they keep knocking on lovers’ doors after committing this crime.

    In the present, Frank and Laurel get in a heated argument over him covering for her that devolves into one helluva makeout. Laurel storms out, and decides she’s going to go have hot sex with her boyfriend to prove to herself that she likes him more. The scene is entirely reminiscent of the season 1 “Heart” episode of “The Good Wife,” but what’s particularly satisfying is the authority and level of power Laurel takes by pushing her boyfriend against the desk. It’s clear we’re not dealing with timid Laurel anymore.

    Back at Wes’s crazy apartment, Wes discovers Rebecca has skipped town. After he learns of the wallpaper connection, Wes breaks into Professor Keating’s house and confronts her.

    The episode ends with Wes once again holding a secret over Professor Keating’s head. Their student and teacher power dynamic continues to be upended, but our money’s on Annalise figuring out how to fix it. After all, what else would Annalise Keating do?

    Odds and Ends
    • Did anyone else think the crazy twist of the week was going to be that the Mom shot the cop Dad, not the son?

    • Despite being LAW STUDENTS, these kids have no respect for the law itself. The show is called “How to Get Away With Murder,” but it should really be called “How to Get Away With Breaking Every Law” or “Watching Law Students Get More Tail Than Anyone You Know.”

    • Annalise’s wardrobe is only getting better, while the opposing counsels’ wardrobes only get worse.

    • Seeing Frank out of a three piece suit reminded us that he’s not a doorman at a speakeasy.

    • Seriously, Wes only owns plaid shirts.

    • Annalise’s ring gives Michaela’s (now-lost) rock a run for its money. Where’d Sam get all that cash, especially considering he was already married once?

    • Asher quote of the week: “Your emotional scorecard is cute but pointless, like a dumb blond.”

    • Asher also cries over the case of the week -- could he have a soul?

    • And Michaela continues to be the only one to mention other classes. Not that any of these kids are studying for them.

    "How to Get Away With Murder" airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.

  • Movie Review: <i>Force Majeure</i> Who are you, exactly?
    2014 10 24 Forcemajeure Thumb

    Everyone, at some point, wonders how they would react to a split-second emergency. Fight or flight? Leap into action or race for the exit? Or simply crumble?

    That's the question at the center of the wickedly chilly Force Majeure, a movie about a momentary decision that may lead to a lifetime of doubt. Can you live with that? Good question.

    In this film by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongali) have taken their two small children - both under 10 - on a ski trip to the French Alps. But partway through the vacation, something happens that changes everything.

    The family is having breakfast before a morning of skiing, sitting on the outdoor veranda of a mountaintop ski lodge. There's the sound of an explosion in the distance: It's part of the regular effort to trigger controlled avalanches to make the slopes safer.

    As the family and the rest of the diners watch, a tidal wave of snow heads down the slope right toward the lodge. No worries, someone says, it will stop before it gets here.

    Except that it doesn't seem to be stopping - and, as the cloud of snow thunders closer, Tomas and Ebba have starkly different reactions.

    This review continues on my website.

  • 9 Things You Didn't Know About Auntie Anne's Pretzels
    Her buttery smell induces hot pretzel cravings upon first whiff. Auntie Anne's has infiltrated the malls, concession stands and street corners of America and beyond. You may know exactly where to go to snag some goods from the bakery -- it is, after all, the world's largest soft pretzel franchise. But, there are certainly a few quirky details you haven't yet digested. Find nine of these doughy facts you absolutely knead to know:

    Auntie Anne is a high school drop out.
    Facebook/Auntie Anne Beiler
    Yes, double A is a real, actual person. Her name is Anne Beiler, but you know her better as Auntie. The company's founder was born and raised in Pennsylvania by Amish parents, and started selling her homemade pretzels at a farmer's market in 1988. Bill Dunn, the company's current president, tells HuffPost that the recipe for the original soft pretzel hasn't changed since. Beiler had an eighth grade education and earned her GED at the age of 50, long after her success had been cemented.

    A certain, very tall basketball player has an affinity for the company.
    Shaq probably loves the pretzel more than he loves the Celtics (total, subjective speculation). As of 2012, his franchise group oversaw 19 Auntie Anne's locations.

    The Honey Whole Grain soft pretzel was a flop.
    O NO 570
    Auntie Anne's
    In January 2013, Auntie Anne's debuted this new kind of pretzel. "All the research told us this was a go," Dunn says. The healthier pretzel contained six grams of fiber, 11 grams of protein and 300 calories -- 40 fewer than the original flavor. But, in less than a year's time, honey whole grain was cut from the menu. Our suspicion is that the typical mall-goer isn't exactly looking for healthy food. They want warm, buttery things.

    The fastest recorded time to roll a pretzel is 3.5 seconds.
    At a 2011 convention, the company held a "Pretzel Rolling Olympics." It took Jackie Neal, a store manager at a New Jersey franchise store, just 3.5 seconds to cut, stretch, roll and twist the dough the Auntie Anne's way.

    Auntie Anne's has made enough pretzels to circle the earth about 50 times.
    That's approximately 1.8 billion pretzels. In 2014 alone, nearly 98 million pretzels (we're talking full-sized pretzels, not little nuggets) have been rolled and sold across the brand's 1,600 locations, which are in 48 states and 30 countries.

    Each pretzel is individually brushed with butter.
    O PRETZELS 570
    Facebook/Auntie Anne's
    All good pretzels deserve a little pampering, and Auntie Anne's shows theirs a lot of love. Every regular-sized pretzel receives a nice butter bath before being baked (the company won't reveal just how much).

    You can always get a sample at Auntie Anne's.
    10360696 10152537049047410 6522000195593540234 N
    Facebook/Auntie Anne's
    According to Dunn, "Anne was a big believer in sampling. If somebody would try a sample they would become a lover for life." Many locations equip their employees with eye-catching (and nose-catching) bites to serve in their storefronts, and all allow customers to taste their offerings in a nugget-sized serving.

    Auntie offers some pretty exciting flavors across the globe.
    Auntie Anne's
    That up there? That's a seaweed pretzel served at some of the store locations in Singapore. Dwellers of the U.K. are fortunate enough to have banana-flavored pretzels on their menu and in Saudi Arabia, sweet-seekers can taste a pretzel with dates.

    Leftover pretzels are given to those in need.

    Auntie Anne's/Instagram

    At the end of each night, the unsold products are sorted, bagged and counted and sent off to be donated with help from an organization called Food Donation Connection. Not every location participates in the program, but Dunn says all franchise partners are encouraged to find a way to give back.

    Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.

  • ReThink Review: <em>Dear White People</em> - Lessons for Republicans and the "Post-Racial" Generation
    A lot of people interested in race issues (including myself) have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Dear White People, a film about a group of black students at a mostly white university that was funded through Indiegogo and eventually made it to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where its writer/director Justin Simien won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. With Dear White People currently earning a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and spreading to theaters nationwide this week, the film has palpable momentum as issues like white privilege, cultural appropriation, and the systemic racism and discrimination illuminated by Michael Brown's killing in Ferguson, Missouri are getting more attention than ever. But even with its seemingly perfect cultural timing, is Dear White People as relevant and hypeworthy as it seems? Watch the trailer for Dear White People below.

    The film takes place at the fictional Winchester University, an Ivy-League-type school whose small population of black students has been roiled by new housing rules that have effectively eliminated the school's only traditionally black residence hall, Armstrong Parker House. That issue gets a jolt when Samantha White, a black film student (Tessa Thompson), unexpectedly becomes head of Armstrong Parker, deposing golden boy Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) who also happens to be the son of Winchester's dean of students (Dennis Haysbert). Sam, an artist at heart with a rebel soul, shares her outspoken views on racism and cultural identity on her radio show "Dear White People", informing the white student body why racism is flourishing and why many of the ways white people attempt to prove their lack of racism fall flat.

    Sam is secretly dating a white teacher's assistant in her film class (Justin Dobies), but she used to date Troy, who's having his own problems with his white girlfriend (Brittany Curran) who happens to be the daughter of Winchester's president (Peter Syverston) who's jerk of a son (Kyle Gallner) runs the school's National Lampoon-like comedy magazine Pastiche, which Troy would love to join. Also vying for a place on Pastiche is Colondrea "Coco" Connors, a black student (Teyonah Paris) who believes the best way for her to move up in the world is by assimilating, though she's willing to be more controversial if it earns her more YouTube subscribers and a role on a reality show casting on the campus. Meanwhile, the more militant Reggie (Marque Richardson) has a crush on Sam and seems to be a more socially and culturally acceptable match for her. Bearing witness to all of this is Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a gay nerd (though he hates the categorizations) who doesn't feel comfortable in any of Winchester's social groups, though he seems to find a home with the school newspaper, whose editors feel that Lionel's blackness will give him extra insight, access, and permission to write about the race issues brought out by Sam's election.

    If that seems like an awful lot of characters and subplots, it should, and my main problem with Dear White People is that it tries to do way too much with too many characters, like Simien felt that this may be his only chance to make a feature film so he had to jam everything he'd ever wanted to say about racism and racial campus politics into this one film. This leads to a movie that's constantly jumping from issue to issue, character to character, and subplot to subplot, providing a lot of breadth without much depth. The acting is mostly good with dialogue that's a little too earnest and on-the-nose. And as someone who's done some stand up comedy, I was personally offended by the fact that all of the people involved in or aspiring to join Pastiche are the film's most humorless characters, though the film is consistently seasoned with clever humor.

    Dear White People may suffer for its many ambitions, but I'm certainly glad it has them and am even more glad that this film exists at all. That's because Dear White People is the first film to really address race in the post-Obama era head on, where even influential black people like Pharrell, Raven Simone, and Donald Glover (in what's called the "New Black" movement) have declared that racism against blacks is no longer relevant, seemingly agreeing with white republicans who go further to claim that even invoking the subject of racism amounts to race-baiting unless it's talking about how straight white people are the only REAL victims of discrimination in America today. And I understand how a lot of young people may honestly feel that racism is a relic of the past that America just needs to get over, especially since so many of their pop culture heroes, and even the nation's first family, are black.

    But that idealistic, or perhaps ignorant, mindset doesn't seem to have an answer to things like Ferguson, republicans' blatant efforts to disenfranchise black voters, how black people are discriminated against in the workplace, or the large, small, and inadvertent indignations that so many black people continue to face every day just because they're black. And Dear White People is quick to point out that sometimes these indignations come from within the black community itself, as characters sometimes struggle with their own blackness, worrying if they're seen as too black, not black enough, or can be comfortable carving out their own spaces somewhere in between.

    Dear White People is sure to become both a cult hit and a staple on college campuses across the country, and I'm glad for it since the movie ultimately ends with more questions than answers. And with an issue as multi-faceted as racism, that is as it should be -- if there really were easy answers, we'd all agree on them and quietly and unanimously abolish racism forever. But there aren't, especially as a large percentage of Americans refuse to even acknowledge that racism and its role in America's history have any effect on how Americans live today. But one thing Dear White People is crystal clear on is that racism exists, and that we're nowhere near the post-racial America so many wish us to be.

    As my girlfriend and I were leaving the screening of Dear White People, an older black woman who was reviewing the film stopped us to ask what we thought of it. Because what struck her most about Dear White People is how most of the issues that were brought up in the film are the same ones she faced as she fought for black people's civil rights over 50 years ago. And that's a message that republicans and the so-called post-racial generation need to get through their heads. Just because you don't see racism or don't want to see it doesn't mean it's not there. As Bergen Evans said, and quoted in the movie Magnolia, "We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us." Or perhaps more appropriately regarding racism in America, we can look to William Faulkner who said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

    Follow ReThink Reviews on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

  • Chats with Earth, Wind &amp; Fire's Philip Bailey, Dave Koz, Eric Johnson and Kiki Ebsen, Plus a Katherine Jenkins' Exclusive

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    According to Katherine Jenkins...

    "Recording Ode to Joy was so much fun--it's one of those classical melodies that everyone knows and loves. To have David Garret lend his beautiful talents on the violin make the track even sound even more triumphant and special to me as we have known each other some 10 years. It's the quintessential classical crossover song & I'm really excited to hear feedback from my much beloved fans"

    Home Sweet Home Available 1/27/2015

    Land Of My Fathers
    Beethoven's Ode To Joy (with David Garrett)
    Sanctus (Elgar's Nimrod)
    Barcelona (with Alfie Boe)
    Dreaming of the Days (Einaudi's I Giorni)
    World in Union
    Segreti (One Republic's Secrets)
    Remember (Bach's Goldberg Variations)
    We'll Gather Lilacs
    How Great Thou Art
    Home! Sweet Home!
    Anthem from Chess
    We Are The Champions
    Bonus Track - Silent Night (2014 mix)


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    A Conversation with Earth, Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey

    Mike Ragogna: Philip, let's talk about Holiday. It's a mix of secular, sacred and spiritual, with "A Song To Mother Earth" pretty much representing the Earth, Wind & Fire credo. So what inspired the choices for songs?

    Philip Bailey: We actually did a survey, which most artists do, because you only have the one chance to put your songs before people, so you want to make sure you get the songs that are most likely to be played. We just did a survey of the most popular holiday songs and then we thought about flipping a couple of Earth, Wind & Fire songs like "Happy Feeling" into "Happy Seasons" and "September" into "December."

    MR: Everyone has their own favorite Christmas song that they haven't gotten too burnt out on, do you have any of those?

    PB: I think that the Donny Hathaway Christmas song that he does so well, "Hang all the mistletoe..." I started wanting to do that but then I got intimidated because I was like, "Man, I've heard that song so much in my life, if you don't kill that song..." That's my favorite song, but we didn't actually do that.

    MR: What's interesting is that the sixteenth-note emphasis in the horn arrangements plays nicely pumps up the spirit of Christmas.

    PB: Yeah, because you've got that [hums] real staccato [humming intensifies] that's a very happy movement. A lot of our arrangements have those sixteenth notes and thirty-second notes, so it
    kind of fit right in.

    MR: I'm surprised Earth, Wind & Fire never released a Christmas album until now.

    PB: Right, exactly! It was about time. Sony came to us after we did the Now, Then & Forever CD with the idea of having a holiday record. I was quite surprised that they would be interested in doing it so soon after the last project but we jumped into the studio around April and we did it in between touring and got it done.

    MR: I want to go back to how it's a natural fit--Earth, Wind & Fire and a holiday like Christmas--since you guys do have a natural spiritual path. Look at some of those albums. It's not that you're beating people up with spirituality, but you do explore it.

    PB: Yeah, you know, that's just our aura. That's just how we move and breathe and live. You can celebrate it, join it or whatever but that's just who we are and how our music comes out.

    MR: How do you guys create music these days?

    PB: We still do it pretty similarly to the way we did it in the past. We get everybody in the studio and we might work on ideas before coming in with templates of what we want to do. If there's a whole song or songs that we have that we really know we want to record, then we might rehearse or teach them to the band or whatever but then we get into the studio and record the songs.

    MR: Is there anything that's changed since you guys were kids recording and performing together?

    PB: Well, the one thing is nowadays because of Pro Tools and the internet, when you're starting on an idea, you can really continue on that path until the whole idea is developed and completed, as opposed to before when those were separate processes. There might be a writing session but you weren't necessarily going to be able to use anything that you were doing in the writing section. Now, with technology, the very seed of the idea might be part of the final project.

    MR: What do you think of Earth, Wind & Fire's cultural contribution? Everyone loves the group and even Homer Simpson sang one of your hits!

    PB: [laughs] I think when we first started, we couldn't have ever envisioned this. We were just making music and the music that we loved, just trying to make the best music we could, as we are today. We're just trying to continue along the path of making music to the best of our ability. Fortunately we were able to make music that people like and have liked for forty-three years.

    MR: What do you think it is about Earth, Wind & Fire's music that resonates?

    PB: I think it's very catchy, very uplifting and very celebratory music but it also represents many different genres of music. We're a band that struck on a really fantastic formula. We were able to carry it through. People were able to grow up with it for forty-three years so now, it's become part of the musical soundtrack of their lives.

    MR: Groups often try to mimic your horn section. I think you've made a solid contribution to jazz and R&B in that area. And even some of the guitar sounds and grooves you guys came up with are also copped.

    PB: Yeah, and who would've thunk it, as we say. We just love what we were doing, we still do, we're very, very fortunate to have been able to make a living making music and doing something that we love to do. We're still very sought-after internationally and we're having more fun now than we did back in the past because we've realized how hard it is to do what we're doing.

    MR: What advice do you have for new aritsts?

    PB: I don't think very hard when people ask me that. I just come up with the first thing I think, which is don't buy into the hype. Just keep it real...just keep it real. Buying into the hype can get you into a lot of trouble, believing your own press. One way or the other, keep it real. Know what's good, what's bad and what's different.

    MR: Is this something you would've told yourself way back when you started?

    PB: Well, it's something I did tell myself. I don't necessarily have to tell myself that now because I'm solid with it. I keep it in perspective. You can't get really caught up in the hype and lose your way.

    MR: Do you guys have a couple of favorites to this day, songs you can't wait to play live?

    PB: Oh yeah, we always say they're kind of like our kids. There are a lot of songs that I associate with how I felt recording them in the studio. Songs like, "And Love Goes On." There's so much music that it's hard to just pinpoint, "This song is my favorite."

    MR: What is the future for Earth, Wind & Fire?

    PB: We're always on the road somewhere in this world. We're continuing to tour. Next year, I'm thinking about maybe doing a holiday run of special cities, maybe no more than six...do something special with charities and toy giveaways and that sort of thing. It's something we could possibly do annually.

    MR: Beautiful. And I'm assuming there'll be an "Easy Lover, Part Two" with Phil Collins.

    PB: [laughs] You've got to talk to Phil about that.

    Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


    2014 10 23 DaveKozSeptember30th Thumb
    A Conversation with Dave Koz

    Mike Ragogna: So, another Dave Koz And Friends has arrived. I'm pretty sure now you're friends with everyone on the planet at this point.

    Dave Koz: [laughs] That's very kind of you to say. I seriously doubt that however. Of course, you're talking about the new holiday album, and yeah, sometimes I look at the list of people who actually came forward and it shocks me. I'm like, "How did that happen?" It also happened in a very, very short time period.

    MR: How long did it take to record The 25th of December, you know, with your cast of thousands?

    DK: [laughs] We recorded that album in like five weeks during the summer, it was like a blur. I can't believe we did that and all those people came forward during that time. But sometimes projects go the other way, by the way, where things are just not flowing and everything takes time and everything's a struggle to get anything happening. This was just not that way. From the minute it started, boom. Everything just flowed very easily. I credit a lot of that to Rickey Minor who's the producer of that, who's just so effortless in his ability to work with people. He's like this little hub of activity. He's like the hive and there are always bees around him, willing to do anything to make it happen. It was such a pleasure to work with him. The proof is in the pudding, I'm so proud of that album.

    MR: And it sounds like everybody had a great time. You've done this before, but this time out, it really feels like the party was at Dave's house.

    DK: Well that's it! You couldn't say anything better to me about this album because that was our intention. Imagine for a moment that you're having a holiday party and you've invited everybody in, had this wonderful dinner and some nice wine and everybody's got this feeling and it's nice and cozy and warm and then after dinner and dessert we take our glasses of wine into the music room or the living room, there's a nice piano there, I start it all off with a song and it just so happens that our dinner guests are also fantastically talented people and one at a time they all come up and do a song and I help them out with their song and at the end right before we say goodnight we do one song together. That's the way this album is.

    All these people came and did their songs and then the last song--I got the idea from Jeff Lorber of all people. He had done this arrangement, this very slowed down version of "All You Need Is Love," The Beatles classic, where you really hear and feel the intent of it. It just hit me like, "Wow, wouldn't this be great as the last song on a Christmas album? It's never been heard in that way before." That's what we did. I invited all of the guests who sang songs earlier to be a part of it, "We Are The World" style and next thing you know we had just about everybody on that last song and the pièce de résistance, it all leads up to Stevie Wonder. Having him, who is to me, truly, the embodiment of love on this planet at this time, having him be the payoff for all of those singers leading up to Stevie Wonder taking the vocals and playing harmonica, I don't even know how it happened, I just say thank you.

    MR: We were talking about being around the piano at the Christmas party. It seems you really care about them on a personal and creative level as well?

    DK: I do! I don't think that's something you can manufacture. People are smart enough to know when it's a commercial venture as opposed to something that's authentic. Every one of those people who are on this particular album and who come on the cruises and who I tour with regularly are my friends! And these are people that I love to collaborate with. I think you'll find that most musicians and artists come from this place of open hearts and open ears and open arms just by nature of the fact that they're musicians, and music is the dominant force that's informing their lives. This is something I've said a lot of times: I think that our world leaders should be required to take up an instrument if they don't play one, because you can't play an instrument without being a good listener. You have to be able to listen. I think that musicians tend to be great communicators, but they also have to be great listeners, and that makes you an even better communicator. When you have that open channel where there's a free exchange of ideas, whether they're musical or otherwise, I've had some of the most amazing conversations with musician friends and artist friends that have taken wonderful turns. And that's what I love to do now especially in my life. I've made a lot of records, so if I'm going to do something again, if I'm going to go into the studio again I want to be able to say something different. If left to my own devices, if I was working on my own I'd probably make the same record over and over and over. Since I'm collaborating with other artists it allows me to have my ideas stretched and prodded and I get a chance to grow as an artist and perhaps something that I'm saying has a different texture or a different point of view because I've been influenced by somebody who I respect. That's what happens on this record.

    MR: Your last album, Summer Horns, merged a lot of talent. These "...and Friends" projects kind of prove that you understand where artists are coming from as you allow for them to shine as well.

    DK: I think it's in my DNA, definitely. Born collaborator. I love working with other artists. Initially, when I had that idea for Summer Horns it was like, "Okay, let's do a Summer Horns project, these are the Summer Horns and maybe next year, we'll do something else." But I knew immediately when we started making that record that these were the Summer Horns. You can't just start replacing people, that's who Summer Horns is. It was so immediate that Mindi and Gerald and Richard and I kept on becoming more and more solidified. In fact, we just had our last gig on the books after two summers. That was it. I don't know if we'll ever do it again. I hope that we will, but we don't have any concrete plans right now. That's kind of the end of an era. Bittersweet. I think that the record was really strong and I think that the shows we did were amongst the most fun I've ever had on stage period, but that little X factor, that missing link you don't always see is that camaraderie and friendship, the true appreciation, respect and love that we have for each other. That's something I'm going to miss more than anything else is just spending time with those three. We really hit it off. We all had a great time together and learned a lot from each other.

    MR: With the cast of characters you recorded with on The 25th Of December, did you pick anything up from them?

    DK: Absolutely. One of the guys I've learned so much from, beyond music even, more about how to be in life and how to live this purest form of being alive and in the moment, that lesson I learned very squarely from Johnny Mathis, who I've known for a number of years. Johnny is an icon and certainly one of the most famous singers of all time. I called him on the first day of recording, because we had this idea to do a jazzier version of a song that he made so popular. His version of "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," along with Andy Williams' was probably one of the most memorable Christmas song performances of all time. I was a little leery about him saying yes to this because how do you improve upon perfection? You can't. But I called him up and the same day he called me right back and I was in the studio so I didn't get the message but I saved the message. If you look at my phone right now you'd see th emessage is still right there. It says, "Of course I'd love to sing on your album, I'll sing anything you like. If you want to do that song, great. I love you, I love making music with you." So I called him back and I said, "Why don't you come over the next day?" I think it was a tuesday so I said, "Come over tomorrow, Wednesday, around two o'clock to the studio and we'll pick a key and we'll decide on how we want to do it."

    This is the brilliance of Rickey Minor, instead of just coming and having a little confab, a little meeting about the song, he arranged to have a recording session with a bassist and drummer and a pianist and me there. So when John came we picked a key and we just did it. We didn't wait around to do it, we just did it. And he was so gung-ho, even a guy who didn't expect to be recording on that day, he was ready to go for it. I think that immediacy and that openness and that being in the moment is something that he's the epitome of. I love seeing that because it just rubs off. I like to spend time with him and hear all his stories. He's such a little kid, he's still so excited about making music. He's seventy eight years old and he's in great shape, he's out there golfing if he's in town every single day. Totally active. It's more than just the music that I learn from people I've had the great fortune to collaborate with. Gloria Estefan who I love and I've worked with quite a bit, too, the kind attention she gave to singing on somebody else's album--she's a superstar! What does she evene need to be doing, singing on my album, and secondly the fact that she put forth so much energy into it to make it great, that really affected me. She is such a perfectionist in the best usage of the term. And then seeing Stevie Wonder coming in to play harmonica first of all on "All You Need Is Love," there's a moment I'll never forget, because he was supposed to come a little later, but with Stevie you never know when he's going to show up, if he's going to show up. I had alreayd left the studio for the day and then Rickey said, "He's coming!" That means that he could be coming right now or he could be coming in five hours.

    So I came back to the studio and by the time I got there he was already playing on my song. Walking into the studio and hearing that sound was one of the most surreal moments of my life. He'd only said, "Yeah, I'll come and bring my harmonica and I'll play on it." That was all we asked for. Rickey, the brilliance of him, he's like, "You know you want to get a little some of this because you're going to hear this on the radio and you're not oging to hear your voice and you're going to go, 'Why didn't I sing on this? Everybody else is singing on it.'" Then Stevie ended up singing a bunch of takes, and his first vocal take was perfect. He gets to the end of the track and he says, "Nah, give me another." He gets to the end of the track again and he goes, "Eh, no, that's not going to do. Let me have another." He must have done it ten times and he kept getting frustrated with himself. He was pushing himself and I just stood there with my jaw on the floor like, "I can't believe that I'm watching this."

    First of all, everything that he did was amazing. The first thing that he did was great. By the way, that's the take we used. But he's Stevie Wonder, right? It's not like it's some new artist here trying to prove himself. What does he need to do to prove himself? He's Stevie Wonder. Even Stevie Wonder was on somebody else's record--this time it was me who was the very blessed recipient of his talent--pushing himself and wanting to outdo his own bests and constantly strive for perfection. That was a beautiful thing for me to see. I'm no spring chicken, I've been doing this for twenty five years. If Stevie Wonder can be like that in the studio, I can push myself more. Even if the first time I do it is the one that is used, great, but still, having that thing inside of you that wants to always strive for the best possible thing you can do, to strive for excellence. That experience of seeing him do that on my album will stay with me forever.

    MR: Now, what about you? You're talking about all of these wonderfully talented people coming to play on your album, but I imagine you must be influencing other people when you're a guest on their records.

    DK: I think part of it is recognizing that there's something special going on here, I've been very blessed to have had a really nice career, but by the same token a lot of us just downplay it. I'm starting to do less of that. Kirk Whalum, who's a good friend of mine and one of my favorite musicians of all time said it best to me, and I always give him credit. What he said to me about talent has really stayed with me: However you want to say it, whether it's a gift from the heavens or whatever, you're born with some sort of talent and you nurture it. It's not yours, you don't get to take it when you leave. It's almost like somebody has placed this beautiful gem in your hand when you're born and all of a sudden it gets revealed to you that you have this gem and you can do anything with it.

    But the goal is to protect it and don't squander it, but at the same time, you want to let people see it and show its brilliance knowing full well it's not you, it's just coming through you, this beautiful gem, and knowing full well you're not going to be able to keep it forever, so the idea is to share it and to celebrate it and let people look at it and be influenced by it or healed by it or whatever the power it has over people is. You have to shepherd it and protect it so that you know when it's time to give it up it's going to go to the next person in better shape than when you got it. That's the nicest way of talking about talent that I've heard.

    MR: When you're creating and improvising and playing truly from the heart and deep down, what is that experience like? It's probably something difficult to describe but I'd like to see if you could pinpoint it.

    DK: You know, I think there is something that comes from being completely in the moment and letting the music just sweep you away. It doesn't happen every day or every time I pick up the horn, but when it does happen it makes you really appreciate, "Okay, this is really what I'm doing, what my strength is in this lifetime. I'm here to play this thing and to use this as my vehicle to transform. Hopefully, people are hearing this and they're being moved by it. It's not always using the saxophone. We just came off of our cruise, we had a cruise to Alaska taking twenty one hundred people who come from very different lives, all different backgrounds, and taking them on a trip for a week and sharing all of this music together and not just music but the camaraderie and friendship and all of the elegance and grandeur and majesty of Alaska and all of these incredibly beautiful vistas, it's feeding the soul. It's what music does, it's what nature does, it's what great pieces of art do, it's feeding our souls with love and light and goodness, and I think that's what everybody's after. That sense that you know in your heart when you see it, "Oh, I keep forgetting because I'm so disconnected most of the time that this is what it means to be alive." Music is one of those things that's a reminder if people's hearts are open, it's a great reminder of the true essence of what being alive is. Light and love and positivity and growth and transformation and inspiration and all of those things that we in our busy lives get very disconnected from.

    MR: Dave, now is a perfect time to inject that traditional question. What advice do you have for new artists?

    DK: Be you. It's kind of part of coming up through the ranks where you try to emulate people. I did it, too. I remember one piece of advice David Sanborn gave to me a long time ago. I idolized him so much, everything about him, and I remember in one of my first encounters with him I told him that and he said, "Look, there already is a me, so I've got that one covered. You should just be you and be the best you that you can be." That was really good advice, very important advice at a key time for me. That's what I would say. This is a very exciting time for music because there are not the fences and the gates and the things that keep people out. The world is available at the flick of a switch and you can develop an audience without having to go through gatekeepers like record companies. If you have a great idea or if you have a great talent, if you choose to show it in a way that can break through you can have a massive career on your own terms. There's never been a better time to truly be unique and let the world see what it is that is you as opposed to trying to fit within the parameters of how people have been successful in the past.

    MR: Beautiful. Considering all of the Christmas material you've recorded, was it the plan all along to become Captain Christmas?

    DK: [laugh] Captain Christmas, I've not heard about it that way. I kind of like that. I don't know how that happened, cause I'm a Jew. I'm a Jewish kid and this is number five of my Christmas albums, number seventeen, if you can believe that, of Christmas tours. No idea how that happened. But here's my thought... First of all, this is not a commercial thing at all for me. I love Christmas music. We're talking about some of the greatest songs ever written. Every year people try to come up with a new essential Christmas song, but it is so difficult. The deck is so stacked against you because Christmas music is like comfort food. When you think about comfort food you want the stuff that you know, that you've heard all of your life. That's why these songs have become so important to people. They're like a time travel tunnel back to more innocent times, our childhoods, or they're wonderful reminders of our past and our times with loved ones who may not be here anymore. They're like guideposts to our lives. Those are the things that you just want to hear because they make you feel good. They make you feel warm and fuzzy. I consider it a great honor to play these songs every year. Of course, we try to inject some newness in there, like we did on The 25th Of December.

    Richard Marx and this guy named Trey Bruce and I wrote a song called "Another Silent Night," which I think is a fabulous song, Richard is so talented. That's a brand new song. And BeBe Winans wrote the title track and I remember hearing this very crude demo that BeBe made with him singing and playing piano. He's not a very good piano player, by the way, but I remember hearing the song and hearing him singing and saying, "I know this song! I know this song. It's one of those old classics." It turns out, no, I didn't know this song, it's a brand new piece of music but it had all of that familiarity built in. It was just so identifiable and so relatable but it was a brand new piece of music. That's when I knew that that would have to be on the album, not ever thinking it would become the title track, but it's that good. We have two new pieces of music and then ten classics.

    My goal with this album, by the way... I made a deal with Rickey--you talk about learning new things with each album, this was the album I made my solemn promise to Rickey that I would play not one more note than necessary. Every single note that I play is there for a reason. He didn't let me get away with noodling or filling spaces unless it really was meant to be there and needed to be there. It was a very adult record for me. Not just filling holes but playing only when it really, really needed it. The songs are so great, they really just live on their own. You have to really try hard to screw them up, as long as you don't change them in a random way where you just say, "Oh, I'm changing this because I want to do something that hasn't bee done before." If you remain true to the pieces of music they won't let you down. They're amazing pieces of music.

    MR: What happens when you run out of Christmas songs? Are you going to go through withdrawal?

    DK: [laughs] I don't think I could EVER run out of Christmas songs. Have you ever looked at how many Christmas songs there are? I could make fifty albums and not repeat myself. The problem is I have my favorites. But there's a bunch of new music on this album. In fact, I think there's only one song, "Let It Snow," that I did with Kenny G--by the way that was an incredible mount of fun to do a duet with him on that, we'd never done that before and we'd known each other forever. He is truly Mr. Christmas. He has the most popular Christmas record of all time. But every piece of music on this album was new for me.

    MR: I think we have to throw another holiday at you and see what comes out.

    DK: Hoo boy! The nice thing about Christmas is there's such a wealth of material to constantly go back to. There's just not that many Halloween songs, or July 4th songs. There's a huge variety of patriotic songs that are great, but Christmas gives you so many options. Even a song like, "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," which is not necessarily a Christmas song although it's very much associated with the holidays because of Ella's version of that song. India.Arie loves Ella Fitzgerald and she'd never recorded any of the songs that Ella recorded and she heard that one and said, "This is the one, I want to do this." I love what she did to it. She totally was respectful of the style of music that Ella sang and added her own flair to it, but she was very much India.Arie on it. It was a perfect combo. That song is one of my favorites on that CD.

    MR: Dave! What's next?

    DK: I'm a partner in a restaurant/music venue. The restaurant has been in existence for over twenty five years in Orange County. I've not been a partner tha tlong but the people who own it are great friends of mine and we're opening up a second location in Beverly Hills and that's called Spaghettini And The Dave Koz Lounge. It's a fine dining restaurant and five nights a week after dinner it will turn into a live music venue with headline artists from all different walks of life. Mostly adult music, jazz would be our DNA.

    MR: That venture must be energizing for you.

    DK: I'm very excited about this! This is kind of an on-land version of what we do on the cruises one week a year, where we can invite people into our space and treat them really well and feed them really well, great food, great wine, and be transformed by some unbelievable music on stage. This is kind of a new thing for me certainly, I've never been in this business before. It's a chance to flex some new muscles and grow. I'm really excited about that. So that's on the immediate horizon. For 2015 I'm just kind of putting things together. It's my twenty fifth anniversary, so I'm excited about that. My first record was in 1990 so that's twenty five years and not that I don't do this normally but I'm going to spend that year doing things that really tickle my fancy. Maybe doing things that are a little different, a little left of center, a little bit rosy thinking, but the goal is just to really take a year to completely enjoy. I'm talking professionally, too. It might mean different kinds of projects, doing different kinds of tours, but we'll see. Nothing is fully planted yet, but some of the seeds are being thrown around a bit. I'm excited about that.

    Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


    2014 10 23 Johnson Stern Oct28th Thumb

    A Conversation with Eric Johnson

    Mike Ragogna: You and Mike Stern joined forces on the album Eclectic. Since both of you have a reputation for bridging jazz, funk, rock and popular music, so you each already make eclectic music, and this collaboration seems like a no-brainer.

    Eric Johnson: Yeah, it's a really good combination. I've been a fan of Mike Stern's playing and also his composition and his writing. It all started when Blue Note in New York said, "Hey, would you guys like to share a bill together and play some shows? Originally it would be one person would play a set and then the other person would play a set and then we'd play a few songs together at the end of the night, but we said, "You know what? Instead of doing that, let's just get a whole band together and play the whole evening!" That was kind of the beginnings of a band concept of us playing together. We just enjoyed it so much, so it was a nice logical opportunity when we got asked to do a record.

    MR: Were Anton [Fig] and Chris [Maresh] in on the live performance?

    EJ: Yeah, they sure were. They've been in on everything we've done. Unfortunately, Anton won't be able to do some of the touring that we're going to do after the record release because he's filming the last part of The Letterman Show but Chris will be there and I think Anton will do part of the touring.

    MR: Often, when two powerhouse artists such as yourselves get together, a creative tug can happen. What was the creative experience like with the two of you? You did it in three days, right?

    EJ: Yeah, we cut most of the record in like three or four days.

    MR: What was the creative process like?

    EJ: I hear it in Mike's playing. He's all about the composition. He's a good player and he'll play these wonderful guitar things but I think they're infused into the greater vibe of the composition and I try to go for the same thing. I think when we play together we're being sensitive to that. It kind of puts a little bit of a monitor on getting too bombastic or running over each other or pulling or tug-of-war, whatever it is we're doing it's powerful and we're out pushing it but not to step on the heels of trying to make good music. That's always in the forefront of my thinking. I think Mike and I share that same thing in common.

    MR: Did you discover anything about each other during the recording process?

    EJ: Yeah, I think so. I also know that some of Mike's compositions inspired me to come up with different voices. I thought, "Oh, you know what? I want to use a volume pedal on the guitar/rhythm supporting Mike so it will be sort of an orchestral swell." That sometimes comes out of a spark of hearing what somebody else does when it's a little out of your sphere and then it sparks something to dilate your own sphere.

    MR: Did you end up having songs on this project that changed dramatically?

    EJ: Oh, absolutely. We didn't really write songs together, per se, but we brought in the songs that we wrote and said, "Why don't we do this here," or "Do that there," or "Maybe let's change that or take this part out or I'm going to add something." It was real malleable as far as our contribution to the songs. We both had a lot of freedom to talk about changing this or that or to offer whatever we could do that could pull it a different way. And it was all for the better. There's this song called "Title" that I wrote, it's kind of a Wes Montgomery-type deal. I brought that in and Mike rearranged it and after I heard it, I said, "Oh, I like that better now!" He put a chorus somewhere else and put an intro somewhere else. It's always good to have somebody else's perspective.

    MR: Did you find that your talents melded better because Mike came from playing a more classics-structured style whereas you tend to push the boundaries?

    EJ: I think both things would hold true for both of us. I've always enjoyed playing with other musicians. I guess my go-to thing isn't always double guitar. I've always done a trio and I enjoy playing with other instruments as well, but as far as double guitar to me it's like, "Okay, what are we going to do here? Is it going to be like jump in and go nuts?" and there's the tuning thing and the voicing thing and the tone thing. But playing with Mike is one of my favorite experiences as far as the double guitar thing. I think it's because of what you're saying. It's because he has that approach of the composition of a song, "Let's have a lot of dynamics here and let's lay back here" or, "not play here," or, "Let's do the melody here." It's about the music. It's our responsibility to figure out a way to play with intensity and bravado as soloists but we don't want to screw the song up. And that's easy to do, walk all over the song.

    MR: You started as a session player and decided at some point to have a solo career. What was that point? Were there incidents that got you there? Was there encouragement? Did you always want to do it?

    EJ: I think I always wanted to do it. I always wanted to write songs and have a band and do that whole thing. I think it was always a dream of mine. As far as the timing of when to do it I think it all happened when it was supposed to happen. I think there's a lot to be said for really studying what you do as you go through your milestones to try to sharpen whatever you need to sharpen. I got lost in the moment and just started playing and having fun and got gigs and got offered to do records and I have no regrets at all. I suppose I would've loved to be a bit more attentive and sharpened about, "Okay, maybe you'd better work on your vocals a bit more, they're not the greatest in the world." There are always things you could've done or waited to do later when it might have been better timing, I don't know. It's something I've always wanted to do, I guess.

    MR: Alex Lifeson of Rush said that you inspired the guitar solo on "Cut To The Chase." And you're a very well respected musician in the field. Do you see a legacy that's being left?

    EJ: Maybe a little bit. I think the sky's the limit. The opportunity is always there as to what you do with it or how much you embellish it or how far you take it, how deep you make it, how profound and how relevant or impactful it is to people. From that angle, I don't know. I think I could do more to make it that--not so I can make more dollars or be more famous, not that that could happen anyhow. There are always ways that you could infuse it to make it more impactful or a little bit deeper to where it would be more of that legacy. I think I've touched upon it but I could probably contribute more. This side of that deeper contribution, maybe I have, but a lot of what I do is kind of a reinterpretation. I look at the people that I learn from and they sort of invented it and I reinterpreted it. Some of my claim to fame is probably that I reinterpreted from eight or ten people and put it all together in my own recipe to where it's cloaked and nobody notices it. "Okay, it's your own thing," but it's really just a reinterpretation of all my heroes.

    MR: "Cliffs Of Dover" was a major hit, that coming off Ah Via Musicom. What do you think it was about that project that everyone when nuts over?

    EJ: Well, I think the timing was just right to where there was more radio viability. I think the songs were strong enough, too. It's kind of an irony, as we sit here and have this interview I realize that the way to make the best music is to cut it more live, more spontaneous, like the record we did with Mike or some of the live record I made in Europe a few months ago. With Mike it's spontaneous, it's live and people resonate with that. The irony is that on the Musicom record the bass and drums were live and some of the guitar was live, but some of the guitar I just killed myself doing over and over just to try and nail the guitar part. I was playing at the brink of my ability and I was pushing, pushing, pushing, trying to get myself to do this, just, "No. Farther, farther," like an athlete or something. The irony to me is on that record a lot of those guitar parts are anything but live, but people resonate with them as if they were live. Somehow that was a fluke thing, but I think it was just pushing the boundaries.

    MR: Eclectic was inspired by your live performances, but on the other hand, it was recorded in a studio. Were there many overdubs?

    EJ: Very few, really. There was very little fixes and not very many overdubs. Every once in a while I'd put a little lap steel just in the background or Mike and I put some acoustic guitars on or a couple of guitar tracks or percussion players came and played on them. I put a little acoustic piano in the back just in little spontaneous places. We would fix a lick or two here or there but it was really pretty much completely live.

    MR: What were your impressions when you listened back to the project when it was finished?

    EJ: Well, I think it's cool. It's got some warts on it, but that was our intention, to get in there and play music. To me, it's an investment in the present and the future which I want to contribute to and be a part of, where not only do you play with other wonderful musicians but you play music in the moment and you learn to play to the best of your ability live, spontaneously where you can feel that thing that's happening in the present. It's a little different concept for me than the way I used to make records.

    MR: In the end, was there anything you felt was particularly Eclectic?

    EJ: I think the combination of Mike and my playing is pretty eclectic. We come from different arenas. We touch on the same thing but we also come from such different backgrounds and histories and careers that it's all real eclectic. We both like and appreciate the gem of all styles of music. There's a certain thread in all music that's good and that's played well. All you've got to do is open your eyes to hear that value. We have a real emotional connection with that, so anything goes. We're trying to make it good, so we have our ears open to whatever the possibilities can present. I think it was all eclectic, in a way.

    MR: Speaking of eclectic, not many people are able to do this, but you took part in the Primal Twang: The Legacy Of The Guitar project. Speaking of eclectic, that was an interesting approach.

    EJ: Oh yeah, I remember that. It was interesting. It was a cool show, I actually enjoyed that a lot. They had a really fine sitar player on there and some good flamenco players, it was really cool.

    MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

    EJ: That's a really good question. It's a broad question insomuch as trying to answer it, but it's still a good question. I was just listening to a brand new band on a CD recently that was really, really great. I did a blues tour with B.B. King once and I was out there trying to play this B.B. lick and that B.B. lick, and I can play blues guitar but that doesn't necessarily mean that I should try to make a career of playing blues guitar, there's plenty of people who can play it better than me, but I love the blues. But I'm out there doing this tune and that tune and he brought me into his tour bus to talk to me once and he said, "You know what? You have this special, unique gift. As an artist, you should find that pulse that's unique and that nobody else can do that way and just resonates in your own certain way. You should grow that and make that strong and really appreciable and people will then resonate to that."

    What happens is no matter how good we get, we put on this generalized suit of what we think we should adorn ourselves with. This band is really great but it sounded like this other band and the production sounded like another band it was all cleaned over and polished. It made me think about my own records where you can't reach in and feel the person inside. You see the aura and it's all beautiful, it's all great, but you can't reach in and feel that thing that you have that's unique and you're really expounding on then you don't have as much esteem to do what you really want to do. That would be my advice. Actually, I'm talking to myself as I say this.

    MR: That's terrific because I was going to ask what you would have told Eric Johnson when he was starting out.

    EJ: That's what I would say. I think many times, I get seduced by the recording studio. "We could do this, we could do that, let's put this effect on that," and it all just gets this Doppler effect to where the listener is reaching out with his hand to try to catch it but it's out of reach so they just admire it from afar instead of having it assimilated into their cellular structure. I need to think about how people assimilate things into their heart. I guess what I'd like to do is try to make music that resonates with people and has an impact on them. I want it to create something in themselves. It's like the difference between a knick-knack sitting on a table and somebody giving you a card that has some words that go into your soul.

    MR: A lot of musicians are inspired by things other than their favorite artists. Do you have things like that?

    EJ: I try to learn more about spirituality and think about what's really important on a long-term big-picture field. Try to treat people right, including trying to treat yourself right, and trying to leave an open door to what the possibilities are. I think it's us in our mind who decide, "This is real, this is not real, this is possible, that's not possible." The whole funny thing you can laugh at is twenty years from now we can say, "Oh, we used to think this wasn't real, now we know it is. We didn't think that was possible, now it's possible." Well if it's possible now, it was possible back then. The only difference is that our minds didn't think it was. Our processes and our abilities weren't able to embrace or enact or make it happen but it still was real and it still was possible. That's true and it's always evolving and it'll evolve again in the next twenty years and twenty years after that. In other words there is an incredible possibility in reality to non-reality that we just haven't stepped into yet. To me, that's invigorating, that's inspiring. "What if?" Leave the question mark to float around you and then all of a sudden little time capsules can be released in your life and you say, "Oh, okay," and you get inspired or you get an idea or somebody says something or you see a sunset. Just leave that open.

    MR: Yeah. I have a feeling that "What if?" has been a major factor in your creativity.

    EJ: Yeah, I think so. But then we all have our chains to the balloon. My chain to the balloon is the studio, or not believing enough in just playing in the moment. "Let's go in the studio and we'll do this fifty times and try to get this right." I used to read about The Beatles going into the studio and disappearing for weeks on end and I kind of went, "Oh, that's great. Bigger is better so let's just go into the studio and disappear for years on end," which is ridiculous. It's not better, it's like that was my own little illusion of, "Oh yes, I'll just turn into Howard Hughes in the studio and it will be great," but actually it's not. It's all in moderation. We learn from our digressions, I guess, and then we get back on the path and go forward.

    MR: Beautiful. What are the "What ifs" that are coming down the line for Eric Johnson?

    EJ: Well we have two tours to do with Mike, we're going to do one this fall on the East coast and then one on the West coast in January. I've got another live record from America that I'm planning on releasing in some fashion and then I want to work on this acoustic record that I've been trying to work on for two years.

    MR: Right. I wish you luck with that. As far as Eclectic, do you see another collaboration down the line?

    EJ: Could be. I love playing with Mike, it's a real nice experience so there very well could be.

    Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


    2014 10 24 KikiEbson Thumb

    A Conversation with Kiki Ebsen

    Mike Ragogna: Kiki, your last name brings a certain notoriety with it, you being Buddy Ebsen's daughter. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever heard you make that connection for any projects until this point. Why did you record an album of songs closely related to your father, including "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," it having a somewhat extended connection?

    Kiki Ebsen: When I was first starting in music, my father had a lot of opinions on my musical direction. He wanted me to sing jazz standards, period. My parents' strong personalities, combined with the famous name motivated me to make a break to find my true voice far away from the bright lights of Hollywood. That journey led me to a life of a singer-songwriter and back-up musician for some of the biggest names in pop/rock including Chicago, Boz Scaggs, Tracy Chapman and Christopher Cross. I found peace, enlightenment and maturity through my songwriting. By recording and releasing my records, I reached a new level of personal growth that would ultimately help me deal with life's challenges. A few years ago, I found a box of old scripts of my dad's from the 30's. This included his songbook from The Wizard of Oz when he was cast as the Scarecrow. He lost the role to Ray Bolger who had a better "rubber knee" dance and was eventually cast as The Tin Woodsman and the filming commenced.

    After a couple of weeks, he became very ill from the repeated dusting of aluminum powder to his face and hands. The aluminum coated his lungs like paint and he could not get oxygen to his blood. He was hospitalized for several weeks and the part was recast. I got chills holding the scripts in my hands. A lot of emotion came up for me as I recounted my father's amazing career and our life together. I had an intense desire to talk with him and have him tell me about his early life, his fears and desires. Parent/child relationships are complicated at best, but add the fame element and the generation gap between us--he was 50 when I was born. Suffice to say that there was a lot unsaid between us and I felt a deep loss that I never allowed myself to feel before. I realized the next step in my journey would be to make the record he always wanted me to make: a record of standards that had a connection to his life and career. I felt now that I was in a great place in my life and career to truly honor my dad's request and sing these amazing songs. The experience would bring me closer to him than I'd ever imagined.

    MR: Let's go over the tracklist. Obviously, beyond these songs having meaning in your dad's film life, you've also lived with them for a long time. Do you have specific memories with some of them or how they personally relate to you?

    KE: "Moon River" is from Breakfast at Tiffany's a movie that I watched many times as a kid. It made me cry (and still does) when my dad appears midway through the movie. He plays Audrey Hepburn's estranged husband, a homegrown country veterinarian who attempts to bring her home with him to care for the kids. She refuses and the look on his face is just so sad. That scene always brought tears to my eyes.

    Captain January is one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies. Their dance routine during Codfish Ball is one of the classic routines ever filmed in my book. I remember as a kid feeling so proud to watch him and know that this twenty-something kid was actually my dad!

    "Tea for Two" was my dad's signature dance routine. I watched him dance to it a thousand times if not more. To sing it is to remember the feelings of being in the audience or the wings watching him and even on stage with him doing a family vaudeville show. Very comforting and familiar.

    "Missing You" is a song that he wrote with Zeke Manners. I am not sure of the year or what the project was, but I found it towards the end of his life. I was able to sing it at his memorial service at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the summer of 2003. This song was to be the climax of a very moving two-hour memorial service where many of his co-stars and friends including Dick Van Dyke, Max Baer, Donna Douglas and Lee Merriweather shared their fondest memories. When I got up to sing I was shaking with emotion. I was to sing live over pre-recorded music. But for some mysterious reason, once my performance started, the track kept stopping in the middle of the song. A very uncomfortable awkward silence ensued in the audience after each start and stop. I finally just had to stop and explain that it must be my dad putting me on the spot to see if I could improv my way out of this. Everyone laughed and a boat load of tension was released. I then sang the song without interruption. We still don't know what happened, but I graduated to the ranks of "trouper" at least in the eyes of Dick Van Dyke and I've never been the same since. My dad showed me that facing your fears with a willingness to be honest and vulnerable is really all you need to connect to your audience.

    MR: You employed a stellar cast of New York studio musicians to back you as well as using David Mann. What was the recording process like and did he also have a passion for the material, maybe offering insights into it beyond what you had known previously?

    KE: Working with David Mann was absolutely amazing. We met in Christopher Cross's band, but this was my first time working with him as a producer. I had always been a fan of his sax playing. A few years ago while we were listening to my newly released record of original songs, "The Beauty Inside," I revealed a desire to record a project of jazz standards as a gift to my father, but wasn't sure how to do it. David expressed genuine interest of getting involved. Being one of first-call session players in NYC, I was thrilled at the idea of having him on this project. He has loads of experience in the jazz idiom and had recorded with many singers in this particular style. Since it was my first foray into the Great American Songbook, I was more than a little intimidated. His confidence in me was contagious. I really think that he saw the end product right from the beginning and knew that I would sound terrific on it. He heard a quality in my voice that I was yet to discover: a purity and simplicity that would be revealed as the recording process went on. David was sensitive not only to my voice, but to me as a songwriter. His arrangements, especially "If I Only Had a Brain" and "Moon River," mix so beautifully with my material that in my shows, I can meld the two eras, which was something I wanted to do originally.

    I knew that I would record on the East Coast because that is where my dad's career started. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone completely. New town, new producer, new players, new genre! While I was there, I retraced my father's steps with the help of his autobiography, "The Other Side of Oz." I found his old flat and many of theaters where he performed. I tried to imagine the fear and fortitude it took for him to leave his family in Orlando, Florida, on his own with just $26 and a letter of recommendation. This whole project was a desire to reconnect with my dad in the present and create something really cool in the process.

    David and I handpicked the band. I wanted great players who would also embrace the project and the story behind it. John Patitucci, Chuck Loeb, Clint de Ganon and Henry Hey were the perfect choices. Enthusiastic, professional and all stars in their own right, each one delivered personal and heartfelt performances every time. For two days, we holed up in this charming hundred-year-old church turned state-of-the art recording studio nestled on Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. We recorded twelve songs with me singing live the entire time. I knew these moments would be special and I did not want to sit out for even a minute.

    David was the ultimate producer: quiet, focused, calm and encouraging. He also arranged, performed, and mixed this project. He listened to my ideas, honored me as an artist and fulfilled my vision for this record. I couldn't be happier and more grateful to him than I already am.

    2014 10 24 Kikidadfamilyshow Thumb
    photo courtesy of Kiki Ebsen

    MR: What made you decide on music as a career?

    KE: It chose me. I was always playing the piano. It was my therapy, my escape and my solace. I love to write my own melodies and what I wanted to do was play in a band. I got very lucky in the touring side of the business. I started playing in rock bands in high school then got a degree in concert voice from the California Institute of the Arts. My first tour was with the legendary group Chicago as an offstage keyboardist. From there, I joined Al Jarreau's band on stage, which included an up and coming music director on bass named Rickey Minor who went on to be the music director for The Tonight Show and American Idol--and toured steadily with big name artists for the next couple of decades, I would also record five solo records with "Scarecrow Sessions" being my sixth album.

    MR: You used Kickstarter to fund the project. What's that story?

    KE: I was on the fence about crowd sourcing. I didn't want to ask my fans for money, but then I realized that it might be a great way to get everyone involved from the very beginning and start a buzz about the project. It was still hard to do. Selling a project that you have so many emotions attached to it, I felt naked and so vulnerable exposing my relationship to my father. Something I rarely talked about before. I'd never promoted myself or my music in conjunction with my dad so it was a big step for me. I really wanted to get past the famous name and get to the essence of the project, which to reconnect with a parent who had passed on and honor his early request for me to sing a style of music that he thought I was really suited for.

    MR: Are there musical contemporaries out there that you admire and who are they?
    KE: My favorite singer is Ella Fitzgerald. My main writing influences are Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. I love the music of Steely Dan and the Yellowjackets. I do greatly admire jazz singer Cassandra Wilson in so many ways. Amazing voice and wonderfully unique arrangements!

    MR: If one were to classify what you do, they might either say "jazz" or "cabaret." How would you define your own music?

    KE: With this project, I would say I am more cabaret, especially with the stories that are attached to it. I am already a storyteller with my own material and this just adds a whole other element to that. Give me a piano, a mic and a lovely listening audience, and I will take you on a musical journey.

    MR: Which creative or career highlights are you most proud of?

    KE: Out of college, I won the American Collegiate Talent Showcase and then produced my first record, "Red," now a collector's item. It features great performances by Boney James, Jimmy Haslip and Paul Jackson Jr. The songs are timeless and that experience ignited my artistic journey. I've enjoyed two decades with the Christopher Cross Band, which culminated in a live concert DVD a couple of years ago called, A Night in Paris. I am very proud of my last record, "The Beauty Inside," because by writing those songs and telling such a personal story, I was able to move to a new stage in my life, which put me in the perfect place to deliver "Scarecrow Sessions," which may prove to be the biggest highlight in my career so far!

    MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

    KE: "Never turn your back on enthusiasm". This is something that my dad always told us always. He also had framed the following Calvin Coolidge quote and gave it to us all at an early age: "Press On.
    Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not, unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not, the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

    MR: It's a given you miss and love your father. Do you have any particular memories of him or the two of you together that you're especially fond of and did he ever offer you any guidance or direction when it came to your music?

    KE: I loved our family vaudeville shows. We usually would perform at his "Barnaby Jones" wrap parties and during the holidays for the veterans and for the Motion Picture Country Home. I would sing and dance with Dad and my sister, Bonnie. Sometimes I backed him up on piano. He had such a casual way of creating a show. It was usually assembled right before the performance - winging it as usual. A highlight of my childhood was learning to sail from my dad on our little yellow sailboat while living on Balboa Isle, CA

    In my early twenties, I was preparing for a challenging piano recital. It was the most difficult material I'd ever tried to master: Gershwin's "Concerto in F" and Chopin's "Premiere Ballad." The night before, I was terrified and filled with anxiety. May father took me outside and said "Look at the sky. Do you see all of those millions of specks of light? Just remember that we are just specks on a little speck in the sky." He was just trying to put it all in perspective for me. He was cool and calm, and not afraid to fail.

    MR: What are the future plans for Kiki Ebsen?

    KE: To continue to perform, write and interpret music. To continually grow and challenge myself as an artist. To explore this new genre and hopefully record more records with David Mann!

  • Donald Trump Rips 'Reckless' NYC Ebola Doctor, Demands Obama Resign
    Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to blast the latest Ebola patient in the United States as "reckless" and demand that President Barack Obama resign over his Ebola policies.

    Dr. Craig Spencer was diagnosed with the disease on Thursday after reporting symptoms earlier in the day. He had recently returned from Guinea, where he was treating Ebola patients for Doctors Without Borders.

    Trump sent out the following tweet when news broke that Spencer was being tested for the disease:

    If this doctor, who so recklessly flew into New York from West Africa,has Ebola,then Obama should apologize to the American people & resign!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2014

    After the diagnosis, he added:

    Ebola has been confirmed in N.Y.C., with officials frantically trying to find all of the people and things he had contact with.Obama's fault

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2014

    I have been saying for weeks for President Obama to stop the flights from West Africa. So simple, but he refused. A TOTAL incompetent!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2014

    Health officials say Spencer spent much of his time in self-isolation in his apartment. However, he also went on a 3-mile jog, took at least three different subway lines, used an Uber car and went bowling, according to reports.

    Trump has repeatedly taken to Twitter and used his media appearances to call on Obama to ban travel from countries with active Ebola cases. He has also repeatedly denounced the president for failing to do so.

    Last week, he called Obama "psycho" and said "I am starting to think that there is something seriously wrong with President Obama's mental health" over his Ebola policies.

    However, the World Health Organization, Red Cross and U.S. Centers for Disease Control say travel bans and border closures are not effective ways to stop the spread of disease.

    "Those are not solutions," Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said this week. "The only solution is how can we join our efforts to contain those kinds of viruses and epidemics at their epicenter, right where they start."

    CDC chief Thomas Frieden has also said that keeping the borders open offers an easier way to track who's coming into the country.

  • 'Insidious Chapter 3' Teaser Trailer Terrifyingly Tiptoes Back Into The Further
    The first teaser trailer for the third installment of the "Insidious" series has arrived, and the newest journey into the Further looks even more terrify than its predecessors. Revealed as a prequel to the first two chapters, "Insidious Chapter 3" marks the directorial debut of Leigh Whannell, franchise co-creator, writer, and co-star (he holds the role of Specs), taking over for James Wan. The movie's official synopsis:

    “The newest chapter in the terrifying horror series is written and directed by franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell. This chilling prequel, set before the haunting of the Lambert family, reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl (Stefanie Scott) who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.”

    “Tip Toe Through the Tulips" is featured in the trailer, and the song is associated with the red, Darth Maul-looking demon. In combination with some black, mucky footprints that climb up to the ceiling, it seems like the demon might make a return in the third chapter. Either way, the movie looks like it will be satisfyingly terrifying when it hits theaters in May 2015.

  • <i>Grey's Anatomy</i> Recap: VA-GI-NA in "Bend and Break"
    Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 11, Episode 5 of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, titled "Bend and Break."

    2014 10 24 Greys5 Thumb

    I have an unpopular opinion to share and if you've read my "Grey's" recaps last year you might know what I'm about to say: I've wanted Callie and Arizona to break up so badly. If they were real people and I knew them (which of course, I do) I would have counseled that breakup long ago. It's just humane: they aren't nice to each other, like ever. Someone is always giving up so much to make the other happy. Like Callie says, the thing that kills you is trying too hard to make a relationship work.

    And, quite frankly, I think Callie is mean and selfish. I think Arizona is a brat, too, and don't think that watching her try to "consciously uncouple" didn't remind me that I used to want to beat my ex-boyfriend and couples counselor with a broom (who needs space?!), but I think Callie is the worst of the worst. That's why she's a good surgeon, like Yang and Meredith, she doesn't care if you like her or not.

    Watching Meredith and Callie get drunk though? Entirely amusing. It makes sense that two people who need to not go home could put their misery to good use.

    Tequila Meredith is making a comeback and it is fabulous! @GreysABC

    — Danielle Demerly (@ddemerly) October 24, 2014

    More amusing? How badass Geena Davis is as a boss. I hope they put her to good use (and let her use more baseball metaphors, because she makes me want to watch League of Their Own, always.

    Also, what kind of therapist recommends that two people live in the same house and not talk to each other? Although it was a good excuse to use old scenes:

    Greys Anatomy is rocking these flashbacks the past two episodes.

    — jєnnífєr (@juicyjayxo) October 24, 2014

    What did you think of this week? Can it be splitsville for real for our girls? Let me know @karenfratti

    "Grey's Anatomy" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

  • HBO Going Rogue Could Get Us to Net Neutrality
    Recently, a couple of cable content providers have announced that they're going rogue and are going to start providing content independently of cable companies. That's good news for consumers who have, until now, been at the mercy of companies such as Comcast and Time Warner. It might also be good news for proponents of Net Neutrality, who have been waging an uphill battle for internet data and traffic equality.

    The rest of this post assumes that the reader is familiar with the finer points of Net Neutrality, if that's not the case, you can read more about it here and here, but in a nutshell, it's the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally. The other possible scenario being that ISPs would be allowed to slow down, or "throttle" data transfer from certain sites at their discretion. For example, an ISP could decide they didn't want their customers visiting sites of a particular political party, movie actor, author, store, etc. and slow down speeds significantly resulting in the site taking too long to come up.

    That said, HBO announced last week that it will be offering its HBO Go service to viewers who don't have a TV/cable subscription in 2015 -- a stand-alone streaming service. HBO CEO Richard Plepler made the announcement recently saying:

    That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO. So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top, HBO service in the United States.

    This means that popular shows such as Game Of Thrones, the most pirated TV show in history, will be available to you regardless of your cable plan. HBO's move makes sense. According to Entertainment Weekly:

    [HBO] officially condemns theft, yet also recognizes that Thrones is an enormous hit, that content leakage is tough to prevent and that the show's popularity among pirates is inevitable (countries such as Australia, where viewers don't receive new episodes via pay cable in a timely manner, tend to be among the biggest piracy territories).

    Michael Lombardo, HBO's programming president also told Entertainment Weekly that the downloading was a "compliment of sorts," adding, "the demand is there. And it certainly didn't negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network."

    So why not offer a paid subscription service and minimize piracy? Netflix has more than 37 million subscribers in the US who watch and average of 90 minutes of programming every day; 47 percent of American households subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant or a combination thereof; nearly 50 percent have a TV connected to the internet; and 34 percent watch online videos every day. That's a lot of potential customers. Netflix's model of eight dollars per month has worked so far and frankly, with the exception of Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, the content isn't that great.

    The day after HBO's announcement, CBS announced their own "cord cutter" service. For $6 per month, you can live stream CBS programs, get next-day access to current shows on mobile devices, and access an archive of past shows and classics from the network.

    Up until now, the only way to get HBO, has been through a provider such as Comcast or Time Warner. The prices vary by region and it's difficult to determine an overall or average cost across the country. If you want HBO from Comcast you'll have to buy a bundle that includes other "premium channels" you probably don't want.

    According to hbowatch.com, the price of an HBO subscription, averaged over seven providers, runs about $16/month. Feel free to correct me in the comment section below, but even at $10 per month a streaming service from HBO would be a bargain.

    Of the hundreds of channels available to me on my TV I probably only watch a half dozen, of which two are premium and the rest, I could care less. Looking at $60 per month, as opposed to the nearly $150 I spend now is certainly more attractive.

    As for the technology, most laptops and tablets are equipped with a micro USB port to play streaming video on most flat screens; Google Chromecast integrates with Netflix and YouTube so far; and gadgets such as the soon to be released Nexus Player and Apple's AirPlay are going to make streaming content more accessible and easy to use.

    America lags behind many countries when it comes to the kind of world class network we should have. In terms of speed and access America trails Sweden, Estonia, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, to name but a few. As for price? According to an article on HuffPost:

    Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, claims it's capable of providing 3Gbps broadband -- but its fastest service currently on the market is $320 a month for 305Mbps. Verizon, meanwhile, has just announced its fastest FiOS ever, 500Mbps for $310 a month. Compare that to Hong Kong, where consumers can get 500Mbps for $25 a month, or Seoul, where the same speed is priced at $30 a month. Only Google Fiber's broadband plan seems competitive with those of other tech-savvy nations: It offers 1Gbps for $70 a month, which is only outpaced by Japan's proposed Nuro network with speeds of up to 2Gbps for $51 a month.

    Many countries view internet access as a utility and almost a necessity. In Sweden, for example, people pay about $30 per month for gigabit access as opposed to our ten megabits per second or less. Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong and many European destinations offer connections nearly 100 times faster at lower rates. In America, we're arguing over Net Neutrality that could allow service providers Comcast, Time Warner and others to "throttle" internet speeds and charge content providers and customers more for "high speed lanes." Movie watchers, music lovers, gamers, etc. would all be affected if Congress and the FCC allowed what are essentially monopolies to set their own speeds and prices. Want to play a game with your friends? More money. Want to watch a movie without having to watch that little hourglass every five minutes? More money. How about this article? Are you old enough to remember when a page with this much content and images could take 10-15 minutes to load? For those of you too young to have had this experience and the exercise in patience it required, here's a video.

    In an interview for Vox.com with Ezra Klein, Susan Crawford, former Special Assistant to President Obama on Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, had this to say about how the internet is too important to be left to the private market:

    What happens is that we deregulated this entire sector about 10 years ago and the cable guys already had exclusive franchises across the country. They were able to very inexpensively upgrade those to pretty high-speed internet access connections. Meanwhile the telephone companies have totally withdrawn. They have copper line in the ground and it's expensive for them to build and replace it with fiber. Because of both deregulation and sweeping consolidation in the cable industry we've ended up on this plateau where for about 80 percent of Americans their only choice for a high-capacity internet access connection is their local cable monopoly.

    It wasn't that long ago (less than 20 years) that a cable bill was under $50 per month. The rates have risen faster than inflation and certainly faster than income.

    Last June, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to allow a startup, Aereo, that was streaming live TV to computers, tablets, and smartphones using tiny antennae that grabbed over-the-air broadcasts. The traditional broadcasters sued Aereo out of existence, because they know that if the startup had actually succeeded, they would have a harder time hitting the cable companies with high retransmission fees -- which add to cable bills and help keep the whole industry afloat.

    Chet Kanojia, Aereo's founder and chief executive, called it a "massive setback" for consumers and "sends a chilling message to the technology industry."

    What may hopefully end up happening here is that as more content providers like HBO and CBS go rogue and offer their own content to viewers they'll have a say in what the backbone, i.e. Comcast and Time Warner, can do to that content and the speed at which it arrives to consumers.

    The average Joe doesn't have much of a voice these days in what lawmakers are deciding. We can't afford lobbyists to speak on our behalf. HBO, CBS, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon and the rest have more than enough money to lobby for Net Neutrality -- it ultimately affects their bottom line. As strange as this may seem, this could end up being a rare case of what passes for Capitalism in this country actually working for average people.

    Read more at NowItCounts

  • <em>Virgin</em> Not the First Time for Latinos
    The anticipated premiere of Jane the Virgin (CW) was as wacky and sweet as promised. Based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Jane has drawn comparisons with Ugly Betty, made evident through notable cast performances and a tendency toward camp. With its roots firmly in Spanish-language soap operas, Jane is an attempt to reach Latino viewers, while at the same time appealing to wider audiences.

    Besides Jane, Cristela (ABC), and Seth MacFarlane's new animated series Bordertown (FOX), set to debut in spring of 2015, all feature Latino lead characters.

    Initial buzz surrounding these shows has been positive. Gina Rodriguez's strong performance in the lead has made Jane a critical darling, and it was recently picked up for a full-season.

    The premiere of Cristela, the first show created, written, and produced by a Latina, who is also the star, won its Friday time slot and increased viewership over its lead-in Last Man Standing, but is down slightly in its second-week ratings.

    And although Bordertown has yet to air a single episode, the inclusion of Chicano graphic artist Lalo Alcarez as a writer has Latinos, who were initially fearful, anticipating the Texas-based comedy.

    These shows represent efforts to diversify the television landscape.

    Jane and Cristela are aspiring Latina professionals, living in multi-generational households with absent fathers. Neither character has achieved success. They are in the process of becoming fully enfranchised but haven't yet arrived.

    The stories appear new. They are not. Where is the Latina Olivia Pope? Where is my unified upper class Mexican American family?

    Worldwide success of the Columbian telenovela, Yo soy Betty, la fea indicates that Latinos aren't the only ones who enjoy a good fish out of water meets ugly duckling kind of story. So an adaptation of Juana la virgen makes a lot of sense from a network standpoint.

    Betty, la fea was remade in 18 other countries and translated into more than twenty languages, including Japanese and Greek. In the U.S., Ugly Betty, starring America Ferrera, ran four seasons. Despite a loveable lead and its willingness to tackle issues such as homophobia and undocumented status, the show never quite duplicated the success of the original, which is curious given the popularity of the original and the genre.

    To say Latinos like telenovelas is an understatement.

    Last year, four million people tuned in to the Spanish-language network Univision for Amor Bravío, and Porque el amor manda averaged 3.4 million viewers a night. Such a sizeable audience helped Univision beat FOX, NBC, CBS, and ABC to win the coveted 18-49 and 18-34 demographics.

    But as viewers, Latinos do not exist solely on a diet of telenovelas.

    On average, Latinos consume 127 hours of traditional television per month or 4.2 hours per day. Compared to African Americans who watch 211 hours monthly, our viewership is rather paltry.

    Additionally, Nielsen studies show that Latino viewership has a strong correlation with the primary language spoken in the home, so that principle Spanish speakers watch a majority of Spanish-language television. The converse is also true, which means that primarily English-language households constitute the majority of Latino traditional television viewership.

    The decision to include a substantial amount of Spanish with subtitles in Jane will likely draw diverse Latino viewership. Wider audiences may be put off by the move. FX has tried something similar with its noirish border drama The Bridge, as did ABC with the comedy Freddy.

    Bilingual programming is not the only avenue for reaching Latino audiences, who account for approximately 17 percent of the total U.S. population and have a purchasing power close to $1.2 trillion. Even though Latinos have tremendous economic power, we are woefully underrepresented in the media we love to consume, accounting for a mere 3 percent of regular characters on primetime television.

    From 2000-2010, a slew of comedies and dramas prominently featuring Latinos aired, Greetings from Tucson (WB), The Brothers Garcia (Nickelodeon), Resurrection Blvd (Showtime), American Family (PBS), Skin (Fox), Kingpin (NBC), Cane (CBS), Freddy, George Lopez, and Ugly Betty (ABC). Only four lasted more than one season.

    With the recent cancellations of Rob (CBS) about a man who marries into a large Mexican American Family, Saint George (FX), a gritty second sitcom effort from George Lopez, and The Bridge (FX), Latino characters now exist primarily as a part of ensemble casts, as in Modern Family (ABC) and The Strain (FX), directed by Guillermo del Toro, or have receded into the background.

    We need to see greater Latino diversity on television, both in terms of genre and characters, more than simply telenovela reboots, charming virgins, and scheming maids. When we do, I'll be sure to tune in.

  • Remembrances of Oscar
    Early on - say the 80's - there was that run on fashion phrase "Oscar-Ralph-Calvin-Bill." When Bill died in 2002 it became "Oscar-Ralph-Calin-Donna." This pretty much meant "EVERYONE" who was anyone in the monde of fashion. For the last 40 years in American fashion one could not write, talk, or even report on a season of fashion without invoking something about OSCAR.

    You will read the fashion tribe ooze on about his iconic handiwork, lace, ruffles and exquisite textures and his love of the female shape. For me, the fashion aspirant, the TV lifestyle correspondent who covered him for 2 decades, Oscar was the Dominican charmer with that sexy slice of a smile, a softness that touched you, and a gentle lullaby of an accent. His elegance was palpable. Every time I was in his presence during an interview or social event, I felt so self conscious. I was always looking to see if I had a spot or a strand of hair lurking somewhere out of place. What a waste of neurotic worry. Oscar was the least judgmental of any of the fashion brood. President's wives, rock stars, fashion icons, fashion editors, news anchors, his son's nanny - he dressed them all and treated them all equally... never looking over your shoulder to see if anyone more important was entering the room.

    The ultimate compliment was when he turned out for my book launch at Sotheby's. My 6" square teeny tome didn't mention him. It wasn't about fashion. In fact, it was completely unOscar. Yes Oscar De La Renta not only attended my "Decorating on a Dime" book party, but bought SEVERAL. With several of the low-high concepts on display including a table base made from plumbers pipes, he stopped to marvel at my feather wrapped lampshade and said, "Are you stealing my ideas?" I swooned.

    What transfixed me about Oscar as a high school shop girl in my home town of St. Louis still fascinates me today. He was the fashion Degas. His gentle hand translated his love of the female figure something beguiling and feline. This saturates his designs - ruffled-cut on the bias-bejeweled - whether they were off the rack or made for a pop icon.

    And what will always stay with me and that I did not appreciate at the time... he advised me, "the legs are the last to go."

    Oscar, my dear friend, truer words were never spoken.

    Christy Ferer
    Lifestyle Contributor (1984-2001)
    NBC "Today"

  • Why Drake Is One Of The Best Contemporary Poets
    I often have one poet that I am in love with for a very long time, whose songs I can't ever completely tap out of their inspirational resources. For the past few years, that poet has been Drake.

    You all likely know who Drake is. Aubrey Drake Graham is the 27 year-old Canadian rapper who in recent years has shot up to astronomical fame, has won a Grammy, has sold countless millions of records all over the globe, and has more number #1 singles than Jay-Z. He's what we all might describe as a phenom.

    Drake is a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me, Drake is my own personal mojo. Whenever I get discouraged with being a poet and a person -- I can listen to Drake and I feel like he's talking to me, telling me it's going to be ok and to keep on going. Drake understands how to address a listener in a way most performers don't. Other poets can get lost in the winds and weathers of their minds, performing their intricate importance to a reader or listener, but Drake understands no one is more important to the song than me. And that this is the great sacrifice of a wordsmith -- to give me, the listener, over half, if not all, of the power.

    The first Drake song I fell in love with was his hit single from 2009, "Best I Ever Had." During that time, I was going through a horrible commuting regime for school and work and everything, especially the long days with no end, depressed me. When I heard Drake's voice, it was both sweet and sad, and it told me that there would be an end at some point and to keep going. It gave me a lot of hope. With Drake's simple admission of "You the best," I couldn't help but wonder: Maybe I am?

    What Drake does especially well is to use direct address so effortlessly. In the song, he starts off by saying, "You know a lot of girls be... thinking my songs about them, but/
    This is not to get confused, this one's for you." And then he proceeds to tell the listener that he or she is the "best I ever had." This grand gesture of love echoes Tina Turner's classic hit, "Simply the Best" ("You're simply the best, better than all the rest/ Better than anyone, anyone I've ever met"), and it's always a classic gesture employed in the best poetry, reminiscent of the New York School and Confessional poetry.

    When you use a you in a poem, you are alerting your listeners to a lot of things. First, that you know that they exist and are listening. Second that the pathos of the poem and what it emanates towards them is important. Third that the poem itself is a stage space meant for everyone, for every listener beyond the you. This is intoxicating to a reader, because not only do they feel implicated in this intimacy, but they feel as if the poem has taken into account who they are and that they are a live listener.

    We can see a similar gesture in a poem by New York School poet, Frank O'Hara in "To You.". In this poem, O'Hara dramatically tells the you that by the light of the "moon or a gasping candle" he or she becomes "a landscape in a landscape/ with rocks and craggy mountains/ and valleys of sweaty ferns," i.e., some sort of immortal love magnet. After all, "What is more beautiful than night/ and someone in your arms?" Certainly, Drake can't find anything better, when he freely tells us (the you) that with "Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin' with no make-up on" that lucky you is "all I ever wanted," and in doing so, reminds us that sometimes telling the you that "You the best" is the first and last step in getting the you to listen.

    Another more recent song, "Worst Behavior," from his 2013 record Nothing Was the Same, makes equally glorious but different poetic gestures. This is a war song of vindication, as he tells the listener, with equal parts joy and emptiness, that with each new success he, the poet, is "on my worst behavior, no?" because "They used to never want to hear us/ Remember?" He's obviously alluding to all of the people who may have not believed in him (morons!), but now his songs are now in an arena of fame that has surpassed their judgment.

    Not in content necessarily, but in form, does Drake remind me of one of my other favorite poets, Gertrude Stein. In his song, he uses a staccato and incessant repetition and a simple palate of a few words and phrases ("motherfucker," "remember," and "loved us") to drive home the poem to a crazy momentum. For example:

    Motherfucker never loved us, remember?
    Motherfucker, remember?
    Motherfucker never loved us
    I'm on my worst behavior,
    Don't you ever get it fucked up
    Motherfuckers never loved us
    Man, motherfuckers never loved us
    Worst behavior
    Motherfuckers never loved us
    Fucker never loved us
    Worst behavior

    Take a poem like "Chicken" from Stein's 1914 Tender Buttons, and you can see how Stein too realized how much emotional power you can build up with the play of a few simple words in a poem, as she writes, "CHICKEN./ Stick stick call then, stick stick sticking, sticking with a chicken./ Sticking in a extra succession, sticking in."

    In both poems, Drake and Stein force us to revisit their content again (in his case the sweet revenge of being a great poet despite the critics and in her case, the oddness of cooking a chicken's body and its reminder of our own mortality) through an incantatory repetition. Certainly, both poets use the space of the poem to show us that the poem is always, first and foremost, a spell.

    Maybe this is why I love Drake so much, because his songs cast a spell upon the listener, unabashedly. How many poets right now can we say feel free enough in their own powers to do this?

    Sometimes I have the thought that the real reason I love Drake is because he is a Scorpio. All of the great poets have been Scorpios. Come on, you know it's true: Anne Sexton, Ted Berrigan, Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Alice Notley, John Berryman, John Keats -- the list is endless. No, but I think it is more than that.

    But before I forget: this post is in honor of Drake's birthday. Happy Birthday, Drake! We are so glad you are here and among us. I can't wait to listen to all of your new songs. I hope you are writing some more, just as you read this.

    Dorothea Lasky is the author of Rome: Poems.

  • Sofia Vergara Talks Latino Representation On Television
    Over the years Sofía Vergara’s “Modern Family” character, Gloria, has been heavily criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of Latinas. But now the Colombian actress is saying she helped the show’s writers become more culturally aware and that television could use more Latin writers.

    Recently the actress spoke to Time Magazine as part of the Follow The Script campaign, which raises awareness about hypothyroidism, and discussed the kinds of cultural mishaps she initially experienced on set and the state of Latino representation in Hollywood.

    In the interview published Wednesday, Vergara reiterated that when playing Gloria she is inspired by her mother and aunt.

    “I play her the way I see my mother and my aunt behave as Latin women,” the actress told Time Magazine. “And now the writers know more about the Latin culture than when I started doing the show, and they know me better, too. So at this point, I pretty much follow the script.

    The Barranquilla-born star added that in the beginning the show’s writers were a bit lost when it came to how to portray Colombians.

    “One time we were at a party with Colombians [in a scene], and the Colombians were dressed like Mexicans,” Vergara said. “So I went to the writers and was like, ‘Colombians don’t dress like that.’ Little things like that, but now they’re really good about it.”

    On the topic of Latino underrepresentation in the entertainment industry, the “Modern Family” star said she feels things have improved since the beginning of her career with “more scripts” but that she doesn’t necessarily think the writers are at fault.

    “I cannot blame the writers because when you’re a writer, you write about what you know,” Vergara told Time Magazine. “So you cannot tell an American writer to just write about some other culture and think it will be as natural as writing about an American person."

    The star did say, however, that she’d like to see more Latin writers in the industry.

    “I think that would be ideal, because there are plenty of Latin actors out there,” Vergara added. “We just need a little bit more material.”

    In the past, the Colombian actress has been called out for playing up stereotypes on the Emmy-winning series. During a HuffPost Live interview, Vergara was asked about whether she was concerned that Gloria was a stereotypical character.

    “No, I don’t worry about that at all,” Vergara told host Marc Lamont. “I don’t know what they mean by a stereotype because I’m not trying to invent anything from it... I read a scene and I think: ‘ok, how would my mom and my aunt play this?’ And that’s how I’ve created Gloria. I guess they could say my mom and my aunt are the stereotypes [but] that’s who they are. They’re voluptuous, they’re funny, they’re full of energy, passionate and that’s Gloria. I mean, I want to be like Gloria.”

    But many in the Latino community disagree, including the chairman and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundations for the Arts, Felix Sanchez.

    “Sofia created an updated version of Charo, the ‘cuchi-cuchi’ 60s and 70s sexy and ditzy Latina persona,” Sanchez told The Huffington Post in 2012. “While we applaud her creating a comedic brand that works for her, unfortunately Hollywood looks at Sofia and tries to find replicas of her, believing that Valkerian Latinas are authentic Latinas, not realizing that her act is a shtick and not an example of the U.S Latina actress they should be casting for dramatic television and film roles.”

  • I'm a Christian, but I Enjoyed <i>The Unbelievers</i>
    2014 10 22 TheUnbelieversPoster Thumb

    (Photo: Black Chalk Productions)

    The Unbelievers is a documentary that stars Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. (It's streaming on Netflix right now!) These two scientists travel the world preaching a simple message: Science is awesome, and religion is not. If you haven't watched the trailer yet, it's worth viewing.

    After watching the movie, I have some good news and some bad news. Just like the Rock's character from Fast Five, I like good news before bad news: Dessert first, then the veggies.


    • The cinematography is amazing. The documentary is visually beautiful.

    • Dawkins does a great job explaining why monkeys don't have human babies. Parents and their offspring are never a different species. Instead, animals turn into new species very slowly. Dawkins explains that none of us go to bed middle-aged and wake up elderly. Similarly, species change slowly over long periods of time we can hardly grasp, with many intermediate forms. (Dawkins explains this idea very well in a short clip from a few years ago.)

    • Penn Jillette has a great quotation: "If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality." Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, has a point. Doing good deeds for their own sake is better than doing them out of fear or for a reward. Penn has an unlikely ally, though, in theologian J.B. Torrance. He wrote that fear of hell or reward of heaven are both wrong motivations for belief. According to him, the only correct motivation is gratitude for the grace Jesus has shown all of us. Christians don't obey to receive forgiveness. God first grants forgiveness, and then we respond with gratitude and obedience.

    • Joe Pesci makes an appearance. Well, someone at the Reason Rally holds a poster with Pesci's face on it. The sign says, "I pray to Joe Pesci." Brilliant.


    • Krauss misunderstands the doctrine of creation. Krauss argues that the universe came from nothing. (For Krauss, though, "nothing" means quantum fields -- which are certainly something.) Does his scientific argument disprove the doctrine of creation? No, the natural sciences can never disprove the doctrine of creation. This is not a cop-out, it is simply acknowledging the difference between metaphysics and science. Theologian William Carroll explains the doctrine well:

      Creation is not primarily some distant event; rather, it is the on-going complete causing of the existence of all that is. At this very moment, were God not causing all that is to exist, there would be nothing at all. Creation concerns first of all the origin (source of being) of the universe, not its temporal beginning.
      What if someone proved that the universe is eternal? Well, that still wouldn't disprove the doctrine of creation. (Aquinas, for example, thought God could have created an eternal universe.)

    • Dawkins undercuts the movie's mission. Early in the movie, Krauss asks Richard a question: "What is more important... to explain science or destroy religion?" Dawkins replies that destroying religion is promoting science. While Dawkins's mission to popularize science is fantastic, his understanding of religion is not.

      Saying religion and science are incompatible is not a scientific statement. If Dawkins says that accepting evolution means accepting atheism, that's a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one. For an atheist with a better take on the relationship between science and religion, see Eugenie Scott.

    • "Science or religion?" = "cake or death?" Science and religion coexist just fine -- if both are properly understood. Dawkins and Krauss, however, settle for caricatures of both: Science is wonderful and religion is obviously horrible. My good friend Russell Johnson, a philosophy of religion doctoral student, said these caricatures turn any dialogue into an Eddie Izzard joke.

    Final Thoughts

    Even though I have serious problems with the movie's main argument, it's worth seeing. It provides a great window into how Krauss and Dawkins think; it's cinematography and soundtrack rock.

  • Paris Opera Cast Refuses To Perform Until Woman Wearing Full Veil Leaves Audience
    The government said Monday that it would circulate guidelines for cultural institutions on France’s law against wearing full veils in public places after a woman at a performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata” was asked by an attendant to remove the covering over her face or leave the audience.

    Jean-Philippe Thiellay, the associate director of the Paris National Opera, told Agence France-Presse that some performers had complained after spotting the woman, who was sitting close enough to the conductor to be visible on the television monitors at the Opéra Bastille, the French capital’s hulking, modernist opera house. The performers at the Oct. 3 production said they did not want to sing if the woman kept her face concealed, he said.

    “I was alerted in the second act,” Mr. Thiellay was quoted as saying by the news agency. The Paris National Opera declined to elaborate, but the Culture Ministry confirmed the account.

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