Barack Obama’s speech about race was right on the money.  I’ve been reading the blogs a little bit and it’s very disturbing to hear the ignorance in people’s comments, and the obvious fear by caucasians that Democratic nominee Barack hates America, hates white people, and wants to destroy this country. 

Barack’s approach to this speech was extremely rare in the political realm: he decided to be honest, keep his dignity and integrity, and in so doing gave one of the most intelligent  and well-crafted speeches you’ll ever hear in a public forum on the subject of race by a political candidate in America.  Unfortunately, this speech might have been a little too intelligent for most caucasians in America.

Decide for yourself here:

I just watched Dogville starring Nicole Kidman et al, and all I can say is wow! Great, great movie.  Someone compared it to My Dinner with Andre, which is just wrong because My Dinner with Andre was stupid and sucked balls while Dogville was very well thought out and is great!  Every once in awhile I felt like a line was a bit obvious or clumsy, but overall the message in the film was very clear.  It’s the kind of film that can be talked about for hours afterward, it’s also the kind of film that’s almost 3 hours long and if you grew up in a short-attention span world like me at first you might be tempted to give up – but for those that take the time to get involved the pay-off is well worth it.

Having a great time watching Celebrity Rehab on VH1.  I don’t watch a lot of tv, but when I do it’s either South Park or VH1 reality shows.  My attention span is too short for much else.  It’s a good show, it’s definitely a real rehab, they’re doing the real stuff and Dr. Drew seems pretty cool as a counselor.  

It got me to thinking about my rehab days, and addiction in general.  It’s funny that I have never regreted a single mistake made or shameful experience that I’ve had, unless alcohol or narcotics was involved.  Because then I wasn’t around to experience the mistake, it’s like reading about somebody else’s mistake in the newspaper.  So, being disconnected from me, the mistake was wasted on somebody else.  If I had made the mistake in my sober mind, then it would’ve been me that made the mistake, so the experience was lived through and (hopefully) learned from, right?

In the same vein the only comments I’ve ever regretted are comments made in echo of another person’s voice.  I’ve done it many times, it’s natural to want to do that, but if I don’t feel it, then it’s not me talking, it’s someone else.  I know we’re supposed to respect our elders and all that, but isn’t it more respectful not to copy them?  And it’s even worse when we copy our peers.  Then we’re imitating imitators (not all younger people imitate, but most do).  A lot of people live their whole life as an echo – I feel like our whole job should be to resist that urge.  An echo is safe – “Who was that?  Oh, nobody there, just an echo.”

Me and Veronica lead a panel discussion at the Jazz Improv convention entitled, “Singers vs. Musicians – Is there a difference?”  It went great except that out of the 30 or so people in the room there wasn’t a single musician there.  It was all singers or vocal jazz fans.  You can read a review here. (you’ll have to scroll down – best to search for Travis Shook on the page)

We decided to run the panel as an open-forum type discussion, neither me nor Veronica are interested in pontificating for 50 minutes to a crowd – like most people do.  I mean, if you’re not McCoy Tyner or Abbey Lincoln I don’t want to hear you talk for 50 minutes, sorry. 

Anyway, The question came up: Does a singer have to scat in order to be a jazz singer?  There was a resounding, unanimous NO! from the crowd, followed by laughter, because this was one thing all jazz singers agree on and are maybe a little frustrated by:  Just because there were a few jazz singers in history that could scat well - Ella and Jon Hendricks being a couple examples – the musicians, critics, and record labels think that a singer has to scat in order to be singing jazz! This is wrong, it has always been wrong and will always be wrong.  Because of this kind of thinking, the jazz critics have helped elevate a number of singers to superstar level just because they open there mouths and sing “doop de do” never mind that they’re missing half the notes and that its corny. 

What makes a jazz singer is that they phrase like a horn player.  If you can’t scat like Ella, or at least hit all the notes and not be corny – don’t do it.  But if you can, then by all means go for it.

Bearing in mind the overwhelming majority of legendary jazz singers did not scat, here’s a very small listing of some of my favorites off the top of my head that (as far as I know) never scatted a single note:

Nat King Cole

Dinah Washington

Abbey Lincoln

Nina Simone

Billie Holiday

Joe Williams (maybe more blues than jazz but one of my favorites so I’m putting him on anyway!)

Irene Krall

Peggy Lee

I’m reading Moby Dick again (I read it once about 15 years ago).  I’ve never seen such a divisive book between men and women as Moby Dick – most guys who have read it, love it, most women hate it.  Just something I always noticed.  I’m just as enthralled as I was the first time around with the taste of the saltwater and the cold night air, the wild lofty wisdom juxtaposed with detailed descriptions of a sperm whales head, and especially the old scraggly bearded arrrgghhh people – but I’m starting to have trouble with the whale killing parts in my old age.  Since I moved to Woodstock I’ve stopped eating mammals (but still eat fish and birds).   Really strange how the environment one lives in can totally change a person’s outlook.  That’s why I never believed the supposed old wisdom that “wherever you go, there you are”, or to put it another way “you can’t run from yourself”.  Not true!  I’m way better off psychologically and creatively living outside the city than I was living in it.  In a similar vein, George Bernard Shaw once remarked, “Do not waste your time on Social Questions. What is the matter with the poor is Poverty : what is the matter with the rich is Uselessness.”

Anyway, there was a scene in the book where Stubbs stuck a harpoon into an injured whale and twirled it around until its heart exploded.   Pretty intense.

Sonny Simmons, the great alto saxophonist, emailed me the other day, and I made a rehearsal with him and Michael Marcus’s group – it’s always so great to hear from Sonny.   Whenever I play with him he likes the McCoy-type playing and I’m glad to oblige because Sonny’s a genius and I’ll do anything he wants.  Some people don’t understand that and you know who you are…

I saw a special on Jack Kerouac and the Beats on Ovation channel a few weeks back (I like that channel a lot, they play a nice mix of stuff).  Anyway, the only Beat writing I ever looked at was Bukowski because a friend of mine was into him.  I didn’t get the point at all, and probably still wouldn’t.  Another friend was into Hunter Thompson.  (I guess Hunter is not technically Beat, but my good friend and sometimes artist cohort Richard Shin says he was definitely in that vein).  Again I didn’t get the point.  Then I heard Allen Ginsberg was a Satan worshipper.  But while I’m not technically against Satan, it’s hard to really be for him either.  Anyway, someday maybe I’ll try to read On the Road – that way I can feel like I’ve given the Beats a fair shake.

Marian McPartland’s producer called the other day and asked Veronica Nunn to sing on her NPR show “Piano Jazz” (with me as accompanist). When we got there she had a microphone setup for me as well, so I ended speaking as well as playing.  I’m not usually comfortable speaking on radio or in front of people, but having Veronica there really helped. Plus, Marian was very comfortable to be around as always (this is the second time I’ve done her show).  She’s really a great spirit.  We did (if I remember right) 3 tunes with me and Veronica, Veronica and Marian did one, I did a duet with Marian, Marian did a couple solo pieces – and then all three of us played on the grand finale.

Anyway, Marian and the producer, radio people, etc. seemed to be really happy with the result, so I’ll be sure to post here and let everyone know when NPR airs it.

Here’s another great classic album: 

Phineas Newborn - A World of Piano

Checkout A World of Piano! at

The first time I heard this it freaked me out a little.  My piano teacher was Harold Mabern back in the day and his teacher was Phineas Newborn.  He used to always talk about how this great piano player from Memphis (Phineas) never got his just due.  One day I heard WBGO play his version of “Oleo” and went out and got this album right away.  The first cut, Cheryl, is absolutely out of this world.  The entire album has such a clarity to it – it just blows me away.  Sometimes I’m told I’m being too self-effacing, but I try to explain to people that the only reason why is because I’ve heard albums like this!  I will never be this good, I don’t ever expect to be.  To me this is the greatest jazz piano album ever recorded.

ok, I just brought the titles back again – I just realized I end up getting a gazillion posts with no titles and I can’t find them if I need to edit… of course I cheat and go back and fix things or delete posts as time goes on.  It’s cool to change the past – just like Wikipedia. I’m a big fan of Wikipedia.  Who knew you could let anonymous people start typing into a wiki site and instead of disentegrating into chaos, people would work together (for free) to create this glorious encyclopedia called Wikipedia?  So it turns out you can allow everyone to have a voice – it works.  Ok, sometimes it’s still evil and imbalanced but its far better than what we had before – which was no voice except Penguin and Random House and New York Times.

I think its time to start pushing for a pure democracy in America.  We don’t need representatives speaking for us anymore – we have the technology to hold town meeting style votes what with the internet and all.  1 person, 1 vote on every issue.  Mike Gravel is right – he rocks.