Tuesday, June 28, 2011

120 Influences, Part 12: Musicians

Once again, I could not narrow a top ten list from these thirteen:
  1. Miles Davis, the trumpeter whose records from Blue Period (1951) through Seven Steps to Heaven (1963) are all jazz classics.
  2. Bill Evans, one of the most influential jazz pianists ever. Any of his trio albums will do.
  3. Stan Getz, known as "The Sound" for good reason. His tenor saxophone is immediately recognizable.
  4. Dizzy Gillespie, who with Charlie Parker created a new music and extended his singular trumpet prowess to small groups and big bands as a worldwide ambassador of jazz.
  5. Glenn Gould, playing the entire Bach solo piano collection, including Goldberg Variations (1955 and 1982 recordings), The Art of Fugue, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Inventions and Sinfonias, French Suites, English Suites, Partitas, and Toccatas.
  6. Stephane Grappelli, whom I saw perform numerous times, would put a smile on anyone's face with the first note he played on his legendary violin.
  7. Yo-Yo Ma, a cellist whose skill on the cello, passion for an astounding range of music, and credibility about nearly anything is unmatched.
  8. Charlie Parker, the alto saxophone giant, co-founder of Be-Bop, and generator of Afro-Cuban music.
  9. Oscar Peterson, Mr. Jazz, who played his piano in every format and with every jazz artist imaginable over a 60-year career.
  10. George Rodriguez, a friend, leader of The New Swing Sextet, and vibraphonist committed to all things Salsa and who taught me to appreciate his music.
  11. Sonny Rollins, the Saxophone Colossus, his tenor has engaged me in live performance from Montreux, Switzerland to Carnegie Hall.
  12. Andres Segovia, the master who brought dignity to the guitar as a classical instrument and played in the greatest concert halls into his nineties.
  13. Toots Thielemans, who jazz harmonica just captured my imagination three decades ago, and I've never let go of him since.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

120 Influences, Part 11: Composers

Here's another list I couldn't keep to just ten:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach: The father and the master of all composers. Everyone musical owes something to him. I shall listen to his solo pieces for piano, violin, and cello forever.

  2. Ludwig van Beethoven: Yes, Symphony 9, but my favorites are his string quartets, especially his last four, no. 13 in B-flat (opus 130), no. 14 in C-sharp (opus 131), no 15 in A (opus 132), and no 16 in F (opus 135).

  3. Frederic Chopin: His works for piano are the standard. His complete works for solo piano by Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Ashkenazy are readily available.

  4. Bob Dylan: The prolific troubadour of the past half-century. Of his 50-plus albums, his first six remain all-time standouts: Bob Dylan (1962), The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are a-Changin' (1964), Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964), Bringing It All Back Home (1965), and Highway 61 Revisited (1965).

  5. Duke Ellington: The greatest American composer of the twentieth century and perhaps of anywhere ever. Listen to any of his suites: Black, Brown and Beige, Liberian Suite, Such Sweet Thunder, Afro-Bossa, Far East Suite, Latin American Suite, New Orleans Suite, Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, and Toga Brava Suite. And these are just for starters.

  6. George Gershwin: The romantic, inventive prodigy who crossed jazz, musical, and classical genres to unforgettable success and popular appeal. His songs are great, but so are Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess.

  7. Antonio Carlos Jobim: He exported bossa nova to the world, and countless musicians have performed his masterpieces, including Agua de Beber, Aguas de Marco, Chega de Saudade, Corcovado, Desafinado, Dindi, Garota de Ipanema, Insensatez, Samba de Uma Nota So, So Danco Samba, Triste, and Vou te Contar.

  8. John Lennon and Paul McCartney: I don't want to argue who wrote what; it's all about the voluminous, memorable music they produced in such a short timeframe.

  9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: So many of the world's most creative people have been inspired by his music. Check out his piano sonatas and concertos as well as his later symphonies (no. 31 in D "Paris"; no 35 in D, "Haffner"; no, 36 in C, "Linz"; no. 38 in D, "Prague"; and no. 41 in C, "Jupiter").

  10. Cole Porter: The chief of Tin Pan Alley, the consummate composer of some 800 songs, the best known of which are All of You, Anything Goes, Begin the Beguine, Cheek to Cheek, Do I Love You?, Every Time We Say Goodbye, I Get a Kick Out of You, I Love Paris, In the Still of the Night, I've Got You Under My Skin, It's All Right with Me, Just One of Those Things, Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love), Let's Fly Away, Let's Misbehave, Love for Sale, Miss Otis Regrets, Night and Day, Too Darn Hot, What Is This Thing Called Love?, You Do Something to Me, You'd Be So Easy to Love, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, and You're the Top.

  11. Richard Rodgers: He wrote the most melodic music, whether working with Lorenz Hart (Bewitched, Blue Moon, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Isn't It Romantic, Johnny One Note, The Lady Is a Tramp, Lover, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, My Funny Valentine, There's a Small Hotel, You Took Advantage of Me, This Can't Be Love, and Where or When) or Oscar Hammerstein (Bali Hai, Climb Every Mountain, Do-Re-Mi, Getting to Know You, Hello Young Lovers, I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy, If I Loved You, It Might As Well Be Spring, My Favorite Things, O What a Beautiful Morning, Shall We Dance?, Some Enchanted Evening, The Sound of Music, You'll Never Walk Alone, and Younger Than Springtime).

  12. Paul Simon: He kept stretching the boundaries of folk-rock with hundreds of songs over five decades. Most memorable are America, The Boxer, Bridge over Troubled Water, Cecilia, El Condor Pasa, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, The 59th Street Bridge Song, Graceland, Homeward Bound, I Am a Rock, Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Mother and Child Reunion, Mrs. Robinson, Old Friends, and The Sound of Silence.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

120 Influences, Part 10: Artists

  1. Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose stunning retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005 expanded my definition of what art is.

  2. Pieter Bruegel, whose detailed allegorical renderings such as Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Children's Games, The Triumph of Death, The Tower of Babel, Massacre of the Innocents, and Peasant Wedding say more than hundred thousand word books.

  3. Romare Bearden, whose dramatic representation of his culture through vivid color and a potent blend of abstraction and realism continues to amaze me.

  4. Chuck Close, whose eight 7' X 9' black-and-white portraits of photographs of the late 1960s would have been enough, but his constant production and self-renewal in spite of paralysis from a spinal artery collapse in 1988 make him the ultimate artist's artist.

  5. Salvador Dali, whose surrealism and subject matter, which I learned of in my high school years, still fascinate.

  6. Keith Haring, whose public art I experienced as it happened in 1980 and 1981 on New York City subways. The seemingly endless exhibition was entertaining. At every subway stop, I would search for his signature white chalk on matte black paper childlike drawings.

  7. Edward Hopper, whose art was the perfect representation of twentieth century detachment most Americans felt in the face of increased technology and sprawl.

  8. Jacob Lawrence, whose distinctive depiction of the African-American experience is evident in all his work, starting with his 1940 Migration Series.

  9. Claude Monet, who Impressionist illustrations from lily ponds and foot bridges to the London Parliament Building and the Grand Canal of Venice are sheer magic.

  10. Edvard Munch, whose blending of somber portrait and dark Norwegian landscape mesmerizes the heart and soul.

  11. Pablo Picasso, whose association with Cubism so downplays his prodigious achievements.

  12. Diego Rivera, whose allegorical murals made him a twentieth century reincarnation of Bruegel and da Vinci, and whose politics so easily married his art.

I know I know I know. I said I mention only ten influences per discipline, but that would be cheating and lying. I couldn't resist these twelve.

Monday, June 13, 2011

120 Influences, Part 9: Educators

  1. Harold Bloom, for his commitment to classic literature over three millennia from The Iliad to Angels in America.
  2. Jon Amos Comenius, for writing four centuries ago The Great Didactic, which foresaw education as we know it today.
  3. John Dewey, for providing the principles underlying The Child and the Curriculum, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Experience and Education, Art and Education, and Art as Experience.
  4. Janet Emig, for her research in the writing process in The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders.
  5. Paulo Freire, for his liberating ideology about what constitutes a real education and the teacher's and student's roles in it.
  6. S. I. Hayakawa:, for his landmark work in general semantics, especially with Language in Thought and Action.
  7. Maria Montessori, for her attitude about children and her knowledge of the best way to educate them.
  8. Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, for Institutio Oratoria (Institutes of Oratory), "the book" on educating the young from birth to adolescence.
  9. Bertrand Russell, for The History of Western Philosophy, The Problems of Philosophy, and Religion and Science, all helpful in understanding the purpose, development, and uses of philosophy.
  10. Frank Lloyd Wright, for making modern architecture an art and a science.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

120 Influences, Part 8: Philosophers

  1. Thomas Aquinas: He reconciled Christianity with the wisdom of the Ancients in his masterwork, Summa Theologica.

  2. Aristotle: He covered every topic and even invented some: astrology, botany, ethics, logic, metaphysics, poetics, politics, psychology, rhetoric, zoology. And he has influenced how we all think.

  3. Confucius: His work on our oneness with nature, obligation toward morality, and imperative for self-development in the Analects remain standards nearly for more than two thousand years.

  4. Rene Descartes: His quest for absolute certainty and clarity through the Cartesian method in Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method can serve as an introduction to formal philosophy.

  5. Immanuel Kant: He had so much to say about the duality of human nature, and his categorical imperative remains the last resort of much reasoned argument today.

  6. Soren Kierkegaard: His Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death ushered in existentialism, which has influenced a lot of my own writing.

  7. Friedrich Nietzsche: Just reading the maxims of the philosopher of nihilism is a pleasure. What he says about the will and the conscience in its encounter with aesthetics despair is still relevant. Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals, and The Birth of Tragedy are good starting points.

  8. Plato: His Republic may be the most quoted philosophical text, and his Dialogues on beauty, wisdom, truth, valor, honor, and many other attributes are the foundation of Western thinking.

  9. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: He shed light on humans in their natural state corrupted by human conduct in Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, The Social Contract, and Emile.

  10. Jean Paul Sartre: We are thrust into this world. We encounter nothingness. We are despair. Yet we are doomed to act. His philosophy (Being and Nothingness), drama (No Exit), fiction (Nausea), and essays (Situations, Parts 1-10) made him the household name of existentialism.

Friday, June 03, 2011

120 Influences, Part 7: Orators

  1. Clarence Darrow: His fiery rhetoric and compassion won me over at an early age. Read his summation speeches at the trails of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (1924), John T. Scopes (a.k.a. "Monkey Trial," 1925), and Ossian Sweet et al (1925).

  2. Mohandas Gandhi: His words and deeds exuded selflessness, sacrifice, and peace. Reading his words is a stimulating intellectual exercise; hearing him speak them is a spiritual experience.

  3. Jesus of Nazareth: His wisdom has influenced billions of people, Christian and non-Christian, for two millennia.

  4. Helen Keller: That this deaf and blind woman chose to speak is a testament to her courage. That she spoke eloquently for the disabled, women's rights, peace, and the poor is a legacy matched by so few. She is a constant reminder that we should not be too proud of our accomplishments, as they pale in comparison to hers.

  5. John F. Kennedy: He was the right speaker at the right time: charming, vigorous, eloquent, and insightful. He used his skills for good and bad, leading the US to space, upping the confrontational ante against the Iron Curtain, aggravating an unwinnable war, and inspiring volunteerism at an unprecedented rate.

  6. Martin Luther King, Jr.: His sermon-style presentations are peerless, and he was quite a writer as well. His universal themes of peace and equality are enduring.

  7. Abraham Lincoln: He was just the grounded, forward-thinking spokesman for unity that the United States needed during its Civil War. His speeches are gems.

  8. Barack Obama: His rhetorical skills and speech-writing ability transcend politics. Many of his addresses will make the all-time lists of most rhetoricians.

  9. Socrates: His approach to problem solving, debating, and teaching remains a standard for many educators and writers today. Read Plato's Apology, Crito, Gorgias, Meno, and Protagoras, and Republic to get a taste of the rhetorical style of Socrates.

  10. Alan Watts: Listen to his compelling, witty, instructive podcasts on Eastern philosophy. Never a dull moment.