Sunday, February 26, 2017

The View From Pedernal by Peter Reum

Growing  up in the mountains
Made my life feel small
Their presence seems eternal
When I am away from them they call

People in the mountains are honest
They tell you what they think
They never pull their punches
Even if their patience is on the brink

I feel at home when in the heights
Explanations are never needed
People long known offer acceptance
My oldest friends are quietly greeted

We speak honestly---lowering our guard
Time freezes though changes came
We speak of friends long gone
Sorrows and happy days-not the same

What we have in common is aging
So many we knew now are gone
They live on in our common memories
Vitally alive whether dusk or dawn

My hope is when I leave this Earth
people that live on in my heart
Will show me the ropes over there
My family and friends departed

Ms. O'Keeffe loved Cerro Pedernal
People say her soul lives up there
She fell in love with that mountain
Will she be so kind as to share?


Friday, February 24, 2017

The World's Worst Addiction by Peter Reum

Having been a licensed addiction counselor for several years, people often ask me "what is the worst addiction that anyone can have?" For many years, I answered that alcohol was the most destructive substance or behavior that I had worked to eliminate in people's lives. Despite such truly deadly substances like alcohol and opioids (prescriptions or street), and such horrible behavioral addictions such as gambling, I have decided that the worst addictive behavior around is the hoarding of money.

Before you roll your eyes and laugh until your side hurts, consider this....what other species accumulates valued "stuff" to the degree that the chasing of such "stuff" in a hoarding manner results in the progressive poisoning and contamination of the very environment they depend upon for life? The exchange of goods and services that results in 6% to 10% of the world's humans possessing between 50% to 60% of the money that exists worldwide, brings starvation, epidemics, and life expectancy being shortened by 15 to 20 years, or performing what is slave labor which seems incredibly self-destructive  and absurd.

Meanwhile, another 35% of the world's population controls the other 50% of the money. Furthermore, the people who are wealthy are addicted to the compulsive accumulation of money, and resent the desire of the poor and middle classes to feed, educate, and to keep their familes healthy.

We revere certain people through the centuries who teach the lessons of detachment from the material world. This does not mean living off the backs of working people. What it does mean, to quote Jesus of Nazareth or the Buddha, is to forego the accumulation of excess money or expensive luxuries that are not essential to one's day by day living. After all, how many laborers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Why are wars fought? In my  mind, primarily to snatch/control a commodity (e.g.Iraqi Oil) or luxury  that makes life easier or less painful than before such a war is fought. I don't think that we should wear yellow robes and hit the road with a begging bowl. I find that those who are wealthiest are the very people who cannot be satisfied unless "yours, mine, and ours" until it becomes solely "mine." Sometimes these sorts of people develop the idea that they "will be happy when ______."

Happiness and sadness are human emotions that drive our compulsion to acquire that one thing we have to possess or to attract that one person that will make us happy forever, only to divorce them when they are no longer young and pretty/handsome. Those types of  people who marry hedonists do so because the hedonist has usually fooled the prospective husband or wife into believing they really matter. My experience in working therapeutically with addictive behavior is that there is usually some sort of event or events in the addictive person's life that causes a sense of loss or unfairness that cannot be resolved. Thus, they adopt an irrational sense of importance and think that if they can acquire______they will finally be happy. The reality is that such people can never be content because the hunt for whatever they think they compulsively need is never satisfied.

The person with the addiction therefore has what I would term an unconscious insatiable compulsion that hides the true reason that the addicted person cannot feel. Occasionally, a compulsive behavior replaces potentially self-enhancing behavior with addictive self-harming behavior due to a sense of unfairness or unsatisfied need in their life, often unresolved pain/abuse...or a feeling that they have never really been truly loved. The resentful behavior "numbs out" the terrible pain, and the addicted person regurgitates/repeats the addictive ineffective  behavior until the chemical or behavioral dependence is mistakenly identified as the primary problem being presented. Among other driven addictive peers, the financier who piles up such a fortune that it cannot be spent to meet the money driven addict's compulsion to accumulate money--will be judged as successful. No one in the money addicted person's circle will see the money addict for what he or she really is--addicted!

A sense of entitlement manifested by the addicted person, family, or even a nation envelopes the addictive behavior and family members, peers, and allies erroneously believe that the money addicted person, peer, or nation is "unique, destined for greatness, or entitled to whatever substance, commodity of value, or emotion for which they manifest desire." The addicted person, family, or nation will compulsively seek money or act out repeatedly ad nauseam, until the money addict destroys himself or herself and any unfortunate person, family, or aligned nation is destroyed along with the addicted person or group.

One last thought about public life and the extent that a nation helps its poor, aged, infirm, or disabled populations, or other nations that are suffering......that nation manifests the genuine compassion that is spoken of in great world religions or codes of ethics. Individuals in public service, as a corollary, show their true selves by what they can realistically assist  in caring for the impoverished, aged, infirm, or disabled. Unless I am ill informed, no person ever became a saint or exceptional person by being addicted to money.

Copyright 2017 by  Peter Reum - All rights reserved

Friday, February 17, 2017

Personal Favorites #8--Miles Davis and Gil Evans--Porgy and Bess by Peter Reum

Those people who have been friends of mine for quite awhile know that I love the combination of Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Their work together stands as a high point of jazz arranging and performance.   George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward assembled an American Classic in operatic form, based upon Porgy, DuBose Heyward's novel about the African Americans who lived on the barrier islands near Charleston, South Carolina. George Gershwin composed the original music for Porgy and Bess, with Ira Gershwin and The Heywards adapting Porgy from a novel to an opera lyrically. The original form of Porgy and Bess lasted almost four hours, a long performance by operatic standards.

Porgy and Bess premiered on September 30, 1935, with the premier performance in Boston and a tightened performance in New York City. The pre-debut run through of the opera was done in September 1935 at Carnegie Hall. Like many Gershwin efforts, there was more material prepared for the opera than was performed. Initial feedback from critics was mixed. No one, up to Porgy and Bess, had ventured the temerity to write an opera based in African-American culture as a person outside African-American culture. The opera's subject was a couple in love, Porgy and his great love, Bess. Todd Duncan and Anne Brown starred in the title roles. The famous vaudeville performer John Bubbles portrayed Sportin' Life, a powerful man who liked Bess, and denied Porgy the chance to speak with Bess. The role of Serena was played by Ruby Elzy.

John Bubbles (Sportin' Life), Porgy (Todd Duncan), and Anne Brown (Bess)
1935 Original Primary Cast Members

One of the reasons Porgy and Bess became an American Classic is the presence of characters who were fully developed. The Porgy role was also one of the first operas or plays which presented the lead character as a person with a disability. He was said to have had polio, paralyzing his lower extremities. While the original 1935 cast did sing in a form of barrier island dialect, most African Americans were unhappy with the dialogue, as written by DuBose Heyward. Reviews were warm generally or quite critical, especially by prominent African Americans at that time. For example, Duke Ellington found the dialect spoken by the barrier islanders to be more blackface than dignified, stating "the times are here to debunk Gershwin's lampblack Negroisms."

The Cast and George Gershwin After the Boston Premiere of Porgy and Bess

The opera was produced by Rouben Mamoulian, who also directed. Eva Jessye supervised the chorus. The play was set in a somewhat isolated African American neighborhood, Catfish Row. The set, pictured above, is the set used for the initial premiere and theatrical run of Porgy and Bess, which lasted 124 performances. This was a lower figure than The Gershwins and Heywards expected. Reviews were mixed, as any Gershwin project usually was. Subsequent restagings of Porgy and Bess have helped cement Porgy and Bess as the classic American opera. Numerous restagings, have been successful, with the 1952 Porgy and Bess performance being the first American musical performance in Russia since the Bolshevik Revolution. Recordings of several versions are in print, and can be heard or seen in several types of electronic reproduction.

The Original Cast Recording of Porgy and Bess

A close listen to the original cast recording of Porgy and Bess, recorded after George Gershwin's death in 1937, helps the listener to place Miles Davis and Bill Evans' classic jazz interpretation of  Porgy and Bess in context.

Original Artwork for Miles Davis and Bill Evans
Porgy and Bess

By the time Miles Davis and Bill Evans turned their attention to Porgy and Bess, both men's reputations as innovators and jazz giants were huge. The 1958 recording of Porgy and Bess is an unusual mixture of cool jazz and  big band virtuosity.  The recording of the album was completed in four separate recording sessions from July 22 to August 18, 1958. The album was released on Columbia (CBS) Records in February 1959. The reception for the album was enthusiastic, and Bill Evans' arrangements were heralded as a new direction in jazz.

The album, nearly an hour long at a times when 30 minute albums were considered long, begins with a brass flourish, followed by a very quiet entry by Miles Davis. This tune, entitled The Buzzard Song, sets the mood for the album as a whole. Miles first plays a quiet swing feel with his presentation being the opposite of bebop. In bebop, the emphasis is upon playing a fast pace with note changes passing the listener before they can often be understood. The tune passes into a 4/4 tempo with Miles' horn introducing a swing feel after the early first 2 minutes. Miles' playing is a quiet swinging pace, answered by trombones. The tune quietly ends, offering an emotional picture of a conflicted place, with warmth supplied by the drums and low brass.

A transition into the mournful  Bess You Is My Woman Now, with Miles' horn presenting Porgy and Bess. Porgy is played with a quiet intensity and brass flourishes offer a small hope that things will turn out for Porgy and Bess's getting together. Rising trumpet flares present a feeling of hope. Porgy, being a polio survivor with paralysis in his lower limbs speaks with Bess, who remains silent, so to support Porgy's hope they will be together. The conflict is Bess being attractive to Sportin' Life, a man without honor, who will do whatever life presents to get his way and proceeds to bend situations in his favor, without having reservations about killing to accomplish his goals.

A piece entitled Gone follows, not to be confused with Gone, Gone, Gone which follows Gone. This tune captures the confusion that Porgy has when he first realizes that Sportin' Life has made off with Bess. The tune presents a gradual building of tension with drums illustrating the growing anger and confusion when he realizes Bess has gone to New York City with Sportin' Life without Porgy even being told, The drums are important in this track in showing Porgy's mixed feelings.

Gone Gone Gone is a song helping to convey the sheer sense of abandonment that Porgy experiences after his initial period of feeling frantic and looking everywhere he can for Bess without results. His mood turns from hope to feeling completely desolate. The tones in this tune convey utter desolation, with no comfort possible. Summertime, perhaps the best known selection from Porgy and Bess, follows and sets a feeling for life in Catfish Row, where the story is set. Summertime can best be described as a quiet swinging tune with muted trumpet set off against the feel of Catfish Row residents greeting each other after work for the day is done. Miles Davis's trumpet leaves the feeling of neighbors sitting outside on the steps of their homes and having some quiet time, perhaps with talking with their neighbors. Miles is answered by quiet flutes, which offer a tone with gentle satisfaction. In Porgy and Bess, Summertime could be considered a transitional song in the overall sequencing of this album.

Oh Bess, Where Is My Bess is somewhat of a desolate lamentation from Porgy, whose woman is not around. The feel of the song is Porgy at first feeling  that he must have not been enough for her. As the tune progresses, the drums move into a swinging cadence, which seems to convey that Porgy realizes that Bess leaving was not her choice. Flutes convey a feel of uncertainty about what Porgy is trying to comprehend. As the tune progresses... Miles Davis's horn speaks to the flutes, which offer a small hope, with the tune quietly and hauntingly fading away.

Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus) is a musical staging of the Book of Job fwithgentOld Testament. Miles Davis's trumpet wails a desolate flourish, with his trumpet neighbors seeming to mock him in muted trumpet flourishes in a manner similar to Job's so called friends, who asked him what foul deed he had done to deserve the calamity of losing Bess. Like Job, the so called friends do not understand that Porgy has done nothing to hurt Bess. As the tune progresses, Porgy, represented by Miles Davis's trumpet, wails in a manner similar to Job, not understanding why he has lost the one presence in his life who is a blessing. With no answer for his suffering, Job wails to God, asking why God was punishing him harshly in that manner. A response from percussion in the manner of loud brass and cymbals could symbolize God, who is angry at Job for having the nerve to ask God why Job was suffering. The piece ends on a somber tone, with Job humbling himself and repenting. Porgy has a similar experience to Job's, with both men understanding that it is not God's fault in either case. As with God in the end of the book of Job in the Bible, the bass brass engages the trumpet authoritatively at the end of Prayer.

Fishermen, Strawberries and Devil Crab brings a feeling of evening life at Catfish Row. The feeling that emerges is relaxing over an evening meal that was obtained on the island. The music is langorous, communicating the feeling that the fishermen and their families are hot and exhausted from a day that began before dawn and ended at sunset. Miles Davis's tone on this piece is soft, simple, and is surrounded by music that combines brilliantly the blue notes shared by African American and Judaic musical forms. The flute parts played by Danny Banks on this tune and throughout Porgy and Bess are noted as excellent by the review done in Allmusic.

My Man's Gone Now-This track conveys the grief that Bess feels acutely when she believes that Porgy has gone away. It is communicated in the first thirty seconds by Miles Davis in a flurry of quietly intense segments alternating with what sounds to this listener as a quiet form of incredulousness. Having finally decided to give her heart to Porgy, he is nowhere to be found. Somber trombones and cornets eloquently restate a theme that Davis uses in a number of moods throughout the piece.  At 5:05 into the tune, a dramatic and intense final wail of sadness and bewilderment overcomes Bess, after which she quietly asks herself musically what she should do.

It Ain't Necessarily So-This tune, one of the best known from Porgy and Bess, was sung by John Bubbles in character as Sportin' Life in the first production of Porgy and Bess. The tune has a tone musically that is relatively unique in this opera. A quiet beginning which I interpret as Bess debating with herself as to Porgy's fate, is followed by three minutes of snappy swing, with Davis's cornet taking the part of Sportin' Life doing his best to convince Bess that Porgy has abandoned her, and that she should accompany Sportin' Life to New York City. He extols the desirability of New York City compared to Catfish Row, telling Bess whatever he needs to sway her to a decision to accompany him instead of waiting for Porgy.

Here Come De Honey Man-Performed vocally by Gus Simons in the 1935 Porgy and Bess production, the version here is a lovely interlude that shows an orchestra playing muted with Miles Davis playing quiet scales on his trumpet. The piece gets louder from a silent introduction, then fades as it becomes quieter and then disappears as mysteriously as it began. If you are a Brian Wilson follower, you may notice that the scales Miles is playing have a passing resemblance to Fall Breaks (Then Back to Winter) on the Beach Boys Smiley Smile album. Back in the days when fan tapes were traded like gold, I placed this track on a tape I traded and called it (The Elements: Air). A buffoon who tried to make money by pressing bootleg albums put it on the first Smile unauthorized album, telling me exactly who it was who betrayed myself and other Smile Fans by putting Smile on vinyl.

I Loves You Porgy-This song is the saddest, yet perhaps the most hopeful of the pieces that Miles Davis cut for this album. Bess needs someone to take care of her, and Sportin' Life is the only choice available. Bess is despondent about losing Porgy, but she leaves information with Catfish Row residents to pass on to Porgy when he reappears. The neighbors, who promised to tell Porgy what Bess had said to them, convey the message to Porgy, whose turn it is to be in grief. After mulling over his possible actions, Porgy makes the decision to follow Bess to New York City, without really having any idea of it's size or how to get in touch with Bess once he arrives. He raises the money to travel to New York City by boat, and commits to doing it.

There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York-First, this song swings! Brass fanfares accompany Miles Davis's muted trumpet that becomes more and more jubilant as the tune progresses. This tune is a joy to listen to, and is a perfect conclusion to one of my favorite jazz albums. This is jazz really designed for big band, and it delivers on all of my expectations. The ending is a bit strange, but after nearly an hour of listening to Miles Davis's mastery of Gershwin's music, and appreciating the brilliance of the Bill Evans arrangements, one is left with an appreciation for both men's artistry. If you buy any Miles Davis music, this would be a great beginning to his work, or could be bought as the instant classic that Porgy and Bess is.

A short interview with Miles Davis About Gil Evans

Porgy and Bess (1958)

Written by:
George Gershwin
Ira Gershwin
DuBose Heyward

Miles Davis — flugelhorn
Gil Evans — arranger, conductor
Ernie Royal — trumpet
Bernie Glow — trumpet
Johnny Coles — trumpet
Louis Mucci — trumpet
Dick Hixon — trombone
Frank Rehak — trombone
Jimmy Cleveland — trombone
Joe Bennett — trombone
Willie Ruff — French horn
Julius Watkins — French horn
Gunther Schuller — French horn
Bill Barber — tuba
Romeo Penque — flute, alto flute, clarinet
Cannonball Adderley — alto saxophone
Danny Bank — alto flute, bass clarinet
Paul Chambers — bass
Jimmy Cobb — drums

This work appears on CBS Sony Records and is copyrighted by them

My essay Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - All rights Reserved