Leaving Home Ain’t Easy

coffee_group_sketchMum’s upstairs packing to leave after her lovely visit of a month and I’m already upset by this. It was such a great time, and I’m so very sad to see her go*. But I can’t keep her all to myself. My sister and brother will no doubt be expecting her back by now, and so I must give her up. 🙂 This blog post is a lame attempt to distract myself from her packing activity, which is a bit sad for me. On the other hand, a rather sweet aspect of it is that I can hear her in the distance singing along to songs from Queen’s A Night At The Opera** and other albums while doing her packing. This makes me smile from ear to ear.

The last few days had lots of activities, including more picnics by the seaside, walks, cooking, shopping, visits to some old favourite haunts (including a surprise Sunday […] Click to continue reading this post

Buika, Cassandra, Ornette, and More

“…and then three come along at once.”

So, as usual, all of a sudden lots of things that I want to go to occur on the same week or so, and I find myself dazed and confused. Here are just a few of them (I’ll spare you the rest):

buika_disney_hallLast Wednesday saw me dashing off to the West Side after a late meeting on campus to get to UCLA’s Royce Hall to see Ornette Coleman in the UCLA Live series. It was not a bad show, although about 1/3 of the way through I realized why it all felt familiar. I’d been to see him in exactly the same series in a similar seat in the same hall some years back and decided then (but obviously forgot) that I really would not see him in such a space again. It is the usual Los Angeles Jazz problem. Rather than come to a small(ish) club and be resident for a few days, the mode for LA seems to be to try to pack a big audience into one night. This misses a huge point of the whole intimacy and communication of jazz that is more prevalent in a small space. But LA audiences and concert organizers seem to miss this fact and Jazz limps along lamely in this city, time and again, because nobody seems to want to support the smaller club model much. (Yes, there are one or two small clubs where the touring players come […] Click to continue reading this post

Passing Star People

John Williams in RehearsalYou might not know the name Maurice Murphy, but I am certain that you are likely to know – and maybe even be very familiar with – his work. His is the principal trumpet playing the lead themes in very many films with music by John Williams. I have for a long time been very impressed with how so many of those themes trip so easily off the tongue (physical or mental) and seem to fit together so well (just hum the Star Wars theme, and then follow it by the Superman theme, then the Indiana Jones theme, and so on). A lot of this is due to the fact that Williams (like most good composers) is a master at recycling and modifying, creating a cluster of much loved (deservedly) themes that accompany some of our favourite movie-going memories, but I now think that the other reason is that you’re hearing them all played by the same voice! That voice is the playing of Maurice Murphy, the truly wonderful trumpeter who Williams would specifically request to play the lead on recordings of his film music. Murphy died recently, and you can dig a bit more about him and explore what I’ve been telling you further by going to the London Symphony Orchestra’s site devoted to him […] Click to continue reading this post

Start the Week

“A loose cat in Colorado must wear what?”

(I thought about this for a while, and could only come up with bawdy humorous answers…)

“A tail light.”


[Post written yesterday.] Yes, I am on the bus to work (above was from the on board entertainment system that sometimes asks quiz questions) and it is the start to another week. Another very full one, it is shaping up to be too. I find these days that if I am not careful I tend to measure a week’s potential a mostly in terms of how much time I will have to work on the Project. Like my research, it is not something that is served best by being chipped away at, catching a few minutes here and the between things, but involves a fair amount of immersion. (Having said that, I am getting better at finding tasks that I can allocate to chipping-away time, and I have even found certain things for it that I can do on the bus… A lot of this will become clearer later, I promise.)

inauguration_2There was certainly a lot going on last week, as I mentioned, and I did not even tell you the half of it. Things like going to see Ira Glass talk about his radio show, essentially doing it in the style of the show, and of course about four hours on Friday spent in costume with hundreds of my faculty colleagues marching in a parade and listening to long (but mostly good) speeches from various Vice-chancellors, Chancellors, Trustees, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and of course, the man of the hour(s), our new President Max Nikias, who we were, er, installing. (When people use that term, and they do here a lot, I always think of plugging in a new electrical appliance, or a new piece of software… I suppose the latter is closer to what we are doing than the former.)

This week sees a lot coming up too, the main thing probably being the first of the Nobel Lunches, scheduled for Thursday. I’ve been very pleased with these events – I […] Click to continue reading this post

Magnitude and Direction

arrow_album_cover I learned from members of my family the other day that Arrow died last week. I’ve no idea if by name you know who that is, and I am sure if I mentioned his given name, Alphonsus Cassell, that won’t make your eyes light up in recognition. But as soon as I say “Hot Hot Hot”, I bet that there’s a good chance a song starts playing in your mind. It is a Soca song (Soca being a more dance-oriented cousin of Calypso, and the name Arrow was, I think meant to pay homage to the Calypso star the Mighty Sparrow), and may well be the most famous Soca song worldwide. So many times when someone wants to inspire heat – usually involving sunshine – or excitement they play a bit of that song and so it ends up in lots of TV and radio commercials and other such places, and of course is played a lot at parties and other places where people are simply having fun. Arrow wrote and sung a lot of songs, and was devoted to his community, and so many are very sad at his passing, feeling that a friend has gone, even though they might not have known him. Seems to me he had a good life. At the very least, to be known for bringing joy and communion through good music well after you’re gone? That’s a great thing right there.

I did know him since I grew up in the community that he was part of. It was on the island of Montserrat where, you might recall from previous posts, I spent ten years of […] Click to continue reading this post

Stairway to Heaven?

“There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven […] “

the_orbitNot that I’m calling Boris Johnson, the [occasional village idiot] Mayor of London, a lady or anything. It just was the best bit of the song I could use for the story. This structure does not exist yet, but it seems that will. What is it? Another Big Thing for people to go up to look over London. Yay. Silly, in many ways, but I will admit that I like it as a piece of mathematical poetry squiggled in the sky. It is by Anish Kapoor. Story here from the BBC, and here from AOL news. Video of announcement from Guardian here.

Now, while looking at the picture above, I noticed something interesting. Is it just me, or is the sky wrong? I don’t mean that it is blue and over London and therefore a […] Click to continue reading this post


My Walkabout finds me in Madrid for a little while, and I find myself reporting joyfully on rain, once again. Not because it has been raining an unusual amount here, but because of a production I went to the other night. It was primarily a dance event, celebrating and dramatizing the work of poet Frederico Garcia Lorca during his time in New York in the 1920s. The choreography was by (I’ve forgotten… will find ticket and update shortly) [update: Blanca Li. Title: ¨Poeta en Nueva York¨] with flamenco as the primary form, mixed with several other dance traditions. dance_theatre_stillThere was a lot of good and enjoyable work to see, but I’ll admit to being blown away by the theatre’s (and associated production staff’s) ability to suddenly create a rainstorm on the stage, and sustain it for a prolonged period while one of the dances (using the water, as you can see) used it to great and stunning effect. I had to sneak a (no flash and no disturbing of neighbours of course) photo for you. Click for larger view.

A bit like the first time you saw Jurassic Park back when it was first released and utterly groundbreaking visually, I (and maybe you?) spent time thinking, “this is amazing!”, “how did they pull off this illusion?”, before concluding that maybe the […] Click to continue reading this post


max_roach_parkThis was nice to see. (Click for larger view.)I was hurrying along in the rain, but had to take a picture for you.

There’s something about a little park in London being named after the excellent (and legendary) drummer Max Roach that makes me feel good.

I hope it inspires those who pass by and those who use the park.

Now, find some time to listen to some Max Roach…Perhaps hearing him playing […] Click to continue reading this post

Cassandra Wilson

cassandra_wilsonTime for a little music with my nostalgia. I remember my days in Princeton (where I was a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study and, later, at the University) particularly well when it comes to certain special things, and one of them was the music I was discovering, and venturing up to New York or down to Philadelphia to see live.

The wonderful Cassandra Wilson had just firmly settled into her astonishingly good Blue Note phase at that time, and the (then) newly released album “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn” was pure magic to me (and remains so), and was considerably inspiring to me during that time of intense work and during a key period of career and personal development.

I went to see her sing at the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philly one wonderful evening. Here she is, (from around that time, I think, or at least it has the right feel), singing the opening song from the album in a slightly shaky live recording. It is a bit […] Click to continue reading this post

Eric Lewis

eric_lewisI went to a friend’s birthday party last night and… Eric Lewis was there, playing the piano throughout the night! He’s a master in all styles, it seems, including classic and contemporary Jazz, through Happy Birthday to masterful renditions (and deconstructions) of pop, R&B, and soul tunes (there was a lot of spontaneous gathering and singing around the piano). I found some videos on YouTube for you.
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Less Work, More Play

madrid_eating_2Well, the weekend is here and so I have wrapped up most of the official part of my visit to Madrid. Lest you think that I spent most of my time eating (not that there’s anything wrong with that), let me mention that I ended up, from Monday to Thursday giving about eight hours of detailed exposition at the board and fielding questions (the lectures and seminar), umpteen (an official number, I’ll have you know) hours of preparation of the notes needed to do this in a successful and clear way, and several more chunks of time in private physics conversations of various sorts. Quite fulfilling, tiring, but worthwhile for all concerned. (I even heard that various people liked the lectures and the seminar, so that’s a real bonus!) It has been a good week.

Thursday night saw me wandering the city streets in the drizzle for several hours. It all started out with a quick walk near my hotel to see if I could stumble on a restaurant, but eventually turned into a longer walk and then an epic quest, as happens to me so often in such situations. I start applying a list of criteria for what I […] Click to continue reading this post

Ahmad Jamal

ahmad_jamal_concert_3Yesterday at some point I decided I was in the mood to see some good live Jazz, and checked out the program at the Catalina and considered John Patitucci and his trio. There was still no Jazz Bakery schedule to check as there is as yet no news as to whether they will be really coming back at some venue somewhere… I thought I’d scan a few more places and noticed that a venue I’d not been to before had… Ahmad Jamal! Gosh, how did I never notice Jazz at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center before? It is right in mid-city on Washington between Crenshaw and La Brea, near where in days past, there were several Jazz clubs such as The Parisian Room, The It Club and The Hillcrest Club. (All now gone, sadly, leaving a relative vacuum in terms of support for regular live Jazz in the heart of the city.) While the Nate Holden does not look to be set to become a regular Jazz venue featuring great music every night, there were encouraging things said in the announcements before Ahmad Jamal came on to play. Things that voiced an awareness that people miss those places, and the […] Click to continue reading this post



Still from the closing piece of the short concert in tribute to trumpeter Snooky Young on the occasion of being awarded the first LA Jazz Treasure award. This was on Friday 11th September, at LACMA. (Don’t you long for a time when everybody had nicknames like this as a matter of course? Well, it is more of a matter of place and culture than a time, in some ways, but anyhow… What would you choose yours to be, if you had the choice?) There are some trumpet players of note on the stage at this point (Arturo Sandoval is one, I cannot identify the others by eye), and Snooky himself is there too. He’s the one looking endearingly like a Mathematics professor (which, now I think about it, sort of fits for a trumpet player).

While it was a pleasant enough event, and I am glad it took place, I can’t help but think that it would have been greatly improved by not having quite so many official […] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – The Worlds We Make Up

kc_frankThe next Categorically Not! is this coming Sunday September 13th. The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events. (Image above right is from the inside of the jacket of KC Cole’s book on Frank Oppenheimer, who will be celebrated in this month’s Cat Not! as you’ll read below. I talked a bit about the book here.)

The theme this month is The Worlds We Make Up. Here’s the description from K. C. Cole:

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