So, How Does One “Plan” L.A.?* (Updated)

CURBED L.A. is reporting that Gail Golderg, L.A.’s City Planner, is stepping down after four years. I spent a few days with Goldberg gathering string on a couple stories about the changing face of L.A. She was faced with a problem that was nothing short of an oxymoron — how does one even begin to start thinking about planning a city that is so fast-forward, all-over-the place and simply resists category or organizing thesis. I liked her early strategies: to meet with various Angelenos and take walks through their own neighborhoods so she could understand what mattered to residents literally from the ground up. Every weekend, she would pencil in a date and put on her walking shoes and explore. What led her, an energetic transplant from San Diego, to say she is ready to retire, I’m sure will become clearer soon. But I am sorry to lose her before she had a change to really exhibit her imprint.

Here is some of the criticism bubbling up: Via L.A. Observed from L.A. Business Journal:
“But Goldberg has come under attack from homeowner activists for approving too many developments. Also, developers said the department stalls development plans.”

Too bad, since something’s gotta give here. We have become truly a city of neighborhoods — as was predicted. But it isn’t so much the space, that we could navigate — now it simply takes too long to get from here to there. Who are we as Angelenos if we can’t take part in all of Los Angeles?


Rewind: Shadows (1959)

TIME TO dip into Shadows again. Often billed as a film about “race relations during the beat generation” I see it more as one of the more interesting films about race — period — during any generation. Filmed in 1959, it’s brilliant in its herky-jerky, free-verse-and-jazz-score, wandering-toward-self way. It’s the film I would most want to “live in,” in that it is raw, full of feeling. It’s head and heart. It precisely mimics the way humans so clumsily deal with things that are too painful or complex to put into words.
And plus it’s such a moody beauty.

and here’s Benny, alone . . .

Remembering the City That Care Forgot

I’VE  resisted weighing-in on the HBO series Treme for awhile now.  There are a lot of reasons, but the one that pulled at me most was that I was quietly rooting for it, just like I’m rooting for the city of New Orleans itself. But last night changed everything: I finally felt  pieces snapping into place for me.

 My New Orleans is a collage, scattered: people, moments, sounds, smells, voices. Something happened last night that made me not just see and hear it, but made my heart ache.

I was born in the West, in California. My  mother migrated from New Orleans in the 50s, part one of the many “LA to L.A.” waves and she took New Orleans with her. I grew up with pieces of New Orleans here — the fish market near the Avenues, places we knew we’d find CDM coffee, file, and even for a while, Creole cream cheese.  The parties that so far away from “Home” would sometimes even still sprout an impromptu second line. I’ve spent formative, steamy summers in New Orleans where I went each year to visit, from August into September, a time of year known for its swampy humidity, its sudden rain deluges. My grandfather lived in the Treme,  on Miro Street, so this show hits close to home and at the same time, a little too close.

Eerily, the bar, Poke’s, where steely Indian Chief Albert Lambreaux (played note-perfectly by Clarke Peters) has squatted and has his gang at work on their costumes is situated,  as it turns out, on Miro.

Miro looked like nothing from my L.A. youth — green-grass lawns and tall, skinny palm trees and space — a city full of pauses. Here, narrow “Creole cottages,” shotguns, most painted white as fresh-laundered shirts, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder.  It felt like another universe because it was.  My grandfather held court at more than a dozen places around town — oyster bars, dive bars, po’boy joints, fancy sit-down restaurants, and more.  My grandfather always salted his glass of Falstaff just before he’d lean into a story. “Here come  Frank.”  And he’d answer back with a sing-song, “Howyoudo?” I remember sultry music swaying out of jukeboxes in the middle of the day, the beans on the stove no matter where you went — public and private merged — people fed you. You could count on red beans on Monday as far as the city would stretch. They all knew Frank — or “Dink” — and he always had a story about what had been on that corner or who “usta stay over there,” but would be equally awed by someone elses remembrance, a different take on things. There was no one-upmanship; it was answered simply: “Well, I declare.”

Although there have been sly, insider touches all along — the “8th Ward /9th Ward cultural divide; the changing meaning of “laignappe”  –there was something of all of this in the last episode, “Wish Someone Would Care” that finally truly felt like the New Orleans I know. Two things I think that struck me in particular were the way music moved in and out of this episode without effort or announcement. This time it was  less “Let’s stop the narrative to showcase which great artist we have here with us this week” and more the way it feels to actually move through the city — the French Quarter, Back of Town, the Treme, Faubourg-Marigny. Rooms  might be lit or painted a color, but  that’s not what you remember in New Orleans. It’s the music and how it bleeds from one place and one style one mood one rhythm  into another.

The the other missing puzzle piece for me has been John Goodman’s character, Creighton Bernette, a Tulane University professor.   Something has felt a little off: a lot of fire but rooted in what? A shift has happened, however, as moves toward a dark epiphany. For most of the series he’d been talking about his pride of New Orleans — and that’s just it, it felt like talk, an overlong monologue. Pride came off as pedantic: This is mine not yours; you would never understand. But that’s not New Orleans. (Even the way you’re corrected in pronouncing the city’s name: not New Or-LEENZ but New-OR-lens — is done by example, polite repetition as not to offend.) This time, however, as Creighton makes his way through the city sampling its signature delights, and we are to presume, his favorites — a bowl of gumbo, barbecued shrimp po’ boys, begniets at Cafe du Monde. Something else is revealed. The bliss he feels standing on Frenchman Street listening to Annie soar on her violin opens his heart. He drops a twenty into her open case. They cut back to the sun in his smile. This level of love is difficult to access and portray, I understand, but there was something in these moments — him sitting waiting for a po’boy in that dark hole-in-the-wall, knowing what he wants. Without a beat. Decisive. That was Dink.

When I think of who most closely resembles the New Orleneans I know, grew up with, it would be Lambreaux. Big Chief isn’t quite Dink, but he has some of my grandfather in him. The back-straight pride, the I’ll-never-leave attachment (Even after much of his primary family left, my grandfather remained. He died in New Orleans) You have to understand that dug-into-the-marsh passion and what’s behind it to be able to form some sense of empathy  for any of these characters. I feel that has been the problem with Treme. With Creighton and gadabout Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) — often they are “announcing” what New Orleans is, was, stands for, is poised to lose — without really allowing the audience deeply into the magic, the rituals, the rhythms of the city (without its “special cameos,” without its quick-dash verisimilitude). That’s always been the beauty of New Orleans: its own step, own language, own rhythms. A place out of time. What we needed to feel was what the bubble was before it burst — even if it is in moments. New Orleneans bring that with them, in their hearts, in their actions: we needed more of  Davis’  ragtag, impromtu Treme parties (“No stereo!” — all live music), we needed to linger and eavesdrop in the half-darkness of a cafe; we needed to see that poetic big river never too far away. It’s the dream — or perhaps more accurately — the illusion — that you don’t want to wake from — when real life, so inelegantly, barges in.

“The Cult of Frailty”

SAM STEPHENSON, author of the expansive and prerviously posted about Jazz Loft Project has just put up on his blog “Chaos Manor” a synopsis of a conversation between two NYT writers about the “frailties of jazz” — in that unlike the pop world, within the jazz circle aging and fragility is equated with wisdom, depth, etc. It arrives on the tail of the release of Steve Lacy’s “Novemeber” a solo recording made in 2003. Lacy, who was a Jazz Loft regular, died, at 69, just seven months later.

A snip from Stevenson’s post:

This solo recording was made in Switzerland in November 2003, three months after Lacy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died seven months later.

Ratliff and Sisario discuss how in jazz appreciation aging is okay. Musicians are appreciated for gaining wisdom and new expressions over time. Ratliff mentions a “cult of frailty” in jazz. In other words, infirm jazz musicians are seen to expose primordial human conditions otherwise hidden in “normal” people. A dying master can express profound new things. Can you hear evidence of this in Lacy’s late recording? That’s part of Ratliff’s and Sisario’s discussion.

The cult of frailty also pertains, of course, to musicians who have addictions and other pathologies; they offer access, perhaps dangerous, to the tormented soul. This might help explain why African-American pianist Sonny Clark, who died of a heroin overdose at age thirty-one in 1963, sells hundreds of thousands of records in Japan. (This isn’t about Japan; it is about the exotic unknown. There are excellent French philosophers who are rock stars in American universities but they remain frumpy and obscure in France).

You can read the rest here:

More later in this spot.

rewind: stan getz, blood count

LAST NIGHT, while sitting outside for a quiet dinner and talk with a friend and the long days of summer fast approaching, the conversation turned predictably to, well — Stan Getz. He’s always been part of my personal ambient sense-memory of summer as long as I can remember — both live and on disc — the bossa novas part of the soundscape, yes, but the standards, ballads and blues too. And so, it’s impossible to believe that been almost 20 years ago this week since he left the grand bandstand, if you will. So ingrained a summer tradition that I even had tickets (and still do) for a Hollywood Bowl show that was slated for later that very summer — he figured he had another one in him, too.

Here is one of the pieces Getz played as a set-list staple in the last years of his life, Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.” Because Getz revisited this piece, it seemed, almost nightly when he was on summer tour or a short-jaunt set of gigs up-and-down the West Coast there are plenty of versions out there, however this one is particularly poignant and elegantly expressed:

And since you’re already in the room this too, a ballad written by Thad Jones, “Yours and Mine” … I was introduced to this piece via a concert in Santa Barbara at the State Theater and it never let go.