Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Afternoon in Downtown Brooklyn: BAM Rhythm and Blues Festival presents Bobbi Humphrey at MetroTech Commons

Today at noon we were at MetroTech Commons to see the first lady of the flute, Bobbi Humphrey,and her terrific band put on a wonderful show for the crowd.

She's celebrating her fortieth year of show business and shows no sign of slowing down from the performer she was back in the day when she was she was the first woman signed by Blue Note Records.

Her jazz phrasing is impeccable, and she has a virtuosity that enables her to move from crisp buoyancy to honeyed, flowing riffs.

This show was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's annual BAM Rhythm and Blues Festival, now in its seventeenth year.

The MetroTech Commons is a wonderful venue, and lots of chairs and even tables for midday lunch-eaters are available.

Someone saw us taking our little cellphone pics and said, "You get around. I saw you at Chrisette Michelle's show last night." We felt kind of embarrassed but sort of nice.

Her band was so excellent, they gave her great playing a run for the money

(the keyboardist was particularly brilliant),

and her young godson plays the trombone with flair.

But we've never heard anyone as good on the flute as Bobbi Humphrey. She may be a Texas country girl, but she plays music as hip and urbane as any we've ever heard.

We're grateful we got to see Bobbi Humphrey this afternoon at MetroTech.

Here's her "Harlem River Drive" from the 1973 album Blacks and Blues (Youtube video courtesy of Gilach):

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Evening in Battery Park City: River to River Festival presents Chrisette Michele at Rockefeller Park

We were lucky enough to be in the audience in Rockefeller Park on this beautiful evening to hear a deeply satisfying concert by Chrisette Michele, who seemed at her best before this very appreciative crowd.

She sang many of her best songs, often about dealing with heartbreak, but she's never sentimental and always thoughtful, and her vocalizing is, well, totally remarkable in its subtle range.

This show was part of the great River to River Festival and presented by the Battery City Authority.

Chrisette said that if no one had shown up to her free concert, she would have been so sad that she'd jump in the Hudson River, but she needn't haven' worried. This was a crowd of many of her hardcore fans who, like us, would follow her anywhere.

A Long Island girl, she's the non-divaesque diva, so easy to relate to and displaying the kind of sweet insecurity (like her saying how uncool she is) that makes her, in light of her enormous talent, even more endearing.

We are glad, however, that she didn't rap tonight. She did what she's best at, sing soulfully about the difficulties of love.

She was backed up some incredibly talented musicians and she totally nailed songs like "I Don't Know Why, But I Do," "On & On," "Golden"

and the delicious "Epiphany"

(YouTube video courtesy of thegreaterconcept, who has others online)

Chrisette Michele is also really, really beautiful.

We are grateful we got to see her sublime show tonight.

Twenty-Five Years Ago in New York: The 17th Annual Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, 1986

We are at work on West Side Summers: 1984-1987, the eighth in our interminable series of books featuring excerpts from the diaries we've kept every day for the past 42 years. The first six books were collected in The Brooklyn Diaries, and West Side Summers: 1984-1987 is intended as the companion volume for the recently published South Florida Winters: 1981-1984.

Twenty-five years ago today, on Sunday, June 29, 1986, our diary reported on the Gay Pride Parade:

Sunday, June 29, 1986
7 PM. I watched the Gay Pride from the same spot I did last year, at the start of the march by Columbus Circle. Despite the AIDS crisis, this year’s parade a celebratory mood because of the City Council’s passage of the gay rights bill.

It was a hot sunny, day and everyone seemed in good spirits. I’m encouraged that even in the “conservative” ‘80s, so many gay people can literally come out. Surely the world has irrevocably changed.

Just to see so many people who are so diverse – of every conceivable racial and religious group, profession, political affiliation, from different states and schools, people from teenagers to senior citizens – is heartening.

It reminded me of the old peace and civil rights demonstrations and those concerns were also in the crowd today: lots of signs against racism and apartheid, T-shirts of a mock Daily News front page with the headline ¡GAYS SÍ, CONTRAS NO! and stickers that said NICARAGUA IS NOT OUR ENEMY.

The police officer who constantly and good-naturedly told us to move back a little was a young Hispanic guy perhaps ten years younger than I, and gay cops marched along with myriad other groups.

The biggest applause, as usual, was for the Stonewall veterans at the head of the march, for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group (who held up giant safety pins to remind people about safe sex practices), for the People With Aids Coalition (another group, memorializing the dead, held up signs with their names – I got a twinge when I immediately spotted the sign for Evan), and for the Gay Men’s Chorus, the parents’ groups, the elderly (SAGE), the kids from Harvey Milk High School, and numerous lesbians’ organizations.

There were some floats and some outrageous transvestites who made the crowd laugh with them, not at them. What cheers me is the number of different support groups of every kind, from Sober Lesbians (One Day at a Time) to Gay Veterans to alumni and religious groups.

The spirit of the 1960s isn’t dead, really; behind the materialistic ethos of today there are a lot of people who no longer live by the old rules: believe what the government tells you, go along to get along, don’t call attention to yourself, etc.

Really, since I was a teenager there’s been nothing less than a revolution in the way people in society think and act, not only in regard to homosexuality, but in regard to many other things.

The thousands of people I saw marching did look proud. The last person in the whole march had a sign on his back that said FREE AT LAST. So maybe there’s hope.

The next day, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), upholding the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults when applied to homosexuals.

The Court framed the legal question in the case as whether the constitution confers "a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy." A 5-4 majority said it did not; in the words of Justice White's majority opinion, "to claim that a right to engage in such conduct is 'deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition' or 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty' is, at best, facetious."

The short concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger emphasized historical negative attitudes toward homosexual sex, quoting Sir William Blackstone's characterization of sodomy as "a crime not fit to be named." Burger concluded, "To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching."

Our diary entry for Saturday, July 5, 1986, also to be in West Side Summers, contains this:
Obviously a lot of people were as angry as I was with Monday’s Supreme Court decision. There was a big demonstration in the Village yesterday, and people are planning strategy to roll back the sodomy laws in the 24 states that have them (including Florida). And in New York City, Councilman Noach Dear, an Orthodox Jew, abandoned his effort to get on the ballot a referendum to repeal the gay rights law. He said it was no longer necessary, because the courts would rule the law unconstitutional.

Although Americans may not approve of gay people, I would like to think that most people hold privacy very dear. Still, it’s upsetting that gay people are essentially second-class citizens under the court ruling: heterosexuals are constitutionally given privacy rights that don’t apply to gay people.

This was seventeen years after Stonewall. It took another seventeen years for the Supreme Court to directly overrule the Bowers opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), whose 6-3 majority majority held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The 2003 ruling invalidated all laws throughout the United States that purported to criminalize sodomy between consenting same-sex adults acting in private and also invalidated the application of sodomy laws to heterosexual sex.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Evening at the World Financial Center: New York City Opera and "Rufus Wainwright Goes to the Opera!" at the Winter Garden

We just got to our nearby office after seeing a fantastic performance, "Rufus Wainwright Goes to the Opera!" with one of the most talented musicians of our time and four of the wonderful singers of the New York City Opera at the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center.

The program featured excerpts from Wainwright's opera, Prima Donna, which will have its New York debut next year at City Opera (though we're not sure when and where yet, since the company has left Lincoln Center),

along with arias from Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Bizet and Massenet performed by soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen, tenor Robert Mack, and bass-baritone Matthew Burns, and Kevin Murphy, City Opera director of music administration, on the piano

and a couple of great Rufus Wainwright non-opera songs, "Damned Ladies" and the exquisite "Who Are You New York?" He looked fetching in a tuxedo with what appeared to be black board shorts and flip-flops.

We tried out various places to stand to get the best acoustics, and actually the most wonderful sounds we got were when we stood in a corner in front of a huge pillar that totally blocked our view.

YouTube video courtesy of Derek Ouyang

But the arias sounded magnificent from the corner. We got up close and managed to see, from the extreme side, the New York City Opera performers in a wonderful Rigoletto Act III quartet.

This event was part of the amazingly diverse programming series of the River to River Festival. It was a wonderful program, though of course we are too ignorant to comment intelligently. Rufus's own comments on the arias were enlightening, however, and all we'll say is that we'd like to see Prima Donna and that we especially adored Laura Vlasak Nolen's "Seguidilla" (one of the few arias we really know) from Carmen.

We're grateful we got to see this. Coming out on the plaza of the World Financial Center at 8:30 p.m., we felt very grateful we got to see Rufus Wainwright and hear some opera tonight.

As for New York City Opera, it's really important, as Rufus said, that like other great world capitals (New York, Berlin), we should be able to support two opera companies, and we need to support what Mayor LaGuardia famously called "the people's opera." Tonight was just one teensy example of that.

Here is Allan Kozinn's review of the event in Thursday's New York Times.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Night in Fort Greene: Mos Def at the Fort Greene Festival in Fort Greene Park

From noon on today, thousands of people converged on Fort Greene Park for this year's Fort Greene Festival, "The Art, Soul, and Future of Brooklyn."

We got there around 7 p.m. and had a blast during the fest's final hours, having the great pleasure of seeing (well, given our distance from the stage, not seeing too clearly but hearing fine)

one of our favorite performers, Brooklyn's own Mos Def, who put on an amazing show,

(YouTube video courtesy of goku0723)

even doing a rendition of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."

Another Brooklynite, the wonderful Rosie Perez, did a great job as MC for the day in the park, which she said was filled with her relatives.

We had a really good time even if some of us had to strain to see the stage sometimes.

(YouTube video courtesy of jonezzy3)

Leaving the park, we were grateful we got to see Mos Def and be at the Fort Greene Festival.