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November 14, 2009

'You never saw Art Tatum sweat'

Above, the headline of Terry Teachout's appreciation in today's Wall Street Journal of the master.

Up top, Tatum in a 1954 TV performance of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays."

From the article:


For the critic, the word "best" is like a grenade without a pin: Toss it around too freely and you're likely to get your hand blown off. But you won't get many arguments from musicians if you toss it at Art Tatum, who was born a century ago last month. Tatum was—and is—the most admired jazz pianist who ever lived, a super-virtuoso whose whirlwind technique left his colleagues speechless with envy. "When that man turns on the powerhouse," Fats Waller said, "don't no one play him down." ... And though the greatest of all jazz pianists is as revered today as he was in his lifetime, he is essentially unknown to the public at large.

James Lester's "Too Marvelous for Words," published in 1994, is the only biography of Tatum, and it fails to give much of a sense of what he was like offstage, not because Mr. Lester fell down on the job but because Tatum was unforthcoming on the rare occasions when he talked to journalists. In his most extended interview, a conversation with Willis Conover of the Voice of America, he is well-spoken but frustratingly noncommittal. The only surprise comes when he confesses that "I don't feel that I have all of the technical facilities that I would like to have." That's the musical equivalent of hearing Alfred Hitchcock tell a reporter that he wished his movies were scarier!

Not only did Tatum keep his own counsel, but he broke a cardinal rule of success for the performing artist: He made it look too easy. Just as most of us prefer to watch a trapeze artist work without a net, we like to be absolutely sure that a virtuoso is giving us our money's worth, and a seemingly effortless performance, no matter how spectacular it may be, deprives us of that slightly sadistic thrill.

Needless to say, anybody who can stumble through a C-major scale knows that Art Tatum always gave his audiences 10 times their money's worth. I can't count the number of jazz pianists who have described the experience of hearing Tatum for the first time in words similar to those of Gerald Wiggins: "I thought it was two guys playing the piano." But there was nothing to see in person, just a burly, impassive man who sat quietly at the keyboard, never moving his hands a millimeter more than necessary. In one of the few surviving film clips of Tatum's playing, a 1954 TV performance of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" that can be viewed on YouTube, you can see for yourself what Jon Hendricks meant when he said that on the bandstand, Tatum looked "like an accountant—he just did his work." Close your eyes and it sounds as though someone had tossed a string of lit firecrackers into the Steinway. Open them and it looks as though you're watching a court reporter take down the testimony of a witness in a civil suit.

To the small-d democrat, virtuosity is an insult, a tactless reminder of human inequality that can only be forgiven when the artist makes clear through visible effort how high a price he has paid for his great gifts. Art Tatum, like Heifetz, was too proud to make that concession. He did all his sweating offstage. That's why his exquisitely refined pianism will never be truly popular: No matter how much beer he drank, you could never mistake him for one of the guys.

November 14, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Bulgari Save the Children Ring


Sterling silver.

$290 (of which $60 is donated to the Rewrite the Future campaign of Save the Children).

[via iconicchic]

November 14, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Over 300,000 Bangladeshis swamp new cellphone service offering cheap English lessons


If you build it, they will come.

True then, true now, true in the future.

Here's today's Washington Post story by Maija Palmer and Amy Kazmin.


A rush to learn English by cell

More than 300,000 people in Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest but fastest-growing economies, have rushed to sign up to learn English over their cellphones, threatening to swamp the service even before its official launch Thursday.

"We were not expecting that kind of response -- 25,000 people would have been a good response on the first day," said Sara Chamberlain, the manager of the discount service. "Instead, we got hundreds of thousands of people."

The project, which costs users less than the price of a cup of tea for each three-minute lesson, is being run by the BBC World Service Trust, the international charity arm of the broadcaster. Part of a British government initiative to help develop English skills in Bangladesh, it marks the first time that cellphones have been used as an educational tool on this scale.

Since cellphone services began in Bangladesh just over a decade ago, more than 50 million Bangladeshis have acquired phone connections, including many in remote rural areas. That far outnumbers the 4 million who have Internet access.

English is increasingly seen as a key to economic mobility, especially as ever larger numbers of Bangladeshis go abroad to find work unavailable to them at home. An estimated 6.2 million Bangladeshis work overseas, and their nearly $10 billion in annual remittances represent the country's second-largest source of foreign exchange.

However, English is also important for securing jobs at home, where about 70 percent of employers look for workers with "communicative English."

Through its Janala service, the BBC offers 250 audio and text-message lessons at different levels -- from basic English conversation to grammar and comprehension of simple news stories. Each lesson is a three-minute phone call, costing about 4 cents.

One basic lesson involves listening to and repeating simple dialogue such as: "What do you do?"

"I work in IT, what about you?"

"I'm a student."

"That's nice."

All six cellphone operators in Bangladesh have agreed to cut the cost of calls to the service by 50 percent to make it more affordable. Chamberlain also said the project team was in talks with the cellphone companies to increase capacity to cope with the unexpectedly high demand.

The launch of the service comes just a few weeks after Grameenphone, the country's largest cellphone operator, held Bangladesh's largest initial public offering. Shares in the company are due to start trading on the Dhaka Stock Exchange next week.

The language lessons target mainly 18- to 24-year-olds, who typically have five or more years of formal education but whose training in English has been weak. Also targeted are people living on less than $145 a month, who would struggle to pay for formal English lessons.

Chamberlain said the service could be developed later to offer tailored English instruction to people in different industries, such as call centers, garment factories and the tourist industry.

November 14, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Collapsible Tea Pot Steeper


Open silicone strainer, add tea leaves (or ground coffee), then steep.

Lid holds in heat during brewing, then serves as saucer for steeper.

Violet or Olive.


November 14, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Betty Boop Uses Nitrous Oxide, Prompting 1934 Ban


[via Joe Peach]

November 14, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

USB Green Button


"Tap button to place computer in energy-saving low-power mode without losing your work."

For Mac and PC.


November 14, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Limited Edition Chrome Ping Pong Table — by Rirkrit Tiravanija


Edition of 10 in mirror-polished stainless steel created for Nathalie Karg's Cumulus Studios by the Argentine-born New York/Berlin/Bangkok-based artist.


November 14, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Cellphone Backup for Dummies'


But not TechnoDolts™: the only thing I could be sure would happen if I used this would be that I'd erase all the data from my phone.

But you go ahead.

From the website:


Cell Phone Backup for Dummies

With this easy-to-use backup device, you won't have to re-enter cell phone numbers one by one if you lose your phone or buy a new one.

It saves up to 4,000 names, numbers and email addresses with the touch of a button.

Includes adapters to work with hundreds of brands and models.

Requires no computer, software or subscription.

Works across carriers, too.

Uses 3 AAA batteries.


"... 4,000 names, numbers and email addresses...."

What would you say if I told you I had a grand total of 18 names in my phone's address book?



November 14, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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