Monday, July 30, 2018


Click on image to enlarge.

1. Joe Biden Gawkin’ at Cleavage. 

2. Elizabeth Warren Requests Complete Silence before She Delivers an Ultimatum on Inappropriateness. 

3. Kamala Harris Brings You Your StormTeam Weather Forecast.

4. Kristen Gillibrand Suffers a Sprained Smile after Photo Shoot.

5. Bernie Sanders says, “That Iceberg Is Getting MIGHTY Close.” 

6. Eric Holder wonders, “Is That Ursa Major or Ursa Minor? Is There an Ursa Medium?”

7. Steve Bullock: “Heyyyy! Cut That Ouuuuut!” 

8. Cory Booker Promises to Personally Help Every American Move His or Her Hide-a-Bed Sofa Into Their New Apartments. 

9. Mitch Landrieu Is Not a Flight Risk.                      

10. Sherrod Brown Confuses “Dingleberry” with a Christmas Carol.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Anna Mae Winburn (R) led the integrated, all-women International Sweethearts
of Rhythm—and other incarnations of the same band—for nearly twenty years.  

Son House fretted his guitar with metal. He played “Death Letter Blues” between the frequencies of urgency and painfulness, an alarming sorrow that hadn’t yet been communicated. He thumped the earth with a perfect percussive heel. His prophetic approach would influence others on this list, notably Robert Johnson. We classify Son House as a Prophet and Robert Johnson as a Technician but we don’t establish the importance of Prophets above the importance of Technicians. That distinction, Dear Reader, we leave up to you.

The classical impulses of Dave Brubeck may inform some of our decision-making when choosing him to appear within this framework, yet his ability to conquer intricate time signatures, the “ebonies and ivories” of 5/4 time, for example, ultimately places him among the Technicians. We suppose that Technicians can sound prophetic, perhaps owing to the great relationships they had with their instruments, the nonpareil mastery. “Ella Fitzgerald,” you may remark, “a Technician?” Oh yes. The voice.

The addition of Bill Evans helped soften the sound of the Miles Davis sextet, and   
steer the group towards Kind of Blue, one of the greatest albums in music history.

Imagine Billie Holiday standing in the spotlight, singing the prayerful “Strange Fruit” while every other sound vanished, or Lester (“Prez”) Young first equating “bread” with money and “ivey divey” with cool, all the while cocking his “baby doll” (his saxophone) to the side, underneath his porkpie hat. The Poets forged new language, true, and in truth, they wobbled audiences with their beauty and outrage, with the emotional content of their assertions and their mannerisms. Bud Powell, searching for balance, perishing from tuberculosis. . . .

If you care, and you will, the Poet Bill Evans and the Prophet John Coltrane, early in their careers, joined Miles Davis (plus others) to create Kind of Blue, one of the greatest achievements (of any kind) in world history. Who presides over personnel, and the many intervals of creativity, and the virtuosity of their own abilities but the Emperors or Empresses? Ellington hiring Strayhorn, Ellington hiring Hodges, Ellington playing with Louis, Ellington playing with Trane, Ellington in Europe, Ellington at Newport; Duke Ellington led an Empire for 50 years.

Emperors & Empresses 

Owing to his virtuosity as a trumpeter, band-leading, and gravel-sweet singing, 
nobody has had a greater influence on American music than Louis Armstrong. 

1. Louis Armstrong
2. Duke Ellington
3. Miles Davis
4. Bessie Smith
5. Anna Mae Winburn
            6. Sun Ra


Known for his bent horn, raspy singing, and puffy cheeks, Dizzy Gillespie helped to  
pioneer bebop and toured the world as a Jazz Ambassador for the State Department. 

1. John Coltrane
2. Charlie Parker
3. Thelonious Monk
4. Son House
5. Charley Patton
6. Dizzy Gillespie
7. Art Tatum
8. Sidney Bechet
9. Ornette Coleman
            10. Rev. Gary Davis

Art Pepper’s 1979 appearances at the Village Vanguard presented the ultimate tone-poems    
that informed his life as a heroin addict, San Quentin prisoner, and magnificent saxophonist. 

1. Nina Simone
2. Billie Holiday
3. Lester Young
4. Bill Evans
5. Mississippi John Hurt
6. Jelly Roll Morton
7. Lead Belly
8. Bud Powell
9. Art Pepper
            10. Buddy Bolden* (*See comments, below)


Lightnin’ Hopkins bangs away at “Had a Gal Called Sal” (1954).

1. Count Basie
2. Coleman Hawkins
3. Sonny Rollins
4. Lightnin’ Hopkins
5. Eric Dolphy
6. Clifford Brown
7. Ella Fitzgerald
8. Robert Johnson
9. Charles Mingus
            10. Dave Brubeck 

Also considered: Art Blakey (E), Benny Goodman (E), Lionel Hampton (E), King Oliver (E), Albert Ayler (Pr), Anthony Braxton (Pr), James Reese Europe (Pr), Steve Lacy (Pr), Max Roach (Pr), Pharoah Sanders (Pr), Wayne Shorter (Pr), Cecil Taylor (Pr), Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Po), Ma Rainey (Po), Paul Desmond (T), John Lee Hooker (T), Wes Montgomery (T). 


Thursday, May 31, 2018


            “You said,” you say, but I didn’t say, and you reply, “You did,” but I didn’t do. Where does this leave us, but in love? And what’s love but a neighborhood of stoops (crumbling) and (artisanal) aimlessness.  
            A kid ran out of the park at 3:00 o’clock in the morning only to strike a taxicab. The kid bounced, without a shirt, the rent fabric of his breath in the freezing air. A passerby gave him socks. It wasn’t unkind, exactly, but ill-fitting, emblematic of the post-industrial wasteland that saddens our generational critics.
            There sat the kid, untying his shoes (still shirtless) beside the flashing hazard lights of the taxicab, tossing his own socks into the gutter, and replacing them with the warm, sweaty cottons from the donor. I had little to do but watch beneath a loud lamp. I’ll never forget the bunch of agitated blue jays, four or five of them, stabbing the cold with the metallic tone of their vocabulary.
            “Word, comma, your mama.” Did you clarify? Yes, you clarified.
            We were never happier (you and I) than when we were lying to each other. You texting me selfies on windy afternoons and me pretending to receive them an hour later. If I stood somewhere other than where I purported to stand, I did so out of fear, and in losing you, okay, what I lost was this:
            […] the bus stop is empty when the bus arrives. Instead, a worker sweeps old leaves into a dustpan. Why is the sinoatrial rhythm of our hearts keyed to the murmurs of thunder?

This is part of a double issue. If you don’t like stories, you might like a song. See trying to teach a mockingbird the bebop song “salt peanuts”


I spend about two hours on the rooftop of my building every morning, writing and singing. Most of this activity must (by necessity) remain mysterious, as it will appear (fully realized) with a rock ‘n’ roll band. Let us call this enterprise “Orchestra + Vocal.” You shall be hearing more about “Orchestra +  Vocal” over the summer, dear reader. Please stay tuned.

Some of the time, however, I sing to a mockingbird. He is the dominant bird in my neighborhood. If you hear twenty birdcalls (and siren) coming from the same beak, it’s him: the polyglot. I especially like it when he speaks blue jay and nuthatch. I say “dominant” because he’s so loud. He perches on ladders, smokestacks, the crowns of gigantic trees, rooftops, ledges, et cetera.

I have been trying to teach him the bebop song, “Salt Peanuts,” which is usually credited to Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy played the tune with Bird, but by that, we mean Charlie Parker. I’m not aware of any wild fowls who scat “Salt Peanuts,” except for maybe this feller. Listen to him. Am I right? For a few glittering moments, this mockingbird might’ve been a real hep cat.

This is part of a double issue. If you don’t like songs, you might like a story. See what I lost was this:

Thursday, April 19, 2018


If I slept two or three restless hours on the night of Sunday, March 4, 2018, I don’t remember. All sorts of unsettling scenarios kept nagging me every time I began to drift—nobody would show up, the historic windstorm would double back, I would improbably fail my partners Emily and Erich with some horrendous oversight—until I threw myself out of bed at daybreak and began hoofing toward the Capital Fringe Trinidad Theatre in Washington’s H Street Corridor. I carried in my backpack what any good co-producer would carry: a couple of four-terabyte hard drives and ten home-made (hand-crafted!) sandwiches. 

A little back-story: After reading my research-post on the song “Li’l Liza Jane,” Emily Cohen contacted me last July. She and I had collaborated on several earlier projects, but hadn’t spoken in a couple years. We both declared that we required something else in our lives, something bigger than ourselves. After a typical Emily-Dan conversation (okay: sometimes we quarrel, we’ve had some classic donnybrooks, but it’s very productive!) we decided to embark upon a documentary film project. We would call it Li’l Liza Jane: A Movie About A Song. Around Thanksgiving, the luminary cinematographer Erich Roland joined the team as Director of Photography and we began planning the production of a fundraising trailer. In time, we settled on the Trinidad Theatre space and the date, March 5th. Everything would happen there and then. 

A couple days before my night of tossing and turning, a severe windstorm with hurricane-force gusts pummeled the D.C. area, upending trees and power lines. It spared the Trinidad Theatre, however, and it spared Emily, who lives in Wyoming, and who made it to D.C. after enduring a few frustrating air-travel delays. The crew—including Andrew Capino (Assistant Camera) and Lenny Schmitz (Sound Engineer)—had already begun to load-in a copious amount of gear when I arrived. Emily and her personal assistant (her father Mike) arrived with coffee. Our featured musician Phil Wiggins brought a bag of thirty harmonicas to the filming session. Our featured interviewees Faye Moskowitz, Bobby Hill, and Elena Day appeared, and all four of our people-to-be-filmed brought their A games. So did the fabulous Capital Fringe staffer, David Carter, who assisted us throughout the day.

Phil kept a harmonica in each hand and played both interchangeably as he cycled through his stirring rendition of “Li’l Liza Jane” again and again. Faye surprised us not only by singing, but singing “Liza Jane” lyrics that nobody had ever heard before. Bobby emphasized that African American people didn’t always have a chance to describe their plight, and so, told their stories in song. Elena emphasized that, at the heart of “Li’l Liza Jane,” stands an independent woman who would be an impressive person, now, during an era when women are empowering themselves. As opposed to the worst happening (as when I panicked, sleepless) the best had happened, instead. Each person put her or his stamp on the session.

Check out our trailer [click here] if you haven’t done so already. The amount of effort and professionalism on display speaks to the great affection we have for music, for one another, and for the support of a good cause. The full story of America’s favorite poor gal, Li’l Liza Jane, will be told, and with any luck, this trailer will be helpful in attracting funders to the project. Emily and I will be following every lead, tirelessly, in the days to come. By doing so, and by eventually endowing the film with adequate resources, we hope to reward the trust of all the crew members and interviewees who helped us to create this preview. Notably, we want to think of the men and women—dating back nearly 200 years, enslaved people and hardscrabble fiddlers alike—who recited some of the original versions of the tune, as well as Li’l Liza Jane herself. . . . .whoever, and how many different women, she may be.

               Trailer Day Trivia
               Varieties of sandwiches: 3
               Renditions of “Li’l Liza Jane”: 2
               Number of fog machines: 1
               Crew members: 5
               Number of temple oranges: 7
               Cans of sparkling “Refreshe”: 12
               Number of microphones: 3

               Guide to the Photographs
               1. Phil Wiggins
               2. Emily Cohen, Erich Roland, Andrew Capino, and Phil Wiggins
               3. Faye Moskowitz
               4. Tape
               5. Elena Day
               6. Bobby Hill and crew
               7. Emily Cohen and Dan Gutstein

               Still photography by Mike Cohen (1, 3, 4, 5, 6) and Dan Gutstein (2, 7)

Friday, March 23, 2018


The sailors overtook the ship at lunchtime, in Matinee on the Bounty.
Enjoy some Junior Minsk, the li’l box of chocolates from Belarus.
“Persecuted? Yeah, we had that in the joint. I stole a purse, and got 
the electric chair: I was purse-a-cuted.” Suffering from Markie Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder? (You watch too much Night Court!) Now we know
that Marlon Brando had ‘Pryor knowledge.’ A few Japanese assassins
suffer from the gum disease, Ninjavitis. There are many vast possibilities
to choose from these days. As a result: I have multiple or chasms……

Re: the singing tradition—Call Center and Response—[Hullo?] [Please listen
carefully…] [Hullo?] […as the menu options have changed!] [Hullo…?]
Modality meets hip-hop, bird, geometry, and WW II, in Kind of Blue Jay Z
Axis Powers. “Feasible? Yeah we had that in the joint. If it could go in the freezer
it was feasible.” A Sea Dog pursues the mutineers, who fire a warning shot
across the bowwow. Now, they’re serving time for involuntary man’s laughter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


The musician arrived with a bag of 30 harmonicas.
30 harmonicas!
He selected two.
And he began playing both of them, together.
A folk song.
A beautiful tune, newly interpreted. His way.
There were many others of us there.
We all had jobs to do.
(I myself “co-produced.”) (I also made some sandwiches.)
Whatever each of us was doing. . . . .
When the man played, and sang, we heard him. Oh yes.
“A recording was made,” as they say.
There is more. Much, much more.
Stay tuned, my friends.