Judith Jamison to Retire from Ailey in 2011

Judith Jamison, principal dancer-turned choreographer, just announced her plans to retire as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011. Jamison first joined the company in 1965.

Jamison, and Ailey’s choreography, is the thing that made me decide to start taking modern and jazz dance classes when I was young and saw a PBS special and was mesmorized by the classic “Revelations” (betcha didn’t know I started taking dance at age 7 did ya?).

After Ailey died of AIDS in 1989, Jamison took over leadership of the company and helped it grow into a major dance institution. He’s one of my heroes, and and so is she. Here’s to your much deserved rest, Ms. Jamison!

My Thoughts on Ralph Nader

Just press play to learn what I think about Ralph Nader entering the race for president:

Well Covered: Herbie Hancock and Shelby Lynne’s New Cover Albums

We’re used to hearing what’s past in popular music. With sampling, and even re-singing melodies or lyrics from songs familiar to your audience as a way to sell records, has become old hat. But it’s so overdone that it doesn’t make new music interesting, but exposes the dearth of innovation, and the over-reliance on a bad formula.

But two new albums do more than just reference some classic songs. For starters, jazz piano legend Herbie Hancock re-interprets Joni Mitchell classics in his album, River: The Joni Letters. The CD shocked everyone by winning a Grammy for Album of the Year–the first time in 44 years a jazz album has won the top honor. The CD isn’t ground breaking, earth shattering or innovative. It’s simply a beautiful jazz album. Not only is it beautiful, but unlick most pop records that use collaborations like formulas for selling more albums, Hancock gets great performances out of the vocalists who appear on the record. Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Leonard Cohen, Luciana Souza and Joni Mitchell herself lay down vocals that are nothing short of exquisite. Hancock’s arrangements are direct for the vocal and instrumental renditions are just what you need–interesting and rich, but not overly produced or conceived. He’s too much of a fan Mitchell as a songwriter and arranger to make a mess of the bone she she lays down for him to set meat to.

Speaking of reverence, Shelby Lynne (often labeled a”country” musician, but the label is far too limiting for her versatile sound), offers us Just A Little Lovin’, a tribute to her favorite singer, British vocalist Dusty Springfield. I’m a big Shelby fan and you can hear the Dusty influence, but she’s no copy cat, and this record is no blow-by-blow remake. She doesn’t try to over do it either–showing you how different she can be. Shelby has nothing like that to prove. Her version of the title track, is slowed WAAAAYYYY down (and the original is a ballad), and Shelby gives you that sweet and sad Southern thang as only she can. The rest of the record is also great. I like her version of Anyone Who Had a Heart (though Luther Vandross‘ will always be my favorite). Other standouts are Willie and Laura Mae Jones and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.

These are albums for the grown and sexy. They’re for self-reflection. They’re for falling in love. And out of love. Go get em!

Charles Barkley for Governor. Of Alabama.

Many of you know, I am no gay marriage advocate. But I am so desperate for some straight Black men to decidedly denounce sexism and homophobia, I’ll take what I can get.

In walks NBA legend Charles Barkley. Listen to the interview he gives CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, calling the “Conservatives” fake Christians. It’s a lovely thing. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if he actually became governor of Alabama, which he says he’s going to do in 2014?

Crime: the Campaign & New Policy

Sorry I been gone. I’ve been busy with my job, my other projects, and family shit. But I have been keeping up with what’s goin on in the world.

So one of the things I have grown anxious about is how crime is going to be used in the upcoming election.  Listening to Barack’s victory speech in Texas, which he said “As Commander in Chief, my job will be to keep you safe. And I will not hesitate to strike against any that will do us harm.” So now he’s gotta look as tough on national security as John McCain. Pity. It’s this part that is making me a little queasy.

So if Obama nabs the nomination, not only will his ability to “push the button” be called into question, but he will also be scrutinized for how tough on crime he is. So far, his talk about crime has been about how he led mandatory taping of police investigations in the Illinois legislature, and his support of death penalty, racial profiling and mandatory minimum sentencing. But a look at his Senate page on crime is much more frightening. It includes, as his accomplishments, legislation to increase restrictions and surveillance on “sex offenders” to increasing the capacity of local police officers to use technology—I guess for better surveillance. (Talk Left has a great blog entry on Obama and criminal justice issues).

Sigh.

But I hope that he can figure out a way to get through this without using “tough on crime” rhetoric as a selling point. Regardless, there are several high-profile reforms coming down the pike that I hope can move us away from such draconian practices and reduce the numbers of people in prison.

The New York Times reported on a new program in the city to provide young people with therapists who work with the families to help get at the root of the issues instead of sending them to prison:

“When Jacob Rivera, 15, was resentenced in May on an assault conviction, he felt he had received a “blessing.”

Only months earlier he had been sentenced to a year in state custody, and he had already spent weeks bouncing between a juvenile detention center in the Bronx and a residential treatment campus upstate. Two of his older siblings had spent time in those facilities and, he said, had “come out a mess.” He could see his future.

But the court gave him a second chance because his case had not been properly reviewed for inclusion in a new alternative sentencing program, which the city started in February 2007. The program, called the Juvenile Justice Initiative, sends medium-risk offenders back to their families and provides intensive therapy.

The city says that in just a year, it has seen significant success for the juveniles enrolled, as well as cost savings from the reduced use of residential treatment centers.”

Mother Jones has a pretty good news analysis of the fight on the federal level to end mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine:

“Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert warned that shorter crack-cocaine sentences will cause a “loss of the public’s trust and confidence in our criminal justice system”—a possibility that is only slightly less troubling than Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s claim that reduced sentences will mean that “1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release into communities nationwide.”

These statements are scare tactics aimed at reversing a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency responsible for setting sentencing rules in the federal courts, which has pegged March 3 as the first day federal prisoners doing time for crack offenses are eligible to petition for reduced sentences. This countdown comes just after the Commission’s introduction of less-harsh crack-sentencing standards in November, and the December announcement that this reduction will be applicable to inmates currently incarcerated as well as future offenders. The Justice Department, citing “public safety risks,” is trying to overturn the rule. But giving inmates the chance to obtain shorter sentences won’t spur a mass prison exodus: Judges will still decide which inmates deserve a reduction and which don’t. No one is guaranteed an early release.”

Mother Jones is the shit. They also have a great story on a corporate prison executive whom Bush is appointing to be the trail court judge in Tennessee.

Paul Krugman on Poverty

Paul Krugman wrote a pretty decent column on poverty in America.  Read this until I return to the scene tomorrow:

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.”

For the full article, go here…

Happy Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. It’s a day that has obviously turned into a big corporate mess set up to get you to spend money you know you don’t have.

But I am not going to complain about that. I think that you can use it to tell or show the people you love how much you love them. Whether you have a “Valentine” or not, show love to someone today. It might be the thing to keep somebody going another day.  Smile at the cashier. Say “Good morning/afternoon/evening” to someone you don’t know.

And whether or not you have someone to snuggle up to tonight, treat yourself to something good. Relax. Don’t watch the news. Or election coverage.  Make yourself some delicious food. Turn on some good music (I’m gonna be listening to some new Shelby Lynne doing Dusty Springfield covers). Dance in your living room. Sing to your lover, your children, your neighbor. To yourself. Remember all the people you love and have loved. Release any anger, jealousy, or resentment you hold towards them. Let this be a day of beauty, and of healing. You deserve it.

Press play. Then close your eyes.