LaRC, and what my father did there

My dad spent more than 30 years, from the 1960s to the late 1990s, at NASA Langley Research Center, which turns 100 this year. During that time he worked on Apollo-adjacent technologies, atmospheric and environmental satellite based sensors, and diagnostic equipment for hypersonic jet engines.

That’s a grossly inadequate description of what he worked on. I got to know his work on coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy and its applications to high temperature sensors pretty well, because that’s what he was working on when I was in high school. And I’m old enough to remember his overnight or weekend trips to Wallops Island to fly missions to measure ocean environmental characteristics with lasers in the late 1970s, before funding for NASA environmental research was cut during the Reagan years. But he was also at the center when it was a hotspot of research for the Apollo program. I’ve driven by the huge concrete pad dwarfed by towering girders above where Neil Armstrong practiced manually steering the Apollo landing craft to a safe touchdown—skills he ended up using for Apollo XI.

Looking forward to watching this documentary about the center (narrated by none other than William Shatner) with my kids, if I can just get them to sit still long enough.

Mahler 2, Boston Symphony/Andris Nelsons, Tanglewood, July 7, 2017

Between a week-long vacation in Asheville and a residency at Tanglewood, plus the usual work and family stuff, posting on this blog has ground to a halt. But it’s not as if I haven’t been busy.

Take the Tanglewood residency, for instance. This was my third performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; my first Mahler 2 was with Seiji in 2006, my second with Christoph von Dóhnanyi in Symphony Hall. This was my first performance of the work under the baton of Andris Nelsons, and my first time through the piece with James Burton, the new conductor of the TFC.

It was a pretty magnificent experience, all told. Besides the improvements to tuning, diction, and affect that I’ve come to expect with Jamie, the chorus also found its way deeper into the work than we’ve done in the past. We talked about the difference in vocal tone required in the “Bereite dich” to ensure that we were strong and assertive but not aggressive. We were more attentive to the maestro than I remember being before.

Here’s the audio of the full performance.

Now listening: Bill Evans, Moon Beams

I haven’t listened to Bill Evans’ Moon Beams in a while. I listened to it yesterday afternoon in my living room sitting next to the right channel. I was completely blown away by Chuck Israel’s bass, which I hadn’t really heard before but which is panned hard right in the stereo mix. It made me think I was listening to a recording from a different, much more recent decade.

Special bonus note: The cover model was Nico.

More on my grandfather and World War I

As expected, when I started posted family history, I started getting clarifications and corrections from my family. (Thanks, Dad!) Following my post about my grandfather’s close brush with World War I, my dad emailed me to say that Papa Olin had actually been in Officer Candidate School at Tusculum College. As a newly minted second lieutenant, he would have been sent off to the front lines. Fortunately the war ended before that could happen.

I’m now hunting for documentary evidence of his time at Tusculum. Unfortunately I can’t find any online records from that period—no issues of the Tusculana, no records of OCS participation, nothing in Ancestry.com’s military databases. If anyone can recommend a place to look, I’d appreciate it.

My grandfather, enlisted man

Olin Jarrett circa 1918, photo scanned by Esta

As mentioned, we know (thanks to photos like this and a uniform folded away in an attic for seventy years) that my grandfather (Papa Olin) was going to be called up for a war that, mercifully, ended before he could see service. Unfortunately that’s about all we know.

His name doesn’t show up in the military records I can see on Ancestry.com. It’s possible he was only called up locally and then his records were destroyed before the Army got them. I don’t know.

But the pictures of this scientific farmer in his World War I uniform remain a little bit of a mystery.

Papa Olin in his uniform, from 1918

Papa Olin, Mamma Linda, Uncle Forrest, and the Depot

Mural at the Marshall Depot
In 1924, at the age of 19, my grandmother Linda Freeman married my grandfather Olin Jarrett. He had been courting her for a while; she attended the Dorland-Bell School in Hot Springs, which she credited for the rest of her life with teaching her to read, cook, and love the Presbyterians. He was a farmer in Madison County who narrowly missed going overseas in World War I—there are two photos of him in the uniform I would find in the attic seventy years later. Now he was living with his papa Zeb and mother Laura in their house on the side of a holler, learning about modern farming at the extension at Mars Hill.

It’s 16.3 miles by modern roads from downtown Marshall to Hot Springs. It would have been an impossible journey without staying overnight, which was itself impossible, by mule. But the railroad had come through Marshall in 1871 and passed through Hot Springs on its way to Painted Rock, Tennessee. So my uncle caught the train at the Marshall Depot and rode it as it twisted its way along the French Broad River all the way into Hot Springs. My grandmother always credited the railroad for bringing them together.

Fast forward many years and three children and four grandchildren, and Papa Olin’s death in 1974. It’s now 1987 and Linda learned that… well, it’s best if I let my Uncle Forrest take over telling it:

“Forrest!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“They’re going to tear the old Marshall depot down. We don’t want that to happen.”

“No, ma’am.”

“That’s where Papa Olin caught the train to come to see me down at Hot Springs.”

And so Uncle Forrest, who had worked for Norfolk Southern since 1952 and was now Director of Police, put in a few calls, got ownership of the Depot transferred from Norfolk Southern Railway to a group for a pittance, and went about transforming it into what it is today: a venue for live mountain music. And cakewalks.

A few years ago a local artist memorialized a group of folks associated with the life of the Depot. That’s my Uncle on the left, in his hat and holding the clipboard, along with the lady responsible for the cakewalks. And, of course, the Chicken Man.

Fifteen years of Sloan

I went to my class dinner last night for my fifteen year anniversary of graduating from MIT Sloan. (The actual anniversary of graduation passed, unremarked, on Wednesday.)

Fifteen years ago this week I was sitting in the rain on a fifty-degree day in Cambridge, hoping my Dad wouldn’t catch pneumonia and listening to the commencement speaker (who, being from the World Bank, was getting his share of protesters). It was a momentous month; in addition to my first Blogaversary (and hard to believe we’ll celebrate the sixteenth tomorrow), we were consolidating belongings from storage in New Jersey with the contents of our North End apartment; I was driving south to North Carolina for a family visit and my first visit to the Marshall Depot (about which more soon); visited with my grandfather; spent a week batching it as Lisa flew ahead to sign the closing papers on our house; packed up our apartment; and settled into our new home in Kirkland.

June will forever feel to me like a time of transit. But it also becomes a time of reunions, and it was amazing seeing so many familiar faces and hearing people’s life stories. I look forward to doing more of that tonight.

Mavis Staples, Cary Memorial Hall, June 2, 2017

I went to see Mavis Staples in concert at Cary Memorial Hall on Friday night. It was immensely moving and a hell of a lot of fun.

Mavis’s sets are heavy on covers and on Staple Singer tunes, which on paper sounds problematic until you realize just how completely she owns her covers. I couldn’t have told you that George Clinton had been anywhere near “Can You Get to That”, so thoroughly did she own the song, and yet it was also recognizably funky.

Mavis was the most moving in “Wade in the Water,” where she started testifying after the song was over, then stopped about a minute later. “I didn’t mean to get ugly up here,” she joked back to the band.

Mavis clearly has health issues. She was helped to and from the stage, had to move carefully, and displayed what looked like shortness of breath. I hope that she continues to be with us for a long time.

Cocktail Sunday: The Vanderbilt

It’s back. This Cocktail Sunday post leaves the familiar world of whiskey and gin behind and weaves its way over to brandy. Which seems fitting given that this cocktail was designed for one of the wealthiest men in America, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt wouldn’t have been drinking any cut rate brandy in his cocktail; he would have used VSOP Cognac, and I recommend (following the advice of David Wondrich) that you make the same substitution in any classic cocktail calling for brandy. Life is too short to do otherwise.

The big question in this cocktail appears to be the proportions. The first written recipe I’ve found for it, 1922’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them, calls for 1:1 brandy to cherry liqueur, which seems likely to yield something way too sweet. The Savoy’s Harry Craddock in 1930 dialed it back to a 3:1 ratio, which seems just about right.

One curious note about the name: the 1922 source says it was named for Col. Cornelius Vanderbilt, “who was drowned on the Lusitania during the War.” But the Vanderbilt on the Lusitania was Alfred Vanderbilt, and there was no “Colonel Vanderbilt” alive then. So: poetic license.

It’s grilling season, and for some reason I had extra homemade pickles that wouldn’t fit in the jar. Turns out they’re wonderful with the Vanderbilt. Who’d have guessed?

As always, if you want to try the recipe, here’s the Highball recipe card. Enjoy!

I for one welcome our new input-only HiFi overlords

Yesterday I bought and connected a Rega Fono Mini A2D phono pre-amp to my new Marantz amplifier. Setup had me swearing for a minute, until I remembered that setup turned on the input ports depending on what was connected when the receiver was first run, and that I needed to use the onscreen menu to turn on the input I was running the Rega into. Initial listening — a Marian Anderson 45 of spirituals which was unfortunately staticky, the new Beatles Sgt. Pepper remaster — was sublime. Looking forward to getting in some more listening this week.

But wait,” you might say. “I thought the Marantz had a built in phono preamp. Why did you need an external pre-amp?”

Well, the Marantz does have a built in phono preamp. I’ve even used it, and it sounded fine on cursory listen. What it lacks is a tape monitor out connection. And without any sort of output connector, it’s impossible to use the system to digitize vinyl. Which meant either I needed to get a USB turntable—and I don’t want to part with my Denon DP-45F—or add a pre-amp with a digital out.

And the Rega works just fine for that as well.

But the absence of “monitor out”—the closing of the traditional “analog hole” even in a relatively high end consumer system—has me thinking anew about future-proofing, customer “requirements” vs. unanticipated use cases, and product features that appease other parts of the supply chain to the inconvenience of the customer.

Fifteen years ago today…

I was troubleshooting the inability to play a DVD on a Windows 95 laptop from Sea-Tac airport for Lisa, who was back home in Boston.

Twelve years ago today, I had stabbed a broken wineglass stem through my palm and was also writing about my first two rehearsals with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

And eleven years ago today, I was a winner of a traditional Bavarian Olympics at the Erdinger Weissbräu factory.

Who says I’ve lived a boring life?

Memorial Day 2017

Yesterday was lost in mist. I spent the day cooking and thinking about sacrifices. And the paradoxical beauty of spring that so many died so that we could enjoy it.

Massive rhododendron in front of our house, finally in bloom
Tree shaded rhododendron
Rhododendron, late bloom
Iris, transplanted from Arlington, and before that from my grandmother’s garden in North Carolina
Confrontation between swan and duck at Peeper’s Pond

 

New mix: God made me funky

I’ve been working on this one for a while, and today felt like the right day to finish it up. This is an indulgent (over four hours long) tour through at least four different genres, with a common thread of funk.

There’s no particular logic to the sequence except that they’re loosely grouped by genre so as to keep the groove flowing. And the first track might seem odd, but listen to Carleton Coon and Joe Sanders trading scat syllables (in a style that will seem familiar to fans of the Warner Brothers cartoon “Dough for the Do-Do”) and the connection to funk becomes clear.

  1. RoodlesThe Coon-Sanders Nighthawks (“Radio’s Aces”)
  2. Calling On My DarlingAlbert King (Chess Blues 1960-1967)
  3. Grab This Thing (Part 1)The Mar-Keys (The Stax Story)
  4. Black BoyRoebuck ‘Pops’ Staples (The Stax Story)
  5. I Have Learned to Do Without YouMavis Staples (The Stax Story)
  6. Sissy Walk (Full) (Vocal)Eddie Bo (The Hook and Sling)
  7. Tighten Up Tighter (Feat. Roosevelt Matthews)Billy Ball and the Upsetters (The Funky 16 Corners)
  8. Dap WalkErnie and The Top Notes Inc (The Funky 16 Corners)
  9. Check Your Bucket (Full)Eddie Bo (The Hook and Sling)
  10. Sock It To ‘Em Soul BrotherBill Moss (Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label)
  11. Hey Pocky A-Way (A Way)The Wild Tchoupitoulas (The Wild Tchoupitoulas)
  12. The Meters – Here Comes The Meter ManDJ Jedi (Blowout Breaks)
  13. The Headhunters – God Made Me FunkyDJ Jedi (Blowout Breaks)
  14. Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)James Brown (Messing With The Blues)
  15. Outer Spaceways IncorporatedSun Ra (Space Is The Place (Original Soundtrack))
  16. UmbrellasWeather Report (Weather Report)
  17. Red China BluesMiles Davis (Get Up With It)
  18. Harvey Mason – Hop Scotch (1975)Herbie Hancock (Herbie Hancock – Man With a Suitcase)
  19. Eddie Henderson – Ecstasy (1978)Herbie Hancock (Herbie Hancock – Man With a Suitcase)
  20. Whitey on the MoonGil Scott-Heron (Small Talk At 125th and Lennox)
  21. The Last Poets – Black Is – ChantDJ Jedi (Blowout Breaks)
  22. Ku Mi Da HankanThe Elcados (Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-rock & Fuzz Funk In 1)
  23. Everybody Likes Something GoodIfy Jerry Crusade (Nigeria 70 – Lagos Jump)
  24. Live in Another WorldItadi (Afro-Beat Airways)
  25. The Things We Do In SowetoAlmon Memela (Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco & Mbaqanga 1975-19)
  26. Do The Afro Shuffle – Godwin Omabuwa & His Casanova DandiesGodwin Omabuwa & His Casanova Dandies (Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound In 1970&#0)
  27. Sex VeveVerckys & L’Orchestre Vévé (Congolese Funk, Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978)
  28. KenimaniaMonoMono (Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-rock & Fuzz Funk In 1)
  29. Afro-blues – Orlando Julius & His Afro-soundersOrlando Julius & His Afro-sounders (Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound In 1970&#0)
  30. Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae?Marumo (Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco & Mbaqanga 1975-19)
  31. Nuki SukiLittle Richard (King of Rock & Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings)
  32. Home Is Where the Hatred IsGil Scott-Heron (Pieces of a Man)
  33. Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?Funkadelic (Funkadelic)
  34. Maybe Your BabyStevie Wonder (Talking Book)
  35. Funky Dollar BillFunkadelic (Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow)
  36. Ride OnParliament (Chocolate City)
  37. Everybody Loves the SunshineRoy Ayers Ubiquity (The Best of Roy Ayers (The Best of Roy Ayers: Love Fantasy))
  38. So Ruff, So TuffZapp (Historia de la Musica Rock: Locas)
  39. I’ve Got My Eyes On YouThe Girls (Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound)
  40. HigherThe Lewis Connection (Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound)
  41. Feel UpGrace Jones (Lives of the Saints 5)
  42. ContagiousRonnie Robbins (Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound)
  43. Cloreen Bacon SkinPrince (Crystal Ball)
  44. Sexy M.F.Prince (The Hits/The B-Sides)
  45. Tribe VibesJungle Brothers (Done By the Forces of Nature)
  46. Doin’ Our Own DangJungle Brothers (Done By the Forces of Nature)
  47. Can I Kick It?A Tribe Called Quest (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (25th Anniversary Edition))
  48. Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)A Tribe Called Quest (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (25th Anniversary Edition))
  49. The Magic NumberDe La Soul (3 Feet High And Rising)
  50. Where I’m FromDigable Planets (Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time & Space))
  51. Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)Digable Planets (Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time & Space))
  52. God Lives ThroughA Tribe Called Quest (Midnight Marauders)
  53. Jettin’Digable Planets (Blowout Comb)
  54. Gold ChainsBeck (Odelay (Deluxe Edition))
  55. Manteca (The Funky Lowlives Extended Remix)Dizzy Gillespie & Funky Lowlives (Verve Remixed 2 – Exclusive EP)
  56. Show MeMint Royale (Dancehall Places)

Preparing for the weekend

It’s been a light blogging month here, as I had to take on some additional responsibilities at work. I’m definitely looking forward to Memorial Day and our customary celebration, which for the past few years has involved barbecue. And not just any barbecue, but the only time each year that I make pulled pork, which this year will be served alongside homemade bread and butter pickles. And pulled chicken. And our quasi-semiannual pilgrimage to Karl’s Sausage Kitchen for grilled bratwurst.

I have some shopping to do.