Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Pancake Day!

Today is Pancake Day. Or Shrove Tuesday. Or Fat Tuesday.

Take your pick, but regardless of title, today is the last day for many who participate in Lent to eat all things sweet.

The tradition:

In the UK, there is a much-loved tradition of making and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, which falls between February 2 and March 9 each year, depending on the date for Easter. In 2009, Shrove Tuesday falls on 24 February. Shrove Tuesday ('shrove' stems from old English word 'shrive', meaning 'confess all sins') is the day before Lent.

According to Christian beliefs, Lent commemorates Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, and observant Christians mark this period by fasting. So Shrove Tuesday was cleverly invented to use up the ingredients that were given up for Lent - milk, butter and, particularly, eggs - which may not be eaten again until Easter.

In other parts of the world, Shrove Tuesday is marked by quite different celebrations. In New Orleans, for example, it's celebrated with the Mardi Gras, and in Rio de Janeiro with the equally raucous carnival.

Other old customs include the annual pancake grease at London's Westminster school (schoolboys fighting for pancakes in return for a monetary reward); Mischief Night (breaking into people's houses in disguise and demanding pancakes); Lent Crocking or Lensharding (throwing old crockery at people's doors and asking for pancakes to be tossed back), and shroving - a visiting custom in which children sang or recited poetry in exchange for food or money.

Granted, I would rather be in Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans to celebrate this last day of sugary indulgence, but as it be, I am stuck in chilly NYC getting ready for an evening of clarinet and saxophone lessons to be taught. Nevertheless, I helped myself to huge stack of yummy pancakes for breakfast and will find ways of snacking all day on all the devlishly delicious forbidden sweets of the next 40 days and nights!

Women, Refrigerators, and the Secret Six

Women are out of the refrigerator and joining them are every other gender-bending, cross-dressing, multi-colored, multi-oriented, so called "minority" of the comic book industry. At least as far as the newly ongoing Secret Six title by Gail Simone is concerned.

I definitely recognize that women have as of the last 10 years been one by one freed of their time sliced, diced, and stuffed in the refrigerator. I think the recent slew of strong, female characters in today's media is evidence of that. But it is also worth noting that following close on the coat tails of women's liberalization is that of the LGBT community. And this is in a large part thanks to writers such as Gail Simone who admit to not so much having a "gay rights" or "feminist" agenda in mind, but just writing what is true to each character without focusing on how the character is perceived.

Sigrid of FantasticFangirls.org expounds upon this in her recent essay "How to Kill a Refrigerator."

Secret Six has it all, then. Equal objectification of men and women. Violence, death, and maiming in equal measure. Gorgeous female antagonists, like Cheshire, and hideous ones such as Junior. Scheming male antagonists like Lex Luthor and weak, mad ones like the Hatter. When I, in 1993, envisioned feminist portrayals of women in popular culture, I must admit . . . this is just about what I had in mind. Variety. Good and bad, strong and weak, gorgeous and hideous, all in equal measure. Women as protagonists of their own stories in balance with supporting roles in the stories of others.

This is activism. Whether Ms. Simone wrote this in a deliberate attempt to foster gender equality or not — and, listening to interviews with her it’s not clear to me what her intentions were (other than to get Nicola Scott to draw a naked Catman) — really doesn’t matter. Activism, changing the world is not always done through manifestos and declamation. One can raise a question, one can take a stand, but once people agree that change is needed — well, people need to then make the change. Secret Six is, for my money, one of the best examples of a feminist vision of equality in mainstream superhero comics today. Script by script, panel by panel, Gail Simone is ending the dominant, hegemonic position of the Women in Refrigerators trope. This, this is how you kill a refrigerator.

Read the entire essay for detailed references, then read the comments where Gail herself posts a reply:

To me the answer to a lot of these questions is not so much promoting a feminist agenda, a gay agenda, or a ‘minority’ agenda…it is the promotion of a value neutral agenda, that where characters are given weight according to their story value, rather than perceived and tiresome axioms about ‘what the audience wants,’ due to decades-old assumptions.

If I write a character, I want it to be a character first, then the flavors second. I spend no time worrying about how a character might be perceived in regards to its gender, color and orientation, and that is intensely liberating. It’s why the current villain can be a cross-dressing female omnivorous sexual predator.

I think striving for equality in stories is a bit of a dead end. What works better for me is to not judge one character against another, and giving the characters the full potential they deserve (or lack thereof when they don’t). As a female myself, I don’t want women to all be super-capable and perfect, any more than most male readers want that of their own heroes. Even those who grouse and complain get bored pretty quickly when their heroes aren’t really challenged and tormented.

There's been a lot of talk about the importance of art especially in regards to funding, and lack thereof thanks to the current ecomomic crisis (and yes, I place the comic book industry into the arts column). There's been just as much talk about the rights of the LGBT community- the opposition to Prop 8, for one. This is when people need to recognize the importance of the arts! Art imitates life which imitates art. If we can't yet find a way to make a change in life, let's make it in art and wait for the inevitable life imitation. The more something becomes common, the less people are afraid of it, and the more likely a change can happen. Examples of the "minority" sect shown in an equal, or to use Simone's term, nuetral light within the arts can only encourage equality and neutralization in life. Even Sean Penn's Oscar can be considered in some small way a victory for the LGBT community in light of the role he played to earn the Oscar. And approaches to fiction such as Simone's are also a victory, and have not gone unnoticed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Save the Date!

Exactly two months from today

the Bottomless Cup Jazz Orchestra returns!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

8:00 & 9:30

@ the Brooklyn Lyceum

$10 gets you into both sets

As the date approaches, the finer details of musicians and music will be announced. But I can promise you this, expect some of the best musicians of this generation that NYC can offer, entirely new music based on my recent overseas travels, and and of course, old comic book favorites.

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentines Day by ~legiostudio on deviantART

Happy St. Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 12, 2009


There are a handful of movies that are actually better than the book. This is not one of them.

Not that this movie is bad. I actually recommend it. But I recommend you see it with the correct intentions.

Watch this movie for the animation. It's beautiful and the 3D is tasteful and subtle. The voice acting is spot-on and the musical score fits the quirkiness of the movie brilliantly. The storyline of a lonely child misunderstood by her parents is one many of us can relate to and the "other" world that Coraline stumbles upon is portrayed as creepy and disconcerting.

But if you want a disturbing story that touches upon the dark side of love and entrenches you in a scarily desirable alternate reality, skip the movie and read the book.

The genius of Neil Gaiman is that he writes these "children's" books with an adult-like directness. He doesn't conceal or water down the eerie, nor make it into a life lesson. He simply does what he does best, tells a story with such uncanny charm that you are haunted for days after turning the last page and it never occurs to you that you just read a book recommended for those aged 8 and up.

The problem with this movie is that it tries too hard to stay a children's story. The bright colors and special effects, while pretty, dilute the chills that should run up your spine as the story unfolds. This would almost be acceptable if the movie was a 100% kid movie, but it somehow manages to keep one foot in the adult genre resulting in a cheese factor that is highly regrettable to a die-hard Gaiman fan like myself.

While A. O. Scott praises the slower pace of this production, I prefer the quicker pace of the book. There was a lack of suspense as the movie reminded the viewers again and again that Coraline felt lonely and neglected. The resolution then felt a bit rushed and anti-climatic, and as mentioned before, a bit cheesy (the audience, all adults, actually started to laugh at one of the key plot points).

It's been a few years since I read this book, and after watching the movie I felt such a flat response that as soon as I got home I grabbed the book off my shelf and started rereading it. I was instantly drawn in to Gaiman's writing and had to force myself to stop reading it so that I could get some sleep. I was relieved to remember how magical this story is, as I felt a little unsure after last night's viewing.

That all said, if you have NOT read the book, the movie is sure to be a different experience and I DO recommend seeing it for yourself. In fact, I say check out the interactive website first (which adds a fun element when you get to watch the scenes you played with online), see the movie in the theater if you can spare the $14.50 for the 3D as the most successful aspect of the movie is the animation, wait a month or so, then read the book. And let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"The woman musician never was born...

...capable of sending anyone further than the nearest exit." Or so a 1938 Downbeat editorial entitled "Why Women Musicians are Inferior" goes. Laura Barnett, contributor to the UK's Guardian, delves this frustrating issue further in her recent article Lady Plays the Blues:

The man sitting in front of me in Ronnie Scott's jazz club got me thinking. I was there to hear the Portico Quartet, but had instead spent the first half listening to the sound of his voice as he chatted to his companion - so I had asked him to be quiet. At the end of the gig he apologised a little too contritely for spoiling my enjoyment. Then he added "Why are you here, anyway? Is your boyfriend in the band?"

The answer was no, but it was the question that mattered. This man may have been a sexist throwback, but I wondered if there could be any basis to his assumption that I could not have been there out of my own appreciation of the music. I looked around the club. The band were all men. Most of the audience were men, except for a group of women whose shouts and whoops made me think they really were with the band. It made me wonder where, and how, women fit into jazz.

I can completely relate to the "is your boyfriend in the band" question (which is even more frustrating when your boyfriend actually is in the band) but I can trump this further with an experience I had when I was playing sax (way back in the day) with a funk band for a jazz brunch. The entire band was dressed in all black and the gig was a 3 hour deal. I had been on the stage for the entire time, but twice, make that two times, when I left the bandstand to go to the bathroom, I was flagged down by people who thought I was a waitress. I still had my neckstrap on and everything, but some how even as the only girl, playing a saxophone in front of the band, I was not recognized as a musician.

Barnett goes on to muse about why women are not as successful in the jazz realm siting such reasons as early education often places girls on non-jazz instruments such as flute as well as the lack of competitiveness needed that is more natural in men. She quotes several women such as Maria Schneider and Toshiko Akiyoshi as well as a few London based female jazzers. It is an interesting article on a subject that has been pontificated about almost endlessly, though its importance is significant.

Read the rest of the article, as well as this response from the blog LondonJazz.

My opinion in a nutshell is an optimistic one. I see things slowly improving. For instance, my elementary band was pretty gender balanced when it came to choosing instruments (boys on flutes, girl on drums and brass) and there was interest in jazz from both sides. The amount of female jazz instrumentalists is increasing, we even had our first female horn player headline at the Vanguard last year. I still often get the assumption that I am a vocalist when introduced as a jazz musician, but men don't look at me funny (any more) when I say that I am a composer.

As Maria puts it, "With women, maybe it's like this. If you're mediocre, you might have a tough time. If you're really good, nobody can deny it."

Friday, February 6, 2009

the economic crisis yields new ways to spend one's friday night

As I sit wallowing in the fact that I can't be at this year's ComicCon, I find myself completely consumed with Coraline hype. Go to coraline.com to make yourself into your "other" (by replacing your eyes with buttons, as above), spell your name in mice, or make a flower. The website is fun and interactive, and perfect for those who can't afford Con, or even a cold one on this February night!

One Week from Tonight!

One week from tonight, Joss Whedon's new show for Fox, The Dollhouse premieres! I'm excited about the new series and am hoping for the best, despite the bad time slot, and despite the Whedon's tumultuous past with Fox Studios.

Never did get the call to write the music for the show though, hmmm....

Monday, February 2, 2009

"OMG is that Jerome?"

I'd like to give a special shout-out to BCJO drummer Jerome Jennings for his classy appearance in this year's Heineken Super Bowl commercial. While watching the Cardinals lose, we did a double take when this commercial first aired. I didn't believe it was really him, but after careful inspection of the YouTube clip (pause, unpause, pause, unpause) and a quick text to Jerome, it is confirmed.

I'd like to point out that the music you hear during the commercial is not Jerome playing. But you should check him out. He's bad ass.