Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marja, Afghanistan Reality

Yes, three weeks have gone by since I could report on something completely enjoyable. Since writing that entry I have listened to many of the tracks on Live at the Black Door and have ordered Tony Whedon's book from Amazon. These pleasant interludes are always played against a darker background, the daily reports of an America that seems more and more dysfunctional at home, yet fully willing to wage war half a world away.

Therefore I enter my comment just submitted to the New York Times "At War" section - NYT must approve every entry so if you were to go to the NYT OnLine and then to At War (today a box shows down on the right hand side on the first web page) you might not see my comment. I enter it here to tell anyone who might read this that that person would be well advised to go to the NPR URL further down the page and listen to one of the few people I would trust to report from Afghanistan, NPRs Soray Sahaddi Nelson who speaks Farsi and Dari and is therefore far better qualified than most to know what is going on there.

Submitted as Comment to the NYT At War

The At War entries are essential reading and should be given Front Page position. This particular entry originally titled Who Are We Fighting in Marja (still the title seen on the first web page) now corrected to Who Is Fighting in Marja is important and, of course, leads many commentators to raise the question “Why Are American Military Fighting in Marja?”

I recommend that you who are reading Who is Fighting in Marja and my entry here go ASAP to the following URL

where you will be taken to both the transcript and the podcast of the gifted and brave Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of NPR who reports in this podcast from her position as embedded reporter in Marja. You will hear her report on the death of a young Navajo American not long after the picture of him was taken that appears in this story.

Then you will hear something expressed by her that Barack Obama should have considered before he, Nobel Peace Prize winner, decided to become the War President in Afghanistan. Sarhaddi Nelson first corrects one military estimate that it will take 30 days “to clear” this area, stating that the estimates she heard from military officials were 60 to 90 days.

Then, much more important, she addresses the question “What exactly does ‘cleared’ mean?” She says that the supposedly cleared area is still occupied by IEDs in the ground – a few feet away – and by people – call them what you will – who are shooting from scattered locations within the cleared area. Call it \"cleared\" if you will but consider carefully what that might mean.

In short, what happens the day the military leave? I asked my Iraqi friends and my lone Afghani friend on Friday what they think. The Afghani said – leave now. Many others said that Barack Obama, who first gave them some hope, should never have made the decision to send the 30,000 even though it might well have meant he would be only a one-term president. I agree.

Larry Lundgren

Linkoeping Sweden - US citizen, however.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sound of Surprise(s)

Whitney Balliett, long the jazz critic for The New Yorker, once, long ago, wrote a book The Sound of Surprise. That phrase SoS is never far from the surface in my memory because it so well captured what jazz has meant to me – there is always a surprise waiting just around the corner precisely when you thought the corner would not be taken by surprise.

So this is about a series of surprises that have captured me Body and Soul these last 72 hours. (Also at the surface of my memory are a thousand song titles, with lyrics to match – no chord progressions sad to say, so why not recycle them, titles and lyrics?)

"It’s Three O’clock in the Morning” on January 30th, and I am sleeping but in which state of sleep I do not know. Sounds are pouring in, however, sounds from Vermont Public Radio (VPR) OnLine, sounds that were first, when I was falling asleep those of All Things Considered.

A few minutes later consciousness began to take over, opened up by jazz from somewhere by somebody – the first of the surprises – and then, the second surprise superimposed on the first, a poetic voice - soloing. Now, briefly, short-term memory took over to remind me that I had read at VPR OnLine that a jazz and poetry group, PoJazz, would be performing live at VPR’s studio in Burlington, Vermont. All that a recently sleeping brain could take in at the time was impressions, mostly impressions of wonder and a question: "How was it possible for this to be happening – northern Vermont is not NYC but it sounded that way.

A few hours later – maybe 5 or so – my morning story began by opening George Thomas page at VPR to get a glimpse of the sources of my surprises. A few hours later – 7:30 AM Vermont time/13:30 Swedish time, I was composing an Email to Tony Whedon, trombonist and poet and leader of the group PoJazz. Then that Email was on its way across the Atlantic that my grandparents (some of them) and my great grandparents (some of them) had crossed a century and then-some ago.

Exactly one hour later there in my Gmail was the most delightful reply anyone could ever ask for – from Tony Whedon in little Johnson, Vermont, starting his day with words of surprise and coincidence. What surprise, what coincidence? How had he been starting his day?

Let him speak: “I’d been listening to Monika Zetterlund singing “Waltz for Debbie” with Bill Evans…it’s just beautiful”

Well Monika Zetterlund is, of course, the Swedish jazz singer who became a soulmate to Bill Evans. Coincidence right from the world of Paul Auster - Tony Wehdon gets the first Email in his life from Sweden while he is listening to Monika.

So lets let her (in Swedish) and Bill Evans (universal piano language)help you to understand how Tony Whedon started his day by hearing a voice from where I was writing (Sweden) with a piano “voice” from where I used to live (the US of A), two voices brought together here thanks to YouTube.

I have been able to embed the polished in-performance version, but the rehearsal version is blocked from embedding. (It is 23.00 here in Linköping and I have just come home from orchestra and am listening to the rehearsal version at the bottom of the post. I suggest you go down and copy the URL at the bottom of this post and just get lost listening and watching - if this does not speak to you, nothing will. But it will.)

Here is the URL to the both beautiful and touching session where Bill Evans and bassist Eddie Gomez are in the foreground and Monica Zetterlund is taking in what she hears before telling them OK "nu kör vi". I started by writing that jazz is about surprise but here you can see and hear that it is also about listening - so don't miss it.