Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “music”

RIP, Marian McPartland (1918 – 2013) – Tom Rossi

I don’t think anybody really wants to turn Left Coast Voices into a jazz obituary weekly, but something has to be said about the great Marian McPartland.

No. On second thought, words are all but useless, here.

Just listen, instead…

Marian McPartland, 1955: Poor Little Rich Girl

Avalon – Jimmy and Marion McPartland Jam 1975

Marian McPartland Twilight World

Marian McPartland Trio – Bohemia After Dark

Marian McPartland Castles in the Sand

Marian McPartland, 1955: I Could Write A Book

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


The End of the Melting Pot

The concept of a society being a melting pot is something that strongly resonates for me. My family has never put down roots for more than a couple of generations. I myself have made two major moves and lived in three continents.

The idea that an ethnic group moves to a country and tries hard to become part of that society is a rich element in literature, movies and music. It is a symbol of a country’s ability to be accepting and absorb different people into its social fabric. It sees the intrinsic value of adding another rich layer of culture, food, costume and language.

There is also an oft-irrational drive on the side of the immigrant. After living in Israel for two months, I refused to speak English (it’s amazing what you can stutter through with a hundred words or so). I only listened to Israeli music, and sought Israelis to hang out  with, even though I was often a wall flower since 90% of the conversation passed me by.

When I moved to America, I immediately adopted the local basketball team, becoming a passionate Golden State Warriors fan (never easy – ask those fans who have followed them all their lives). I have goggled tailgaters, researched the Super Bowl party protocol (still more excited about the game than the ads and half-time show), and learned to look knowledgeable when wine tasting. I studiously watched The Daily Show and Colbert, okay – and the Simpsons.

I work with students on the San Francisco State University campus, a rich and diverse community from all over the world. The cultural richness is stunning and the programs offered impressive. There is an impressive statistic for how many students are first-generation to graduate high school and go on to university (I’m thinking 40%, but please correct me if I have it wrong).


I recently used the term melting pot in front of a colleague who is also an alumna (yes I checked it to make sure!) of SFSU. I meant it in a complimentary way to express how comfortable students feel to openly express their cultural and ethnic roots.

This colleague, a millennial, baulked at the use of the word. She responded that it is derogatory and suggests we all need to strive to be the same, that there is an intense pressure to conform to whatever the dominant culture demands.

It got me thinking. I desired to fit into the culture around me because I wanted to be accepted. But I never lost sight of my roots. I was always the Englishman in Israel and my friends never lost an opportunity to poke fun at my accent, the Queen, or to accept my undisputed authority on the noble topics of soccer and beer.

I understand why the term melting pot is problematic. Often the liquid in the pot is fermented by racist connotations. But melting pot does not have to mean only one soup with only one taste. Perhaps a tapestry is a better term. Many different colored strands weave together to create a beautiful work of art.


The millennial baulks every time that the ‘adult’ society tries to define it, put it into statistical graphs and research projects. The millennial doesn’t spend time pondering whether s/he is a Jewish American or an American Jew.

S/he is comfortable with multiple identities. Have you ever watched a millennial working on their desktop (it doesn’t work so well on phones)? They have a dozen windows open at any one time and flit from one to another like a humming bird on speed. It is the same with their identity. They are comfortable being Jewish here, gay there, a jock in one place, an intellect in another. It is natural and easy.

But there is a generation even more exciting than millennials following them. A while ago, my youngest son met three classmates at the park. The fathers stood together and looked on. One was Israeli, another Palestinian, a third from India, and the fourth from Pakistan. While the kids had fun on the wooden playground, the fathers fidgeted, discussing the weather, house prices and the 49ers. The fathers are all good men, wanting a peaceful world and a just society to live in for their families. We were all happy to stand there in that park playing fathers.

But what was amazing was that our sons were perfectly comfortable. They played together because it was simply fun to hang out. I am sure they each have an understanding of their roots and often hang out with people of their own ethnic background but do not feel a need to be defined as such.

The biggest problem I feel with the melting pot is that it is/was deemed necessary. The millennials will treat it with vague intellectual curiosity and the next generation won’t even know what it was – like a pay phone or record player.

And that is what gives me hope for a better world.



Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Mommy, Can I Grow Up To Be a Sellout? Pleeeeease? – Tom Rossi

Because I’ve been alive during this particular period in music history, I’ve witnessed a transformation – one that tells us a lot about the direction our society, as a whole, has gone in the last couple of decades.

It used to be that a musician, being “sponsored” by some name brand, or letting a song appear in an advertisement, was completely taboo. Not too long ago (maybe 30 years or so?), your peers (other musicians) would have looked down on you with disgust if your song appeared in a commercial for Nike or Coca Cola.


But gradually, that’s exactly what became “normal”. We now are bombarded with fake art – music that was created to make money, and so “selling out” no longer has any meaning. I’m sure that some of this music was created with selling out as its true purpose.

There is very little “art for art’s sake.” Yes, succesful musicians have always made money – sort of. But nothing like today, which leads me to believe that most future musicians didn’t start taking lessons, in the good old days, with the goal of millions of dollars in mind. Now it really seems that it’s mostly about money.


And… these days it’s about MORE money. We now see musicians’ and other “artists'” work appearing in commercials even though these “artists” are already millionaires. I keep wondering, how much does a company has to pay a big star like __________* to have his song in their commercial? Or to have him appear on a commercial personally? I sure hope it’s a lot. I’d hate to think we’ve “progressed” to the point where a millionaire will commercialize his or her work for practically nothing.

(*note: I’ve decided not to give any sellouts any extra advertising space here. If anybody wants it, they can pay me. Wait… no, they can’t. They can go to hell.)

But maybe it doesn’t bother me so much that some people choose to commercialize their own creations. What really bothers me is when a musician has passed away, or just doesn’t own the rights to his or her own creation, thanks to a crappy deal with some giant, ever-greedy record company, and that creation is turned into an advertizing campaign.

I’ve heard songs by The Beatles, The Doors, and all sorts of other bands and solo artists used in commercials in the last few years. This makes me sick. No matter what you say to me, no matter what arguments you make, I will NEVER, NEVER, EVER believe that John Lennon would be OK with the use of any of his songs to sell something – and certainly not shoes.

Neil Young feels the same way I do. Here’s his great video for his song “This Note’s for You,” that was, for a while, banned from MTV:


-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


Goodbye to a Jazz Legend

Pre-post note: I wrote most of this post before the tragedy happened in Connecticut. I thought about letting out some of the ideas that have been haunting me on this type of subject, but we’re seen something amazing, out of this dip into hell: people, pundits, and even the President are finally, finally talking seriously about what amounts to this: What is an acceptable compromise between the right to bear arms and the right not to be shot. Like everyone, I’m just sick that it took the murder of a bunch of kindergarteners to accomplish this. But everyone, everywhere is saying that. I’ll just add my vote to that super-majority, for now.

On with a smaller tragedy…

This blog isn’t really supposed to be about music, and specifically jazz, but I’m compelled to return to the subject. We lost a great jazz artist, this past week. Dave Brubeck has passed away at the age of 91, after giving us a lifetime of cool creativity.

Brubeck was born in Concord, California in 1920. He kept playing and entertaining pretty much right to the end, but his “golden period” was mostly in the 50’s and 60’s. Well after that, though, he had notable appearances with heads of state and religion.

Video: Stardust

But I don’t want to do a life story here. Let’s talk about Dave Brubeck’s music, and what made it unique. Often to the consternation of the critics, Brubeck just couldn’t bring himself so stick, clearly and permanently, to an identifiable genre. He was a well-educated musician who mixed in techniques and theme structures from various types of what we now lump together as classical music. He used fascinating time signatures that often made his pieces (or those of his various bands) extremely difficult for others to play.

Blue Rondo a la Turk video:

Brubeck’s jazz was actually criticized as not being jazz at all, but basically classical music. I saw an interview of him, years ago, in which he told the interviewer that people use to say to him, “you don’t swing.” Then, he said, after a few years, people said, “You swing, but your band doesn’t swing.” And, of course, he laughed. But Brubeck’s jazz has stood the test of time. Some of his pieces have even become somewhat iconic.

Video: Take Five

Dave Brubeck was, in fact, my first jazz discovery, although somewhat late. Growing up, I never heard anything in my house except classical music. I took piano lessons for a few years and I was even somewhat talented. But I soon realized that I would never be nearly good enough to perform the only music that I knew. In classical music performance the standard is perfection, and I was never going to be perfect, so I quit.

Video: Strange Meadowlark

I certainly wish I had discovered Brubeck and jazz piano earlier. I would have been inspired to enter a whole new world. In jazz, the players are highly skilled, to be sure. But they are allowed and even expected to experiment, to try new things, to play a piece differently every time, and to make it up as they go along. This is part of why jazz is so inspiring. It takes you places that you never thought of before. It’s like your French fry falls into your curry sauce by accident, and you eat it and say, “Wow! I never would have thought of that!”

Video: In Your Own Sweet Way

Dave Brubeck and other jazz musicians (especially pianists) have opened up parts of my imagination that might otherwise never have been awakened. I owe a debt of gratitude to Brubeck. Thanks, Dave, for helping me discover so much.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


Last Year, Same Story

At this time last year, I shared with you a passage from the 2nd chapter of Unwanted Heroes. Twelve months later, I am back in New Orleans with a new group of students, and I continue to be astonished by the connection between San Francisco and New Orleans. It is not surprising that so many people gravitate between the two cities. Each have their own unique architecture, music, culture, food…

And yet when I talk with people here there is something familiar, something connecting. I wonder whether the wound on the urban psyche inflicted by the Hurricane on the Gulf Coast, and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco has anything to do with it? The knowledge that while we build and rebuild, everything is fragile. New Orleans and San Francisco share the knowledge that everything we hold dear in our fair cities could be destroyed…again.

New Orleans will rebuild and regenerate. San Francisco will continue to help, sending groups like our students and other means of help. We do it because of who we are, because of all we share. We do it because of the counter culture, the passion and the mystique. We don’t do it because we think one day we might need the help reciprocated. We do it because while so much is different, what binds us is even stronger.

The Fog Rolls In – takes place in a coffee shop in the financial district of San Francisco. It is told by a young and empathetic barista.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


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