Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tributes to Nick Ashford

Nick Ashford passed away last week. He and his wife Valerie Simpson founded the Sugar Bar, which is next to our home (and a stop on the Rock Around the Block tour of the Upper West Side). Here's some of the floral tributes that began to quickly appear after Nick's death was announced.

Yesterday we attended the memorial service for Nick at the Abyssinian Baptist Church up in Harlem, one of the most important religious institutions in the city. What a great New York experience. The evening featured lots of fervent preaching, a whole lot of good music, and a very moving set of eulogies, including one from Valerie, which was filled with love and laughter. It became clear that Nick was among the world's most blessed individuals - in love with his wife of more than 35 years, father to two lovely girls, possessed of a talent for writing simple, yet profound lyrics that are going to be sung for a long, long time, a true believer and a long-time member of a close church community (he and Val met at their church 47 years ago), and one of the most handsome, elegant men you will ever see.
 He and Val used the Sugar Bar to display their African art collection but, more importantly, to mentor dozens of young artists - many of whom formed a very special chorus last night. The evening ended with that chorus and the thousand or so people in the room belting out "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand."  Perfect.

Our son, the reporter

On a recent visit to DC, Benjy Sarlin, crack reporter for Talking Points Memo, shlepped his proud parents around a steamy Capitol.

Along the way we nearly bowled over the Attorney General, got to hear a lonely Senator Durbin address a nearly empty Senate chamber, and visited the Senate press room, where Benjy's desk was squeezed between NPR and Al Jazeera. Here's a shot of the press room:

We also got to ride on the "subway" between the Capitol and the Senate office building. Not such a big deal for New Yorkers.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dance students invade Lincoln Center!

Every summer we are invaded by what seems like thousands of dancers of every ilk. A friend tells me he can tell what school they attend by the way they walk.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NYU Poly Event at glorious space in Brooklyn

Thanks to my having been lucky enough to marry someone with a father who graduated from Poly, I was able to attend a fundraising event in the lobby of the old Williamsburgh Savings Bank, one of NYC's great public spaces. The original teller windows remain, as do the original art deco details. There were a number of fascinating student projects, including a robotic fish to steer schools of fish away from such dangers as oil spills and a program to help robots walk more like humans.

A Poly student specializes in creating things, such as this lamp, with materials gathered from dumpster diving.

Ever wonder who cleans the Central Park fountain?

Now you know:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Two adjacent (but very different) new shows at the Metropolitan Museum

   Although it seems to have slipped in under the radar, the collection of portraits in pastel from the 18th century is worth a visit. I had no idea that this medium was in use this early. These portraits are bright, colorful and full of life. There's even one by John Singleton Copley, who was one of the most important portraitists in early America.
   In the next gallery there's a photography show called "Night Visions," which includes works shot at night by such greats as Brassai, Bill Brandt, Diane Arbus and Weegee, a paparazzi in the 1940's whose main tools were a police radio scanner, a big old press camera, endless chutzpah and a darkroom in the trunk of his car, allowing him to develop pictures in time to sell them to the tabloids for the next day's paper. Dark is the operative word, for some of his work makes Diane Arbus' seem almost Pollyanna-ish. (See below.)
   If you come to see these on a Thursday morning, be sure to stop by at the Information Desk in the Medieval Hall, where every week I voluntarily direct people to Rembrandt,Vermeer and the rest room.

A late 18th Century French Nobleman with his head still attached.

 A  1940 New Yorker who wasn't so lucky. Weegee titled this "Human Head Cakebox Murder."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beauty and the Bronx

There's a new Azalea garden at the New York Botanical Gardens up in the Bronx -eleven acres of wildly colorful azaleas and rhododendrons. It was dazzling on a rainy day - it must be ridiculous on a sunny one. Oh, and after you visit, stop at one of the terrific traditional Italian restaurants on nearby Arthur Avenue. The bakeries are not shabby either.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Images from the Israel Day Parade

A perfect day for the biggest Israel Day Parade in the world. All kinds of folks showed up, including a group of very loud teenagers from a school in LA. Perennial attendee Congressman Anthony Weiner didn't show up - the speculation was that he thought he had been "overexposed" lately.

Marchers from Upper West Side
Marchers from MOMA

Living the high life by the High Line

I enjoyed a totally satisfying birthday lunch with a bunch of totally delightful family members at Del Posto, which is right next to the High Line. Their prix fixe lunch ($30 for three courses) is one of the city's gastronomic bargains. Great service, a beautiful space, and just enough perfect food to leave you in a state of muddled euphoria. We followed up the lunch with a stroll on the High Line, which has to be one of the most pleasant park spaces in NYC, if not the whole world.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Amazing performance!

I just saw Mark Rylance in "Jerusalem" on Broadway and it was one of the most dynamic performances I have ever seen. How this guy finds the strength to play this powerful, complex and larger than life character once a night is beyond me - but to do it two times a day is just over the top. The play is well written and deals with recent English history - the playwright obviously feels something mythic has been lost.
If you get a chance - go see this play!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Museum

I recently began volunteering at the museum, which has given me the great privilege of hanging around when the public has not yet been admitted. So I get to see scenes like this - Alexander McQueen dresses being transported to the upcoming costume exhibit. Other advantages of volunteering - admission on closed Mondays with up to four friends and a chance to eat at the Trustees' Dining Room, with its drop dead gorgeous views of the park.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Chester, our super, breathlessly reported the other day that he had seen an extraordinary sight in our lobby.

"A car with black windows pulled up, four huge men with funny little things in their ears got out, and a small woman in her underwear hurried into the voice studio."

I reassured him it was only our neighborhood girl who is now known at Lady GaGa coming by for her voice lessons,as she had one for the last ten years.

Rock on!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Coming full cycle

A new bicycle store has opened on West 72nd Street near Riverside Drive. It is most appropriate. During the "Bicycle Craze" of the late 19th century, Riverside Drive was a favorite thoroughfare and folks would pedal down West 72nd Street to get there - the street had a sort of primitive bike lane and was lined with planters and trees. A favorite destination - the Claremont House, a famed inn not far from where Grant's Tomb stands today.
Bicyclists on Riverside Drive in the 1890's. These folks must have felt truly liberated.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Law enforcement rolls on in the Times Square station

Nifty, eh? The cop told me that his new scooter can speedily reach nearly any spot in the station (which I've been told is the largest subway stop in the world) by using the handicapped access ramps. If not he has to take the elevator, which seems a little silly.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thanks to Don Kirshner

Queens College kids Carole King, Paul Simon and Gerry Goffin in the early 60's.
Don Kirshner, who passed away last week at 76, will probably be remembered by most of my generation as the easily-parodied stiffy of a host of his television specials. If I remember correctly it was Paul Shaffer of SNL who was chosen to make fun of Kirshner. But we should be eternally grateful to Kirshner (and his partner Al Nevins) for the work they did at their Aldon publishing company in the early 60's. Somehow a very young Kirshner realized that there was a new generation of almost as young Jewish-American songwriters emerging to follow the Gershwins, Jerome Kern and so many other creators of the "American Songbook." So he signed up such outer borough wunderkinds as Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and Carole King and Gerry Goffin. When people ponder where in history they would like to pop up I always reference two places - I would love to stand in a corner of the Savoy Ballroom in 1937 for a battle of the bands between Chick Webb (with his young singer, Ella Fitzgerald) and Count Basie and just soak it in and watch the jitter buggers go nuts. The second is the office of Aldon at 1650 Broadway, where I would like to hear what was pouring out of those little offices furnished with a couple of chairs, an upright piano and an almost unbelievable amount of talent. Perhaps it would be "Up on the Roof," or "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," or "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."
The wonderful picture above captures a very important moment in American popular music. King and Goffin, part of the last gasp of the period when music publishers would sign up writers and tout their work to the A & R men who told their artists what to record, are shown sharing their newly found world with a young fellow Queens College student, Paul Simon, who will go on to become an important part of the near destruction of that system - a gifted singer/songwriter who would've hung himself before recording anybody else's songs. Carole King later crossed that border as well.
I met Don Kirshner a few times during my music biz days, most memorably when I wrote an article about a new "putting together the band" sitcom that he was touting. It was at Kirshner's office that I interviewed the young Canadian musician Don had discovered and who would star in the (short-lived) show. His name was Paul Shaffer.

Like-new Roman mosaic from Israel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Workers stumbled upon this incredibly well preserved animal lover's floor from the first century while enlarging a road in northern Israel. It's now on a world tour - and the Metropolitan is the first stop. Please note the handsome elephant posing so nobly among all his fellow creatures.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jazz festival at the Sixth Street synagogue

Our wonderful composer friend Peter Melnick invited us to an evening of "radical" Jewish-oriented jazz at this beautiful Orthodox synagogue on East Sixth Street, a block best known for its spicy cluster of twenty or so Indian restaurants. The music was varied, to say the least, and I punned that it fell into three categories : Heavy Mendel, Jew Orleans, and Jewdelydoodly. It was more than a little odd to hear power chords, super-funky trumpet solos and wild be-bop improvisations bouncing off the walls of the synagogue, but what was even odder was the wonderful Rabbi, Greg Wald, known, of course, as the Jazz Rabbi. That's him below on the left blowing his heart out -Sonny Rollins-style. This world-class musician, who has played in Carnegie Hall and made numerous CDs, told me his congregation is growing fast - especially among NYU students living in nearby dorms. Only in New York.
Klezmatic trumpeter Frank London solos. Note the wooden railing that separates men and women at the Orthodox services which, as is traditional,  feature no music at all. Other than that produced by the Cantor, I suppose.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Some belated images of the Great Blizzard of 2011

Chairs on the outdoor terrace of Aroma Espresso on West 72 Street

Central Park was almost unbearably gorgeous in the hours after the storm.

The storm left behind what may be the bluest sky I have ever seen in Manhattan. That's the San Remo apartments in the background. U-2 singer Bono lives at the very top of the left tower in one of NYC's grandest apartments - built for Steve Jobs of Apple fame.

It looks like Mayor Bloomberg's political future is buried somewhere under here .

A walker in Brooklyn (On Smith Street)

Imagine, an entire republic composed of 20-30 year olds who can't afford to live in Manhattan.

Truly a sign of our times.
A fragrant cheese shop right out of Monty Python and (almost) exclusively featuring delicious Brooklyn products.
Posted by Picasa