Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh, how I love my new record playa

The Leopard was not particularly excited about growing one year older on my recent birthday, until I received a wonderful gift -- a brand spanking new turntable. I haven't owned one of these babies since the 80's. It's one of those newfangled joints that also hook up to your computer so you can transfer that good, warm sound straight into an mp3, complete with scratches and skips if you want (and you can download software if you don't).

The first week I got the thing, I went nuts and bought a shitload of old records from ebay and local vinyl record stores. It was fun. They were mostly some of my favorite jazz lps and the odd Joni Mitchell record.

There's something truly marvelous about seeing that big black disc twirl around. One of the true joys is hearing it end and start clicking once the needle hits the label. It means side one is over, time to turn the record over.
Man, that takes me back.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Leopard List : 2009 Movies

The Leopard hasn't posted a movie list in a while because I haven't had much chance to go to the movies. And specifically, I'm not particularly interested in a critical list of new films. Just one that spotlights recent movies that I reccommend you go see. Unfortunately, there's been precious few lately.
Having said that, here are couple of recent releases that I enjoyed and I think are definitely worth a look.

1. Inglourious Basterds
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

There has been a general mixed reaction to this film, but I am of the opinion it's one of Tarantino's best. Sure, it's loaded with homages to many past films, grade A through grade B. Sure, it's outrageously violent, and yes, it's relentlessly historically inaccurate and sort of pointless, but so what? It's greatly entertaining and full of terrific performances. Newcomer Christoph Waltz is simply brilliant as a charming but sadistic nazi; Brad Pitt is hilarious as hell bent soldier bent on relieving the SS of their scalps; and Melanie Laurent is wonderful as an escaped jew who exacts revenge.

2. I Love You Man
Directed by John Hamburg

A light and vulgar little comedy starring Paul Rudd and Jason Siegel which also somehow manages to be surprisingly insightful. Rudd plays a guy so devoted to the women in his life he neglects to have any kind of relationship with a someone of his own sex. Awkward and charming, Rudd is in his element.

3. Coraline
Directed by Henry Selick

Selick, a wizard of the stop motion technique and the man behind Tim Burton's wonderful "Nightmare Before Christmas" from a few years back, creates a truly magical and special film about a little girl who finds a secret door in her old house and travels to an alternative dimension. The visuals, which are breathtaking, are enhanced by the 3D treatment.

4. Tyson
Directed by James Toback

Toback's no-holds-barred documentary about troubled boxer Mike Tyson is nothing less than revelatory. In his own words, Tyson lays out his violent, tumultuous life. The champion boxer's story is just as contradictory as this compelling film.

5. Star Trek
Directed by JJ Abrams

A wondrous, exciting, and forward-thinking reimagining of the beloved TV show, the new Star Trek movie is a giant leap forward for the franchise. All the actors are beautifully cast, especially the lightly lisping Zachary Quinto who, in his brilliant portrayal of Mr. Spock, steals the film.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some of my Favorite Artists (4): Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus

There are musicians who shine brightly on recordings and then there are artists who must be experienced live. Sonny Rollins is one those artists.
In the Leopard's early days of collecting jazz records, Sonny Rollins' work was conspicuously absent. At first, I didn't appreciate the throatiness of his sound and the boldness of his approach. It's hard to imagine now that I simply didn't understand why he had won so many jazz polls and why he was on top of so many people's lists. I found his playing overpowering, drowning out the other musicians. It didn't surprise me that he had been among the first to experiment with pianoless trios, leaving out for me an essential component.

But a friend one day casually handed me a copy his CD Saxophone Colossus, and I finally began to understand the fuss. On it, he plays to his considerable strengths, from the self penned, now- standard tune "St. Thomas" to his version of "Mack The Knife" and the beautiful, tender balladry of "You Don't Know What Love Is". I could hear on this record the melodic, inventive style that made his name.
Then, in the Summer of 2006, I saw him play at The Community Theater in Morristown, NJ. It was a revelation. Even at the tender age of 76, Rollins completely dominated the concert, improvising brilliantly throughout the entire evening. Though to Rollins it was probably just another date on the tour, every number seemed classic to me. He played with such virtuosity and creativity I was shaking my head in astonishment and awe.
By then, I had already fallen in love with many of his recordings, particularly Way Out West and Sonny Rollins At The Village Vanguard, but seeing him live was another thing. I now understood his greatness, And how lucky we are to have him still among us, making great music.
(Click on title to hear St. Thomas)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Roy Haynes

The Leopard just saw the great drummer Roy Haynes at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York last night. He's now my new life model. 
The 84-year-old master musician played a blistering 2 hour set without bothering to take a breath! His decades-younger band couldn't possibly keep up with him and were breaking out in a black sweat. Haynes pushed the talented young saxophonist Jaleel Shaw until the boy nearly collapsed from exhaustion. In case you didn’t know, Haynes is one bad cat. One of the most recorded drummers in the history of jazz, his resume speaks for itself: he’s played in important bands with Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and countless others. The name of his new band is Fountain Of Youth. How apt.

(Click on title for his dynamite tune, "Diverse" from his 2000 CD Bird Of A Feather.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some of My Favorite Artists (3): John Coltrane

When it comes to music, The Leopard isn’t usually one to indulge in lists.
There is simply too much diversity to bother limiting myself to particular artists, as brilliant as they can be. How do you compare say, Eric Dolphy with Brian Wilson or Youssou N’Dour with Leonard Bernstein?

But some great musicians have meant more to me personally. One of them is the great saxophonist and composer John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) Coltrane's music touched me emotionally from the very first time I heard it and effects me just as much all these years later. But it's more than that. It's endlessly intellectually satisfying as well. And that is how I see his sound--a perfect union of both.
Like many jazz enthusiasts, the starting point was Miles' Davis' seminal recording Kind Of Blue, where the great saxophonists' solo on "All Blues" had such warmth and ingenuity that I sought out his solo work, hungering for more.
Next stop was the unprecendented My Favorite Things, a glorious reimagining of a catchy little ditty that in Coltrane's hands became a tour de force of modal style adorned with Middle Eastern influences. By then, I was buying every Coltrane record I could get my hands on, eventually catching up to the later Impulse! recordings, where the saxophonist was embroiled in an inner musical battle, screeching atonally to reach some unfathomable peak.

And I love it all. Coltrane's influence on jazz and music in general is incalcuable, and has been written about ad nauseum by scholars much more informed than I. But what truly matters to me is the legacy.

There may be music created over the centuries as great as John Coltrane's, but none greater.

(Click on title to hear the tune "Crescent")

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


No, The Leopard isn't the sort to go on and on about their beloved pet. In fact, I find it rather annoying when people do. Still, in the interest of full disclosure, I do love my cat, Casey.

I picked up Casey years ago after seeing her on one of those segments on a local TV newscast where they feature unwanted pets at the ASPCA. When I saw this tiny kitten, looking so incredibly cute n' cuddly, I called the TV station and was directed to a shelter. There I saw her for the first time in the flesh (or fur). She was frantically trying to stick her little fuzzy head through the bars of her cage. I liked her radical spirit.

Cut to 11 years later. The unhappy relationship I was in at the time I adopted Casey was long over, but Casey was still my responsibility. By now things had changed radically: I no longer had a lifestyle that could include a feisty, curmudgeonly older cat.

Despite postings on Craigslist, Facebook and other assorted social networks, my earnest attempts to find her a home brought no success.
Running out of options, I made a last attempt to ask close relatives to take her in. But still, no one seemed to have any extra space for my longtime companion.

And so, with a heavy heart, I decided to take her to a local shelter. Although I expected the worst, the dedicated staff actually went out of their way to assure me that a healthy cat like Casey would most likely find a home. This made me feel a little less guilty.

According to the paperwork, I was"surrendering" my cat to the facility.

I felt more like I was giving up a close friend.

Monday, July 27, 2009

She's Not Depressed, She's Drunk

The Leopard decided to go for cocktails the other night at the creatively grungy Art Bar, a notorious spot in the West Village known for its dank innards, worn furniture, and 1000-year-old beer smell.

Still, the place has its earthy pleasures. As we settled in at the bar for a bit of light conversation, in came a blond middle-aged woman who sat one stool away. I could see her heavily made up face clearly over my friend’s shoulder. She began to make jittery movements like a junkie and looked increasingly anxious. She greeted the bartender broadly, and seemed to want to engage her in conversation, but the server stoically declined to socialize and dutifully poured her a drink.

After gulping down her straight vodka, she grinned at me a few times in a creepy way. I didn’t want to encourage her so I looked away. A few minutes later, she began to quietly sob. Pretty soon, the sobs became moans, and then the moans became full-out bawling, complete with running tears and streaking mascara.

My partner and I tried at first to ignore this noisy, pathetic spectacle but she went on and on, obviously vying for attention. Soon the bartender intervened in a sympathetic yet stern tone, “You’re disturbing our customers. Please leave. Look, Your drink is on me." The woman was so overcome with emotion she couldn’t speak, so she simply scooped up her things and left.

Whenever I walk past that place, I always wonder. What was she crying about? A lost lover? A tragedy in her family? Her own alcoholism? Most likely, I’ll never know.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chocolate Genius

Chocolate Genius is the tongue-in-cheek moniker of the excellent singer songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson. The Leopard first heard him on a PBS music show singing his heartbreaking tune, “My Mom”, an emotional tome about dealing with a parent’s descent into senility.
Thompson is an imposing figure: flaring Basquiat-like tendrils sprouting from his head, the ever present dark suglasses, and a low, darkly emotional drawl. As Chocolate Genius, Thompson has recorded infrequently. But his three mainstream albums, Black Music (1998), God Music (2001), and Black Yankee Rock (2005) are all inspired gems.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Natural Ass

Living in a wonderful honeycomb of a city like Manhattan, The Leopard can't help but occasionally witness some strange things.

I was standing outside my office chatting with coworkers one warm summer afternoon last week when we all witnessed what is a fairly familiar sight in these parts: a young woman, possibly homeless, possibly schizophrenic, walking past us at a brisk pace down the sidewalk of our building raving aloud and screaming slurred obscenities. This alone wouldn't have necessarily interrupted our socializing, until, out of the corner of our eyes, this young girl of perhaps 25 to 35 began to strip.

Off went her blouse, which revealed a crisp white bra beneath (not what you'd expect a homeless person to own) and then moments later, while still on a determined path, off went her maroon skirt, under which there was no crisp anything.

The effect of this woman's dark brown bottom in full view,
in the unusually bright sun in the middle of the afternoon, was profoundly disconcerting, even dream-like, in contrast to the fully clothed surrounding hordes of business people, taxis, and tourists. People stopped whatever conversations they were having on their cellphones to gawk or report, and the door man in front of a ritzy hotel where she finally paused to continue her rant almost swallowed his taxi whistle. Parents covered the eyes of children, and traffic almost came to a violent halt.

And all over a natural ass.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Michael, My brother

The first record The Leopard ever bought with my own money was a 45, The Love You Save by The Jackson 5. In my world, everyone I knew loved the Jackson Five. When we saw these young, good looking, talented kids on the Ed Sullivan Show, we saw ourselves. My friends, cousins--everyone I knew had a record or two somewhere in their house, even if it was just a cut out cardboard record printed on the back of a Post Sugar Crisp cereal box.

It wasn’t even something anyone discussed. The five boys from Gary, Indiana were like family to us. I remember our school used to receive catalogs from Scholastic, and the first book I ever owned was a little paperback about the Jackson 5 where they were pictured riding on mini bikes around their house. I wanted to be Michael Jackson. What could be better than to sing cool songs with your 4 brothers, dance on Soul Train, wear groovy threads and ride around on little motorbikes?

As I (and The Jacksons) got older, I kind of lost touch with what they were doing. Michael and his brothers dropped the “5” part of their name, and started to have more adult-sounding hits like “Dancing Machine” and “Can You Feel it”. Then things got quiet for awhile, and suddenly, out of nowhere, Michael came out with the album Off The Wall and everything changed. Produced by Quincy Jones, the music on Off The Wall sounded fresher than anything else that year.
Of course, by the time of Thriller, Michael had completely reinvented himself and was in a class all his own. There have been many child entertainers over the years, (think Donny Osmond) but Michael was one of the very, very, few that lived up to his earlier potential.

He also showed a remarkable ease with technology, creating not only cutting edge sounds, but brilliant visuals, in the form of videos, to go with his groundbreaking music. Michael surpassed everyone’s expectations of him, as a dancer, songwriter, musician. In retrospect, it almost seems fitting that he would eventually simply burn out like a light. But what a bright light it was.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some of My Favorite Artists (2) : Ornette!

The Leopard once had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting the great Pulitzer-Prize winning saxophonist/composer/trumpeter/violinist Ornette Coleman. The organization I worked with at the time was putting together a tribute to his music, and along with some colleagues, I had lunch with the legendary musician one crisp Fall day at a local restaurant near our offices.

For such a world famous, highly respected artist, Coleman treated everyone at the table like family. Not in the true sense of the word, mind you, in the familiar, but regarded each and everyone of us with a graciousness I've rarely experienced from one so accomplished.

Ornette Coleman shocked the jazz world back in 1959 when he and the brilliant young trumpeter Don Cherry and band appeared at the legendary Five Spot jazz club in New York with a new, already fully formed style of music based on a complex system devised by Coleman called harmolodics. Coleman was at first greeted by fellow musicians and critics with derision, (much like that of Thelonious Monk in the beginning) who harped on his use of a plastic saxophone and the unfamiliar avant-garde sound (which, in turn, effectively started a movement). Still, some well-established musicians, like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, embraced this exciting new music.

Listening to his first album, The Shape of Jazz To Come now, it's hard to believe so many people thought the music was difficult. So full of melody, beautiful solos, and soul stirring blues performances, only the most closed-ear listener wouldn't appreciate its brilliance.

Coleman has went on to make many more excellent recordings, movie soundtracks, and modern classical pieces as well as garnering unprecedented critical acclaim. In 2006, he received the Pulitzer Prize for the music on his CD Sound Grammar.

At the lunch with Coleman, like any star-struck fan, The Leopard trudged along several dusty LP's, including At Town Hall, which Coleman dutifully signed, as well as for a few others at the table.
I can't remember specifically much of what was said in conversation that day, but I do remember the thrill of being the presence of a true humble genius.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Deep Brown

The Leopard occasionally gets illustration requests. Being a near-salivating jazz fan, I jumped at the chance to design and produce drawings for the new Christian McBride CD, Kind Of Brown. One of the reasons this particular project had such great allure is that in addition to being associated with the great jazz bassist McBride, I would design a vinyl limited edition as well. The opportunity to create a record jacket as well as a CD cover was simply too great to miss.

And it is great music. Check out the review on

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Bird and the Bee

The Leopard is a restless music listener. I'm constantly adding new things to my personal collection. One of my current favorites is The Bird And The Bee, a singer/production/instrumental duo who make jazz informed melodic pop that recalls 90's bands like Swing Out Sister and Everything But The Girl.

Click on the title of this blog to hear a cover of the great BeeGees classic How Deep Is Your Love. They really nail it!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Wanna Hold Your Hand


With all the things these days that are overrated in life ("reality" TV, Twitter, Kanye West), one thing that is underrated is holding hands. Yep, the Beatles were right. The Leopard truly enjoys just walking down the street with his girlfriend, even when after a while our palms get a little sweaty. After all, you can just wipe 'em off on your jeans, and grasp hold again.

It's one of those easy pleasures that's so rewarding. Sure, there are lots of other things two people can do to connect to each other in a physical way, but sometimes the simplest way is the best.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pieces Of A Man

About 15 years ago, when The Leopard was living in Washington DC, I was walking through a park in the Adams Morgan area when I saw what appeared to be a homeless man nodding off on a park bench.

I almost didn't take a second look when I noticed that the older man seemed somehow familiar. Under further investigation, I realized he bore a striking resemblance to a great poet/singer/composer I had always admired.

Of course, later in the day I got a call from an enthusiastic friend informing me that one of our favorite artists would be performing in town that weekend: Gil Scott-Heron.

Recently, looking for some music to download, I remembered that time. Back in the day, Scott-Heron's music came to mean a lot to me. His albums From South Africa to South Carolina and Winter In America first brought many issues of race prevalent in America at the time to my attention. His song "Johannesburg" (which he performed on Saturday Night Live with Richard Pryor hosting) was the first I'd heard of the abomination of apartheid.

Intellectually, Scott-Heron's music, with his musical partner, the brilliant keyboardist Brian Jackson was challenging in way that the best of modern rap strives to be. A spoken word poet as well as singer, Scott-Heron's political views were steeped in actual content--not merely hyperbole. In 1970, Scott-Heron published his first novel at 19, The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, written during his hiatus from Lincoln University. He earned his Masters at Johns Hopkins in Creative Writing.

Despite this traditional academic background, Scott-Heron was a radical who was often associated with The Black Panthers.

Two of his most famous tunes, "The Bottle" and "Home Is Where The Hatred Is" were diatribes against substance abuse, but Scott-Heron didn't heed his own warnings. He began to suffer from cocaine abuse at least as early as 1991, when he served his first stint in prison, convicted of possession. He was later diagnosed HIV positive.

He still performs. He recently did a concert in NYC with the rapper Mos Def.

Yes, it probably was Gil Scott-Heron I saw high out of his mind on the park bench that day. Despite his downfall, he continues to strive on.

Click on title to download song Pieces Of A Man

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up

The Leopard was waiting on line at the post office on his lunch hour the other day when a middle aged woman a few feet away suddenly fell to the floor with a sharp thump and began shaking uncontrollably, clutched in seizure.

It was interesting to see how the 100 or so folks in the crowded office reacted to the spectacle. Some nonchalantly walked by and paid her little or no mind. Some immediately ran over to comfort her. An elderly man shouted, "Put a pencil in her mouth so she won't bite her tongue off!", but didn't relinquish his position on line. There was no doctor in the house, so several people made calls from their cell phones, staying put in case they were called to the counter. After a few minutes, there was a tangible awkwardness in the air. One woman who had came over and was now resting the woman's head in her lap kept whispering, "It will be all right, dear, It will be all right." After all the calls had been made, and the authorities had been notified, there was nothing to do but wait. The only comment made by the few people still interested was, "Wonder when they'll get here"? Most people seemed simply bored, as if they wished they could turn the channel to another show.

After about 15 minutes, as the Leopard stepped into the street and noticed that the ambulance had finally arrived, I felt relieved. Part of my belief in the milk of human kindness was restored.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscars, Shmoskers: The Leopard list

The Leopard hates artistic competitions. Once all involved are of a certain level of achievement, it's all relative. Still such industry pageants as the Grammys and the Oscars see fit to pit one aesthetic against another. Who's to say one artist in one genre is better than one in another if they're both brilliant in their work? And God, it's so damn embarassing to watch everyone try to act humble as they accept their little golden action figures.

The only true competition is with Oscar Night attire. There, the
search for greatness is more predicated on the delicate balance between elegance and glamour. And it's great fun to see who falls off the high wire.

Still, being a huge film fan, I saw many of the movies nominated at this years Oscars, so here's The Leopard list of film and performances. Not necessarily the best, but the Leopard's favorites:

1. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
One of Woody Allen's best in years. Penelope Cruz is amazing.

2. Doubt
Just a lot of fun. Not quite as serious as it would like to be. Meryl Streep seriously dines on the Brooklyn scenery.

3. Redbelt
Okay, it doesn't make much sense by the end, but Chiwetel Ejiofor makes it all work anyway. A thinking man's martial arts film.

4. Let The Right One In
A low budget Swedish vampire film with an unknown cast that kicks the ass of most of Hollywood's output.

5. The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke just does things no one else has ever done onscreen. Nuff' said.

6. Frost/Nixon
Good n' smart. A lot of has been said of Frank Langella's performance, but Michael Sheen is marvelous.

7. Slumdog Millionaire
Yeah, it's a bit overrated by now. But it's still super entertaining.

8. Dark Knight
The Leopard has written abou this film before, so let's not be redundant. Let's just say it's one of the 1 or 2 best superhero movies ever made, and leave it at that.

These are the movies I just had the most fun with. If you haven't seen any of these, check 'em out!

Janeane's Dilemmas

The Leopard recently had the good fortune to visit The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Manhattan to attend a one-on-one interview with the comedian/actor/commentator Janeane Garofalo. In a wonderfully enlightening and entertaining conversation, Garofalo discussed her career with a sly wit.

Probably most attractive about Garofalo's persona is her candidness. she mentioned how at the ripe old age of 44, what an extraordinarily tough time she's had finding roles, which is a result of the sexism and ageism of Hollywood. She also spoke about how even at her peak, many of her past movies regrettably came out just plain bad. She even called probably her most well known film, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, "Sentimental crap", and her most recent show, Fox's 24 "Preposterous". She spoke without fear about Ben Stiller, whom she's worked with many times, saying that she was once fired by him, and the only way she could get along with the star creatively was to simply "Do what he wanted".

This was refreshing, especially considering all the BS that movie stars spout about how wonderful they all are, afraid that they may blow a chance at a gig if they don't keep their mouths shut. Hey, the Christian Bale incident is probably more the norm than the exception. It's just that usually no one's dumb enough to blow their stacks while the audio is still running.

Garofalo just seemed to be a genuinely nice person. In a quick Q&A with the audience at the ended the interview, someone shouted out that they'd like help getting some lame show idea produced. Instead of blowing the person off, she invited them backstage and offered them her managers' number. Now that's class.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Buy My T-shirt & Save The World While You're At It.

In two days, We will have a new president. In the past, this type of revelation has not meant much to The Leopard. Yes, I have always done my civic duty and voted. But in the end, Democrat or Republican, the final outcome seemed to affect me very little. I have thought of the Presidency as the very epitome of bureaucracy. Something that I contribute to in a small way but don't expect to benefit from.

In this past election, for the first time, I felt like my vote mattered; and that for the first time who is in the White House matters; and that person might just in some significant way make a difference in my day-to- day life.

I have never in my wildest dreams ever thought in my lifetime that a person of color would make that hallowed ground of white superiority their home; I have never felt so proud of this country than when I realized that despite all the racism and outrageous injustices I have witnessed in this life, the good people of the USA bonded together for the greater good.

Which brings me to my T-shirt (lousy segue way, I know) I wanted to contribute something fun in some small way. I designed a T-shirt. Wanna end all the world's problems? Let's all wear cool Obama T-shirts.

To order a shirt, Get yours here.