Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Helping a friend ease his way into jazz world

Jim and Louise Savage were icons and music educators of note around here long before their 90th birthday party a couple of weeks ago.

They won’t actually turn 90 (25 days apart) until August, but the Fine Arts Association celebrated a little early because this is when the organization holds its annual fund-raiser gala at LaMalfa in Mentor.

There were more than 200 people on hand, dining, reminiscing and bidding on a boatload of prized items to raise money and help keep Fine Arts going strong.

Jim, a piano teacher, and Louise, a voice instructor, started the Fine Arts at their home (built in 1884) on West Spaulding Street in Downtown Willoughby in 1957. Everything, including the Mississippi River, has to start someplace, and the Fine Arts started at the Savages’ big old home, which is now the Homestead House Bed and Breakfast.

Jim and Louise and the association’s newly minted trustees soon realized they had something really good on their hands. So they raised some money, built a new showplace in 1972 on the grounds of what is now Andrews Osborne Academy on Mentor Avenue, and there it stands, in all its glory, about to undergo an addition to accommodate the area’s rapidly expanding fascination with all of the arts.

Janet Podolak wrote a terrific feature story about the Savages and the gala event a few days before it happened, and I won’t duplicate it here.

I will merely tell you about something that happened that evening that caused me to enter into a labor of love to bring a little extra joy, I hope, into Jim’s life.

Jim and I (we have known each other forever and I have been on the Fine Arts board for more than 40 years) were standing in line at the salad table.

After the usual pleasantries (“How’s your tennis game?”), he surprised me with his most recent excursion in the field of music.

Jim teaches classical music playing, just as Louise teaches voice in the classical genre. My own interest in the classics is minimal. I have always been a jazz guy.

“I have taken up an interest in jazz,” Jim Savage confided to me. He said he is listening to it, reading about it, and finding it to be something worthy of his investment of time.

I gulped. I collected my thoughts. I refused to say, “It’s about time,” because he had plenty on his musical platter already without worrying about a foray into a totally different kind of music on the eve of his 90th birthday.

Yes, I know. Music is all just a bunch of notes. Beethoven and Brubeck compositions are all just notes. They are just played differently.

But I wanted to help further Jim’s experiment in jazz. “Are you familiar with the college lectures on the history of jazz by Professor Bill Messenger?” I asked.

It is a priceless collection of eight CDs called “Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion.”
Messenger narrates them, replete with examples by every prominent jazz musician you can think of.

I am fortunate to have the collection. It was lent to me in January 2011 by Don Miller of Eastlake, who is a lover of jazz and a 1952 grad of Willoughby Union High.

Don loves good jazz, including drummers who know how to use brushes. “If I ever write a book,” he confided, “it will be called ‘Rock Drummers Don’t Use No Damn Brushes.’ So far I have just the title, no text.”

Right on, Don, just like my book, “The Phone Never Rang,” about the Steele murder in Euclid — a title but no text.

But I digress.

I spent Memorial Day copying the eight CDs for Jim. Meanwhile, the lady of the house went to the copying machine and duplicated about two dozen pages of notes that accompany the lectures.

As you read this, I have probably already delivered the finished products to Jim. I hope he digs. Louise too, for that matter. I have never explored the topic of jazz with her.

Here’s what’s in the package: “Plantation Beginnings,” “The Rise and Fall of Ragtime,” “The Jazz Age,” “Blues,” “The Swing Era,” “Boogie, Big Bands and Bop,” “Modern Jazz,” and finally, “The ABCs of Jazz Improvisation.”

Each lecture, with music, is about an hour long. It is everything you would want to know about jazz — or at least a valuable primer unless you crave a larger taste.

I am probably prohibited by law from making any more copies of the jazz lectures. But if the people who run “The Great Courses” have any brains at all, they are aware that a guy like me (and Don Miller) is going to make a gratis set for a friend.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy times at McKinley flood back at closing

When they tear down one of your cherished school buildings, it’s like a death in the family.

That’s the message I got from Managing Editor Laura Kessel in her column a week ago because of the strong feelings she held for Roosevelt Elementary in Euclid. It must have been a pretty good school, because she turned out well.

Now they’re going to apply the headache ball, as former City Editor Ed Bell insisted on calling a wrecking ball, to one of my former schools, and it really does hurt.

McKinley Elementary School, on the north end of Lost Nation Road, walking distance from Lake Shore Boulevard, will soon bite the dust for economic reasons, and a lot of people with fond remembrances of the school showed up for a farewell party the other day.

I couldn’t go because I was booked for the big Fine Arts gala at the same time, but my brother said he got there early and still had to park way up the road because of the huge turnout. He reported the building was opened in 1921.

There was another big party there 20 years ago, and I have the evidence to prove it. I have on my office wall a beautiful walnut plaque with a gold key (it looks like gold) and an inscription that says, “This key to McKinley Elementary School is presented to alumnus Jim Collins, May  28, 1992.”

Stuff like that you hang on to. You never get tired of looking at it.

I attended McKinley for the better part of the eighth grade, but remember so much about it and have so many fond memories that it seems I spent years there.

I started eighth grade at Browning Elementary in Willoughby. After the first week of school in September I was run over by a drunk driver in front of the old Willoby Theater, now the Masonic Temple, and suffered a broken pelvis.

Meanwhile, our family moved to North Willoughby, known at the time as Willobee, and spent about six weeks recovering from the fracture.

My uncle bought me a small radio, and I listened to soap operas all afternoon. Then, it was off to McKinley, where I made a lot of new friends and finished eighth grade before taking the bus up Lost Nation to Willoughby Union High, where I was to spend the next four years.

The principal at McKinley was Minton Blauch, and I think he also taught shop, although I am not sure of that. Dick Stone, one of my classmates, would probably know. He’s good on details.

We had a pretty decent softball team at McKinley with some very good players, including Dick, Dan Alexander, Whitey Christensen, Don Krasovec, Hank Borsic, one of the Hollingshead brothers and others I don’t recall.

During the spring of 1942, three New York Yankees visited us at McKinley. I guess it was a goodwill tour. Our visitors were Red Rolfe, Johnny Murphy and Joe Gordon. I knew of them very well because I was a huge baseball fan.

We played a little softball on the diamond behind the school, and Joe Gordon hit one of Whitey Christensen’s fastballs farther than I had ever seen a softball hit.

I don’t know if it went over the school or not, but at least it went pretty far back on the roof. Joe later starred for the Indians in the 1948 World Series.

We played a lot of football at McKinley too — on the front lawn, which hasn’t seen a blade of grass in years. It was converted into a paved parking lot a long time ago. It’s pretty tough playing football on asphalt, even when there are no cars in the way.

We played the other schools in the district in softball (Browning, Roosevelt, Longfellow and Garfield — I don’t remember playing Lincoln) and we also played Kirtland.

We played the same schools in basketball, with mostly the same guys as softball getting most of the playing time.

Dan Alexander was our best player, and Carl Cornwall and I alternated as the “sixth man” — the first substitute off the bench and a designation made famous by John Havlicek of Ohio State and the Boston Celtics.

Carl and I weren’t quite up to Havlicek’s level. I never cared for basketball because the other guys were bigger than I, and they never passed me the ball.

But those were happy, carefree days at McKinley.

I made spending money by raking leaves for two bits an hour at the home of an insurance man, Noyes Gallup, and by carrying pop cases upstairs at Charlie Gull’s at the corner of Lake Shore and Lost Nation, where the beautiful Sally Osborne worked behind the soda fountain.

And I remember exactly where I was when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor when I was in eighth grade.

Except I wasn’t in school that day. It was a Sunday.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Award-winning teachers a study in the joy of learning

Last Sunday I promised you a proper introduction to the 2012 winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award, one at North High in Eastlake and the other at South High in Willoughby.

They are selected by their peers and each receives a plaque and $500 stipend. Let us proceed.
Mary Beth Adams is a guidance counselor at North. She wanted to be an educator “for as long as I can remember,” much of her inspiration coming from her three sons, Drew, Nick and Jake. “Raising them,” she said, “brought me great joy and satisfaction, and helped me understand the diversity and potential found in all children.”

She graduated from Lake Catholic in 1977, attended Muskingum College and then transferred to Bowling Green to major in special education, elementary education and math.

After teaching briefly in Findlay, she was hired in the Willoughby-Eastlake Distict in September 1982, where she remained for the past 30 years.

She taught learning disabilities at Taft and Shoregate, then at Royalview Elementary, meanwhile earning a master’s degree in guidance counseling.

She became a guidance counselor at Willowick Middle School, then went to North High as a guidance counselor for the majority of her years in the district.

“I have enjoyed every position and every age level,” she said. “I have met so many wonderful students, great families and worked with many outstanding educators and administrators.

“Each experience has been important in helping me become a better educator, counselor and person. I look back with overwhelming pride and satisfaction to know that I was able to be a part of so many lives.”

Mary Slak, an English teacher and last year’s Excellence winner at North, was effusive in her praise for Mary Beth.

“I was immediately struck by the brightness of her smile and cheerfulness of her disposition,” Mary said. She described Mary Beth as an extremely knowledgeable educator.

“No matter what tasks need to be accomplished in a given day, she will stop what she is doing to help whoever needs her help.”

The lengthy letter of support praised her as “tireless, hard-working, competent and always having an ability to see the positive in any situation and the good in every student.”

Equal praise was heaped upon Beth Frabotta, this year’s South High award winner.

“Dedicated, compassionate and energetic,” were words used to describe the biology and honors teacher.

A graduate of John Carroll, she coached volleyball and was assistant track coach at Gilmour Academy. She taught science at Cuyahoga Heights, then came to South High in 1996 as head volleyball coach and ninth grade science teacher, launching a 16-year tenure as a faculty member.

She coached volleyball for six years, until the arrival of her first son, Dante, in 2001. Beth and her husband Craig welcomed two more boys, Damon in 2004 and Cole in 2005. Meanwhile, she moved into her main focus, teaching general biology and honors biology.

She obtained a master’s degree in education and became active in a number of committees and programs at South. All of those committees have similar goals – to better the learning environment for students and enhance the working environment for her colleagues.

“If you ever had the pleasure,” Beth’s nominator, Jessica Mormino, said, “of working with her as a coach, teacher or on a committee/program development team you would quickly realize she puts her heart into everything she does.

“She is honest, professional and thoughtful, always seeking an end result that would impact South High positively.

“It would be hard to include all of the examples that make Beth an outstanding teacher. They would vary from helping a student with needed school supplies, starting a drive to help give students in need a Christmas to remember and helping foreign exchange students learn English in addition to science.”

I could go on, telling you much more about Mary Beth Adams and Beth Frabotta. But you get the idea. They are not only accomplished professionals in education, but are also held in high esteem by their peers.

They represent two more worthy recipients of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award that give meaning and purpose to the program, and make the committee members want to maintain it at the high level it has enjoyed since 2000.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It’s hard to figure out if Sutherland has ‘Touch’

Charles Dickens wasn’t the only one to express strong concerns within the foggy and mystical penumbra of Great Expectations. The Browns are undergoing related chills and fevers following a spate of draft choices that may propel them to a) the Super Bowl, b) well, maybe a winning record, c) respectability, d) forgiveness from the fans, e) avoidance of TV blackouts, or f) none of the above.

But wait! Enough of that! We all understand the agony and the ecstasy of dealing with expectations that may or may not come to full bloom.

To get right to the point, I was such an avowed fan of “24,” the TV saga that starred Kiefer Sutherland for eight or so years, that I awaited his latest vehicle with hopes for a continued streak of mayhem that would be both exciting and semi-understandable.

Now he is involved in a new show, “Touch,” and to say that the jury is still out, trying to reach a verdict, doesn’t begin to describe the confusion I feel while watching it.

Much of the time, I just don’t get it. Is it me? Or, as we learned to say in English 101, is it I? Or are other viewers equally as perplexed by the goings-on.

A scene is not even completed before we jump continents, from the United States to a place that resembles Iran or Iraq or some other war-torn area where it is difficult to fathom things as they happen super quickly.

Not only that, much of the dialog is in a language that only a handful of viewers would understand, so that we must read English subtitles to keep up with events.

As was the case with “24,” many of the characters speak in whispers. I don’t dare turn up the volume too high because there are others in the house who value the peace and quiet of a bucolic abode.

Loud sounds and noises are offensive to many of the people I live with.

No matter that only one of them is a human being and the others are cats and dogs. They have feelings, too.

One way I dealt with this during the “24” episodes was to record them and play the unintelligible portions over and over until they finally registered within my brain.

And no, I don’t need a hearing aid. But I must confess that listening to Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson full blast for decades has taken its toll of some of my audio sensory receptacles.

I am not going to relent on that. Good jazz is meant to be listened to at full volume. So if as a result I have to strain a bit to hear what a few characters are saying on a TV program, well, so be it.

By the way, a friend pointed out an amazing feature on the TV remote. It is a button you can push to watch old shows. This became necessary a couple weeks ago when I forgot to watch “Touch” on a Thursday.

Why in the devil do they show it on Thursday? Why can’t it be on Monday, as “24” was? But I digress.

I forget the name of the button. I think it is “On Demand.” When you push it, you get a list of networks. Someone cleverly put them in alphabetical order. So I went to Fox, went down the list to “Touch,” and there I saw a listing of every  program in the series.

I went to the one I had missed, pushed the button again, and after a brief message that said “keep your pants on” (that’s what we said as kids, meaning “hold your horses”) and presto! On came the episode I had missed.

So I got to watch it.

I’ll tell you, the marvels of electronics are something to behold. What will Al Gore think of next?

Along the same line, I have become an expert at fixing my cell phone when something goes wrong with it simply by pushing buttons that the average person doesn’t even know exist. Trust me, if your cell phone doesn’t work, you can fix it by pushing buttons.

It is almost as easy as fixing a computer by unplugging the modem, giving it a rest, and plugging it back it.

You can fix a TV the same way — by unplugging it and letting it rest.

But let us return to “Touch.” It is still my hope to be a fan — if I can figure out what is going on.

I disagree with the critic (Alasdair Wilkins) who called it at one point “the worst show on television,” partly because of its “hokey coincidences.”

It’s about numerical clairvoyance, you idiot. Of course there are going to be hokey coincidences.

You will find them in all TV shows, including Indians games and “Jeopardy.”