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.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Many anxious for good news in 2014

Join with me now as we allow our minds to drift back one year.

It was almost the end of 2012, and the old year was being portrayed as an old guy with a long beard and a scythe. He was roundly hated because he had brought nothing good — at least, nothing worthwhile that anyone was aware of.

I am speaking now in very general terms, because I am able to find something of value — and something beautiful — every year since the day I was born, and that includes the years of the Great Depression, when everyone was moping around because things were so bad.

We were poor, but I never knew it because I went to school every day in clean clothes and with a full lunch pail and the entire bus smelled like grapes because every kid’s mother packed grapes in his lunch.

Why not? They were growing everywhere in Chesterland in those days.

But let’s get back to 2012. Question: Do we have to? Answer: Yes, because that is the subject I am addressing today.

As 2012 departed, the new year, 2013, was being depicted as a baby in diapers, possibly wearing a top hat. He was smiling. He was promising a great new year.

Those cartoon depictions are drawn by people who are called editorial cartoonists. They are mostly men. I have never heard of a female editorial cartoonist, but there probably is one somewhere, probably in Oregon or California.

That 2013 baby in diapers has become the old man with the scythe who is now departing in favor of the new baby dressed as 2014.

Does anyone think he is going to be better than 2013? I do — for one reason. To think that 2014 will be anything other than great would be to act in a grumpy fashion, and as I promised the lady of the house, I am not going to be grumpy any more.

I made that promise a week ago and I am good at keeping promises.

No matter what you and I think, however, I know a lot of people who can’t wait for 2013 to end, because the old year was one of heartache and despair.

I will provide you with an example: two dear friends, two of the nicest people I have ever known, who went through a miserable year and fervently hope that 2014 will not be anything like the year we are kissing goodbye in a couple of days.

You may know them. They are Wimp and Mary Ann Moyer, and they were very prominent in this area before retiring to Estero, Fla., a few years ago.

They were honored by the Chambers of Commerce in both Mentor and Painesville as distinguished citizens.

They paid their dues here, so to speak. Life in the Sunny South was going to be fun in the sun, golf almost every day and a daily dip in the pool that is enclosed in their house

They had a cute sign in the pool area. It advised visitors to “Enjoy our ool.”

In small letters it said: “You will notice there is no “p” in  it. Let’s keep it that way.”
But I digress.

In the fateful year, they took a holiday cruise that, in their words, “turned out to be a nightmare.”
In Aruba, Wimp fell and broke the femur with his hip replacement.

The vacation stop took place in a hospital. No health care insurance. No familiar surroundings. “Alone,” Mary Ann said, “and wondering how we were going to get home. It was a challenge.”

They made it back on a medical jet, and after three weeks in the hospital followed by two months in Life Care, they were finally home.

But the happiness didn’t last. After a few weeks, Wimp had a congestion that would not clear up. To make a long story short, an X-ray and a CAT scan revealed non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

He is undergoing treatments and they are looking forward with a positive attitude.

“We celebrated Christmas 2012, New Year’s 2013, Wimp’s 80th birthday and our 32nd anniversary in hospitals and Life Care,” Mary Ann said.

She added: “We are ready for a different and better 2014.”

So if you think you’ve got problems, think of the way 2013 treated Wimp and Mary Ann.

Thus as we look forward to the beginning of a new year, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas last week and that your New Year will be happy one.

Better days lie ahead — for the Moyers, for your family, for my family, and for all of our friends and loved ones.

I will say it once more — with feeling.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'Tis the season to forget about Browns' losses

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

So fa la la la la ... and let’s get on with being jolly.

Christmas is almost upon us. It is the season of warm thoughts and good cheer.

And I am 100 percent for being of good cheer. I am tired of pervading negativism, especially where I am concerned. And I’ll tell you how concerned I am.

The other morning the lady of the house interrupted breakfast to go out and feed the birds, because if there is anything she can’t stand it is animals of any description that are hungry.

By the time she was back inside, hundreds of birds had shown up, were eating heartily, and one lone squirrel was gobbling up as much of the bird feed as he could handle.

“I wish a really mean blue jay would show up and peck that squirrel in the back of the neck and make him go away,” I said.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“Because I am paying to feed birds and I am not paying to feed squirrels,” I replied.

“Squirrels have to eat too,” she retorted. “And my, aren’t you a little grumpy today?”

Whenever she calls me grumpy, I stop and reassess my attitude, because she is always right, and I do not want to acquire a reputation for being grumpy.

I know of only two people named Grumpy. One is a dwarf, one of seven, and the other is Grumpy Thompson of  Masonic Lodge #302 in Willoughby.

They are both honorable people, but it is not my desire to be known by that same appellation, so as I departed for the door, I let it be known that I had sworn off, silently yet sincerely, not to be grumpy again unless it was absolutely necessary.

When I arrived at the college, I was more pleasant than usual and not in the least bit grumpy. I asked the ladies several questions, such as how can I access my email when the college is closed for the holidays, and my tone of voice was sweet and congenial.

That noon, I was sitting in a circle of friends and everybody was grumpy about the Browns losing the day before to the Bears.

Ryan LaGanke came walking by and he was also grumpy about the Browns losing.

“It was only a game,” I proclaimed. “There is always a winner and a loser. Don’t be grumpy about losing. Just be happy for the winners.

“There are 31 teams that don’t win the Super Bowl,” I went on. “There is only one winner. Just be happy for the winner, don’t be grumpy for the losers.”

Later on I read the sports pages of both papers. When I say both, I am referring to the two papers that are in circulation locally, excluding the Wall Street Journal, which is available everywhere, and doesn’t even have sports pages.

Maybe they are smarter than we are. They get grumpy about the economy and we get grumpy about football games. But I digress.

All of the sports writers and columnists in this area were overwhelmingly grumpy because the Browns lost.
And I thought, “Good grief! Get a life. It wasn’t like a death in the family. It was only a football game.”

People started nodding in agreement. Maybe they agreed with me. Or maybe they thought I was crazy.

Crazy maybe. But not grumpy.

“It was an entertaining game,” I went on. “You don’t have to win for a game to be interesting. Look at it my way. Josh Gordon scored another touchdown on a fairly long pass.

“The Browns were in the game with a possibility of winning right up to the end ... until they lost.”

As I left the meeting I thought about the game and the magnitude of despair the Browns cause by losing.
And I thought, in a deep funk like that is nowhere for one to be dwelling. The agony of defeat should last until you draw your next deep breath. Then go on with your life.

Leave the worrying to the people who get paid to worry — the players, the coaches,  the owners, the people who leave the parking lot looking like the city dump after tailgating before a game — they are the professional worriers about winning and losing.

Not the season ticket holders. They are used to losing. Those people know better that to worry about not winning. They know the Browns will not win. They go to watch a game being played by rather large men who are handsomely paid for their efforts – win or lose. If they win – wonderful! If they lose – so what?
Think of how much the other team enjoyed winning.

And so, without a smidgen of grumpiness in my soul, and although it’s been said many times, many ways...
Merry Christmas – to you, to you, and especially to YOU.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keeping in tune with the tops in instrumental music

I warned you (threatened you?) a week ago I might do something like this.

That is, reprint a letter from Don Miller of Eastlake, because his views on music are congruent with mine.

Bill Crosier read that comment, and asked me Monday at Rotary if Don had ever worked at the Willoughby Police Department as a dispatcher. I said not that I knew of. I said he’s probably three or four years older than you. Bill said no, that’s not the guy. But I digress.

I implied that repeating the words of someone else is a lazy way of writing a column, but let me tell you, that is not the case at all. It is a lot of work to do all that typing, because Don’s letter was hand-printed, and it requires a lot of effort to enter it into a computer.

Be that as it may, here is what Don had to say on “The Subject of ‘50s Instrumentals.”

“The Twentieth Century was a great period for American music. Every generation has had its own music. We have our favorite songs that evoke memories of the past and bring just a little more happiness to the present. At least, it used to be that way.

“The 1940s and the ’50s are my favorite musical period. The Big Band sound was in full swing in the ‘40s. And then things changed. Frank Sinatra proved a singer could go it alone when he split from Tommy Dorsey and crooned his way to stardom.

“With the advent of the fifties, less emphasis was put on the Big Band sound. The singer became the focal point of musical entertainment. And a new kind of music was coming — Rock ’n Roll.

“The advent of the sixties saw the single singer like Elvis Presley, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson and Brenda Lee.

“This kind of singer dominated the charts, and then evolved as the decade progressed and the groups gradually took over.

“Yet — there was a musical genre in the ’50s that we tend to overlook but was quite extraordinary — instrumental music.

“Great songs! Great listening! Here is a trip back in ’50s musical memory — ‘50s instrumentals.
“So let’s go back once more in time and enjoy the ’50s.”

His letter was signed “Musically, Don Miller,” and he enclosed a CD of a couple dozen songs that he apparently put together himself.

However he did it, the result was wonderful.

I thought you might enjoy Don’s comments, so here are a few more he has sent me over the years. (As I have told you before, I have a tendency to accumulate things, including notes.) All of them were accompanied by CDs. For example:

“I could not resist sending you this CD. It was recorded in London — 1959. And Basie’s phenomenal instrument of a band swung even more than its great predecessors.

“But what I really noticed is that it has more Basie piano than I have heard on previous recordings, and it illustrates how music can come with so few notes. Enjoy!

“Also, for the lady of the house I cooked up a special Valentine present from you. ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are,’ five times (or more.)”

Thanks so much, Don. Much appreciated. She appreciated it also. By the way, his reference is to William (Count) Basie of Red Bank, N.J.

Want more? Here’s another letter Don wrote nearly three years ago:

“Here’s one I think you will enjoy. Oscar’s not only a great player, but a fantastic accompanist. Musical regards.”

The CD contained 11 songs recorded by Anita O’Day with the Oscar Peterson Trio. Incredible! In my view, Oscar Peterson was the greatest pianist who ever lived, and Anita was the second greatest female vocalist of all time. No. 1 was Sarah Vaughan.

I have room for one more note from Don:

“I just returned from Florida. Last Saturday night I attended a concert of the Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches. The concert featured Dr. Bill Prince.

“Bill is a musician extraordinaire. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but here again is a CD that is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

“Dr. Prince plays every instrument on the CD. The phrase ‘jack-of-all-trades and master of none’ — well, Bill Prince is the ace-king of musical instruments and master of them all.

“I think you will enjoy this one-man show.”

I sure did. I hope you enjoyed Don’s commentaries.

And taking this route to writing a column saved me no time at all. It took me as long to type this column as it takes me any other Monday afternoon, when I’m trying to get home so I can watch Sam Rutigliano’s comments on Sunday’s Browns game that I recorded Sunday night, because he comes on after my bedtime.

Friday, December 6, 2013

New musical treasure hits in just the right era

Buddy Rich, the greatest jazz drummer who ever lived, was asked by a nurse in a doctor’s office if there was anything he was allergic to.

“Yes,” he replied. “Country music.”

I thought it was hilarious. Many of the things he said were outrageously funny. But although I may have agreed with him at the time, the years have endowed me with the mellowness and the wisdom to soften my feelings on the subject.

1. Country music isn’t so bad after all. Some of it, in fact, is very good. (I have been to Grand Old Opry about five times and loved it.)

2. I have relatives who make handsome livings purveying country music. A nephew does very well touring the nation with country groups. He lives a good life. His music is excellent. His children are beautiful. His wife is stunning.

3. There is probably something good to be said for music in all of its shapes and forms, because music in almost every manifestation is good. I said “almost” because, to be sure, there is some music that is an abomination and an insult to the ears of an intelligent person. But by and large, music makes our lives better.

You have your preferences, I have mine. Mine is jazz in almost every way that it is played, but most especially swing, be-bop, big bands, small combos, and like that.

So at a time of year when we have been expressing thanks for the blessings that enhance our lives, I paused for a few moments the other day to day-dream, and to think of the people who not only enjoy jazz, but who are kind enough to think of me when they are in the mood to make copies of music they have found especially captivating.

And I, of course, return the favor. The result is a lot of people being able to enjoy sounds that they would otherwise not necessarily have come across.

Or, at least, being able to increase the size of their music libraries through swapping, trading and sharing.

One of my best trading partners was the late Bill Bradlee of Eastlake, a former jazz drummer from Chicago, who had the mechanical aptitude and ability to transcribe some of the classics I came across at the post radio station at Fort Hood, Texas. I believe they were called V-discs. I thus managed to obtain copies of a lot of Stan Kenton, Glenn Miller and Lionel Hampton music that was never released for general consumption.

Jack Volanski of Painesville has prepared for me some excellent jazz discs that he painstakingly put together through dint of great effort and research.

Duncan Soutar of Florida has sent me a lot of wonderful music that reflects his own taste — that is, sounds from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. I don’t think Duncan ever surfaced in the be-bop era, but no matter. The stuff he has been sending along is outstanding and not easily obtainable.

That brings us to the present time, when my two main “suppliers” are Devere “Dee” Logan of Mentor and Donald Miller of Eastlake.

Dee and I spend an occasional lunch hour at Bravo in Mentor, trading discs and raving about the virtues of our most recent acquisitions.

We are both huge fans of Sammy Nestico, an arranger without parallel who conducted a memorable session with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.

Any label that says “Sammy Nestico” on it is bound to be good.

If I were to choose just one recording to be stranded with on a desert island, it would be Sammy’s “A Warm Breeze.”

I can’t get enough of it! And that is saying quite a bit, when you consider that “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, “Well, Git It” by Tommy Dorsey and anything by the Four Freshmen are prime desert island listening material for those who become stranded — fortunately or unfortunately.

Unfortunately because that is no place to spend the rest of your days, and fortunately because, just think of the great music you would be enjoying.

Dee, the lucky so-and-so, and his wife go on a jazz cruise every year. Whenever I bring up the subject at our domicile, the lady of the house asks, “Who would watch the puppies?”

Good question. There is no good answer.

Don Miller, who has impeccable taste in music, surprises me every so often, like a bolt out of the blue, with a CD that absorbs the interior of my car until I have heard it multiple times.

The most recent one, a tribute to the music of the 1940s and ’50s, was accompanied by a very long, hand-printed letter extolling the virtues of the music of that era, which is part and parcel of my own lexicon.

If I were a lazy bum, I would turn this entire column over some Sunday to Don’s entire letter and just take a week off, so to speak.

Come to think of it, I may just do that – and sooner than you may think.