Friday, April 27, 2012

This Madison's No Slob at All

After four years of preparation, planning, filming, promoting, and everything else that comes with trying to put a movie together, it's here!

The very first documentary about Illinois' World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest, "The Entertainers," debuted on Friday, 4-20-2012, at 9:30 PM at the Chazen Museum of Art, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And the audience really enjoyed it.

The next day, at 1:30 PM, the film was shown again...this time at the school's UW Cinematheque.

And it was a hit all over again!  

The two screenings were part of the thirteenth annual Wisconsin Film Festival, a five-day event where 150 movies of all kinds- feature-length films, shorts, you name it- were showcased all over the UW-Madison campus.

"The Entertainers" struck such a chord with moviegoers at the WFF that they voted the production as the best documentary at this year's fest. (Michael Zimmer's and Nick Holle's baby bested 39 other documentaries.)

Four of the movie's performers- "Perfessor" Bill Edwards, Ethan Uslan, Faye Ballard, and I- came to Wisconsin's capital city to help promote the 93-minute effort.

And man, we had a ball!  

When Faye, Bill, Nick, Ethan, Michael, and I weren't watching the film, answering audience questions about "The Entertainers," or appearing on TV, radio, and/or the Web to talk about the movie, we ate.

And ate. 


One of the places we ate at was a sushi restaurant in downtown Madison; it was the first time I'd ever dined at a Japanese eatery.

And I've got to tell you: I'm GOING to learn to love sushi.

I've read where Omaha has more restaurants per capita than any other city here in the United States, but Madison sure gives the Big O a run for its money.

What's more, M-Town gives New York City and Las Vegas a run for their money, too, when it comes to energy...especially on the weekends. (It's one more place where you can get a burrito and/or a pizza at 2:00 AM.)

And it's a great, great place for a film festival.

All I've got to say now is: "Thanks, Madison, for your excellent support of the Wisconsin Film Festival...and for 'The Entertainers!'"

If "The Entertainers" gets to play in your town, and you love old-time piano, just RUN to that venue.

You'll be glad you did! (Hope to see you there!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

America's Favorite...and Second to None

That slogan was taken from a piece of sheet music written by Charles N. Daniels, one of the most prolific composers of the 1890s-1930s period, with songs like "Margery," "You Tell Me Your Dream, I'll Tell You Mine," and "Chloe." (That last one was one of the many he composed under one of his many pen names: Neil Moret.)

And don't forget that he published an 1899 Scott Joplin piece, "Original Rags."

The above slogan's also one that Charles' grandniece, Nan Bostick, adopted.

Nan was no slouch as a composer, either, what with winners like "Ragtime in Randall," "Bean Whistle Rag," and "That Missing You Rag."

I'm one of the many missing her, too. Recently, Nan lost her battle with lung cancer.

Nan was a veteran of many ragtime festivals nationwide, including California's Sutter Creek event (held every August since that get-together's 2000 inception) and that same state's West Coast Ragtime Festival.

She even performed at the Ragtime to Riches Festival, coming to the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area in 2006 and 2007. (I remember when, at the 2006 festival, she jammed alongside another of that year's featured performers, Pat Boilesen.)

Nan Bostick really was second to none when it came to giving workshops; hers were some of the most entertaining workshops you'd ever attended.

One of her most famous workshops focused on the work her granduncle put together, starting in his Missouri/Kansas days...when Charles' "Hiawatha" touched off a brief craze for songs about Native American people.

Funny thing about it, "Hiawatha" wasn't about a Native was about a Kansas town that bears said name.

I learned from Nan that during the 1897-1917 period, roughly 350 women composed at least one ragtime tune apiece.

And Charles N. Daniels got some of them published, too.

I've tried some of those pieces myself...and had a ball working on 'em. One of those numbers is "That Poker Rag," by Charlotte Blake. Others include Irene Giblin's "Chicken Chowder" and Nellie Stokes' "Snowball."

By the favorite Nan Bostick composition is "Bean Whistle Rag." (You get to, as the sheet music says, ad lib...and have fun!)

She encouraged me to concentrate on giving workshops; Nan, somehow, liked the ones I'd given. (Well, to tell you the truth, I'd rather put giving workshops and performing together. But still...)

Nan was one of ragtime's best and most tireless researchers; it showed in every concert she gave and every workshop she conducted. I admire how she liked going to different schools nationwide to show children just what old-time piano's really like.

Nan...thank you for helping to show me (and plenty of other people) what old-time piano's really like.

Thank you for being part of my life...and allowing me to be in yours.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Since When Did a Bag of Skittles Become Dangerous?

It's been exactly five weeks now since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a Sanford, FL resident named George Zimmerman.

And, like millions of other Americans, I'm still sick about the murder of perhaps the most talked-about teenager to ever come out of Miami Gardens, FL.

All Trayvon was doing was coming back from a 7-Eleven convenience store in Sanford; he was coming back to his father's fiancee's house in a gated community in that city of 54,000 people. Trayvon was trying to check out the second half of this season's NBA All-Star Game...played 19 miles to the south in Orlando.

And all he was carrying were a cell phone and his two 7-Eleven purchases: A bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea.

But that didn't matter to George, a 28-year-old who serves as a neighborhood watch captain in the gated community in Sanford.

In fact, the hoodie Martin was wearing- to say nothing of his skin color- gave Zimmerman enough "justification" to label young Martin as suspicious.

So that gave our neighborhood watch captain the impetus to call 911.

And it didn't matter that the dispatcher who took the call told Zimmerman NOT to chase Martin.

He chased him anyway.

After five weeks, no arrest has been made.

In fact, it might be that the police officer who checked out the scene- and bought the idea that Zimmerman's life was threatened by Martin, hence the murder- might have publicly (or privately) congratulated Zimmerman.

This is what happens when a state signs into law "Stand Your Ground" legislation.

The killing that took place on 2-26-2012 was THE outgrowth of a law now in 13 states here in the US.

The Sanford Police Department simply didn't do its job. And if Sanford's government leaders had shown any guts, they would've asked for Bill Lee's permanent resignation as the city's police chief.

There's so much- way too much- we don't know about the shooting of a young man who loved sports and, yes, WAS trying to get his life back on the right track. (That's why he went to Sanford.)

And I'm still wondering how spokespersons with the National Rifle Association (the group that's been on bended knees begging for these "Stand Your Ground" laws) really feel about this Central Florida murder.

How many hate-radio hosts (okay, talk-radio hosts) have been praising George Zimmerman for what he did? (Remember, last year, Neal Boortz got on his show and asked his listeners to pack heat and get those so-called "urban thugs." Does carrying a bag of Skittles make you an "urban thug?" Does wearing a hoodie?)

Bill O'Reilly, on his Fox Gossip (oops, I mean Fox News) Channel show, defended this vigilante. I can imagine how O'Reilly's network colleagues, such as race-baiter deluxe Eric Bolling (from The Five), feel about this incident in Sanford.

John Bush's silence is deafening. [After all, in 2005, when he was the Sunshine State's governor, he signed this into law. (And no, I can't bring myself to call him Jeb!)]

One thing I'm GOING to bring myself to do is this: I'm going to stand with Trayvon's parents- Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton- and millions of others to say: "Let's have some justice and get George Zimmerman in handcuffs! What are you waiting on?"