The Musicians’ Voice

Volume 117, No. 7July, 2017

E-mail letters to Mikael Elsila or write to Allegro, Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036. Letters must be no more than 300 words. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Local 802.

When musicians are forced to justify the value of their art

I enjoyed David Byrne’s fine article in the May issue of Allegro. I like the Talking Heads and Byrnes’ book “How Music Works.” However, it’s always seemed somewhat unfortunate to me that we have to justify music and the arts with economic (in this case) and “Mozart effect”-type arguments. It makes sense when bean-counters or those with hostile agendas are holding the cards. (For the few for whom it’s unfamiliar, the “Mozart effect” involved studies that showed that listening to Mozart’s music positively influenced certain aspects of reasoning and intelligence.)

How many times have we heard of situations when local school boards, faced with tight budgets and considering cutting music and arts programs, have had involved parents pleading that “Studies show that kids who play an instrument are 13.7 percent likely to do better on the math portion of the SAT’s!” and the like.

This is all great and important, but really, at the root of it all, we deal with the ineffable: we join together to try to create things of beauty and to move people emotionally. This can be hard to remember when you’re on a club date playing “Girl from Ipanema” for the thousandth time, or playing your Broadway show yet again. But of course, these are things of the soul – how does one translate for or explain this to the rest of humanity?

As professional musicians, we inhabit a strange land somewhere between being workers and artists and can certainly become blasé about all this. And we’ll continue to have to make economic and Mozartian arguments to justify what we do. But “arts and culture,” while a catchphrase, necessarily involves the mysterious. Goosebumps when listening to Eric Dolphy or “Pictures at an Exhibition”? I wish I could explain that to my non-musician friends.

–John Arbo

Bennett Morgan

A tribute to Bennett Morgan

My husband, Bennett Morgan, who many Local 802 members will fondly remember, died on May 31 at the age of 85. Ben was a well-known jazz agent who booked concert halls, clubs and jazz festivals around the world. He played the accordion and piano in his youth and loved skipping school with his buddies to hear live big band music. He founded the Bennett Morgan Agency and worked for himself for many years before he became a principal in the Sutton Artists Agency in 1971. Almost two decades later, he formed Bennett Morgan & Associates. During his career, Ben booked Dave Brubeck, Errol Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann, Charlie Byrd, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Williams, Tito Puente, Billy Eckstine, Les McCann, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Monty Alexander, Ramsey Lewis, Bucky Pizzerelli, George Shearing, Nancy Wilson, Dukes of Dixieland, Count Basie, Eartha Kitt, John Pizzarelli, Tierney Sutton, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Rosemary Clooney and others. Ben was loved by so many in the music industry. His love of life and fun was infectious. His whole-hearted laughter, the twinkle in his eye and the song in his heart will long be remembered by those who knew him.

In addition to myself, Ben is survived by his children Rob Morganstein, Guy Morganstein, Eve Morganstein and Ted Morganstein. He shared a special bond with his other children, Bunney Schmidt (and her husband Brad), Brandon Lucas, and Brigitte Shaw (and her husband Tim). He will be sadly missed by his 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Donations may be made in Ben’s name to the Hudson Valley Youth Jazz Orchestra via a check to Shaut Music LLC, 5 Saw Mill Road, Lake Katrine, NY 12449, or to a charity of your choice.

–Becky Morgan

Anselmo Vidal

Remembering Anselmo Vidal

Percussionist Anselmo Vidal Jr., a member of Local 802 for almost 30 years, died on April 20 in Boca Raton at the age of 82. Anselmo was the iconic organizer and leader of Orquesta Nostalgia, and his death saddened his family, friends, and his legion of fans. Renowned throughout the world of Latin music as the master of the timbales, Anselmo led a truly marvelous group of musicians who were equally divided between brass and percussion in an authentic revival of 1950s mambos and Latin jazz. For a dozen years, from Ft. Lauderdale to West Palm Beach, his Orquesta Nostalgia played theatres, dances and outdoor festivals to the enthusiastic delight of Latin music-loving audiences. Anselmo was universally loved and enjoyed for his easy-going manner, his wicked sense of humor and his joyous, upbeat personality. But above all else, he was admired for his dedication to keeping very much alive the music he loved. This was the music of Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Pérez Prado, Machito and the entire 1950s era of exciting Latin rhythms. Anselmo is survived by his wife Miriam, daughter Melinda, son Joseph and grandchildren Glenn, Aldin, Thomas, Kelly, Joshua, Zoe and Quentin.

–Mort Kuff

Memories of William Brohn

Elsewhere in this issue of Allegro, there is an obituary for composer William Brohn. I would like to add my reminiscences here. In the early 1960s, Bill was the associate conductor with the American Ballet Theatre and I was the business manager. At one point, Lucia Chase, the artistic director and benefactor of ABT, objected to Bill’s stylishly extreme hair and its unmanly length, refusing to continue his employment until it was shorn. I sat in on the discussions as a compromise prevailed and Bill stayed on.

Bill continued conducting for ballet companies and was an essential participant especially in the tours of the Royal Ballet of England here in the USA and Canada. Hired by my partner, Maxim Gershunoff, then vice president and orchestra contractor at Hurok Concerts, Inc., Bill would travel ahead of the company and prepare necessary local musicians in each tour, city by city, rehearsing them in the repertoire with the correct tempos to be performed to accommodate individual and alternating dancing soloists. There would be no time for the tour orchestra to work with those extra local musicians needed to complete the full sound the ballets required. In that era, such tours would run for two or three months and not just in a few cities as happens these days. Bill’s efficiency saved a great deal of money. When not acting as advance rehearsal conductor, Bill was a full-fledged member in the bass section of the touring orchestra for the Royal Ballet during the latter 1960s, a role which he thoroughly enjoyed.

–Leon Van Dyke

Trump and the climate treaty

On June 1, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be leaving the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. This is another shameful low point for our nation under this president. There is no debate in serious scientific circles that climate change is being driven by CO2 emissions. This is a global challenge that requires a global response. Our country is the second highest emitter of CO2. The U.S., along with Sudan, was one of only two countries that didn’t sign the previous international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol (192 countries are signatories). Trump’s “reasoning” behind this is similar to his desire to defund the NEA, the EPA, and many other government organizations: any type of regulations are bad and that if we just make things easier for big business, everything is going to be O.K. This is nothing more than a gigantic and blatant money grab and we need to resist in every way possible.

I am thankful that many of this country’s governors, mayors, college presidents, investment groups, and others have reacted to this by forming the U.S. Climate Alliance, which vows to honor the emission limits put forth by the Paris Accord. I believe it sends a strong message to the international community that we the American people do not share the illogical and greedy views of Donald Trump. Our federal government is giddily undoing decades of progressive protections. Hopefully, Congress will soon decide to impeach this president, whose actions show him to be unfit to lead our nation. With or without impeachment, we have the power (and the responsibility) to act on the state and local levels. Let’s keep pushing our local leaders to do the right thing on climate change policy for our planet and our future.

–Marc Schmied