Lessons Unlearned: Homophobia in Sports

Broadcast 1/16/2007

No doubt by now you’ve heard – or at least heard of – comments from a certain retired professional basketball player, a five time NBA All-Star who played the better parts of six seasons with the hometown Heat.

Now, make no mistake – there’s not much room for misinterpretation of this ex-Heat player’s comments. He said he didn’t care for gay people, that he didn’t want to be around them. In responding to a follow-up question, he very clearly said, ''I hate gay people. I let it be known. I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. There shouldn't be a world for that or [a place] in the United States for it. I don't like it.''

These statements might be expected from some professional basketball players, in light of the news revealed last week that a former NBA role player, John Amaechi, is gay. Amaechi said so himself. This information flies in the face of the image of professional athletes as touch guys, macho men, hypermasculine superheroes who perform great deeds on the field or the court and get all the ladies after the game.

As with gay men in pro sports, or gay men in the military, or the attempts to ban gay marriage in different parts of the country – what’s really at issue here is plain old bigotry attacking people who are trying to find a place for themselves in the world. That is, to my ear, people who complain so vociferously about how gays and lesbians shouldn’t have a place in the public sphere – that kind of talk sounds like antisemites who used to complain about Jews, or WASPs who hated Catholics, or those racists who are worried about “the Latins” or “colored people” getting ahead in the world.

The fact is – Ted Haggard’s cure aside – that a certain percentage of people on the planet are gay. It’s biology. In fact, most people’s straightness or gayness finds a place on a scale – you might be over here, you might be over there, you might be somewhere in between. That’s just how it works. I understand, buddy -- not you: You’re 100 percent man.

But what is a man, really – other that what he declares himself to be? What is a person in the land of the free and the home of the brave, if he or she can’t declare an identity that is authentic and honest and true. It’s not for anyone but a bigot to attempt to decide that this person “belongs” and that person does not. As long as who you say you are means that you can behave with respect towards others and respect for the laws – when the laws are just and fair – then who you are is okay with me. You can be straight or gay, female or male, white or black. No harm, no foul. But, sorry, if your actions include saying bigoted things in the national media, you have it coming.

As Martin Luther King Jr suggested, “Let us be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.” Or, to put it another way, “Let us be judged by the public actions we take, and not the private love we make.”

Playlist - Early Jazz Weekend - Saturday

Song, Artist, Album

Where or When, Sonny Rollins, Old Flames
The Best Things in Life Are Free, The Three Sounds, Standards
Life, David ''Fathead'' Newman, Life
Watermelon Man, Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters
Dozen Down, Pat Martino, Think Tank
Salt Peanuts, The Very Tall Band, What's Up?
11 Over 4, Muhal Richard Abrams, One Line, Two Views
Left Sided, Theo Croker, The Fundamentals
Official Silence, Henry Threadgill, Makin' A Move
Vivjanrondirkski, Henry Threadgill, Carry the Day
Land of Nod, Andrew Hill, Black Fire
Lydiot, George Russell Sextet, Ezz-thetics
If I Were A Bell, Steve Kuhn Trio, Live at Birdland
Communication, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Jazz Sounds of Africa
Cryin' Blues, Charles Mingus, Blues and Roots
Yer Bounda Fara, Ali Farka Toure, Savane
These Hands (Small But Mighty), Bobby ''Blue'' Bland, Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (Duke)
Blues with a Feeling, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Paul Butterfield Blues Band
All Your Love, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues
Built for Comfort, Howlin' Wolf, His Best (Chess)
Eisenhower Blues, J.B. Lenoir, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues
Church is Out, Charlie Musselwhite, Delta Hardware
Bill, Peggy Scott-Adams, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues
Coin Operated Love, Coco Montoya, Dirty Deal


Django: The Life and Times of a Jazz Legend

Broadcast December 2004

Django Reinhardt was born into a Gypsy family in 1910. In the language of his family, Romany, the word django is a verb that means “to awake.” And the world that Django woke to would, in the end, be awakened by the new forms of music that would come from Django’s mastery of his instrument, the guitar, and his music, jazz. The writer Michael Dregni, who works primarily for Vintage Guitar magazine, has produced a truly informative and readable biography of this great musician. Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend, is entertaining, thoroughly researched, and filled with an expertise of both Django’s music and his instrument that leads to an examination of his work that can only be described as precise. Author Dregni has written an invaluable book.

This biography begins with a fascinating explanation of the Gypsy culture that Django was born into, a world of caravans and horses, of impromptu markets and entertainment, of stolen chickens and roasted hedgehogs. Django’s family was musical, often performing for crowds on a custom-build stage on the back of the family caravan. Django took up a traditional Gypsy instrument, the banjo, and by his early teens, he was a regular working musician, one of the best in and around Paris, where his family had settled. Django wasn’t playing jazz in those early days, but he was already one of the best at what he did – playing traditional and popular songs of all kinds in and around the dance halls of the City of Lights.

Around the age of 16, in 1926, Django began hearing—either occasionally in the Paris clubs or, eventually, on record—a new form of music from America called jazz. At first, much of what he could heard was not very good, but the freedom of improvisation appealed greatly to Django, who assimilated musical influences easily and who played largely impromptu styles of music in the first place. Sooner or later, though, Django heard a few Louis Armstrong records, and he was a convert for life.

He was about to make a big breakthrough in his career when two pivotal events occurred. First, he was caught in a fire that resulted in his left hand, the hand that frets the notes on the neck of a banjo, being badly scarred. After the fire Django had only the use of two fingers on that hand. Second, while he was recuperating in the hospital from his burns, he was brought a guitar on which to practice. Django altered his technique to suit his new left hand, and emerged from the hospital as a guitarist. It took a few more years, but by 1935, Django was a true jazz star all over Europe.

The book details Django’s musical and career path—his longtime partnership with the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli in the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France, his continuing to play jazz through World War Two in Paris, his evolution with the arrival of bebop, and his tour of the United States with Duke Ellington. Most amusing—and frustrating, I suppose—are the subplots of Django and Grappelli fighting and making up over the years, and of the French jazz critics Hugh PanassiĆ© and Charles Delaunay going to war over bebop. All in all, though, a balanced and clear path of Django’s life is presented in this book, right up to his death, of what probably was a stroke, in the early 1950s at the age of 43. He may have been, arguably, the most influential European jazz artist ever.


This Week

The national sports spotlight falls on Miami again (but briefly) as former Miami Heat player Tim Hardaway lets the world know he’s homophobic. I can’t resist. This week’s Passing Notes has the title, “Hardaway Fears Teh Ghey,” and can be heard at 7:06 pm Friday night on 88.9 FM in Miami and in streaming audio magic on SeriousJazz.org.

Early Jazz Weekend looks to be pretty much open, aside from a little Henry Threadgill on Saturday’s show – in tribute to the avant-everything composer’s birthday this past week. We’ve got the Big Six Blues set both Saturday and Sunday, and the usual mix of jazz and funk.

Next week, we’ll roll out a fresh review of the latest novel from Tim Dorsey, a twisted tale called Hurricane Punch. I have posted a review of an earlier novel of Tim's here for your consideration.


Torpedo Juice by Tim Dorsey

Broadcast December 2005

Tim Dorsey was a reporter for the Tampa Tribune for a dozen years before he started finding success as a novelist, writing a series of strange and wonderfully funny novels based on the adventures of an amped-up crusading-for-justice serial killer named Serge Storms.

I can already tell I’ve lost some of you out there. You might remember seeing in your local bookstore one or two of Dorsey’s novels, with their bright covers, eye-catching graphics, and oddly compelling titles: Cadillac Beach, Stingray Shuffle, Triggerfish Twist, Orange Crush, Hammerhead Ranch Motel, and Florida Roadkill. Throughout them all, the stories were sordid, the plots twisted, the characters delightfully eccentric, and Serge Storms tore through them all, talking a mile-a-minute and killing the bad guys with his own colorful, amusing angel-of-death panache.

Dorsey’s seventh novel, Torpedo Juice, taken from the name of a drink: one part grain alcohol, three parts Red Bull. This time around, Serge and his drugged out friend Coleman find themselves in the Florida Keys. Serge is trying to reinvent himself, find a new walk of life, maybe a wife, maybe even settle down. But drug dealers, greedy developers, a couple of sex-starved librarians, and a religious cult that takes Serge as its savior all make his of the simple life rather hard to achieve. Without giving away much of the plot, please believe that Torpedo Juice is hilarious and bizarre from cover to cover, with a nifty ending that resolves the convoluted plot like a magic trick.

In each of his books, writer Dorsey, who is extremely fond of his home state, picks some part of Florida he would like to write about, starts doing his research, and soon enough a story beings to form around Serge in his new setting. Maybe it’s the old reporter in Dorsey that makes his novels, as outrageous as they are, deeply rooted in the weirdness that is life in Florida. In this sense, although I hate to make the comparison, he has a kindred spirit in Carl Hiaasen. Dorsey also shares Hiaasen’s outrage at the greed and corruption of those who would exploit Florida for their own power and profit.

Listen to the following passage describing the environment in southern Dade County:

“Below Miami, you’re on your own. Dixie Highway slants across a hot, dusty wasteland of Max Mad predators, where the famous roadside Coral Castle is now ringed with razor wire, and copulating dogs tumble past the doors of Cash Advance Nation. Above all this, another world away, are the elevated lanes of the Florida Turnpike. [A car] raced south just before dawn until the lanes ended and twisted their way down to merge with US 1. Welcome to Florida City, a franchised boomtown decided by automatic counters and satellite imagery. Mobile, Exxon, Wendy’s, Denny’s, Baskin-Robbins and a continuous row of chain motel signs indicating the cornerstones of the white race are free breakfast and AARP rates.”

Dorsey’s work has an anger and a recklessness that goes beyond Hiaasen’s, and at times readers may find themselves in the midst of passages that seem just this side of being completely out of control. At those times, Dorsey takes the reader places that only the likes of Hunter S. Thompson can go. Dorsey may be, in fact, too strong stuff for some people. Just like the drink – one part grain alcohol, three parts Red Bull. But once you try a sip, you might find you want the whole drink. And then another round, and then another.


Straight, No Chaser - February 10 Picks

Every other Saturday - 8:00 to 9:00 am

Song, Artist, Album

“Is What It Is,” Paul Brusger, Go To Plan B
A session of sizzling mainstream hard bop with charts by New York bassist Paul Brusger featuring the heavy baritone sax of fellow New Yorker, Ronnie Cuber in combination with the softer tenor of George Allgaier forming a rich ensemble recording bolstered by the piano play of the late John Hicks in a 2002 recording that was released late last year. (Ed's pick)

“Pistol Pete,” Dave Noland, Nomad
This diverse tenor from Texas brings a rich background of playing experience to his first release as a leader, featuring Dave Demotta on piano, Frank Hauch on bass, and Colby Inzer on drums, with Noland originals alongside standards. (Mark's pick)

“Like It Never Happened,” Jerry Kalaf, Just Like Old Times
One of those not new but overlooked albums, thus qualifying as new to our audience, by Los Angeles-based drummer Kalaf who puts together a piano trio with strings playing an excellent classical jazz sound very similar to the latest recording from Grammy Award winner Alan Broadbent’s “Every Time I Think of You” recorded with the Tokyo strings. (Ed's pick)

“RSVP,” Shirantha Beddage, Roots and Branches
The baritone, tenor, and soprano saxes provide a rich palate of sound for this young player – a Canada native-- with the monster chops. A composer and bandleader who plays many instruments, Beddage and is currently the Director of Jazz Studies at Columbus State University in Georgia. Playing also on this album are Michael Stryker (piano), Ryan Kotler (bass), and Jared Schonig (drums). (Mark's pick)

“Son of Feelings,” The Brian Pastor Big Band, Common Men
A riveting big band album by trombonist Brian Pastor and his Philadelphia-based nineteen-piece big band recording their debut CD blending a combination of jazz standards and original compositions producing a powerful big band sound that swings as evident by this particular tune. (Ed's pick)

“Blue Trane,” Ron Kearns, Looking Back - Stepping Forward

A release from a few years back by one of the DC-areas best tenors and a great teacher as well. Excellent small-group playing with guest Buck Hill on a number of tracks. (Mark's pick)

“Blue Summer,” Landon Knoblock, Listening Between
The debut album from Miami’s own pianist Landon Knoblock a graduate from the University of Miami’s School of Music and experienced sideman of the local jazz scene. The album contains introspective sophisticated music half improvised with light tempos and challenging moods. (Ed's pick)

“Don't Answer That,” The Jeff Gauthier Goatette, One and the Same
A pleasing mix of progressive jazz sounds – some acoustic, some electronic – from a great violin player and his accomplished group. Shades of Pat Metheny, but more textural than melodic when compared with the great guiatarist. Interesting writing and performances from Gauthier and the Goatette – keyboardist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton, and brothers Nels Cline on guitar and Alex Cline on percussion. It is jazz-rock? Not many listeners will care. Good stuff. (Mark's pick)

“After The Dance,” Wendy Luck, See You In Rio
Vocalist Wendy Luck offers the sounds of Brazil on a fourteen track new album of beautiful light jazz with a bossa nova and samba flavor recorded in Rio with several Brazilian masters. Luck not only provides the lush vocals but also plays the flute on a session of percussive Brazilian jazz. (Ed's pick)


Early Jazz Weekend - Playlist - Sunday

Song, Artist, Album

I Got Rhythm, Charlie Parker, The Essential. . . (Verve)
Bloomdido, Charlie Parker, The Essential. . . (Verve)
Love for Sale, Charlie Parker, The Cole Porter Songbook
They Can't Take That Away From Me, Charlie Parker, With Strings: The Master Takes (Verve)
Mama Inez, Charlie Parker, South of the Border
A Night in Tunisia, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Diz & Bird at Carnegie Hall
Soft Lights and Sweet Music, John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio, Traneing In
Interplay, Coltrane/Jaspar/Sulieman/Young, Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors
Song of the Underground Railroad, John Coltrane, Complete Africa/Brass Sessions
Bessie's Blues, John Coltrane, The Classic Quintet: The Complete Impluse! Recordings
Resolution - Part 2, John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
I Wish I Knew, John Coltrane, The Classic Quintet: The Complete Impluse! Recordings
Godchild, Miles Davis Nonet, Birth of the Cool
Solar, Miles Davis All Stars, Walkin'
Springsville, Miles Davis/Gil Evans, Miles Ahead
E.S.P., Miles Davis Quintet, Best of the Quintet - 65-68
Spanish Key (First Set), Miles Davis, Live at the Fillmore East
Tutu, Russell Gunn, Plays Miles
Shhh/Peaceful, Miles Davis, In A Silent Way
Leaving Trunk, Taj Mahal, The Best of. . . (Columbia/Legacy)
Double Trouble, Otis Rush, The Essential. . . (Cobra)
Roll of the Tumbling Dice, Lonnie Brooks, Roadhouse Rules
TV Mama, Big Joe Turner, The Sky Is Crying: Elmore James
Pick Up The Pieces, Eddie Kirkland, Lonely Street
Wham!, Lonnie Mack, Memphis Wham!
Same Old Blues, Clarence ''Gatemouth'' Brown, Back to Boogaloosa
Canned Heat Blues, Tommy Johnson, Masters of the Delta Blues