Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 3, 2008

Bookshelf

• Milt Hinton, who died eight years ago at the age of 90, was the most versatile jazz bassist who ever lived. He played with—just for starters—Louis Armstrong, Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Bing Crosby, Paul Desmond, Aretha Franklin, Erroll Garner, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Jackie and Roy, Michel Legrand, Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, John Pizzarelli, Pee Wee Russell, Barbra Streisand, Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Dinah Washington, Ethel Waters and Teddy Wilson. (It might be easier to list the famous musicians with whom he didn’t play.) He was also a serious amateur photographer who started bringing a camera to his gigs in 1935, and in 1988 he published a folio of his pictures called Bass Lines whose accompanying text amounted to a concise autobiography. The resulting volume was one of the finest illustrated books about jazz ever published, for Hinton, in addition to being a vivid writer, had a sharp eye and a knack for capturing his colleagues in unpremeditated poses.

Now Bass Lines has been reissued in an expanded edition called Playing the Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs (Vanderbilt University Press, 364 pp., $75) that fills in the blanks in Hinton’s story and brings the narrative down to 1999, just prior to his death. If you love jazz but don’t own Bass Line, it’s an absolute must, and you’ll probably want to buy it even if you already have a copy of the earlier volume, since the new material in this edition is similarly interesting.

Though Hinton’s photographs are always striking, the real significance of Playing the Changes lies in its text. Time and again he tells us stories about the great jazz musicians he knew that illuminate their lives with the immediacy of a candid snapshot. A good example is this priceless glimpse of Louis Armstrong’s offstage life on the road:

Wherever he traveled, he took three tape recorders which were hooked together and stacked up on shelves in a special trunk he’d had made. One of his two valets would load all three machines and, as soon as Pops got into bed, the first one would be turned on. The music was always the same—his own or Guy Lombardo’s—and usually within a couple of minutes, he was snoring. The valets would take turns staying up and watching the machines. When a tape finished, they’d quickly switch on the next recorder, then reload the empty. They knew that if the music stopped, even if only for a few seconds, Louis would wake up.

This anecdote is accompanied by a photograph of Armstrong standing next to his triple-barreled music machine, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid shirt and smiling proudly. It is one of hundreds of pictures so revealing that I can’t even begin to list my favorites, though I do have a special liking for one which was taken at the birthday party that Richard Nixon threw for Duke Ellington at the White House in 1969. It shows Duke Ellington and Willie “The Lion” Smith seated together at a grand piano, playing a duet for a cluster of dazzled onlookers and looking very pleased with themselves. I also like the 1940 photo of two weary musicians from Cab Calloway’s band standing under a sign in front of a North Carolina lunch counter that says HAMBURGERS HOT DOGS LUNCHES FOR COLORED ONLY. Such fragments of life as it is lived are the stuff of which history is made, and Milt Hinton preserved more of them for us to ponder than any other jazz musician of his generation. Thanks to Playing the Changes, he will be remembered for that achievement at least as well as for his ever-tasteful, immaculately swinging bass playing.

• Milt Hinton, who died eight years ago at the age of 90, was the most versatile jazz bassist who ever lived. He played with—just for starters—Louis Armstrong, Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Bing Crosby, Paul Desmond, Aretha Franklin, Erroll Garner, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Jackie and Roy, Michel Legrand, Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, John Pizzarelli, Pee Wee Russell, Barbra Streisand, Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Dinah Washington, Ethel Waters and Teddy Wilson. (It might be easier to list the famous musicians with whom he didn’t play.) He was also a serious amateur photographer who started bringing a camera to his gigs in 1935, and in 1988 he published a folio of his pictures called Bass Lines whose accompanying text amounted to a concise autobiography. The resulting volume was one of the finest illustrated books about jazz ever published, for Hinton, in addition to being a vivid writer, had a sharp eye and a knack for capturing his colleagues in unpremeditated poses.

Now Bass Lines has been reissued in an expanded edition called Playing the Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs (Vanderbilt University Press, 364 pp., $75) that fills in the blanks in Hinton’s story and brings the narrative down to 1999, just prior to his death. If you love jazz but don’t own Bass Line, it’s an absolute must, and you’ll probably want to buy it even if you already have a copy of the earlier volume, since the new material in this edition is similarly interesting.

Though Hinton’s photographs are always striking, the real significance of Playing the Changes lies in its text. Time and again he tells us stories about the great jazz musicians he knew that illuminate their lives with the immediacy of a candid snapshot. A good example is this priceless glimpse of Louis Armstrong’s offstage life on the road:

Wherever he traveled, he took three tape recorders which were hooked together and stacked up on shelves in a special trunk he’d had made. One of his two valets would load all three machines and, as soon as Pops got into bed, the first one would be turned on. The music was always the same—his own or Guy Lombardo’s—and usually within a couple of minutes, he was snoring. The valets would take turns staying up and watching the machines. When a tape finished, they’d quickly switch on the next recorder, then reload the empty. They knew that if the music stopped, even if only for a few seconds, Louis would wake up.

This anecdote is accompanied by a photograph of Armstrong standing next to his triple-barreled music machine, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid shirt and smiling proudly. It is one of hundreds of pictures so revealing that I can’t even begin to list my favorites, though I do have a special liking for one which was taken at the birthday party that Richard Nixon threw for Duke Ellington at the White House in 1969. It shows Duke Ellington and Willie “The Lion” Smith seated together at a grand piano, playing a duet for a cluster of dazzled onlookers and looking very pleased with themselves. I also like the 1940 photo of two weary musicians from Cab Calloway’s band standing under a sign in front of a North Carolina lunch counter that says HAMBURGERS HOT DOGS LUNCHES FOR COLORED ONLY. Such fragments of life as it is lived are the stuff of which history is made, and Milt Hinton preserved more of them for us to ponder than any other jazz musician of his generation. Thanks to Playing the Changes, he will be remembered for that achievement at least as well as for his ever-tasteful, immaculately swinging bass playing.

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NATO on the Edge

The increasingly worrisome situation in Afghanistan is of concern not only for what it portends about the future of that country but also the future of NATO which is in charge of pacifying that country. This is NATO’s first “out of area” mission, and by all accounts it is not going all that well. Tensions are rising among members of the alliance, as seen in the furor in Germany last week after Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked Germany to send its troops where the action is—down south. If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the alliance will not survive, at least not as a credible military force.

A useful new report (“Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership”) addresses this issue. It arrives under the imprimatur of five distinguished retired generals: Klaus Naumann, former chief of the German defense staff and former chairman of the NATO military committee; John Shalikashvili, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lord Inge, former chief of the British defense staff; Jacque Lanxade, former chief of the French defense staff; and Henk van den Breemen, former chief of the Dutch defense staff. They write that NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Afghanistan have revealed “structural problems” that still have not been addressed, namely “the absence of a properly defined political objective, the absence of an integrated and allied strategy to achieve that objective, and the absence of capabilities to implement the strategy.”

“In addition,” they write, “nations have commonly imposed too many national caveats on use of their forces. There exists an unwillingness on the part of nations to transfer authority to the operational commander once in the theatre of operations. Finally, there is a tendency for nations not to resource operations effectively– in terms of both personnel and materiel – which serves to undermine the one factor that preoccupies the military circles of NATO nations today: sustainability.”

Coming from such NATO stalwarts, those are strong words indeed. To address these shortcomings, the retired brass propose some common-sense reforms. For starters, “NATO should abandon the consensus principle at all levels below the NATO Council, and introduce at the committee and working-group levels a majority voting rule. This would enable NATO to take quick decisions in crises, when minutes matter.” A second change they call for is that “only those nations that contribute to a mission – that is, military forces in a military operation – should have the right to a say in the process of the operations.” A third needed change is “the abolition of the system of national caveats, as far as this is possible.”

That last clause—“as far as this is possible”—hints at the political difficulties of doing what these worthies recommend. There continues to be dogged resistance among most NATO states to actually sending their troops into harm’s way, yet even those states that are not contributing much to the success of a mission want as much say in how it is conducted as those members that are risking their soldiers’ lives. Clearly this is an untenable state of affairs. The question is whether NATO will adopt the reforms suggested in this report or whether it will give up efforts to make itself relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

The increasingly worrisome situation in Afghanistan is of concern not only for what it portends about the future of that country but also the future of NATO which is in charge of pacifying that country. This is NATO’s first “out of area” mission, and by all accounts it is not going all that well. Tensions are rising among members of the alliance, as seen in the furor in Germany last week after Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked Germany to send its troops where the action is—down south. If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the alliance will not survive, at least not as a credible military force.

A useful new report (“Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership”) addresses this issue. It arrives under the imprimatur of five distinguished retired generals: Klaus Naumann, former chief of the German defense staff and former chairman of the NATO military committee; John Shalikashvili, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lord Inge, former chief of the British defense staff; Jacque Lanxade, former chief of the French defense staff; and Henk van den Breemen, former chief of the Dutch defense staff. They write that NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Afghanistan have revealed “structural problems” that still have not been addressed, namely “the absence of a properly defined political objective, the absence of an integrated and allied strategy to achieve that objective, and the absence of capabilities to implement the strategy.”

“In addition,” they write, “nations have commonly imposed too many national caveats on use of their forces. There exists an unwillingness on the part of nations to transfer authority to the operational commander once in the theatre of operations. Finally, there is a tendency for nations not to resource operations effectively– in terms of both personnel and materiel – which serves to undermine the one factor that preoccupies the military circles of NATO nations today: sustainability.”

Coming from such NATO stalwarts, those are strong words indeed. To address these shortcomings, the retired brass propose some common-sense reforms. For starters, “NATO should abandon the consensus principle at all levels below the NATO Council, and introduce at the committee and working-group levels a majority voting rule. This would enable NATO to take quick decisions in crises, when minutes matter.” A second change they call for is that “only those nations that contribute to a mission – that is, military forces in a military operation – should have the right to a say in the process of the operations.” A third needed change is “the abolition of the system of national caveats, as far as this is possible.”

That last clause—“as far as this is possible”—hints at the political difficulties of doing what these worthies recommend. There continues to be dogged resistance among most NATO states to actually sending their troops into harm’s way, yet even those states that are not contributing much to the success of a mission want as much say in how it is conducted as those members that are risking their soldiers’ lives. Clearly this is an untenable state of affairs. The question is whether NATO will adopt the reforms suggested in this report or whether it will give up efforts to make itself relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

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Unlearning History

In today’s New York Times, Ian Kershaw seems to suggest all this “never again” talk is bit alarmist. After comparing Adolf Hitler’s rise to power with some of today’s totalitarian threats, he concludes: “Mercifully, what happened in Germany in 1933, and it’s aftermath, will remain a uniquely terrible episode in history.”

After describing the Milosevic, Mugabe, Putin, Chavez, Musharraf, and Ahmadinejad regimes, Kershaw offers his reasons for optimism:

. . .neither in their acquisition of power nor in their use of it do modern authoritarian rulers much resemble Hitler. International organizations and institutions that did not exist in interwar Europe — the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — also provide some barriers to the sort of calamity that engulfed Germany.

Milosevic didn’t resemble Hitler in his use of power? And nothing comes back to Kershaw when he hears Ahmadinejad’s daily promise to erase Israel from history? Moreover, Saddam Hussein is conspicuously absent from Kershaw’s reckoning. Could it be that he would have had an impossible time downplaying the comparisons between Saddam’s penchant for mass-gassings and country annexations with those of Hitler? As for the organizations he mentions, they are all, to greater or lesser extents, enablers of today’s totalitarians. If there’s any reason to think that modern fascists will continue to be marginalized and defeated it’s because the U.S. has made a habit providing that very service for the civilized world.

Ultimately, though, Kershaw is playing a game with the reader: it’s no longer merely states that pose a deadly fascist threat, but trans-national organizations (such Al Qaeda and Hizzbollah) working in concert with sympathetic countries.

Kershaw’s piece is intended as a big slap in the face to unilateralism and the doctrine of democracy promotion. Because Hitler’s rise occurred during German democracy in place between world wars, it demonstrates “the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war. . .”

But, Sir Ian, wasn’t your point that today’s fascist threats are so unlike the one posed by Nazi Germany?

In today’s New York Times, Ian Kershaw seems to suggest all this “never again” talk is bit alarmist. After comparing Adolf Hitler’s rise to power with some of today’s totalitarian threats, he concludes: “Mercifully, what happened in Germany in 1933, and it’s aftermath, will remain a uniquely terrible episode in history.”

After describing the Milosevic, Mugabe, Putin, Chavez, Musharraf, and Ahmadinejad regimes, Kershaw offers his reasons for optimism:

. . .neither in their acquisition of power nor in their use of it do modern authoritarian rulers much resemble Hitler. International organizations and institutions that did not exist in interwar Europe — the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — also provide some barriers to the sort of calamity that engulfed Germany.

Milosevic didn’t resemble Hitler in his use of power? And nothing comes back to Kershaw when he hears Ahmadinejad’s daily promise to erase Israel from history? Moreover, Saddam Hussein is conspicuously absent from Kershaw’s reckoning. Could it be that he would have had an impossible time downplaying the comparisons between Saddam’s penchant for mass-gassings and country annexations with those of Hitler? As for the organizations he mentions, they are all, to greater or lesser extents, enablers of today’s totalitarians. If there’s any reason to think that modern fascists will continue to be marginalized and defeated it’s because the U.S. has made a habit providing that very service for the civilized world.

Ultimately, though, Kershaw is playing a game with the reader: it’s no longer merely states that pose a deadly fascist threat, but trans-national organizations (such Al Qaeda and Hizzbollah) working in concert with sympathetic countries.

Kershaw’s piece is intended as a big slap in the face to unilateralism and the doctrine of democracy promotion. Because Hitler’s rise occurred during German democracy in place between world wars, it demonstrates “the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war. . .”

But, Sir Ian, wasn’t your point that today’s fascist threats are so unlike the one posed by Nazi Germany?

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Looking Ahead To Tuesday And Beyond

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

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