Janet Sommer

The Daily Brew~Music+Life+Culture

Proof That Jazz Lives. On Twitter, and Elsewhere.

What greeted me this morning ~ in news, on Twitter AND on Facebook ~ was the announcement that the Library of Congress will be archiving all past,  present and presumably future tweets in their digital archives.  (See article)


Why the uproar? Are there really people still out there who believe  there is privacy online, especially in public forums? I’ve always considered Twitter to be totally accessible to anyone with even limited computer skills. I tweet, blog, and Facebook under my own name, so it keeps me somewhat more responsible for my words than it might for some folks who have multiple “screen” names and less savory habits.

But more importantly, I post about my interests. Like Jazz. Or photography, or reading/writing. The main reason I’m excited about the digital archiving of tweets by the LOC is that over time, a great jazz community has sprung up on Twitter. Musicians tweet about their gigs, or what music they’re listening to. Photographers post great images of performances and recording sessions all around the world. Bloggers and magazines post about new releases, interviews, history. Videos abound. Conversations take place. Communication happens. And if you’re looking for daily life and culture in the first decade of the 21st century, years from now, you will find that Jazz was alive and well. On Twitter, and in the real world.


April 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Jazz & Ribs Fest 2009

I wish I could say that I’d spent the whole weekend there, documenting the entire thing, but I can’t. In fact, I could only be there for a couple of hours on Sunday, but at least I got to meet a few people, hear some great music from Mark Flugge’s band, and take a few photos. I don’t eat ribs, but I loved the signs and the friendly competition among the vendors.

Flugge has a trio that he usually performs with, including Dave DeWitt, and Dave Weinstock. On Sunday he had a few guests, including Jim Ed Cobb on percussion, and my old friends Randy Mather and Kim Pensyl on horns. They played all Mark Flugge originals for nearly an hour and a half, and a great time was had by all.

Mark Flugge and band @ Columbus Jazz & Ribs Fest

Mark Flugge and band @ Columbus Jazz & Ribs Fest

Randy Mather and Kim Pensyl @ Cols. Jazz & Ribs Fest.

Randy Mather and Kim Pensyl @ Cols. Jazz & Ribs Fest.

Mark Flugge, Cols. Jazz & Ribs Fest.

Mark Flugge, Cols. Jazz & Ribs Fest.

Sign at the Cols. Jazz & Ribs Fest.

Sign at the Cols. Jazz & Ribs Fest.

Overview of festival &  Columbus skyline.

Overview of festival & Columbus skyline.

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Jazz, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Doo Dah Parade

P1010049Today was the annual Doo Dah Parade in Columbus. Is it about politics? Culture? Satire? Or a little bit of all of them and more?

Doo Dah Parade

Doo Dah Parade




He looked like he was thinking hard.

He looked like he was thinking hard.

July 5, 2009 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Blog



In an effort to write a little more on daily life, and general ramblings, I’ve started a new Word Press blog which you can get to from here. It’s called Angels in an Uproar and will be more about my life since losing my job, relationship and home in the last several months. It all sounds so uplifting, doesn’t it? But in fact, I’m not wallowing in the past, so have no fear. Come and see me there.

Happy 4th to all of you!

July 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Listening to Lady Day *** Reprise

Introduction: It has been 9 years since I wrote this for All About Jazz, but apart from the date, I could have written it yesterday. Granted, my entire life has changed since then, but Billie Holiday, and her music, remain timeless. After this initially appeared on AAJ, I received a flurry of email messages from (I suspect) mostly youngsters, looking for more info, or wanting me to answer their questions about Billie. So, I’ll just say upfront that what I offer here is, among other things, a list of resources that you can access easily. I’m sure that since 2000, even more resources have become available. Look on Google, or try out the new Relief Search ( http://www.ReliefSearch.com ) and do somebody some good. And let me know if you find something great and I’ll post your comments as additional resources.

But mostly, Happy Birthday Billie. Thinking of you.


 April 7, 2000 marked what would have been Billie Holiday’s 85th birthday. In view of her exceptional talent, she died pitiably young, at the age of 44. In view of her life long struggle for survival, along with a marked skill at self-destruction, as contradictory as that sounds, she managed to win in some way just by staying around as long as she did.

In “Wishing On the Moon,” Donald Clarke writes in the final chapter, “Simple truths about Lady have always been in short supply, let alone more complicated ones.”  The truths that are known are the ones that have been sifted out over the years from myth and late night memories, from those who knew her, and those who only thought they did.

The facts of her birth, her death, and the struggle in between to do her work while battling discrimination, drug addiction and the law, have been spoken about at length by such luminous writers and minds as Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern and Leonard Feather. British author/musician/broadcaster Benny Green wrote about her art and how she differed from her musical contemporaries in “The Reluctant Art.” And in Elizabeth Hardwick’s novel, “Sleepless Nights,” she remembers the Lady in a surreal poetry of the senses, through the kalidescope of years. Journalist David Margolick has written a book on the history of a single song, “Strange Fruit.” A song about racism and lynching in the South, Billie first brought it to public awareness when she was asked to sing it for the club’s racially integrated audience, by the club’s owner. The year was 1939.

Leslie Gourse has collected a number of excellent writings in her book, “The Billie Holiday Companion: Seven Decades of Commentary.” Each of these pieces presents a different truth about Billie, each author offers up a different facet of the Lady. For the lifelong Holiday fan, or for jazz neophytes, this is a good volume to keep handy. I suspect that if you read enough, listen enough, you can discern your own truths.

Listening. I was a teenager when I first heard Billie Holiday sing. I hung out with a group of guys who were already jazz afficionados, and for the most part, budding musicians. I had liked what I’d heard, but I don’t think I really got the full impact of the music until they played one of Billie’s records. I had always sung, and had always listened to all kinds of music, but when I heard her sing, it opened the door to jazz for me in a way that nothing else had. I had to go in through the vocals before I learned to appreciate the rest of it. Taking just the standards into consideration, I have discovered that this is not all that rare. Many musicians seem to hear lyrics as they play, perhaps giving greater depth to their own improvisational interpretations, no matter what instrument is being played. Having first learned lyrics from as fine a musician as Lady Day could only improve the chances of increased musical understanding on anyone’s part.

Listening. Mary Lou Williams said, “Billie Holiday was a pioneer and a genius. What she started nobody has ever been able to imitate. She was great because the suffering in her life developed into a true love that all heard who listened to her sing. Her singing reached people’s hearts because it was a true thing.”

Carmen McRae: “Only way she was happy was through a song. I don’t think she expressed herself as she would want to when you met her in person. The only time she was at ease and at rest with herself was when she sang.”

Listening. To know the music is more important than knowing the musician. Isn’t it? From the time Billie Holiday became well known, her life too often overshadowed the music. There were conflicting stories about how her trademark gardenias came about, conflicting stories about her relationships with men, with women, with her parents. In a short life filled with excesses, she left behind a remarkable legacy of music. She quite literally transmuted the pain and losses of her life into that music. She was a jazz singer, though many considered her a blues singer. Joachim Berendt said it well. “Billie Holiday sang the blues only incidentally. But through her phrasing and conception, much that she sang seemed to become blues.”

Whether through her sense of time, her phrasing, her narrow range that demanded a greater creativity in moving about the structure of a song, or her astounding ability to open a window of meaning and emotion onto even the most banal lyric, Billie Holiday influenced, either directly or indirectly, nearly every jazz singer who came after her. She was a singing horn, who miraculously did not scat to prove her musicianship. She didn’t have to. Even more significantly, she sang with something so rare that it convinced people that what she did was simply intuitive. Natural. Easy. The truth is, she was brilliant, and the music that she left us, when she left us, will continue to shine through the years, no matter what is said. And we will listen.

Link to the original article: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/eyee0400.htm

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Jazz, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Being a Reader

Interestingly, (Is that even a word? If it isn’t, my misuse of it is staggering.) I received a book by UPS today that I never intended to read, because until today, I hadn’t even heard of it.

Let me explain. Most people who know me at all, know that I am not just a serious reader, I am a compulsive book collecter. Most of my friends and family joke about it, except of course when they are helping me move, or storing the books that don’t fit into my apartment, or when they go to a bookstore with me. Then it can be uncomfortable for them. Otherwise, we joke about it. Really. Even in my brief bio on Twitter, I have admitted to being a “mad book-collector.” This has helped me make the acquaintance of other book people, which was part of my intent. So, there are some publishing people that I have hooked up with on Twitter, and they were talking about a new book, sort of a mystery-thriller, which I expressed interest in, and they offered to send me a review copy which I eagerly accepted. I love review copies.

So, finally, last Friday, I got a notice from UPS that they had attempted delivery of a package, which I knew had to be the book. The notice said that they would attempt another delivery today, Monday. When I woke up, I checked outside the door, thinking that even though I hadn’t heard anyone, they may have been there and gone. And just outside my door, beside the newspaper but tucked slightly under the rug, was a very flat envelope. For a moment, I didn’t think it was a book. But it was marked as a book, so I brought it inside, sat down at the kitchen table, and pulled the tab to see what I had.

It was a book, only it wasn’t the book I had been expecting. This book was also published by Little, Brown and Co., which published the novel I had been expecting. The name of the book I received is “This Year You Write Your Novel,” and it was written by Walter Mosley, author of over 25 novels of his own, including “Devil In A Blue Dress,” which was also made into a film starring Denzel Washington.

What could I do? I am sometimes a prisoner of my curiosity, so I had to sit there and read. And it was so easy to read, and so well written, that although I had no intention of writing a novel, let alone writing a novel in a year, I couldn’t put it down.

In the introduction, Mosley says, “Writing a novel is not nearly as difficult as some people would make it out to be. Anyone who communicates verbally, or by sign, is a writer of sorts. Any manager, mother, counselor, teacher, or guy who hangs out on the corner telling tall tales is a writer-in-waiting.”

A writer-in-waiting? I love that. And although Mosley does go through all the laws of writing fiction, ie narrative, plot, character development, etc., as most books on writing do, he does it in such an easygoing, conversational way that you don’t start hyperventilating just trying to imagine how to start such an endeavor. And a big plus is that there aren’t a bunch of exercises to do in each chapter, or at all, really.

The main lesson is, if you want to write a novel, start writing. Write at a regular time, and write for a set period of time every day. But first, you should probably read Walter Mosley’s book. It is encouraging, interesting and, oh yes. It is just over 100 pages including the introduction and summation, and is well worth the investment of a couple hours. You may find yourself reaching for it during the writing of your novel, just for a little encouragement.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Reading, Writing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep Winter

During a time when the deep cold descends, when my computer is having problems of it’s own, and my brain seems stuck on “dull,” I thought I’d share this link  I saw this morning online. It has to do with the arts, acting that is, and it’s about my nephew and his family. I think the magazine is a local Southern California one, so it may not show up on our news stands, but the interview is nice.
Rich, Gina & Bea

Rich, Gina & Bea

January 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Look, I’m scanning!

Tommy Flanagan, NYC recording session, copyright Janet Sommer

Tommy Flanagan, NYC recording session, copyright Janet Sommer


It has taken me months to do this, and although I’m ashamed of myself for procrastinating, I’m so proud I finally got it together to start this.

My first offering, the great Tommy Flanagan, from a Scott Hamilton recording session  for Concord Music, sometime in the late ’90’s. (I still have to get caption info together.)

January 14, 2009 Posted by | Jazz, Photography | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facing 2009

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions. I skim alot of blogs and business sites, news sites, art and music sites, Twitter… you know. I see/hear how other people are planning to greet the new year with lofty ambitions and difficult personal goals. We’ll have none of that here. I’m a realist. I’m also a princess of procrastination. No capitals for that title, it doesn’t deserve them.

I have one or two personal changes (ahem) that I’d like to have made yesterday. Since I didn’t, maybe I’ll make them tomorrow. Or, the next day. Which would be in … 2009. I’ll keep those to myself.

But what I plan for another part of my life is to finally break out the scanner that I got a couple of months ago, and actually get my archive of thousands of jazz negs online, or at least on discs so that I can choose to put them online if I want to, when I want to. The other thing is to be more consistently attentive to this little online space of mine. But with both of these things in mind, even if I don’t write more, I can at least post new photos. Because sometimes things are more easily done than said.

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Photography | , , , | Leave a comment

Freddie Hubbard 1938~2008

They say it better than I could.


December 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment