The Tardy Times

  You don't need a recording contract
  to play tunes for family and friends

The (Beloved) Flapjacks: When the Friends of Camp Mather announced a second fund raiser on Feb. 9 in the Hall of Flowers, the email flier touted "the beloved Flapjacks!” Beloved! From left: Margo Freistadt, Caroline Grannan, Paul Moran (hidden), Pauline Scholten, Kenny Ludlow, Lynn Ludlow, Steve Rubenstein. Off to the right: Anna and Will Rubenstein. Missing: Birdie Yusba, Charlie Cardillo, Josh Ets-Hokin, Kevin Mullane and George Martin.

It's peach-pickin' time for Toshio, San Francisco's Japanese Brakeman

, so addicted to the music of the Singing Brakeman that he left Japan as soon as possible, told Chronicle writer Joel Selvin last year that he prefers to perform his Jimmie Rodgers songs in the noisy intimacy of a Mission District saloon.
   “To me, playing at the Rite Spot or Amnesia is great enough, more than I can ask for. I can't even think of going beyond it,” he said. “I can't even handle a big crowd at the Amnesia. Twenty-five people, I can't even handle. Twenty-five. Too many. Twenty-five people to me look like big crowd. If I could stay playing those places, those gigs, I'm happy.”
    On a Saturday night at the Rite Spot, accompanied by standup bassist Kenan O'Brien, Toshio strummed his guitar and sang “Peach Pickin' Time in Georgia” to a happy crowd that included his wife,  Katherine Lieban, who is one of Margo's best friends, and his daughter, Anabel Hirano, who is one of Kenny's best friends. His solemn face and earnest voice, lightly inflected with the rhythms of his mother tongue, quieted the talkers. He was happy.
Notes from 1689
FEW ARTISTS are so unassuming as Susan Harvey, the patient teacher who tried to interest little Kenny Ludlow in the piano.  (“I loved the lessons,” said her pupil, “but I hated to practice.”)
    That would be Doctor Harvey. She doesn't use the honorific, which she earned by virtue of a Ph.D in musicology at Stanford. In the front room of her house in Bernal Heights is a harpsichord, a copy of an instrument built in Paris in 1689. She took it to the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason for an evening of Brandenburg Concertos (Concerti?), and we were privileged to hear her take over Concerto No. 5 in a not-so-unassuming fashion.
   The same front room also housed last year a gallery of drawings by her multi-talented husband, Bill Ford, who in real life works with computers.  He somehow reconciles his fascination with the experimental music of the late Harry Partch, who invented his own instruments, with Susan's  mastery of the keyboard of a 17th century harpsichord. 

Prairie Rose
IN THE MEANTIME, outdoor shoppers from San Francisco to Concord are dazzled on weekends by the Prairie Rose Band. Its first CD is aptly labeled “Farmers Market Favorites.” In   the band are Pauline Scholten, George Martin, Jeff Terlinger (fiddle), Gene Tortora (dobro) and Mark Hedin (standup bass). . .
Kevin Mullane, whose multi-talented System 9 band played for Kenny's Bat Mitzvah and the wedding when Amy Ludlow became Mrs. Roy Grigsby, is teaching guitar to the affluent kids of Mill Valley and still booking gigs for corporate parties, weddings and fans of Motown. . . . Another Kevin (Fagan), the gifted reporter at the Chronicle, has issued his own CD of his own songs, “I Will Think of You,” backed up by Phil Royle (rhythm) and Bob Loomis (flute), his onetime colleague at the Tribune. . . .  Saugatuck ex-publisher Art Lane, a Champaign-Urbana Courier alumnus who corresponds regularly without regard for 45 years since our paths uncrossed, has been singing in barbershop quartets as if nobody told him that “American Idol” is more popular than four-part harmonies of “Auntie Skinner's Chicken Dinner.” . . . Also a barbershop veteran: Tom Carter, an ex-Ex who writes for Geoff Link's  Central City Extra. … Our favorite songwriter, Jackie Pels (at left), can still be persuaded to play her guitar and sing her “Unga” tribute to the abandoned settlement of Norwegian fishing families on a barren island in the Aleutians. When she performed it some years ago for a gathering of Unga alumni, everybody in the hall was weeping . . . Margo Freistadt is singing in the choir at her synagogue, Or Shalom. Other regulars in the choir are Chad Balch, Stephanie Weissman, Jurate Raulinaitis, Jeff Zorn, Stephen Hall and the director, David Cohen-Tzedek.
The dancing cat
NOT TOO MANY years ago, the Humane Society in Marin County inquired ominously about a  performance billed as “Jackie Jones and Her Dancing Cat.” How does she persuade a cat to dance? Electrified claws? A hot griddle?
    The cat is a familiar sight in San Francisco, especially at the Alemany Farmers Market where Jackie Jones performs with her real guitar, the guitar she made from a washboard, two musical saws, an accordion and, of course, the dancing cat.
   Few shoppers for onions and apples realize that the youthful-looking busker is a certified octogenarian (she celebrated her 80th birthday party in 2006). Carolyn Jones wrote an admiring story about Jackie in the Chronicle. Look it up:
    Music has been her life since she dropped out of college to go to New Orleans at age 20. Jackie played the accordion, drums or guitar on Bourbon Street. When she came to San Francisco in 1952, she kept on playing (ethnic, jazz, swing) while getting a degree at SF State and sorting mail at the Post Office.
   The cat joined her later. While Jackie plays her accordion or her washboard guitar, her foot taps a pedal that causes the cat to jump in time to the tune. She's usually surrounded by kids, who would have a quick answer for the Humane Society's stern questions about how a cat could ever learn how to tap-dance. It’s a puppet.

The Tardy Times
September 2008

As canned tunes
engulf the nation,
music in schools
is our only hope

HER FATHER, engulfed by pride and pleasure, almost wept. Illuminated on the glowing stage at Lowell High School, Kenny Ludlow looked cool, confident and immensely capable as her left hand crab-walked up and down the fingerboard of her bass fiddle. Her fast and tricky riffs backed up the Lowell High School Jazz Band, which filled the Carol Channing Theatre with a percussion-heavy arrangement of the late Luis Bonfá's familiar Manha de Carnaval theme from the movie, “Black Orpheus.”
    It's called a jazz band, but the program was loaded with big-band pieces. It offered an exercise in musical nostalgia for people, like her father, who came of age before do-wop, rock and rap.
   Dizzy Gillespie's “Salt Peanuts” evoked pity for at least two younger generations denied the pleasure of 1940s and  1950s big bands like those of Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton – and great singers like Anita O'Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Julie London.
  The irony is evident. Because big payrolls have forced big bands out of live performances, it falls to the unpaid young to perform the rich music of old. Just think: In Kenny's band, five trumpets, three trombones, two guitars, three drummers, a piano and five saxophones (with brilliant improvisations on tenor sax by Glennis Markison and on baritone sax by Arthur Pertzel). The band includes only two guitars (one at a time), almost blasphemy in the musical liturgies of the post-Beatle era.
    An extraordinary vocalist, 17-year-old Desiree Choy, sings “Chega de Saudade” (No More Blues) by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Behind her, Kenny navigates rhythms far more challenging than the extracurricular bluegrass and Latin tunes she played (and still plays) while learning classical works at school under the guidance of gifted music teachers Jonathan Frank (Hoover Middle School), Richard Duke (professional bassist) and Michelle Winter (Lowell High School).
  The April 17 program at Lowell brought 125 students into serious music with performances by the intermediate, advanced, symphonic and jazz bands, all under the Wagner's baton. Even more students perform in the symphony concert – three orchestras directed and conducted by Mrs. Winter, with choral programs by Othello Jefferson.)  At School of the Arts (SOTA), Lincoln, Washington and most of the high schools in San Francisco and the rest of the nation, tens of thousands of youngsters take up the flute, cello, songbooks, tuba and all the other ways to demonstrate that music should be active, not just passive. 
    The next Lowell bands concert is scheduled for Dec. 4. Get there early.
KENNY isn't alone. Her brother, Paul Moran, was one of the trumpeters at the Jazz Gala on April 24 at Lick-Wilmerding High School. Her dear friends Anabel Hirano and Rachel Woods-Robinson are playing trombone at SOTA and, like Will Rubenstein, can choose from Advanced Jazz Combo, Latin Band, Big Band and Funk Band. Anabel spent six weeks this summer in the Center for the Arts at Interlochen (literally, between lakes) in northwest Michigan. Will Rubenstein  attended Jazz Camp West and the Stanford University Jazz Workshop. With his eighth-grade trombonist sister, Anna, he also attended Cazadero music camp. Anna, now at SOTA, had been playing with the jazz band and advanced band at Aptos Middle School.
HERE COMES the public service announcement: Without taxpayer support for the arts in public schools, future generations will be reared without introductions to the lifelong joys of music, art, drama and dance. I plunked $25 into the donation box at Kenny's gig, but parental gifts are only a few droppings in the bucket.  Support for music and all the arts must come from the people and, through their votes, from the legislators, politicians, appointed official and ballot measures that can translate rhetoric into adequate funding. The education budget is likely to do the opposite. Oh, well, we can always watch “American Idol.” End commercial.

SMALL WORLD,  indeed:  Our  extraordinary speech therapist, Mary Cabibi, mentioned one day that her husband, Steve Gayle, is a deputy public defender in San Francisco. There are three Steves in this item, but that's not the story. Steve Rosen, also a deputy P.D., has been a friend of the Ludstadts for years. When Steve Rubenstein invited Steve Rosen to dust off his old banjo for a parlor musicale, Lynn asked him if he knew Mary C.'s husband. “Steve sits right across from me,” Steve told Steve.
   But wait, there's more. When little Kenny was enrolled in the child-care nursery of Margo's friend Tylan Madsen, she met Steve Rosen's wife, Christinia, a private investigator and the mother of Eli, Noah and Isaac. Noah is Kenny's age and now plays the alto sax with Steve Rubenstein's son Will. He also plays trumpet along with Kenny's bass fiddle in various musical adventures, including the musicale with both Steves and both of Kenny's parents. And we haven't even gotten to other linkages between Margo and Tylan (now in Denmark), but none is named Steve.

Lynn Ludlow

The Tardy Times
September 2008

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