All Blues…

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When I run at the gym or outside, my favorite song, or at least one of my favorites, is “All Blues”  (listen here) by Miles Davis. It uplifts me during a run with a unique energy that one would not expect from a 12 bar blues. The song, I agree, does not seem like a great workout song but it has pace and energy and it has Miles. And Coltrane. And Cannonball. And Bill Evans in the blues stratosphere. And Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb doing twirls on drums.

When I listen to the song, I usually do two things: I lock in on Bill Evans and follow him right through. He is the key to the song for me. He sets the mood from the beginning with the famous drill piano sound that opens the song. Though it seems as if Miles is in control by stating the theme; I say it is Bill Evans. You can tell when you get to the Evans’ solo that Evans is controlling it because the song slows down and while one expects Evans to go bold with his solo, he remains subtle, and almost invisible, floating through the blues effortlessly, maintaining the mood he has set and never getting beyond that feel.  I urge you to play the song, lock in on Evans and follow him all the way; it changes the way you will hear and experience the song.

The second thing I always do is listen to the two incredible sax players: Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane.  Once you understand their aesthetics you will be able to pick them out. At times, I get the feeling that Cannonball knows that Coltrane is quite an incredible player so he makes sure you know that he is Cannonball and not Trane. He is strong, as Cannonball was known to be, and he is soulful, which is also typical of Cannonball. Trane, on the other hand, is starting to show those spiritual elements that would drive the rest of his career. This segment with these two solos is perhaps quite incredible coming after Miles and the rhythm section state the theme.

I drift into space when I am running and listen to “All Blues.” I also know that if I run all the way through the song, it is like a mile or more or a little less depending upon the pace. I am not a runner trying to make an Olympic team, so I like the steady flow the song gives, much like Ravel’s “Bolero.” The song has energy and it sustains.

If you work out, weights, ellipticals, cycle, treadmill, even outside, put on “All Blues,” and go. Sometimes I put it on repeat.  And then get lost in the music.

Russdiculous Returneth…

Russ Smith  Zach Price

And just like that, Russ Smith, the celebrated Louisville tiny slashing guard is headed back to Louisville for one more year after flirting with the NBA. If you recall, right after Louisville dispatched Michigan in the Final game and won the NCAA Mens Division I Championship, Russ’ Pops announced that his son, Russ was headed to the NBA. He said Russ had nothing more to prove. Yikes.

But seriously, lets applaud Russ Smith. He won’t get NBA paper next year but according to his coach, Rick Pitino, he will get that other paper: a college diploma. Right on Russ.

But as for Russ AKA “Russ-diculous,” the whole thing seemed beyond his control anyway. He never said anything after the season ended. But, soon enough, his father spoke, and the chatter began about Russ Smith’s chances at making it in the NBA. In short, the chatter was not good, so it is good he came back.

ESPN had him down in the Second Round. Not good.  You leave school early to get in the First Round. The Second Round of the NBA draft is for underperforming seniors and experiments for the bad teams (who usually stay bad).  You want to be in the First Round. You don’t want to play five years for the Iowa Energy or the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBDL.

For Russ Smith, it is also smart for a lot of other reasons. One, the point guard position is likely his position now with Peyton Siva now officially out of eligibility in Louisville. He can learn to play the spot next year. Point guard or perish, in other words. He has one year to get it. Also, even if Kevin Ware returns from the broken leg, and plays point guard, Russ will still play a lot of point guard next year and will have to demonstrate his decision making skills. Be the leader, Russ; make your team better like Siva did.

It should be pointed out that a lot of guards are in this year’s draft. There is one point guard in particular, Trey Burke who probably influenced Russ Smith’s decision to return.  Scouts see Burke and they see what a point guard looks like on the court. They look at Smith they see Allen Iverson with less firepower.  Iverson went first in the entire draft but he was a scoring machine, inside and out; Smith isn’t that at all. There is also Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse who is also leaving early and will easily go ahead of Smith because of his size.

Russ, to make a better comparison, is Kemba Walker, the Connecticut shooting guard who converted to point guard in the NBA.  Walker made the transition from shoot first guard to point guard. He is averaging close to 18 points and 6 assists per game in the NBA; he gets it. Russ Smith would need to get his game geared in that direction.

He needs to play next year like Peyton Siva. The scouts know you can finish at the goal, Russ; show them now you can help others finish, and that you think pass first not shoot first.   And with a pretty good recruiting class along with yourself and the other returning ballers from the championship team, another run is not out of the question. But on a personal note, it will be fabulous watching Russ Smith for another year and in the ACC. Hopefully, Louisville will vanquish Duke when they play. That alone is worth Smith’s return.

The 9:30 Club…

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When I would catch shows at the 9:30 Club on F Street in Washington D.C., Northwest, F Street was seedy and an edgy place of town. There were jewelry stores and shoe shops where one could buy some stylish shoes and not go broke. Clothing stores sold suits that looked like pimp gear.  Thieves sold stolen watches on the streets and the gallery area was not open for cars; this was closed and people hung out drinking and smoking reefer. The buildings looked old. The club was inside some old asbestos laden office building. It looked so old when you walked in you felt like you had stepped into a time tunnel. We would often go inside during the daytime and just look at the club because that was the only time you noticed the club. At might, the club was loud and packed body to body.

Rolling Stone Magazine voted the 9:30 Club the #1 Big Room (small venue clubs on the circuit) in the country in its latest issue. I saw it and was pumped. The 9:30 (that is what we called it) beat out First Avenue in Minneapolis and Tipitina’s in New Orleans. The 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. has always been looked upon as one of the top spots anyway so this is no surprise. It is cool the new spot is keeping the legacy alive; the acts are still top of the line and there is no code. If you are against the grain, you belong at the 9:30.

Back in the day, my friends and I caught countless shows at the club, at the original location, and some nights we just hung around outside and blew some time. The neighborhood, as I said, wasn’t exactly the pristine quiet hangout it is today. It wasn’t dangerous but it had an edge and was just a good hang.

There is this crazy story that is still around that when Kraftwerk played down there back in the 1980’s, they caught the Metro and walked to the club from the Gallery Place stop. People, the story goes, stared at them like they were aliens from another galaxy with the tight haircuts. They didn’t blink as they made their way through the crowded Metro station. I have never been able to verify this street tale.

I have only been to the new 9:30 Club once. I have nothing against it; it is just the original spot was the spot.  This was the days of new wave music and WHFS promoting the shows there. I still have tapes of music I recorded from WHFS right off the radio. This was a special mix: WHFS 99.1 or 102.3 FM, Annapolis and the 9:30 Club. WHFS, the alterntive music giant, has long since gone away but the 9:30 Club endures.

I will be in Washington D.C. for an extended period soon.  Maybe I will catch a show.  Is start time still 9:30 pm?

Photo Credit: Rock Creek Photo stream

Hail the Step Back Three…

Kobe Bryant

Reading basketball poems by Joseph Ross got me reinvigorated on my life’s obsession: basketball.  After March Madness every year, I have to take a break. The NBA playoffs begin about two weeks later but I usually don’t get deeply into right away. I can’t. March Madness saps my energy.

But now thanks to Joe Ross, I am watching again and what I am looking at mostly is the NBA ballers shooting the step back three point shot.  It is a thing of beauty. Let us remember now that basketball is not the blues (the music form). The blues’ last real innovation was when T. Bone Walker (or somebody) began playing the blues with an electric guitar.  Since that, as great as the blues is, and as much as I love the music, the blues has remained in that moment. Basketball, on the other hand, continues to evolve all the time

The three point shot was, in fact, a new trick. As was the crossover, the Allen Iverson “carry-crossover,” the Jason Kidd call time out in the air going out of bounds, Kareem’s sky hook, the no look pass, the ball fake pass, etc. I could go on and on. The sport comes up with tricks. Ed “Booger” Smith with the wrap around pass.

Now comes the step back three point shot.

The shot has been around awhile but lately more and more players are using it. And it is lethal. If you can shoot it at a fairly decent clip, it is worth it. Remember, if you hit only 33 percent of your three point shots, you are essentially doing what people do hitting two point shots shooting 50 percent. This is precisely why teams practice and work on the three point shot.

But for years the three point shot was a spot up shot or a catch and shoot. Michael Cooper of the LA Lakers was a spot up three point shooter. Larry Bird was more of a catch and shoot (though he could shoot over you as well).  But now, ballers are shooting it over their defender by creating space with a step back. It is like when Michael Jordan used to do the slide step on his mid range jump shot. Seth Curry, the Duke University guard, has the step back three down to a science. He was shooting in college but I got to believe he will one day do the same in the NBA if his legs hold up.

Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots it and he is almost a prototype. The problem is he is so quick you lay off a little but also watch for the three. But because he can do a step back, it is even harder to guard him.  Here is a few examples of the step back three pointer:

Derron Williams

James Harden

I am not talking about the three point shot where an unguarded player steps back. I am talking the one where the guy is being defended but is able through the step back to create that momentary bit of space and get off a three pointer.  It is the latest bit of improvisation on the hardwood and the asphalt. Expect to see more and more of it in the future.

Don’t Call Me Professor…

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Many of my students call me by my first name these days.  I am good with that. I have always been good with that since I have been teaching law school.  I think it brings everyone down to earth, clears the air, makes future lawyers rest easy as they try to learn how to be a lawyer.

When I first got into law teaching at Howard University this wasn’t always the case. There is this code that the law teachers (us) – clinical or doctrinal are to be called “Professor.” They would call me “Professor Gilmore.” All of the other professors insisted upon it. It was just the ways things were and have always been.  I would tell my students just call me whatever made you feel comfortable. I did tell them I prefer “Gilmore.” I told my colleagues to call me “Gilmore.” It was more of a tribute to my father who made a good name for himself in Washington D.C. as a high government official.

When I began teaching at Michigan State University (clinical law program), it was enforced even more.  Professors I knew would correct students if they made a mistake and called them by their first name.  I never cared much for it.  I thought it was part of the insecurity so rampant in law teaching. Law teachers (professors) often feel insecure because we obtain “doctorate” degrees like those who obtain a PhD but no one calls us “Doctor.” We have doctorate degrees obtained through diligent, difficult work for 3 years and through writing high quality scholarly articles, essays, and casework; however, for some odd reason law teachers feel like they aren’t the same as all the other academics. We are not plumbers is the sentiment though, of course, we are, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But overtime, I rejected the formalism of “Professor.” If students called me “Professor” it hardly mattered to me. I knew I knew the law and how to teach students what being a lawyer is about; I didn’t need to be elevated psychologically.  I began telling students in the orientation to call me whatever they wanted to as long as they were fine with it. I also would joke with them sometimes and say: “Call me whatever you want, just don’t call me.” This cut the tension easy. Once I played that comedy routine where Raymond J. Johnson goes off on what to call him. “Ahh, you can call me Ray, aah…” and so on.

When one of my teaching fellows began to be addressed by the students by first name, I knew I was fine with it.  Some began doing the same to me and I didn’t correct them. Now, I even tell them, it is okay to call me by my first name or last name. It is up to you. Some still say “Professor” and I am not offended by it but I am even considering telling them they don’t have to do it.  I teach Clinical Law from a public interest vantage point; we function like a medical clinic in a city. The students do the work; we supervise. We are there but not there. We should all feel equal. They should feel comfortable.  They know who I am and where I’ve been; I need not be reminded of it. This is a great development for the clinic I direct.

There is one crazy thought though from my past. I once had a client when I was teaching at Howard who would call and would always call me – “Dr. Gilmore.”  “Hello, Dr. Gilmore,” he would say. Something about being called “Dr.” was like eating dark chocolate while sipping some expensive red wine. Still I would tell him, you don’t have to call me “Dr.”

Washington D.C.’s Eddie Jordan

1094301_GWhen I used to work downtown in Washington D.C. people all the time would come up to me and ask me was I “Eddie Jordan?” Jordan, then the coach of the local NBA team, the Washington Wizards, is a basketball legend in Washington D.C. so, of course, I laughed. One subway station in manager in particular used to call me “Coach” as a joke when I passed through because he said I looked like Jordan. Me? An Eddie Jordan look a like? Ha.

It was great to hear today that Eddie Jordan, the local legend, is the new Rutgers Mens Division I Basketball coach. He is a good coach for a good program that needs a strong coach right at a moment of great challenge to the program.

Truth be told, I have mad love for Eddie Jordan. Jordan, like me, was born and raised in Washington D.C.  And like me, Eddie Jordan, is a graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington D.C.  I never was a baller at the high level like Jordan and it was probably because of ballers like Jordan that it was so hard to make it in the city no matter how good you were. The bar was set high. The D.C. playground competition I recall was fierce and it carried over to the playground leagues (which I did play), junior high, and high school. By the time I was enrolled at Carroll, Jordan was already a legend. He was an outstanding player at Carroll who went onto Rutgers University in New Jersey to bolster his legend. Jordan was part of the Rutgers Final Four team of 1977 that also included Phil Sellers. Jordan was MVP of the East Region as Rutgers enjoyed one of its crowning moments on the hardwood.

Jordan also enjoyed a professional career in the NBA, was a fierce, intense defender, and was a member of the 1981 Los Angeles Lakers championship team. He finished a decent career in 1984.

Jordan has also had a fairly decent career coaching in the NBA. He was an Assistant with the New Jersey Nets during their Eastern Conference championship runs, helping to guide the offense that Jason Kidd made go like a locomotive.  He coached his local team too – the Washington Wizards from 2003 to 2008 including four consecutive playoff berths.

Jordan also coached the Philadelphia 76ers but it never worked out there for him. It was partly because he wasn’t given much of a chance and the players never bought into his modified Princeton offense that had been proven to work well on at least two teams. But such is the state of the modern NBA.

In October 2011, Jordan was inducted into the Archbishop Carroll Hall of Fame. Two months later, in December, he took over as coach of the freshmen basketball team. Jordan rolled on.

Now that Jordan has been named new head coach of the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights next year, in the Big Ten, I have to wish him well. Where I work in the Midwest, I get to see Big Ten games all the time on television. I am looking forward to checking out the Rutgers Scarlet Knights under D.C.’s own Eddie Jordan win or lose. He has a huge task in front of him but he is a good coach and a good man.   He is a D.C. kid. An Archbishop Carroll kid.  A Bullet/Wizard, depending upon your preference and era. All the best to Eddie Jordan.

Photo Credit: Fox Sports

Cuba Libre, Jay Z

Jay-Z-507696-1-402My social media friend, Lee Blair wrote the following last night:

“I don’t understand this fascination with Mr. Carter’s travel spots. US citizens can go to Cuba when they want. Why do we care about this?”

Mr. Carter is Shawn Carter, AKA Jay-Z, the hip-hop mogul, who has recently returned from an educational exchange trip to Cuba. Photos of Carter and his superstar wife, Beyoncé, were leaked out during their trip. The GOP, in Washington D.C., with a little time on their hands because they do nothing, asked for an explanation for the trip and whether it was legal.

It was, according to sources, legal, but Carter felt it best if he offered his own response to them and to anyone else including his friend, President Obama with a new song just released electronically to the world. The song “OPEN LETTER” basically tells whoever cares that his trip was legal and approved and he don’t give F— anyway especially about politicians who never did “sh-t” for me.

It was interesting after the release of the song to hear Jay Carney, President Obama’s Press Secretary to make it clear that the President did not personally approve the trip; the Treasury Department approves such matters. All I could think was, what a typical Washington response. The Treasury Department answers to the President of the United States so, of course, Mr. Obama approved the trip. Just like he approved the trips that were approved today, and the trips that will be approved tomorrow.

For Jay-Z, I wanted to send him a copy of Amiri Baraka’s essay, “Cuba Libre” so he could think of some possibilities for his art and his cash. Baraka wrote the essay when his name was Leroi Jones and after a trip he took to Cuba with other U.S. artists right after the revolution in 1960. Baraka, the poet, playwright, and activist, was not the Amiri Baraka we know today because the Black Arts Movement had not even happened yet. He hadn’t written those plays he is now famous for like “The Dutchman” and “Jello.” and he hadn’t yet ventured through his various periods of ultra-political literary confrontation on the page and on stage.

Baraka said many times over the years to myself and countless other artists that his experience in Cuba made him realize change could come. It also made him understand that an artist does have an obligation to the community for fight injustice and use art to wage that fight.  While in Cuba, Baraka was challenged by an artist woman from Mexico politically on his commitment to political change as an artist. Here is a piece of the exchange from the essay, “Cuba Libre”:

I tried to  defend myself, “Look, why jump on me? I understand what you’re saying. I’m in  complete agreement with you. I’m a poet . . . what can I do? I write, that’s  all, I’m not even interested in politics.”

She jumped  on me with both feet as did a group of Mexican poets later in Habana. She called  me a “cowardly bourgeois individualist.” The poets, or at least one young  wild-eyed Mexican poet, Jaime Shelley, almost left me in tears, stomping his  foot on the floor, screaming: “You want to cultivate your soul? In that ugliness  you live in, you want to cultivate your soul? Well, we’ve got millions of  starving people to feed, and that moves me enough to make poems out of.”

This challenge to Amiri Baraka, it can be said now, changed the direction of African-American Literature one can argue. The “father of the Black Arts Movement” became politicized as an artist and has attempted since then to create a people’s art for ordinary people that has been both hailed but also dismissed as didactic and as propaganda.

I have listened to Jay-Z’s song a few times. It seems pretty Jay-Z and you know what that is: it’s all about me. So I am thinking “Cuba Libre” might help him realize that he didn’t really have to respond to the GOP or anything upon his return stateside, but I guess if you are Jay-Z, and made it the way he made it, you have to respond. It is part of the hard knock life. Or maybe, this is Jay-Z’s “Cuba Libre” moment; we shall see, right?