Sunday, August 24, 2014

Urban vineyard: Be thankful for small favors — and bird netting

Bird netting connected with clothespins encased the vines. For some reason, birds didn't try to penetrate it. 

Inside the canopy
An April frost, a huge limb falling on the vines in a storm, and a bit of black rot diminished the yield of the urban vineyard, but a record-high sugar measurement this year promised better quality wine. 

Two things happened this year for the first time: all eight plants contributed fruit, and the vines fulfilled their function as a tent for the grapes, providing shade and protection from pests. In earlier years, we had patches of leafy expanse and other spots where grapes were dangling more or less exposed.

We tried bird netting for the first time in five years, and it worked. I abandoned bird netting in 2010 because the birds found ways to stick their beaks into the spaces and grab grapes one at a time. Worse, some birds using this technique got caught in the netting and died horrible deaths. Oddly, this year we had smarter birds that mostly left the netting alone. 

The "shroud" was used to protect small areas of clusters.
Netting proved to be much easier to maintain than the row cover we had been using to cloak the row of vines in a “shroud.” We did use a bit of row cover for areas of isolated clusters. 

Like row cover, bird netting encased the entire plant, secured along the ground with garden staples on either side.

I suspect the long dry spell was responsible for this week's remarkable spike in the brix up to 20, which is the highest reading I've ever seen from these plants. The forecast calls for rain later this week, which would dilute the sugar content, so I decided to act now. 

We harvested about 20 pounds of St. Vincent today (right). I’m amazed that we got that much in the face of all the natural obstacles this year brought.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Charlie Haden with Ornette: unforgettable

I had been looking for a place for this memory of hearing Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman. It didn't seem to fit in my weekly music column, so it's here, adjacent to a reprint of the column.

Haden the agitator

Roughly 40 years ago, some time after I got my driver’s license and before I finished college, I saw the Ornette Coleman quartet at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase in Chicago.

Coleman was wearing a full-length, bright blue robe covered with silvery stars and moons. Dewey Redman wore a dashiki. This was the mid-'70s — no coat and tie and starchy white shirts. Haden stood out in his ordinary walkaround pants and shirt.

Coleman played long fluid passages punctuated with jarring blasts and shrieks. Dewey Redman on tenor growled, burbled and ululated. Drummer Ed Blackwell held things together, driving the band in lively swing figures with New Orleans flavors.

Eyes squinted shut, the bass player agitated the others, spewing speedy, intricate walking lines, weaving rugged textures of brief repeating patterns that felt almost like strumming, mixing motifs and toggling back and forth.

I had never heard a bass played that way, and I had never heard a group stirring up so much tension. They were not exactly playing together; they were playing against each other. It was thrilling, a little scary, and widely ear-opening.

Haden’s post-Coleman work, especially with Quartet West, became decidedly gentler, but I think the overarching quality of his work was to bring to the music whatever he thought it needed.

Haden leaves city a jazz legacy with bright moments

Published in the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, August 8, 2014
This content cannot be reproduced without permission of the News-Leader.

Charlie Haden, the great bassist who died last month, made an impression in Springfield as part of his family's band back in the 1950's, but his recent contributions to the city's jazz community promise long-lasting rewards.

Randy Hamm, director of the Missouri State University Jazz Studies Program, came to know Haden during the conceptual stages of the MSU program and the first Springfield Jazz Festival, during the end of the last decade. Hamm also had a mind-blowing musical experience playing with Haden at that time.

Planners recruited Haden as guest artist for the inaugural festival and as artist in residence for the first year of the MSU Jazz Studies Program. Haden's presence was crucial to the launch of both efforts, Hamm said.

In Springfield in 2010 for the first festival, Haden said he was impressed with the renovation of the Gillioz Theatre and pleased to have the opportunity to perform there with his band, Quartet West.

In 2009, Haden appeared at an important fundraiser for scholarships and equipment for the new program. MSU jazz ensembles provided entertainment for the event at the Kentwood Ballroom on campus. In addition, Hamm on alto saxophone and faculty member Kyle Aho on piano played as a duo.

Haden wasn't planning on playing. He didn't have his bass, and he was uncomfortable using other people's equipment, Hamm said. However, after a couple of tunes by the duo, Haden stepped forward and joined Hamm and Aho.

"We let him call the tunes he wanted to play," Hamm said. "One of the tunes that he called, which he had recorded several times, was 'Body and Soul.' "

"I tell you, playing with Charlie Haden in that intimate setting, without a drummer — that Steinway in that room, the acoustics — it was one of the most rewarding musical experiences I've ever had."

The three musicians had never played together as a trio. It was a leap of faith. "Just to call a tune, there was immediate, deep trust all around," Hamm said.

He paused for a moment, looking for words:

"Playing with Charlie Haden must be what it feels like to ride on a magic carpet. His time, his intonation, his note choices, his rhythmic feel. It was gorgeous. I didn't want to stop."

The Jazz Studies Program has graduated its first group of musicians. The fifth annual Springfield Jazz Festival is Oct. 3.

Ed Peaco writes about locally grown Ozarks music for the News-Leader. Contact him at 417-413-9029 or