Ella

April 25, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

Today is Ella Fitzgerald’s centennial – she was born April 25, 1917 – and this my only Ella story.

One night I was sitting at the bar in Bradley’s with two pianists who had been accompanists for great singers – Dave Frishberg, who worked briefly with Carmen McRae and Anita O’Day, and Tommy Flanagan, who for many years was Ella’s musical director.  “I can’t play in sharp keys,” Frishberg said, exaggerating, and Tommy agreed. Jazz musicians prefer flat keys. That’s what they’re familiar with.*

“Did you ever try to change a key with Ella?” Frishberg asked.

“Yeah, if she did a song in A, sometimes I’d try playing the intro in A♭” Tommy said. “And she’d look over at me. ‘Is that my key?’”

In addition to everything else, she had perfect pitch.

Here are Ella and Tommy doing Errol Garner’s “Misty.” Ella does the first eight bars in B♭ but then moves up to the key of B (five sharps) for the remainder of the song.




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*Rock, folk, bluegrass and other guitar-based music is usually in sharp keys – G, D, A, E. Anyone who starts guitar learns those chords; they’re easy because of the open strings. But jazz is horn-based. Jazz musicians are more likely to be playing tunes in five flats (D♭ major) than in one sharp (G major).

The Judge’s Snap Judgement

April 25, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

Is this racist? I asked in the previous post. While on jury duty, I had guessed incorrectly that a Black man in the court building hallway was the defendant in a case and that a White man in a wheelchair was not. It turned out that the Black man was the prosecutor.

There was a similar case of a White man wrongly assuming that a Black man in court was the defendant and not the attorney. The man making the assumption was the judge. Here is how The African American Athlete described it. 

This is a perfect case study regarding the perceptions some people have of the African-American community. Bryan Stevenson, a noted civil rights attorney who happens to be black, arrived for court early in order to prepare for an upcoming case.

This was the first appearance in this court for Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. He sat down at the defense counsel table as he had hundreds of times in his career, and awaited the arrival of his client. The presiding judge walked in and saw Stevenson sitting there.  He admonished Stevenson, telling the attorney that he never lets ‘defendants’ sit alone in his courtroom without their lawyer.

Stevenson responded by identifying himself as a lawyer.  The judged laughed.  The prosecutor laughed. Stevenson laughed, too but only because he felt he had to in order to give his client the best opportunity in front of the judge.



You have to sympathize with Stevenson. For his client’s sake he had to make nice to a judge who had thoughtlessly insulted him, and who, as far as we know, was not even apologetic about it, just slightly embarrassed.

The incident raises an obvious question:

What Stevenson, a Harvard educated lawyer, dressed professionally in a suit and tie, wanted to know was why the judge would simply assume he was the defendant?

Does this judge look at all black men, no matter what their attire, no matter what their educational background, or life experiences and character references are, in the same manner?


The AAA answer to their own question, presumably, is: Yes, the judge looks at all Black men as though they are criminals.

The incident may show implicit racism, but I’m not sure that it’s “the perfect case study.”  Instead, it illustrates the snap judgment that we all use when we see someone for the first time. We instantly form an impression, based on our implicit biases but also on the context and on our experience. That initial impression shapes what we then see. And don't see. The judge, obviously, could not see Stevenson’s Harvard degree or the life experiences and character references that the AAA refers to. But how could the judge in a juvenile court look at a man in his early 50s wearing a suit and think that he was a defendant?

Here’s my guess. What the judge saw first was race (and probably gender). I suspect that most of us do that. The judge did not see Stevenson’s nice suit or his age. (If you wonder how people can not see something that is so obvious, please try the “Count the Passes” awareness test. *

The judge forms his impression in a quick glance. That’s what we all do. We are not Sherlock Holmes gathering all the available bits of information and then putting them together to reach a conclusion.

What’s also crucial is the context – it’s the judge’s courtroom. The judge has never seen Stevenson before, and as far as we know,  the judge was not advised that a new lawyer would be in court that day. Most courts like this have a regular cast – the same lawyers and the same prosecutors. So the judge walks in, looks over at the defense table, and sees someone who is not one of these regulars. That person is Black.

How many times has the judge seen a Black male he doesn’t know at the defense table? A lot. How many of these unfamiliar Black males are defendants? All of them. Maybe some of these defendants even show up in a suit, probably at the urging of their lawyers or parents.

If the judge had seen Stevenson at a PTA meeting or a restaurant or just walking down the street, would he have assumed that a Black man, fiftyish and wearing a suit, was a criminal? I don’t think so.
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*This incident also calls to mind Stephen Colbert’s “I don’t see color.” For another example of what we see and don’t see, including color, watch this:


   

Who’s Who in the Courtroom? Think Again.

April 18, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston


It was getting close to lunchtime in the large jury room where two hundred or so people sat trying to stave off boredom. The clerk called forty names. Mine was one of them. He told us that when we got back from lunch we were to go to a courtroom on another floor where we would be “voir dired” for a trial.

The courtroom was still locked when we got there, and we waited in the hall. After a while the people involved in the case came back from their lunch – a couple of White men, age forty or fifty, wearing suits; a younger, very stocky Black man (thirty?), also in a suit but one that was too tight for his body; and, in a wheelchair pushed by one of the suited White men, a gray-haired White man, slender almost frail looking, wearing a plain open-collar shirt.

I chatted with a couple of me fellow jurors.  We figured that the Black guy in the ill-fitting suit was the defendant, that the man in the wheelchair must be a victim or a witness, and that the others were lawyers. 

When we were finally seated in the courtroom, the judge told us that this was a murder case. He introduced the defense counsel – one of the suited White guys; the assistant district attorney – the Black guy in the suit; and the defendant – the man in the wheelchair.

This happened many years ago, but I recalled it  after reading this article at The African American Athlete that someone on Facebook linked to.  It’s about a Black lawyer, Bryan Stevenson  who shows up early in the courtroom and takes his seat at the defense table. Soon the judge and other lawyers walk in.

And when the judge saw me sitting at the counsel table, he looked at me and he said, “Hey, hey, hey, you get out of here. I don't want any defendant sitting in my courtroom until their lawyers get here. You go back out there in the hallway and wait for your lawyer.”*


I supposed I should submit the question to Yo, Is This Racist? On the face of it, the answer in both courtrooms is Yes. White people mistook a Black attorney for a criminal defendant. You could even argue that my fellow jurors and I were doubly bigoted, for we assumed that a disabled, wheelchair-bound person was not equally capable of killing someone.**

In my defense, I would ask this: of those four people coming through the hall and into the courtroom, which one was statistically most likely to be the defendant?  I would remind those who would judge us that we had only their physical appearance to base our assumptions on. Unfortunately, this same entangling of racism and statistical probabilities comes into play in more important questions, and I find it frustrating that so often neither side takes seriously the arguments, evidence, or ideas of the other.

The incident also illustrates the power of the first impression. Once I had looked at these people and mentally cast them in their parts, I didn’t bother to check my assumptions. If I had, I would have realized that the man in the wheelchair could not have been a victim or witness. Victims and witnesses do not come to the courtroom for voir dire. They appear only for the actual trial. I’d been on jury duty enough times to know that. But this truth was so inconvenient to my first impression that it did not enter my mind.

The other incident illustrates these same dynamics: racism perhaps, but also two more general processes that affect how we see other people. First, we quickly form impressions, and these may be based on statistical realities and on our own particular experiences. And second, those impressions once formed can filter and distort any subsequent information.

I hope to have more on this and on the judge and the Black lawyer in a subsequent post.

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* This excerpt is not from the African American Athlete article. It’s from an NPR interview with Stevenson three years ago.

** There was no doubt that he had shot and killed the victim. The question would be whether it was murder or self-defense. I was not selected for the jury, so I never learned all the details of the case or the verdict. 

Those LIberal Hollywood Bullies

April 16, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tim Allen has it rough. As he told Jimmy Kimmel,  “You get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes. This is like ‘30s Germany.” Allen was of course referring to the many beatings and other persecutions for his political conservatism that he has suffered at the hands of Hollywood liberals. It’s amazing that he’s still standing.

Many conservatives, especially those outside the business, share Allen’s views of Hollywood. One conservative who disagrees is Rob Long.* Long lives and works inside Hollywood, mostly tilling the sitcom fields as writer, producer, and show-runner from “Cheers” to “Kevin Can Wait.” He is also an outspoken conservative (being a regular on a conservative political podcast counts as speaking out).

Recently on KCRW’s “The Business,” host Kim Masters asked Long if he shared Allen’s perceptions and experiences.

Masters: Do you find that people are negatively dealing with you because you’re a conservative
Long: Maybe. That is possible. I have never experienced it. Never. Quite the reverse. I could probably sit here and with enough time, enough memory, look through my diary and figure out how much money in Hollywood I’ve made not because I was conservative, but because my politics were somehow helpful to the work I was doing.

I usually find people in Hollywood in general to be remarkably open and interested . . .  They like to talk about politics. They like to argue about politics. They like to mix it up. But I’ve never felt that anybody said, y’know “Not him. Can’t have him around because he represents some political viewpoint I disapprove of.” It’s never been played back to me, and I don’t feel I’ve ever had any setbacks in my career, certainly none that I didn’t cause myself. I can only say my experience has been no, been fine.

I think that when politics are mentioned on screen, in a story or a script, they’re kind of  uniformly left-wing, but big deal, so what.


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*I highly recommend Long’s own podcast “Martini Shot,” where he offers his insights on Hollywood, mostly the TV business. He’s gently funny, as you might expect from a guy who wrote “Cheers” episodes, and each installment of the podcast runs only 3½ minutes