Are You Ready For Some Debating?

celebrity-deathmatch

Tonight when she takes the  stage for the first presidential debate with Donald Trump at Hofstra University It’s a given Hillary Clinton enters the debate with a superior advantage in knowledge of policy, international and domestic issues, gravitas, substance and will not at any time brag about her lady parts.

If Trump gets through the debate without calling Clinton a “lyin’ ass bitch”, he’ll be declared the winner by those already predisposed to do so. That’s okay. My own expectations are we’re going to have a substantive and civil discourse on matters of great importance in a dignified debate.

Kidding! I’m appalled this debate has been framed like a heavyweight fight and the only question is how many jabs and feints will it take before the big knockout punch is thrown.

I will be watching the debates with a glass of sangria in one hand and the TV remote in the other so I can follow the Falcons vs. Saints game. I have a Saints receiver starting for my fantasy football team (The Blair Walsh Project) and I’d like to finish my weekend strong. However, as a good American, I am skilled at viewing two vastly different events at the same time and thus switch between a relatively meaningless early NFL game and an important discussion between two wildly unpopular and disliked people vying for the right to lead a nation into peace or war.

James Fallows on why we will watch and what it will mean

Clinton has the burden is to show she can be trusted. Trump has the burden of trying to appear, not only presidential, but sane. He’s got the easier lift.

If you don’t have time to read Fallows’ analysis of the first debate, take 4:49 and it sums it up nicely.

Trump cannot immediately become an American dictator if he wins.  But within four years? Challenge accepted!

So! We meet again!

So! We meet again!

Make no mistake about it. Donald Trump would be like no other president we’ve ever had because he’s like no other presidential candidate we’ve ever seen. No need to go down the list of Trump’s personality quirks, propensity to lie repeatedly even when he doesn’t have to, or the policy proposals and statements which would be nightmarish in their effect or just flat-out unconstitutional as proposed.

There is something about Trump which tells me he wouldn’t be an American dictator.  He’s vicious and evil enough, but also too lazy to commit to  it.  He’s not philosophically motivated or driven by ideology to pursue the means to accomplish the ends of dismantling democracy.  Anyone as flaky as Trump can be isn’t going to round-up all his enemies and waterboard them when he becomes Commander-in-Chief. That’s too small.   Sure, he’d  make their lives a living hell, but that sort of fun and games will be President Trump’s downtime distraction  in-between starting a war with Iran or North Korea  and  shooting the shit with his new butt-buddy, Vladimir Putin.

There will be no dull days with Trump in the White House. He may walk into the Situation Room in a foul mood because the First Lady wouldn’t give him a handjob last night, so now he’s ready to bomb the bejesus outta somebody and shout, “Bring me the nuclear football!”

Nothing to worry about.  Just the fate of the free world.  That’s all.

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Trump will look to add Clinton to his list of victims.

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The Warmth of Ashleigh Smith’s “Sunkissed.”

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Summer 2016 was hot, sticky and not a lot of fun. Many big name Hollywood blockbusters tanked. The presidential election has been a long slog. Television ratings for the Summer Olympics were off and every time you turned on the TV there were plenty of reasons to turn it back off.

Then along came Ashleigh Smith to save the summer with Sunkissed as welcome as coming across brightly sparkling gem in the sand. Blessed with maturity beyond her years, Smith is a singer more than a stylist who caresses and interprets a song than hammer the listener with hey-look-at-me vocal gymnastics.

The 27-year-old Dallas-based singer/songwriter effortlessly blends soul, jazz and pop on her debut album. Smith’s “Best Friends” is radio-friendly and serves as a nice introduction to what she brings to the party. There’s a breezy bossa nova groove to the tune as Smith references her fondness for Stevie Wonder courtesy of Kevin Wyatt’s quality harmonica work.

Smith’s skill set includes songwriting as she co-wrote five of the album’s 10 compositions. The other half includes covers of The Beatles “Blackbird’ and Hall & Oates’ 1975 hit, “Sara Smile” and they work best as showpieces for Smith’s comfort with lighter fare without really moving the needle as game-changing interpretations.

What does work better for Smith are her own songs like “The World Is Calling,” a commentary on contemporary social issues which avoids becoming preachy, the optimistic “Sunkissed” and the sparkling “Into the Blue” which is enhanced in no small part by the four-piece horn section arranged by trumpeter Jarriel Carter. The whole album is brimming with right choices by Smith and producers Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers and avoids any glaring missteps, but “Into the Blue” is a track that demands repeat listening.

In 2014, Smith won the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition after placing second two years later. She added vocal backup for pop artist Chrisette Michele and covers one of her compositions, “Love Is You” but Smith is equally comfortable with standards as she closes out with Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory stripped down to only her multi-tracked vocals and it is a pure delight.

Read the liner notes and the names of the other musicians likely aren’t familiar ones. That is not an accident. Smith wanted to avoid “big name” musicians and went with other players she worked with from a jazz camp at the University of North Texas. When a new artist enters the studio the temptation is there to wrap them in a cocoon of hand-picked professional musicians and production. Thankfully, Sunkissed does not succumb to playing it safe and Smith never gets lost in studio gimmicks.

In 2014,  one my favorite AAJ critics (me!)  wrote, “For jazz not only to thrive, but survive, it must begin to create its own superstars who can deliver a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the flagging art form, but have skills in social media and marketing, creating a global brand, and finding new forms beyond record sales, radio play and live gigs in fewer clubs and concert halls to reach the new breed of jazz fans.”

Ashleigh Smith announces with Sunkissed the next generation of jazz artists is here for the previous generation to pass the baton on to capable hands. She’s not the next Sarah Vaughan. She’s the first Ashleigh Smith.

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Ms. Smith would like to sing for you if that’s okay.

Track Listing: Best Friends; Sara Smile; The World Is Calling; Love Is You; Blackbird; Sunkissed; Into the Blue; Brokenhearted Girl; Beautiful and True; Pure Imagination

Personnel: Ashleigh Smith: vocals; Shelton Summers: piano, Fender Rhodes; Sergio Pamies: piano (9); Joel Cross: guitar; Mark Lettieri: electric guitar (3, 9); Justin Schenk: electric guitar (3, 9); Nigel Rivers: electric bass; Cedric Moore: drums (1, 5); Marcus Jones: drums (2, 4); Matt Young: drums (9); Cleon Edwards: drums; Greg Beck: percussion (1); AJ Flores: percussion: (2-4, 6, 7); Kevin Wyatt: harmonica (1); Jarriel Carter: trumpet (1,7); Jason Davis: saxophone (1, 7); Gaika James: trombone (1, 7); Antone Amalbert: trombone (1, 7); Veronica Gan: 1st violin (4, 9); Emily Aquin: 2nd violin (4, 9); Emily Williams: viola (1, 7); Craig Leffer: cello (1, 7); Sergio Pamies: string arrangement; Jarriel Carter: horn arrangement

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Concord Records

A different version of this review originally appeared in All About Jazz

Those Whom Speak the Truth Will Suffer For It.

Eric Holder,  President Obama’s first attorney general,  had only been on the job for a month when he called out the whole damn U.S. of A. for its timid reluctance to talk about race in an open and honest way.   Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

Conservatives already didn’t like Holder before,  but they were really pissed at him for being rude enough to remind the nation this isn’t a post-racial paradise.   When Black people tell White people things like this they are going to get crushed for doing so.    This is where Colin Kaepernick finds himself in today.

If you’re a professional athlete and you’re actively supporting Black Lives Matter, you’re putting yourself in the frying pan.   If you refuse to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner, you’re cooked.   America loved Muhammad Ali  after he got sick and no longer dangerous, but they don’t want NFL players walking in his shoes.

As a longtime San Francisco 49ers fan, my interest was rekindled when Jim Harbaugh selected  Colin Kaepernick as the quarterback to lead the 49ers back to somewhere Alex Smith never could get to:  The Super Bowl.  They came up three points short to the Baltimore Ravens, but the future looked bright for the  Niners and Kaepernick looked like the guy to return the franchise to its Montana/Young glory days.

Only four players remain from that 2012 Super Bowl runner-up and after today’s final  roster cuts today while Kaepernick is  still one of them,  it’s only as the $11 million back-up to the wretched Blaine Gabbert.

The scourging of Colin Kaepernick takes several different lines of attack.

“Kaepernick is a rich, well-paid football player who should shut up because where else is he going to enjoy this level of success.”

Because only poor people have the right to protest?

“Kaepernick is a lousy football player who should be cut, traded or ride the bench in San Francisco. Who is he to say anything?”

It’s true Kapernick is not the hot property he once was, but he is an American citizens and American citizens are not required to stand and observe the National Anthem. This right extends even to professional football players. Incredible, yes I know.

“Kaepernick isn’t Black so what does he know about how Black men experience racism?”

That one came courtesy of NBC Sports’ Rodney Harrison. Harrison, who suffered at least 10 concussions in his playing days and was suspended four games in 2007 for using Human Growth Hormone, later “apologized” for questioning Kaepernick’s racial roots because he didn’t know Kaepernick was Black.

You may not believe it, Rodney Harrison, but this IS a Black guy. (Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

You may not believe it, Rodney Harrison, but this IS a Black guy.
(Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

I can’t even.

“I acknowledge Kaepernick’s right to protest, but since America is one of the least racist countries on the planet, he’s protesting about the wrong thing.”

Here’s the thing:  if you only agree someone has the right to protest when you agree with what they’re protesting about, you don’t really believe in the right.

Kaepernick is not the next MLK. He’s not the next Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali or any other Black athlete who has stood up (or sat down) to protest the racial inequities of America. He’s the first Colin Kaepernick and he’s following the light all those before him cast upon the darkness of American racism.

Some guys don’t get it. Like Rodney Harrison. Some guys do like Bart Scott.

“I think the death of Muhammad Ali has stirred the pot. It has moved the needle to where athletes are becoming socially conscious. They’re not concerned about the bottom line. They’re not concerned with their dollars. They understand that they have a voice and [they’re] almost ashamed of how they used their voice in the last 20 years since Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor, Muhammad Ali stepped up for social change. Now, guys are ashamed and I think they’re going to try to do something about it.

“We just honored the same man that we persecuted back in the day. It’s always the right time to fight for justice, fight for what you believe in. It’s never a convenient time to talk about what you believe in. You’re supposed to wait til tomorrow? Until he’s not a player? Who’s going to listen? If he had tweeted, who would have cared?”

The way this supposedly washed-up, scrub QB is being vilified, scorned, mocked, and damned, you would think he came out of the huddle, ripped off his jersey revealing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt, and then pulled out an American flag and set it on fire on the 50-yard line. All he did was remaining seated on the bench instead of standing for an anthem that has lost its meaning for him.

Maybe Kaepernick eventually goes and maybe he stays.  Either way, the 49ers are going to suck.  This is a rotten team. and the bookmakers give them the least chance to make it to the Super Bowl.   I knew this before this drama jumped off so where Kap stands on the national anthem, Black Lives Matter or being able to check down to a receiver probably isn’t going to make much difference to the overall product on the field.

American history is soaked in the blood of Black people. It is the nation’s Original Sin and it didn’t end as much as it evolved. If it hasn’t why are we still having this discussion. Racism is a cancer, not a bruise. It goes dormant and then it blazes back to ferocious life.

White Americans have a remarkable talent to ignore the past, sugarcoat the future and hope the future never comes. This works for them until every so often someone like Colin Kaepernick comes along to remind them, that’s the America they created for themselves. It’s not the one Black Americans live in.

Thanks,  Colin for reminding the rest of America, but its gonna cost you.