Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eagle Hill School

Saturday, October 25, 2008:
Parents' Weekend

Eagle Hill School
Hardwick, Massachusetts

My husband and I are associated with this unique learning facility which provides a caring, nurturing environment for its 150 teen-age student body. Eagle Hill School is a private co-educational college preparatory boarding school for students with learning disabilities in grades 8-12. Specific learning differences include: Dyslexia, Language Based Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disability. Eagle Hill School also offers a five week academic and recreational summer camp for students ages 10-18 who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Eagle Hill School is the preeminent private high school for students with learning disabilities and ADHD who demonstrate average to above average cognitive ability.

Additional information about Eagle Hill can be found here.

Students and faculty are justifiably proud of their glittering, brand new Performing Arts Center which opened with the scintillatingly talented pianist/singer Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano who performed music from The Great American Songbook for the citizens and civic leaders of Hardwick and adjacent communities. Eric and Barbara were ably supported by the superb bass player Marshall Wood. The evening was a great success, establishing the tone and essence of forthcoming attractions. Visit Eric's web site here.

On Saturday, October 25: The impressive, swinging New Life Jazz Orchestra led by Kendrick Oliver performed a rollicking set to which the audience consisting of parents, faculty and students responded with high-powered enthusiasm. Mr. Oliver invited Nicole Nelson, a powerful singer possessing impeccable blues credentials, to perform several stirring songs with the band and thrilled the audience. Standing ovations.

My husband and I heard about a young student named Jason months ago when we enjoyed our first hard-hat tour of the PAC. Jason is very popular on campus, and although his first love is opera, he is also an avid Frank Sinatra fan. Jason was given the opportunity to sing with the big band and he was admittedly a little nervous about it. But he stood firm and tall, singing "Fly Me To The Moon" with grace and style. Bravo Jason!

I sang three favorite Duke Ellington melodies and enjoyed myself enormously. Two cheerful and efficient young people named Brad and Sarah were close at hand to provide any last minute items I might have needed. Thank you both for being so helpful.

The Official Opening Night Gala on Saturday, November 1st will feature the popular young jazz vocalist Jane Monheit and her band. Anticipation of this event is running high among the students and faculty.

Buck and I want to thank everyone at Eagle Hill School for the opportunity to contribute to this exceptional institution and its new Performing Arts Center. Long may ye reign!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

R.I.P. Dave McKenna

He was one of the most popular jazz piano players of his generation. A low-keyed kind of man who loved to string medleys of songs with the same word in the title, always surprising and delightful to hear his imagination at work.

A small series of Sunday afternoon solo piano concerts were held in a Providence hotel ballroom in the 1980's. Buck and I took My Mother The Jazz Fan (80-years old at the time) to hear Dave. Choice seats, mere inches away from Dave's right hand. She was in heaven. The following Sunday we again attended the series which that afternoon featured a pianist renowned for his flawless technique and remarkable agility. We managed to secure the same seats. I watched my mother's genuine amazement and appreciation of this exceptional musician. On the way home, she casually offered this comment: "I liked [...] very much, but I think Dave McKenna swings more."

Here in Boston, he played regularly in the Oak Bar of the Copley Plaza hotel. It was a sizeable room filled with comfortable furniture strewn about the place in an effort to create a feeling of warmth and coziness. In this endeavor, it succeeded with customary Copley Plaza elegance, patrons settling into the cocktail hour or the night-cap after dinner and the theatre, and mostly focused on their libations and sparkling companions. At times, the gentle hum of conversation seemed to overwhelm the artistry of the pianist on the small stage in the corner. This atmosphere suited Dave perfectly. He knew which patrons had dropped in expressly to hear him, for they were loyalty personified and always made certain they were seated as close to him as possible.

I especially recall with great fondness his habit of placing a tiny Sony transistor radio (remember them?) into his jacket pocket, trailing a thin wire attached to an earplug firmly planted in his left ear. Since his right hand was toward the house, no one ever seemed to notice. But you could get an accurate pitch count if you asked politely and extended him the courtesy of waiting until he'd finished playing the tune.

I met Dave in New York shortly after I arrived there myself in the early 1960's. We found ourselves featured players on various concert stages throughout the years, and I once recorded with him, but only once, at a performance recorded for the Concord Jazz Label. A concert held in the ballroom of the Cape Cod Plaza Hotel on May 3, 1992, featured Dave, Scott Hamilton on tenor, Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Chuck Riggs on drums. The cd is available at Amazon and probably at other outlets. It's "Concord All-Stars on Cape Cod", CCD 4530. I managed to call the wrong key for the song "Time After Time" but of course, that was no problem for Dave. He could play in any key. Unfortunately, I wound up sounding like a cross between Elaine Stritch and Billy Ecksine.

Dave and I didn't see much of each other in these last years since he became rather reclusive living on the Cape. However, I know he faithfully followed every movement of the Boston Red Sox. He held season tickets to games at Fenway Park for many years, and once graciously gave the precious seats to me and my husband because Dave was going to be out of town on game day. Third base line, just slightly off to the left of the visiting dugout. Wish I could remember who the Sox beat that day.

There is an extensive obit in today's Boston Globe which mentions a tribute concert to be held at some future date. Watch this Blog for specifics.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation ...

****** It's been many weeks since I posted. The summer has been filled with glorious weather, exciting Red Sox games, delightful books to read and new recipes to explore. (A truly easy and fool-proof chocolate cake with a surprise ingredient is included at the end of this note).

****** At times, it did seem utterly unfair that our summer weather was so beautiful when one witnessed the devastation suffered by our neighbors to the south. Help is still needed so maybe you can spare a couple of bucks for The Red Cross.

****** SloaneView has studiously avoided political commentary to date, but the Front Office feels compelled to recommend that you cast your General Election vote for the Democratic ticket. My parents lived through the Great Depression, squarely placing the blame for that catastrophe on the Republican administration of then President Herbert Hoover. My allegiance to the Democratic party was born in those difficult times. Many nights my sister and I were served frugal but nutritious meals while my parents contented themselves with toast and cocoa. We were too young at the time to notice the disparity.

****** It is overwhelming to contemplate the colossal failure of the Bush administration and the perilous position he and his advisors have placed the United States. When Bush was elected, I predicted tough times ahead. Oh, not for the wealthy citizens who helped elect the man because he promised to lower their taxes. That was really the only thing they cared about, and if he decided to place our young men and women in jeopardy by sending them to Middle Eastern hot spots, well, that was okay. After all, we'd be out of that region without too much loss of life, and then democracy would reign, the Iraqi people would embrace us as their true saviors, and the price of oil would plummet.

****** I am heartsick about it all. You may be too, so let's elect Barack Obama and do all we can to help him rectify the wrongs we face. He'll need all the assistance he can get.

Oh yes: here's the great and easy chocolate cake recipe:


Baking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1 1/3 cups boiling water
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sugar
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick baking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Allow to cool for 2 minutes.

Add the mayonnaise, vanilla, and sugar and whisk to blend. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the flour mixture and stir to incorporate just until smooth (do not overmix).

With a flexible spatula, scrape the batter into the baking pan, smooth the top, and bake just until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean and the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the pan, about 40 minutes (do not overbake).

Place the cake on a wire rack, cool to room temperature, cut into squares, dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired, and serve.