Music lubricrates almost everything. Good music will help me get through these less-than-good times. And music that isn’t so good? Well, that can be OK, too.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately, to try to drown out “current events.”


Yuja Wang

We finally got to see Yuja Wang, the sensationally talented young Chinese pianist, in concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and were not disappointed. We saw her play the world premiere of a piano concerto by John Adams of “Nixon In China,” “Doctor Atomic,” etc. fame called MUST THE DEVIL HAVE ALL THE GOOD TUNES? It’s Adams’ third piano concerto: he doesn’t like conventional titles.

It was quite a night at the Disney Hall. At the lecture before the concert, the estimable John Adams showed up and proved to be an engaging interviewee. He disclosed many things: that the source of the title for his new work is Dorothy Day, the great Catholic radical … his love for Bill Evans, the immortal jazz pianist … his first concerts (pop: the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and classical: Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops playing highlights for “Oklahoma”) … his belief that “there’s too much Mahler” in concert halls … how he works (using software that was made for television, but finishing with paper and pencil) … how pianists don’t use human page-turners anymore: they have iPads with foot pedals … and how he resents but understands that his works are often programmed with a Beethoven or a Stravinsky or a Mahler symphony, in comparisons that he can never win.

Our night, he was paired against Mahler’s Symphony No.1 – the “Titan” Symphony – conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and, believe me, Adams lost.

The new piano concerto was about a half-hour long and was a showcase for Ms. Wang’s “diabolical” talents. That’s the word that Adams used. I don’t know if she played like a devil or an angel – I’m thinking “angel,” the way she looked – but the concerto was a real work-out for the 32-year-old pianist, with almost constant playing. I loved watching Yuja play: her strong, yet delicate touch … her command of the keyboard. (We have seats in the front of the Front Terrace with a perfect, binocular-aided view of the keyboard.) But since this was brand-new music -- we saw the second performance of the three night stand -- she couldn’t play in the poised, commanding way I’m accustomed to seeing in the many YouTube clips I’ve watched when I procrastinate from my writing. No, this night, she was working hard to play this unfamiliar, unflowing new music.

About ten minutes in, I, philistine that I am, was wishing that the whole thing magically transformed into a Beethoven or Brahms or Tchaikovsky piano concerto. But there is a major investment in MUST THE DEVIL HAVE ALL THE GOOD TUNES? Dudamel, Wang, and the LA Philharmonic are taking this piece all over the world, starting in Tokyo and Seoul this week. They are even coming back to LA in this summer’s Hollywood Bowl season to play it again. Adams is a big-deal composer. A Pulitzer Prize, many Grammys, many honorary doctorates and international awards. He even wrote a piece called “I Was Looking At the Ceiling And Then I Saw the Sky” with a libretto by my college mentor, poet June Jordan. He has eighteen other pianists who will play this new work with other orchestras, all around the world this year.

The concerto itself was a mixed, unlovely bag. Probably the best music came from the “Peter Gunn” riff that powered much of the first of the three sections of the piece. I never valued Henry Mancini so much before. Adams’ tempo markings – “Gritty, funky, but in strict tempo” and “twitchy, bot-like” – reveal his surrender to uneven, uneasy piano-writing. Yuja played as hard as she could, but the notes didn’t have good music in them. She could only do so much. She didn’t play an encore or two as I had hoped, but I knew that she wouldn’t want to upstage a John Adams’ World Premiere with another composer’s music. (On the first night, however, she did an encore of Adams’ own brief, early “China Gates.”) I can’t wait to see her again … play something else.

After intermission, Dudamel came back and conducted a wonderful Titan Symphony, one of his specialties. (See below.) He conducted without a score and almost danced through this music, urging on individual players, getting low on the podium, then jumping up like Leonard Bernstein. The “Titan” is one of Mahler’s most ear-friendly symphonies, full of transformed folk tunes and even a minor-key, funereal “Frere Jacques.” Sometimes I just closed my eyes and bathed in the sound of a hundred musicians creating wonder.

With the lecture and finally seeing Yuja Wang (she twice cancelled a recital here last year) and the Mahler, it was a pretty great night at the Disney Hall.

“NIXON IN CHINA” – the beginning – Nixon singing. “News! News! News!”

“NIXON IN CHINA” – the Chairman Dance

John Adams – The Chairman Dances – Foxtrot for Orchestra – happy minimal music by Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

This is what we saw. (After many years and many concerts, I know many of these players by sight.) Dudamel is a great Mahler conductor. He just pours out the music.

Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Mahler’s Symphony No.1 – First Movement

Second Movement

Third Movement – starts with the minor-key, funereal “Frere Jacques”

Fourth Movement

and for glorious comparison –

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 –-- “Frere Jacques” starts around 32:30

-- And what I’d rather see Yuja Wang play next time --

Yuja Wang plays Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1-- September 7, 2012 in Helskinki with Hannu Lintu conducting the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Yuja Wang -- Encores

Yuja Wang plays Encore Pieces

Seven dynamic Yuja Wang endings

“Tea for Two” – Yuja out-tatums Art Tatum. (Her fifth encore of the night!)

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 – This’ll knock your ears off.

Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Piano Sonata No.29 in B-flat

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”



Dee White

Occasionally I’ll hear a song on the radio, it grabs me, and I have to find out what it is. Such a song is “CRAZY MAN” by Dee White. I heard it on Sirius Radio’s Outlaw Country channel, and it took a while to track down. But now that I’ve found it, I can’t stop playing it.

Dee White is a young singer-songwriter from Alabama with a sweet voice and a 
classic country sound. He has solid tunes and his singing is strong, with Orbison-like high notes. This song is off his 2018 debut album SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN, produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.

Check out this classic lyric, a plea from a repentant husband for forgiveness:

Take a look
Tell me what do you see
A real good look
You won't recognize me
I'm not the man at all you used to know
Can you see the pain oh it's gone away
And you won't hear things I used to say
Cause that crazy man don't live here anymore

That crazy man with his crazy ways
Those wild wild nights and wasted days
And I know it's you I owe my new life to
It's true, it's you
Do you remember when I was insane
Forget that guy for you he's changed
That crazy man don't live here anymore

You never cared
For that devil in me
Well now he's gone and you're gonna see
The man you knew and loved so long ago
And after all he put you through
I'll make you feel even better than new
Cause that crazy man don't live here anymore

That crazy man with his crazy ways
Those wild wild nights and wasted days
And i know it's you I owe my new life to
It's true it's you,
Do you remember when I was insane
Forget that guy for you he's changed
That crazy man don't live here anymore
Don't you remember when I was insane
Forget that guy for you he's changed
That crazy man don't live here anymore
No baby
That crazy man don't live here anymore

This song is now in my “Favorite Tracks” on my streamer. At least, for a while.

“Crazy Man” – the studio version, produced by Dan Auerbach

“Crazy Man” – acoustic (for radio)

Mini-set by Dee White and his band – “Crazy Man” starts at 4:30 (a little bass-heavy)




And then there’s Raffi. When our kids were little, they listened to a lot of music by Raffi Cavoukian. I even took my son to “Raffi On Broadway” on a memorably cold Manhattan winter afternoon. And now his son Calder is listening to Raffi, too.

Born in Cairo to Armenian parents and raised in Canada, Raffi is probably the most famous children’s entertainer in the English-speaking world. His music is simple and soothing, positive and fun.

Calder likes all kinds of other music, especially “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” “My Favorite Things,” “Tender Shepherd” from Mary Martin’s PETER PAN, and the Beatles. Calder’s parents and I try to play him all kinds of music. Just the other day, we were driving with Calder in the backseat when some harmonica music came on the radio, and he asked, “Is that Bob Dylan?”

I could have leapt into the backseat and kissed him, but I was driving.

But when we’re at home with Calder the easiest thing to do is put on Raffi’s “Top Tracks” and let them play.

Here’s one of Calder’s and my favorites – THANKS A LOT

Thanks a lot,
Thanks for Sun in the sky.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for clouds so high.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for whispering wind.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for the birds in the spring.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for the moonlit night.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for the stars so bright.

Thanks a lot,
Thanks for the wondering me.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for the way I feel.
Thanks for the animals,
Thanks for the land,
Thanks for the people everywhere.
Thanks a lot,
Thanks for all I've got.
Thanks for all I've got.

Raffi sings “Thanks A Lot”

I’m sure that someday Calder will play Raffi’s music for his children. Who knows how music will “stream” by then? Through fetally implanted chips?



And we have LA CLEMENZA DI TITO at the Los Angeles Opera this weekend. Obscure Mozart in a very-well-reviewed production.

And later this month … ROBBIE FULKS at McCabe’s Guitar Store in Santa Monica.

Diffferent music for different moods.



And for all my love of music, there was an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about “THE 25 SONGS THAT MATTER RIGHT NOW.”

And I hadn’t even heard of 15 of the 25 artists who were on the list.

I guess, in a way, that’s good, that there’s so much good music out there. On the other hand, it shows how fragmented the world is. In the Sixties, one kind of music – say, The Beatles or Motown – could dominate the airwaves, and virtually everybody knew them. Now, huge chunks of culture can pass by, and no one might notice. People live in different realities these days.



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Christian Correa