Around the Clock Battle: North Texas Celebrates 60 Years as an Elite Jazz Program


Appeared in the October 2007 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine; photo by Craig Marshall.

Students at the University of North Texas don't exactly walk around campus wearing 60 years of jazz studies tradition on their sleeves.

But with the largest degree program in the nation, a faculty packed with Stan Kenton Orchestra alums and an impressive list of North Texas graduates—including Lyle Mays, Lou Marini and Bob Belden—the world's first jazz degree program remains one of the standard-bearers for excellence in jazz education.

Denton, Texas' reign as the unlikely jazz capital of the South sprouted from enthusiastic but frustrating beginnings. Its early champion was Gene Hall. The young pianist wanted to develop his big band chops during the '30s, but found no college degree program in which to do so. Conventional wisdom at the time said that the professional bandstand, rather than the classroom, was the place to hone his skills.

"He considered it a deficiency in the American educational system," said Bill Collins Jr., who played with the late Hall in several dance bands. When Hall entered graduate school in 1942 at what was then called North Texas State College, he began a thesis: "The Development of a Curriculum for the Teaching of Dance Music at a College Level." In 1947, after a bit of wrangling with the administration, that thesis turned into a full-fledged dance-band degree program.

He built the curriculum around arranging courses for students, with lab bands in which they would play their arrangements and sharpen their technique. (At that time, the Two O'Clock Lab Band, named for its daily meeting time, was the top ensemble.) North Texas music faculty carped that jazz wasn't worthy of academic study, and that it would bring dope-smoking hoodlums to the campus. They stuck Hall and his band in the basement of a run-down building.

By 1959, despite winning awards and garnering widespread attention for his program, Hall had grown weary of the negative vibes from the faculty and administration. "He always made the comment that, 'You're not a hero in your own hometown,'" Collins said.

After Hall announced he was leaving North Texas, he tried to dissuade his friend Leon Breeden—whom he had recommended as his successor—from taking the job, listing the numerous obstacles Breeden would face.

Unfazed, Breeden took over, and immediately catapulted the program into national prominence with victories at the 1960 and 1961 Notre Dame College Jazz Festivals. North Texas' premier big band (renamed as the One O'Clock Lab Band) soon became a breeding ground for Kenton and Woody Herman's bands. The One O'Clock even played alongside Stan Getz and Duke Ellington at the White House in 1967.

Breeden's former students credit a two-pronged formula for the program's success: a respected leader who demanded the best, and dedicated students who brought out the best in each other.

"All through the years [Breeden] was there, due to his building on the program, better and more students came who had that talent," said trumpeter Marvin Stamm, who graduated from North Texas in 1961 and played with Kenton. "It was a cycle that fed on itself."

Despite continued battles with uncooperative administrators throughout the '60s and '70s, the experiment in "dance band" education at North Texas had proven indomitable. And the movement spread. "Other educational institutions would look at this and say, 'Wow, maybe we can do that,'" said Neil Slater, the current chairman of the jazz studies division. By 1970, 10 colleges offered jazz degrees.

Slater, after taking over the program in 1982, has maintained its elite status in part by letting his talented faculty members carve their own paths. "Neil gives us free reign to do with our students what we think is going to be the best thing for them," said Jay Saunders, a jazz studies instructor who also attended North Texas. This results in a diverse department with a reputation for solid bands, versatile alums and highly motivated students.

"You get there as a freshman, and you're just surrounded by badasses," said senior Andy Rogers, a bassist. Such high expectations can make studying there intimidating—Slater likens the rigorous biannual auditions and high-pressure juries to "jazz boot camp." Students who are in over their heads are often encouraged to consider a new major.

Most North Texas students, though, see the intense environment as a good thing, emphasizing the sense of friendly competition among students. "You let that competitive attitude drive you," said Dave Richards, a third-year master's student who played trumpet in the One O'Clock last semester. "If you slip, there's somebody right behind you who will take your spot."

That's the idea, say faculty—give young musicians a sense of the environment they'll face as professionals. If students can't make their lab band rehearsals, for example, they're required to find subs.

Preparing players for the uncertain world of jazz also means instilling in them the flexibility to play the Village Vanguard one night and a Broadway show the next, Saunders said. "If you want to optimize your position as a professional musician, you should be able to do both," he said. "And then go out and play in a rock band the next night."

Faculty don't see that philosophy at odds with the school's emphasis on lab bands, a subject on which North Texas is sometimes criticized. Although opportunities to make a living playing big band music aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they once were, professors say the lab band system trains players to work well with other musicians, to have patience and discipline, and to develop big ears.

Saunders calls these essential skills for young players, especially when they're just starting out. "You've got to be able to be adaptable, and you want the leader to like and want to hire you again, whatever the gig is," he said.

But make no mistake about it—North Texas isn't a factory that churns out uncreative session players, said John Murphy, a professor in the jazz studies division. With dozens of small groups inside and outsideof the curriculum, the program's students have plenty of opportunity to collaborate and pursue their own musical voices.

And though they're not New York, Denton and nearby Dallas give students the chance to showcase their groups to the public. With a steady flow of guest artists visiting from out of town, the jazz studies division is "large enough to kind of constitute its own scene," Murphy said.

Combine that with the world music, orchestral and other offerings from one of the largest music schools in the country, and students enjoy a diversity of opportunities that smaller schools can't offer. "If they want to get involved in 19th-century Romantic piano music, trying to see where Brad Mehldau is coming from somewhat by studying that music, they can do that on a high level if they're prepared to," Murphy said. "If they want to play in the gamelan, if they want to play African ensemble, Indian ensemble, Afro-Cuban ensemble—we have all those resources."

Although the jazz studies curriculum features progressive elements—guitar ensembles, electronic music—it remains rooted in the traditions Hall started in 1947. Lab bands still constitute the department's backbone, and students still compose and arrange for the bands in which they play. Top leaders still recruit players from the program's pool of talent. (Before trumpeter Maynard Ferguson died in 2006, he made a point of hiring North Texas grads whenever he had a vacancy in his band.)

Interestingly, the lab band rehearsal space is located in a new building on the site of the same dingy spot where Hall rehearsed his bands in the '40s and '50s. The coincidence makes Professor of Jazz Studies Jim Riggs chuckle. "It's almost like the vibes were just real good at that place," he said.

Ivy League Jazz: Students Pursue Jazz Degrees at Elite Universities

Appeared in the October 2007 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine.

As a college student, Joshua Redman wasn’t much of a multitasker. The saxophonist rarely practiced when he attended Harvard University from 1987-’91—playing jazz alongside such a rigorous academic schedule just didn’t work. "I was focused on school, and I wasn’t able to carve out time for music during the school year," Redman said. "I barely touched my horn."

For Redman, music and demanding academics didn’t mesh. But a growing number of students balance musical and scholarly pursuits simultaneously, studying jazz at some of the nation’s best colleges.

One such example is Julia Brav, a Princeton senior who won an Outstanding Performance DownBeat Student Music Award in the Jazz Soloist category this year. The pianist said she wanted to combine stellar academics with a formidable jazz education, and she attends a program that’s won several DownBeat awards of its own. As expected, it’s been no cakewalk.

"The rigors of this education can be daunting and overwhelming," said Brav, who sits next to future molecular biologists and lawyers in the New Jersey university’s bands, then jets off to classes in such subjects as modern Japanese culture and number theory.

At New York University, Director of Jazz Studies David Schroeder said the difficult course work challenges jazz studies majors to do more than just develop their talent. It translates to their musicianship, instilling critical thinking skills that can beef up their playing. He beams when students coming out of philosophy classes engage with and challenge the ideas of guest artists and clinicians. He also encourages his 120 jazz students to experience the music of other cultures by studying abroad.

Rigorous academics don’t necessarily lead to better playing. "It’s not like reading Kant made me swing harder," Redman said. But superior liberal arts offerings can enrich the study of music, as when author E.L. Doctorow, who wrote Ragtime and teaches at NYU, worked with students on the musical adaptation of his novel, Schroeder said.

Although Brav has moments when the musician in her longs for a less demanding academic environment, she takes comfort in the fact that her impressive degree can sustain her if a career in music doesn’t work out. "I’ve come to accept the open-endedness that this education offers," she said.

Schroeder remembers a music/economics double major who landed a three-record deal with SteepleChase during his junior year at NYU. Days before graduation, he asked his director for a law school recommendation letter. "He’s not alone here," Schroeder said. "All these guys aspire to much more."

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which offers a jazz minor, mostly graduates students who seek careers in other fields. Some continue to make room in their lives for jazz—a business school graduate a few years ago took a job on Wall Street trading during the day, while continuing to play jazz gigs at night. Director of Jazz Studies David Pellow sees himself not only as a music instructor, but also as a steward of the jazz tradition for tomorrow’s movers and shakers in business and other fields. "Maybe I won’t train the next Brecker, but maybe I’ll train the next guy who’s going to open a club or create an arts center that’s going to present the music," Pellow said.

Admittedly, an austere academic experience isn’t for everyone, and admissions requirements at top universities can be barriers to studying jazz there. At Princeton, though, Conductor of University Jazz Ensembles Anthony Branker has the ability to influence who gets the thick envelope come April. Strong audition tapes can give applicants a boost if their grades aren’t as high as other admitted students.

"Obviously, academically they have to be what the university is looking for," Branker said. "But I can be part of the process."

The New Expo Model

Appeared in the October 2007 edition of Music Inc., the leading trade magazine for the musical products industry.

Guitarists aren’t known for their punctuality, but hundreds showed up early for the inaugural Montreal Guitar Show on July 5. Inside, the first comers—and later, some 3,000 others—encountered a 70-exhibitor event that sought to showcase the best in Canadian and international guitar making.

The exhibition was an offshoot of the massive Montreal Musician and Musical Instrument Show (MMMIS), held the same weekend. Only in its third year, the 2007 MMMIS attracted 90,000 attendees. Both Montreal shows represent an experiment in coupling musical instrument exhibitions with a major concert event, the Montreal Jazz Festival. The strategy has enabled organizers to stage consumer-friendly expos that take advantage of the city’s increased foot traffic.

"You have 2,000-3,000 professional musicians in town during the jazz festival, so that’s a good start for a musical instrument show," said Jacques-Andre Dupont, vice president and business development associate for Spectra, which produces the three festivals. "Then you have all those lawyers, doctors and architects who are into jazz but who are also into music at home. The biggest part of our success comes from this joint venture."

About 60 manufacturers, distributors and retailers set up shop in the exhibition hall for the MMMIS. Like most consumer expos, the showroom was for promotion and exposure, not sales. It also featured a number of activities designed to engage musicians of all stripes. Last year’s show provided how-to sessions that put instruments in the hands of complete tyros, and this year, the sessions took place in an outdoor tent, situated in downtown Montreal. Tourists could wander over and, an hour later, know a basic blues progression.

To target more experienced players, workshops and master classes were held with musicians like Bill Frisell and Mimi Fox. In addition, the MMMIS put on Brazilian percussion and djembe jam sessions, intimate concerts with festival performers and a blues camp for young people.

Unlike the open-door MMMIS, the Guitar Show cost $10 to attend and catered to pros and collectors. Independent luthiers took center stage, traveling from all over Canada, the United States, Europe and South America to showcase their wares. Guitar makers, such as John Monteleone and Linda Manzer, gave workshops, took orders and let attendees try out their hand-made instruments.

The goal was to highlight the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into guitar building, Dupont said. Although luthiers were featured as part of last year’s MMMIS, the general interest audience wasn’t right for the specialty guitar builders, who received few orders. "[Luthiers] are not interested in the tire-kickers," Dupont said.

Next year, to account for the difference in clientele and allow for continued growth, the Guitar Show and the MMMIS will become even more disaggregated, with the Guitar Show taking place during the first weekend of the jazz festival and the MMMIS closing the event. Dupont also said he hopes to add separate rooms for acoustic instruments at the MMMIS to ensure they aren’t drowned out by amps and drums.

Audio Slideshow: Ramon Zepeda

Produced for Nuestras Historias, Nuestros Sueños/Our Stories, Our Dreams, an exhibition at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (CDS); photos, audio and editing by Eric Bishop and Kathy Stanton.

How to Make a Movie in 24 Hours: Fledgling Directors Take Center Stage at Duke's First Ever Movie Making Marathon

Appeared in the May 2007 edition of Towerview, Duke University's independent perspectives magazine; photos by Eric Bishop.

It's Saturday morning, and Sean Canino is stressed out. He's standing in the Marketplace lobby with a camera jib, and although his day of filmmaking has run smoothly so far, he's beginning to hit some rough spots. He's having trouble getting the right camera angles. He's getting irritated by freshman passers-by interfering with his shots. And he's frantically trying to direct his cast of characters over the clanking of dishes and the incessant beeping of DukeCards swiping in for brunch.

"Let them go in front of you, just let everybody in line go in front of you," he spatters, and the curious onlookers filter past his sunglasses-clad actors, one of whom is dressed in a giant banana suit. The looks on the freshman faces say it all: What the hell is going on?

What's going on is the Movie Making Marathon, a filmmaking extravaganza in which teams of students have only 24 hours to shoot and edit short movies. Sponsored by the Film/Video/Digital program and other University departments, the event kicked off in October with a campus-wide screenwriting competition. Five screenplays were selected for the event from a pool of 26, and marathon coordinators randomly assigned a script to each of the 10 participating groups a day before the big event. From there--jacked up on caffeine, adrenaline and whatever else it took to cram production that usually takes weeks into 24 short hours--it was up to the teams to sweat out their eight-minute masterpieces.

As Canino puts it, "Marathon is really a misnomer. It's not a marathon at all--it's a sprint."


It's 7 a.m. and dozens of bleary-eyed students are making their way to the Bryan Center to pick up cameras, mics, tripods and other filmmaking gear. Most of these people can count on one hand the number of times they've woken up this early on a Saturday at Duke. Still, MMM co-producers Annie Fleishman and Shannon Rowbury--who woke up at 5:15 a.m. to prep the equipment for their arrival--are surprised to see most students trickling in a few minutes after the official start of the marathon instead of coming early to get a jump on the competition.

"I would have tented for this," Fleishman says.

Of all the 70-odd students involved in the marathon, Fleishman is probably the most excited. The junior, a filmmaker in her own right, conceived of the event last year as a way to bolster filmmaking at Duke. Freshmen had the Froshlife iMovie Festival, but there had been no such opportunity for upperclassmen. The goal with the MMM, she says, was to create an event in which any random chem major who had a cursory interest in film could participate. And that meant teams would be assigned randomly, with each headed by a more experienced filmmaker-a student enrolled in a film course taught by Teaching Fellow and event co-producer Elisabeth Benfey.

Canino's team certainly seems random--he's got novices who have never seen this side of a video camera, a few Froshlife veterans and even a senior who studied filmmaking at the hand of the man who wrote, directed and produced Aladdin and Hercules-his father. That last one is Jackson Musker, who is slated as an actor in the group's film. His only acting experience before this was "about 15 seconds in Froshlife," an experience the senior describes as "painful."

In fact, none of the actors in the team's movie are actually "actors." But Canino only had a day to cast after he got his screenplay, and when you're making a movie and you're short on time, you improvise. You begin shooting in the Marketplace before you technically have permission to do so. You enlist Marketplace employees for supporting roles. You sneak $44 worth of candy corn into the Marketplace for a scene, even though doing so may be a violation of the health code. (You're not really sure.) Then you placate the Marketplace manager who's been eyeing you suspiciously during your shoot by fulfilling his request for a cup of said candy corn.

And somewhere in between, Hollywood producer Bill Teitler--whose credits include Mr. Holland's Opus and Jumangi--stops by the set. He's in town to judge the films at the premiere Sunday after it's all over.

"You guys are experiencing one of the basic facts of film production-not enough time and being really tired," he tells the team. But does he ever have just 24 hours to make an entire movie? "Frequently whether you have half an hour to get something done or two hours or twelve hours, time is always ticking. It's always a factor."

Teitler visits the groups in the Smith Warehouse editing room later that night. Wtih less than eight hours to go, the students are so focused on their work that they barely seem to notice him. Headphones are on, eyes are glued to screens--it's time to push. Teitler is impressed with the intensity in the room, especially at this late hour. "It felt like a countdown to a NASA blastoff," he later said.


1:30 a.m. and Canino is growing anxious. He's pacing around the room, fidgeting nervously as the other members of his crew take over editing duties. He's by far the most experienced film editor, but fatigue is setting in--he's at the point when another Red Bull doesn't seem to have quite the rousing effect it once did. (Remember, the groups woke up for a 7 a.m. kickoff yesterday.) So he's putting the fate of his baby into the hands of others while he takes a break.

In the ensuing hours he'll rejoin the group at the editing desk. They're running on fumes, but they're catching their second wind-weariness is morphing into that wonderful sort of giddiness that only sleep deprivation can muster. "Out of all the groups, we laughed the most while editing our movie," Canino later said. And after all the laughter, the petty arguments about technical details and the hours of staring at a single computer screen, they turn in their eight-minute masterpiece. They are the last group to finish.


Sunday's bright, sunny skies are lost on about 200 people, all of whom are spending the afternoon inside the dimly lit Griffith Theater in the Bryan Center for the awards ceremony and screening of the movies. The majority of them slept less than five hours the previous morning. Needless to say, yawns are rampant among this crowd. Still, there's a certain excitement pervading the room, a certain feeling of road-worn accomplishment. Just 24 hours ago, they had nothing. And while the films are far from perfect, they are certainly impressive given the time constraint.

"Limitations frequently produce the best work," Teitler says after the screening. "They had a limited amount of time, a certain amount of ingredients, and you say 'OK, make it happen.' And all 10 groups did a phenomenal job. Any one of the 10 was easily as good as I thought the best was going to be."

Available online here

Senior Column: One Last Lesson

Appeared in the April 30, 2007, edition of The Chronicle, Duke University's independent daily newspaper.

It's probably more my style to write something lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek for a senior column, but I feel compelled to share a story with you.

I was leaving campus late one night in February, and a black man approached me in the Bryan Center parking garage. His battery was dead and he needed a jump, he told me. Would I help him out?

I froze. To be quite frank, it was an empty parking garage, it was late at night and he looked like the type of guy who might try to pull something on me. I should play it safe and get out of there, I thought.

I'm kind of in a hurry, I said. I really should go. OK, he said. He understood.

I paused. I don't know if his disappointed reaction was just what I needed as assurance that he wouldn't mug me, or if it simply pronged my stomach with the guilt of knowing that I could've helped someone and chose to leave him out in the cold, but I changed my mind and decided to jump his car.

We struck up a conversation, and my fear and anxiety quickly dissipated. Turns out he worked at the Dillo and went to North Carolina Central University. (He still had a paper to write that night.) After I had feared the worst, turns out he was a student whose life wasn't so different from my own.

But it was different in a very significant way. And it actually brings up the point of me telling you this little tale. See, I wasn't the first person he asked to help him that night. He had been alone in that chilly parking garage for nearly an hour, begging passersby to lend him a hand. Each had soundly rejected him. I asked him why, even though I already knew the answer.

It was because of the way he looked.

I'm not going to lie--at the end of the night, it made me feel good to have gotten past my own prejudice and to have done a good deed for this person. I labeled those other passersby morally inferior and slipped into a self-satisfied slumber.

But the more I thought about it in the following days, the more I realized that I was one emotional flick away from doing the exact same thing to that man as the others had done--fearing him because of the bagginess of his pants and the color of his skin, and making some perfectly rational-sounding excuse to him and another to myself about why I had left him there.

My experience that night helped me gain insight into what I consider the most dangerous and pervasive type of racism that exists on our campus and in our country. The subtle, the instinctive--the racism that many would consider a perfectly logical application of past information and experience to new situations. The racism that led a police officer in my neighborhood to go door to door warning us to be careful because a "black man" was roaming the neighborhood. The racism that led one of my classmates to doubt that our professor had really been chairman of the FCC, because after all, his name was Tyrone. And the racism that led police on a routine traffic stop for outdated car tags to arrest that same professor, who actually had been chairman of the FCC.

Maybe diverse environments like Duke can help us to chip away at such innate prejudice. After having few experiences engaging with the black community before coming to Durham, the friends I've made here and the people I've been surrounded with have certainly helped me to rid myself of some of the knee-jerk racism that was within me before I came here.

And maybe the backlash against the Michael Richardses and Don Imuses of the world will play a role in eliminating some of the subtle, unchallenged racist things we say when we don't think about who it might affect.

But here's the hard part--like my brush with the unfortunate man in the parking garage, most "racism" isn't overt--it's hinted at, it's beneath the surface and it's a bit morally ambiguous. It's not as easy to rally against, and therefore not nearly as easy to eliminate from society. And it may be just as effective in denying countless deserving individuals opportunity or delivering them unjust punishment or making them feel less than human. It's a problem that is very difficult to solve, but the first step is admitting that it's in each and every one of us.

Available online here

Band Says Hi to Duke Coffeehouse

Appeared in the March 22, 2007, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle.

For a vampire, Eric Elbogen is pretty subdued. He doesn't speak with a creepy accent, his hair isn't slicked back and his bushy brown beard gives him an appearance more befitting Amish Pennsylvania than Draculian Transylvania.

But Elbogen, lead crooner for indie-pop trio Say Hi to Your Mom, softly sings lyrics like, "Most days these fangs are inside someone," and "I-I-I am gonna drink your blood." Clearly garlic and sunlight don't top his list of favorite things.

Elbogen, who also plays guitar, bass and synthesizer, isn't the first to write an album about vampires. (To this reporter's surprise, a Google search of "'concept album,' vampires" produced about 45,300 hits.) But he may be the first to suggest that some vampires are "people just like you and me who happen to get their nourishment from drinking blood," as the liner notes for 2006's Impeccable Blahs read.

Elbogen's murmurings--melancholy tunes about bloodsuckers who lash out at the world while trying to conceal their inner darkness--work, in a strange way. Even though he told Recess that in the absence of grander motives he just thought it would be fun to write a vampire record, the metaphor allows Elbogen to consider these themes in a more creative way than many of his "woe is me" contemporaries in the indie realm.

Not that Elbogen takes this stuff too seriously.

"It's not like we're going up on stage in black capes and goth makeup," he said in an interview Monday. "It's all pretty lighthearted."

And although Elbogen said most of his fans pick up on the tongue-in-cheek nature of his vampire songs, not everyone got the joke.

"I got one MySpace message from this goth kid who thought it was the worst vampire record ever because he heard it was a record about vampires and he was looking for something a lot darker and more goth," he said.

By day, in addition to writing and performing modest, lo-fi ditties (of both the vampiric and non-vampiric variety), Elbogen also manages Euphobia Records, a label he founded in 2002 to put out his albums when no one else would.

Such multitasking came at a price in the band's early days. Elbogen said trying to juggle his music with his business obligations sometimes left him too exhausted to facilitate the creative process. But once he started selling more records and attracting bigger crowds, Elbogen was able to hire a staff to handle the more mundane aspects of record labeldom.

"I'm no longer having to worry about filling mail orders when we're on tour, which I did for many, many years," he said.

When asked about the prospect of signing with a record company, the shy impassivity of Elbogen's tone disappears. "Most labels are pretty incompetent, and of the ones that I do think are competent, there aren't many that I think could sell more records than I sell myself," he said.

Biting criticism. But what else would you expect from a vampire?

Available online here

Critic's Notebook: A Lack of 'Common' Courtesy

Appeared in the Feb. 22, 2007, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle.

Almost every year in recent memory, Duke students have found a reason to complain about the bands selected to perform on the Last Day of Classes. Invariably, the moans and groans center on some claim that the artists are either second rate, past their prime or some combination of the two.

But with the news that rapper Common--one of this year's performers--blasted Duke lacrosse players at a concert at Emory University last spring, two days after then-sophomores Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were indicted, student disapproval has taken a whole new form. Current and former students have called his words irresponsible and offensive, and a Facebook group called "Keep Common out of LDOC" has 133 members.

During a freestyle, Common said, "You know I never get lost, yo f- them damn n-s from Duke lacrosse."

Why all the uproar? What difference does it make what someone said in the heat of the moment at a time when many at Duke were still divided about lacrosse?

Well, for one thing, inflammatory comments by an artist in such a public forum are a dagger driven deeper than accusations confined to private opinion.

"There's definitely a difference between Common saying something at a concert and a random Durham resident thinking something," said Drew Keaton, a sophomore who started the Facebook group opposing Common.

In our culture of celebrity, we tend to hold musical artists to a higher standard than everyone else in terms of their public statements, said Marc Faris, visiting assistant professor of music.

"We assume that once people are famous, what they say must be of greater importance," he said.

Still, if Common is coming here to entertain, can't we put aside his statements about a criminal case and simply enjoy the experience of seeing him perform? A good show is a good show, right?

Tell that to the Dixie Chicks.

The trio was blacklisted from country radio after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" on the eve of the Iraq invasion.

Across the nation, fans boycotted the group's albums as an implicit referendum on the group's anti-war views. And although they picked up five Grammys at last week's awards ceremony, the Chicks' relationship with red-state country music fans remains rocky.

Part of the tension no doubt stems from country listeners' unwavering sense of patriotism.

"[Country listeners are] an opinionated, loyal, down-home, respectful group, and Natalie just isn't fitting into it right now," said Lisa McKay, program director for WQDR-FM 94.7, a Raleigh country station that stopped playing the Dixie Chicks after the 2003 comments.

But the incident also speaks to the powerful impact of musicians' values on their fan base.

Although there may be any number of factors that influence personal music preferences, people listen to certain music partly because it reflects particular social ideals, Faris said. When artists say things that don't fall in line with the image fans have for them, fans can be turned off.

This gets to the core of why many Duke students disapprove of a Common performance at LDOC. His biting criticism of lacrosse players, especially seen in the context of new evidence that has come to light since last spring, erodes his image as a thoughtful, socially conscious hip-hop artist whose values align with those of this University and its students.

Available online here

Music Review: moe.

Appeared in the Jan. 25, 2007, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle.

When Phish decided to call it quits in 2004, every dreadlocked, herb-smoking devotee of the jam gods thought the same thing: Well, what now? Would a new leader take over the band's legacy, once again giving hippies everywhere a reason to exist? (That reason being, of course, to follow that band around the country, selling grilled cheese in the parking lots before the show.)

In conversations about who would become the next Phish, another monosyllabic name consistently came up: moe. After all, the band had built a solid reputation as a similarly mellow, playful troupe of improvisationalists whose songwriting was catchy and smart and who could jam till the cows came home.

Unfortunately, in their first album of new studio material since Phish's breakup, moe. fails to quite grasp the torch of jam band greatness from their predecessors.

There's plenty to like about The Conch--intricate rhythmic complexity, rip-roaring guitar soloing and a few raw, '70s rock 'n' roll anthems balance darker, more introspective dirges. "Wind It Up" perfectly marries a solid melody with a meticulous jam, culminating in one of the group's most satisfying climactic moments.

But the tunes aren't as catchy or carefree as moe.'s earlier material--the band tends to fall into the common trap of taking itself a bit too seriously. Some of the songs also seem half-baked, as if the band had a good idea here and a cool riff there, so they decided to throw them together and call it a song.

The Conch delivers a hodge-podge of cuts that occasionally impress but ultimately feel like they could've used a few more hours in the oven.

Available online here

Drum Circles Are the New Yoga

Appeared in the Nov. 9, 2006, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle. Photo by Jeff Hu.

For two hours on a rainy Tuesday night in Durham, a group of 20 locals ceased to be businessmen, retirees and students--and became, instead, African drummers.

At local drum shop Music Explorium, master drummer and former Rusted Root member Jim Donovan led Triangle residents through a rhythmic workshop on West African djembe drums, one of many workshops he regularly conducts around the nation. The pattering of hands on goatskin filled the cramped room as a hodgepodge group of eager Westerners pounded out--with mixed success--ancient African rhythms.

But the night was about more than just cultural learning--it was also about personal and community development. At several points, Donovan challenged the drummers to clear all other thoughts from their heads, to focus only on the sound of the drums. At evening's end, he invited them to embellish and deviate from the traditional patterns to create something all their own. "Listen," he told them. "Figure out how to make the group better."

Donovan's sessions are part of a growing number of hand drumming workshops and drum circles that seek not only to educate but also to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul and to encourage cooperation and community.

"I really believe that drumming is one of the most immediate tools to reflect on yourself what it means to have presence," said Donovan, adding that "presence" is a focusing method used to achieve personal harmony.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of this wave of rhythm-making have been schoolchildren. Lowe's Grove Middle School in Durham offers a world music drumming course as an elective for students.

"It's a phenomenal team-building class," said Debra Molnar, the course's teacher. "If you're able to drum with someone that you don't necessarily care for, you might get another side of that person."

At Duke, adjunct lecturer Bradley Simmons' courses on West African and Afro-Cuban drumming are popular alternatives to traditional classes.

"It's a great release during the week," said senior Clare Sackler, who plays in the Duke Djembe Ensemble. "I've kind of fallen in love with it."

The widespread popularity of hand drumming in the U.S. stretches back to the 1990s and Arthur Hull, who founded a company called Village Music Circles. According to its website, the organization "offers a variety of accredited programs that use rhythm to explore and inspire group empowerment, leadership and community building."

Village Music Circles trains drum circle facilitators and conducts workshops at schools, churches and even corporations such as Microsoft and Motorola.

In contrast to traditional African drumming, which often carries ceremonial or religious connotations, Hull's approach puts an emphasis on how drumming can benefit people and communities. The rhythms used aren't rooted in African tradition; instead, the playing is much freer and more improvisational.

This non-customary approach has drawn criticism from some purists who liken it to cultural plagiarism, Donovan said. "Some say you're doing a disservice to the [African] culture with drum circles," he said.

Others, however, applaud community drum circles as a way to bring people together and to learn the lessons collective drumming has to offer.

"Many people can have different functions but one objective-it's the most profound secret that we can borrow from African drumming," said Robert "Igbo" Johnson, a professional drummer who plays with Duke's African dance classes four days a week. "People from all over the world are united by the heartbeat of the drum."

Johnson, who began studying African hand drumming in 1967 as a way to explore his cultural heritage, said he's not surprised that corporations are interested in drum circles as a team-building technique.

"I think it only serves to make people a lot more buoyant and more sensitive, and it can certainly bring more fun to what could be a very tedious process," he said. "Americans need more fun."

Johnson sees drum circles in the context of a larger surge of interest in African music in the U.S., which has been fueled by the multiplicity of African recordings made available to Americans in recent years.

In the Triangle, regular drum circles are commonplace, often comprised of people for whom drumming is a completely new experience.

Cathy Kielar, who facilitates monthly drum circles at Music Explorium, said she views them as part of a human craving for engagement with others. "I think it's people wanting to get together in the community--they're tired of being isolated in front of the computer or the TV."

For Donovan, preserving cultural traditions while helping people connect with themselves and those around them is the ultimate gig.

"We are benefiting from a tradition that's hundreds and hundreds of years old, and it's giving us something that we're starving for," he said.

Available online here

Humor Column: Taylor Hicks for Supreme Court

Appeared in the Oct. 12, 2006, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle.

Twice as many Americans can name American Idol winner Taylor Hicks as recent Supreme Court appointee Samuel Alito, according to a poll by Zogby International.

Pathetic, no? In this revered system of government we call a democracy (hell, in the country that invented democracy), shouldn't we at least be able to name the leaders who exert so much control over our lives?

Don't fret, my ignorant fellow Americans, recess has the solution. Let's put this Supreme Court justiceship squarely where the television viewers of America have decided it belongs: on the matted-down, salt-and-pepper head of Alabama's own Taylor Hicks.

On the Supreme Court, Justice Hicks would bring a much-needed spark to the currently stale (read: Viagra-guzzling) judicial branch. When things get slow, he could grab Ruth Bader Ginsberg by her frail fingers, swing her on top of the bench and break it down to the tune of "Takin' it to the Streets." And forget about dull, lifeless judicial opinions--Justice Hicks' writings would be packed with more soul power than James Brown in his Sunday best. The Washington Post would write, "Despite Justice Hicks' unprecedented jurisprudential decision to grant domestic and international terror surveillance powers to the 'Soul Patrol,' his speaking voice has come a long way, and he looks great up there."

Seriously, folks, Dubya's poll numbers are slipping, and we can't think of a better remedy than adding a wildly popular, mildly talented singer to one of our government's top posts.

And why stop there? Studies show Americans can also name Snow White's seven dwarfs better than Supreme Court justices. Why not invite the little guys on board--Dopey, Sneezy, the whole crew? Add in Chief Justice Jack Bauer to make it an even nine, and my friends, you've got yourselves a Supreme Court everyone can agree on.

Available online here

Trinity Park Residents Hear Off-East-Hotel Plan

Appeared in the Oct. 5, 2006, edition of The Chronicle, Duke University's independent daily newspaper.

A proposed hotel and condominium development off East Campus is primed to liven an area where an old clinic and parking lot now stand, but the developments are making some Trinity Park residents anxious.

The project--which could break ground on the 2.4-acre property as early as next spring--will feature a 100-suite hotel at the corner of Main Street and North Buchanan Boulevard and a 42-unit condominium complex at the corner of Main and Lamond streets.

To clear space for the hotel, developers chopped the 1890s-built home that stood at Main and Buchanan streets into four pieces and moved it down Watts Street. They plan to build around the historic, red-brick McPherson Hospital, which currently sits next to that property.

Developers will also tear down a recent addition to that space--a portion of the former North Carolina Specialty Hospital location--and replace it with a four-story extended-stay hotel. The abandoned parking lot across the street will be home to two buildings-a small house-like structure that will be designed to look like the surrounding Trinity Park homes and a seven-story, multi-tiered condominium building.

"It will be a wonderful entranceway project into the western side of our downtown from Duke's East Campus," said Bill Kalkhoff, president of Downtown Durham, Inc., an organization that facilitates downtown revitalization.

"You look at who's going to be staying there--Duke Med Center folks, University folks, visiting executives from the companies at American Tobacco--you're going to be bringing a whole new bunch of people who are going to be interacting with Ninth Street and Brightleaf Square," he said.

Despite the project's potential to breathe new life into the abandoned spot, some residents worry that the new development will tarnish the historic neighborhood.

"Whatever is developed there needs to reflect both the character of the neighborhood and also the historical aspect," said John Hodges-Copple, a Trinity Park resident who has been advising the neighborhood on land use issues.

Initial plans were for the hotel to be developed by Durham-based Park City Developers as a "boutique hotel." During the summer, however, Park City sold the site to a partnership that includes Concord Hospitality Enterprises of Raleigh, which operates several Marriott-owned brands including extended-stay Residence Inns.

Concord told Trinity Park residents in a Sept. 6 meeting that the hotel could be a chain, prompting concern that the architecture and building materials would be unbecoming of a historic neighborhood.

"If it's a hotel that looks like it could just be plopped down off an exit ramp in the suburbs, that's just not a good fit," said Alice Bumgarner, president of the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association.

Residents are also worried about the appearance of-as well as noise and light from-the hotel's parking garage, which will rise two stories above Buchanan Boulevard. "Would you want headlight after headlight [from the garage] coming into your windows late at night?" asked Ellen Dagenhart, a Trinity Park resident.

Fortunately for concerned residents, the site plan for the property has yet to be approved by the Durham City-County Planning Department.

Trinity Park residents wrote a letter to Concord last week expressing their anxieties, and they remain hopeful that Concord will revise the hotel's site plan to accommodate the neighborhood.

Bumgarner said the developers need to take Trinity Park's preferences into consideration to get the necessary site approvals from Durham.

"They know that the neighborhood wields a lot of influence," she explained.

Available online here

Buried in the Blue Zone

Appeared in the Sept. 20, 2006, edition of The Chronicle, Duke University's independent daily newspaper; photo by Sara Guererro.

It sits quietly amid the flow of commuting students, most of whom probably aren't even aware of its existence.

T.J. Rigsbee Family Graveyard, a privately owned cemetery composed of 14 headstones and surrounded by a three-foot-high stone wall, is nestled smack dab in the middle of the Blue Zone parking lot and overlooks the second lot closest to Wallace Wade Stadium.

For those who do notice it, however, the cemetery lingers on-a curious reminder that the West Campus students know wasn't always the home of towering academic buildings and bustling students, but was once the home of one of Durham's most prosperous families.

The Rigsbee estate, graveyard included, stretched across 600 acres of forest and fertile farm land at the height of the family's prominence.

The primary Rigsbee home stood on the left side of the current Blue Zone and Jesse Rigsbee later built a log cabin on the present-day site of Duke Hospital. According to family lore, the family's hogs once slopped on the spot where Duke football now competes.

The Rigsbees raised sweet potatoes.

Four of them fought in the Civil War, and one, Henry Rigsbee, is referred to on his grave marker as the "benefactor of Durham's first free school."

Before Thomas J. Rigsbee, Jr., died in 1924, legend has it neighbor James B. Duke sat with him on the wall of the graveyard and told him his vision for the University. Duke wanted to expand the campus, which at that time was was limited to today's East Campus.

The original expansion site-just north of East-would have been pricey, said Associate University Archivist Tom Harkins. Land speculators had been snatching up property there in anticipation of the University's growth. Instead, Duke sought the Rigsbee estate for additional land.

When Rigsbee's heirs sold the property to Duke for $1,000 in 1925, West Campus was born. There was, however, one important condition-the quarter-acre family cemetery had to be preserved.

"The Rigsbee family shall have the right of ingress, egress and regress over such part of said land as may be reasonably necessary for burying their dead and for maintaining, repairing and otherwise providing for the up-keep of side burying ground," the deed reads.

To this day, the Rigsbees still visit the burial sites of their ancestors. Several of them have card access to the Blue Zone, said 78-year-old Jackie Smith, great-granddaughter of the cemetery's namesake.

Family members mow the lawn periodically, and they've even started a family fund to pay for maintaining the property.

"You just feel like you're absorbing a little history," Smith said. "We're happy with it just the way it is, as long as it doesn't bother Duke and Duke doesn't bother it."

Some, however, say that the graveyard does bother Duke. Sophomore Amaris Whitaker recalled reading in Carpe Noctem, Duke's humor magazine, that the graveyard's ghosts haunt Duke's unsuccessful football team.

For some, the graveyard is simply a quaint spot on campus on which time seems to have little effect.

For others, including Whitaker, it's spooky.

"I just hope they aren't building over it, cause it'd be kind of creepy to be walking over dead bodies," she said.

Available online here

Music Review: TV on the Radio

Appeared in the Sept. 14, 2006, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle.

Rarely do the words "good music" and "radio" end up in the same sentence, but we'll make an exception for art-rock quintet TV on the Radio and their latest release, Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope). From its first jarring beats, this album thrusts a bold collage of noise into your face and dares you to look away. Their sound--a brawny mix of guitars, synths, drum machines and haunting layered vocals--may take a little getting used to. But what this album lacks in immediate accessibility, it more than makes up for in dazzling originality.

Part of producer and electronics-whiz David Sitek's brilliance is his ability to create songs that simultaneously sound rough and refined. This is especially apparent on "Dirtywhirl," where scuzzy guitars meet jingling bells and bowed string bass. Cookie Mountain reaches its peak on "A Method," where a simple intro of whistling and handclaps gives way to rolling, spiritual-sounding vocal melodies and an all-out assault of synthesized drums. Even with a couple of disappointing tracks, this record is a refreshing burst of creativity from a young band on the rise.

Available online here

Where Have All the Hippies Gone?

Appeared in the July 19, 2006, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle; photos by Eric Bishop.

MANCHESTER, Tenn. -- The biggest music festival in the country was a little different this year. And everybody knew it.

Sure, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival was on the same 700-acre farm, in the same tiny city of Manchester, Tenn. As always, festival-goers braved the elements, spending their days under the hot sun and their nights surrounded by an 80,000 person tent city that made K-ville look like a Lego set. And the music lineup featured many of the usual suspects, including Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, My Morning Jacket and moe.

But this year's Bonnaroo saw noticeably fewer tie-dye shirts, more pairs of dark-rimmed glasses and the one band everyone was talking about: Radiohead.

Scheduling the British art-rock heros to headline Bonnaroo was the last step in a process of moving toward a more diverse mix of artists, a process that had already been a few years in the making.

It meant the end of Bonnaroo as a hippie music festival.

Bonnaroo began as a jam band haven, born and bred for the Phish lovers who pined for the good old days when the love was free, the drugs were plentiful and the music was groovy.

"[Bonnaroo] was the first time that someone said, 'we're getting every band that these people like to see and getting them all together,'" said Bryan Rodgers of the Home Grown Music Network, a group of music promoters that deals extensively with the jam scene.

Of course the lineup had a variety of jam, bluegrass, folk, funk and other styles from the beginning; but those first few years were decidedly geared toward hippies' musical tastes.

Now in its fifth year, the festival's musical offerings-as well as its fans-have slowly become more eclectic. Twenty-minute mandolin jams and meandering guitar solos are still around, but they're sharing the stage with an increasing number of hip-hop beats and emo crooning.

"I think it's changed completely over the past five years," Rodgers said. "I think Radiohead had a lot to do with it this year."

Rodgers said he personally welcomes the growing diversity, as do many die-hard jam band listeners. But not all of them see it as a good thing.

"There are a lot of jam band fans who just cannot stand Radiohead," Rodgers said.

Others said they thought the broader demographic attracted by the plethora of better-known names had made the festival less fun.

"It was never a problem with the music," said Lisa Benefield, a patchouli skirt-wearing 24-year-old who chose not to attend Bonnaroo this year. "It was a problem with the community that showed up. Like all the preppy kids who are just going 'cause it's the cool thing to do."

Benefield said she prefers smaller jam band festivals, which take place across the country throughout the summer.

Seth Dennis, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he didn't want to go this year because he thought there were too many indie rock bands.

"At indie shows, everybody just stands around," he said. "No one gets into it."

Perhaps the most surprising complaint: a number of hippies lamented that the drug culture at Bonnaroo had gotten out of hand.

What?

After a few years, the festival had earned a reputation as the place to be for hard drugs like ecstasy and LSD, said Duke senior Laura Pyatt, who attended Bonnaroo this year. While drugs have always been a part of hippie culture, a growing faction of people started going to Bonnaroo just to experience its Candyland-like drug scene.

"I saw a lot of irresponsible drug use last year," Benefield said.

It's almost as if many of the aspects of Bonnaroo that had attracted hippies to the festival in the first place-the diverse music, the drugs-had been pushed too far, and some jam fans became disillusioned with the whole operation.

The secret of Bonnaroo got out, and many of the carefree folks who thrive on operating at the fringe of society were shying away from the baseball cap-wearing masses who wanted in on the action.

To be fair, there were still plenty of dreadlocks at Bonnaroo this year. There were still plenty of bare feet, plenty of unshaven faces and plenty of good vibes-plenty of hippies.

But they no longer dominated the festival like they once did. There were also plenty of frat boys, plenty of hipsters and plenty of middle-aged Tom Petty fans.

The hippie jam band festival has become the American music festival, in all its diverse glory. And while some weren't thrilled with the change, few can deny that Bonnaroo has earned a prominent place in the fabric of American music culture.

"We want to be something that's around for 30 years, like a Glastonbury or a New Orleans Jazzfest," Bonnaroo founder Rick Farman told the New York Times. "We want to be an iconic event."

Available online here

Old Wal-Marts Linger Empty

Appeared on the front page of the Sept. 18, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C.; photo by Harry Lynch.

HILLSBOROUGH - The massive building sits abandoned behind hundreds of empty parking spaces at the Hillsborough Commons shopping center.

Once bustling with shoppers, the former Wal-Mart just off South Churton Street has been quiet since the retail giant replaced it in 2003 with a Wal-Mart Supercenter three times its size a few miles up Interstate 85.

"The day they left, it was like a tomb over there," said Mark Bateman, who owned a video store a few doors down and saw his and other merchants' sales suffer without Wal-Mart pulling shoppers in.

Empty Wal-Mart buildings plague communities across the nation. At any given time, about 350 former Wal-Marts lie vacant in America, according to Al Norman of Sprawl-Busters, an organization that opposes big-box stores. At least nine empty former Wal-Mart spaces -- the equivalent of 12 football fields in size -- occupied North Carolina as of February, Norman said.

In Knightdale, plans are under way to close a Wal-Mart and build a supercenter a mile away. The retailer, however, hasn't found a new occupant for the existing building, which it owns. Wal-Mart is planning to market the space, said spokesman Kevin Thornton.

Supercenters -- which include full-service groceries and are about twice the size of Wal-Mart's discount stores -- help meet customers' one-stop shopping needs, Thornton said from the company's Arkansas headquarters.

They also make Wal-Mart more money, said James F. Smith, professor of finance at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"It's way more profitable, a way more efficient use of space," he said.

As of July, Wal-Mart had 81 supercenters in North Carolina, and only 34 discount stores.

The retailer's shift to massive supercenters, though, means more empty Wal-Marts in towns such as Hillsborough.

"It's just a giant hole in the community that can last for years," said Julia Christensen, a former university lecturer now writing a book on how communities reuse empty big box stores.

Christensen said the buildings' sheer size -- ranging from 60,000 to 200,000 square feet -- makes them tough to fill, especially when Wal-Mart or another big-box retailer restricts how its former sites can be used to avoid competition.

Despite the challenges, the infrastructure and locations of many empty big-box stores can be attractive for prospective businesses, Christensen said. Many of them are reused, living on as flea markets, churches or even schools.

Part of the Wal-Mart building in Hillsborough was converted in 2004 into a 10,000-square-foot Dollar Tree. Most of the space, though, remains vacant.

Hillsborough officials say they'd like to see their old Wal-Mart building become an entertainment spot.

"It'd be a perfect place for a bowling alley or a skating rink," said Margaret Wood Cannell, executive director of the Hillsborough Area Chamber of Commerce. "But so far, nothing."

The future of the empty space remains a mystery for its neighbors.

"I don't know what the holdup is," said Eric Rodgers, 46, an optometrist with an office at Hillsborough Commons. "I think it's too good a spot in the middle of a town that's growing to stay empty."

Several businesses have expressed interest, community leaders said, but none has been able to work out a deal with the companies that have managed the property, The Shopping Center Group and before that Florida-based Tricor International.

Former Hillsborough Mayor Joe Phelps said Tricor CEO Marc Hagle told him in 2004 that he wanted to market the property to national companies. Hagle -- who is also CEO of the property owner, Hillsborough Commons L.P. -- did not return multiple phone calls.

"It's very hard to get ahold of the rental company," Cannell said. "It does not appear that re-leasing the old Wal-Mart space is a priority for The Shopping Center Group."

Representatives from The Shopping Center Group said they respond to all inquiries but haven't found the right tenant.

That tenant can't be a department store or wholesale store, according to restrictions Wal-Mart imposed when it bought out its lease, which ran until 2009, said Thornton.

And with redevelopment in the works for nearby Daniel Boone Village and the soon-to-come Waterstone project between I-85 and I-40, prospective tenants may soon have some new, more exciting options.

Meanwhile, the Hillsborough Commons shopping center remains adrift. "Wal-Mart was the anchor," said Robin Taylor-Hall, president of the Hillsborough Area Chamber of Commerce. "When the anchor closes, it affects all the other stores."

Bateman sold his video store soon after Wal-Mart closed.

The new owner closed for good in May, and two more stores have closed. Just eight of the 15 retail spaces are occupied.

Losing Wal-Mart, Bateman said, left "just a dead feeling in that shopping center."

Available online here

Jersey-Tearing Man Defends Statues' Dignity

Appeared on Page 1B of the Aug. 1, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C. Also picked up by the Associated Press.

Davis Jones had fire in his eyes Monday when he accused the N.C. Historical Commission of sitting back while sewn-on Carolina Hurricanes jerseys defiled state monuments.

Jones -- who broke the law by tearing jerseys down from Union Square statues dressed up for the Canes' playoff run -- blasted the Historical Commission for its silence about the jerseys during the 2002 playoffs and again this year.

"Do you think Andrew Jackson, sitting majestically on his horse while wearing a Hurricanes jersey was awe-inspiring and thought provoking?" Jones said to the commission. "No, it was a distraction and derailed the purpose of the monument to both educate and honor."

When Jones, 49, took the matter into his own hands on May 24, Capitol police stopped him and issued a citation for injuring the personal property of the state. The remaining jerseys were taken down soon afterward by Hurricanes staff.

The charges against Jones were dropped Friday after the Hurricanes, the actual owner of the jerseys, chose not to pursue the case, said State Capitol Police Chief Scott Hunter.

Canes spokesman Howard Sadel said the team would probably choose not to adorn the statues with jerseys in the future.

"For me, the bigger concern is someone on state property wielding a box cutter with an obvious hairline temper," Sadel said.

Jones, a Raleigh resident who said he likes the Hurricanes, made no apologies for his actions.

"I considered it not only a responsibility, but a duty to go down there and take those jerseys off."

Despite officials' statutory obligation to obtain approval from the Historical Commission before altering memorials owned by the state, the commission was not contacted in 2002 or this year, said Joe Newberry, public information officer for the Department of Cultural Resources.

Jones said N.C. Administration secretary Britt Cobb gave the Canes permission to put up the jerseys without getting authorization from the commission. He chalked it up to a "miscommunication" between between his agency and the Department of Cultural Resources, which oversees the Historical Commission. Cobb didn't return phone calls Monday.

Members of the commission wouldn't comment on their responsibility for the statues' regalia, but chairman Jerry Cashion said he was taking steps to ensure that it didn't happen again.

"I share the outrage over the desecration of the monuments," he said.

Not everyone took the jerseys so seriously.

"I thought it was a great way to enjoy the winning streak," said Terri Morris, 50, as she ate lunch on a bench next the statue of Charles Aycock. "I came up and took a picture."

Available online here

Now Showing at Forest Theatre: The Past


Appeared on Page 2B of the Aug. 1, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C.; photo by Chris Seward.

CHAPEL HILL - You've seen the forest in the trees. Now see the theater in the forest.

Chapel Hill's Forest Theatre, tucked among the tall oaks of Battle Park on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, offers theatergoers a peaceful stone sanctuary and a quaint reminder of the theatrical traditions of days gone by.

"Attending a show at the Forest Theatre, you feel the wind blowing, you look up and you see the sky -- it's like going back to the origins of all drama," said Scott Parker, director of the Institute of Outdoor Drama at UNC-CH.

The amphitheater hosts plays, concerts and even weddings throughout the year. It's also a hangout for guitar-strumming students and amateur climbers.

But beneath the rows of terraced stone seats and their leafy surroundings lies a university institution with a prominent place in the history of American outdoor drama.

The Forest Theatre was merely a dream in 1916, when professors staging Shakespeare in the park longed for a permanent venue. William Coker -- a botanist for whom the Coker Arboretum was named -- picked a spot on Battle Park's sloping hillside, and the Forest Theatre was born.

Famed drama professor Frederick H. Koch arrived in 1918 and immediately brought the theater to life, adding a stage and directing annual performances there by the Carolina Playmakers, which he founded.

Koch encouraged students to write plays about their daily lives, sparking a national playwriting movement known as folk drama. The Forest Theatre was dedicated in Koch's memory in 1953.

The theater remained active through the mid-'70s, said Bobbi Owen, professor of dramatic art at UNC-CH.

As a student, Owen performed in the musical "Hair" to sold-out crowds at the 1,000-seat theater in 1974.

"And there were almost as many people just in the forest watching it for free," she said.

Not all performances went so smoothly. Owen said the following year's show was rained out for a whole week.

Performers frustrated by the theater's uncertainties migrated to the Paul Green Theatre when it opened in 1978, Owen said.

Since then, performances at the Forest Theatre have dwindled, and the theatre's condition has deteriorated. The technical booth isn't power equipped, nor does it have a roof, and the lighting towers don't work anymore.

In addition to these technical hurdles, headlights from cars on Boundary Street shine into the audience's eyes at night. Combined with the sound of traffic whooshing by, it can be very distracting for patrons, Owen said.

Some of that could soon change.

Jonah Garson, 19, a student at UNC-CH, said he is working with the N.C. Botanical Garden to form an oversight committee to restore the theater to its former glory.

Garson, who has performed there several times, is the managing director at the Single Shot Theatre Company, a Chapel Hill theater collective that's staging "Julius Caesar" there this weekend.

He'd like to see the theater "restored in the town's collective memory," he said.

"If there's a space that warrants Chapel Hill tradition, it's that space."

Available online here

Rescued Bird is Fit and Flying

Appeared on Page 1B of the July 22, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C.; photos by Ethan Hyman.

Soaring over Jordan Lake on Friday was one bald eagle that couldn't wait to get back home.

After spending six weeks recovering from a foot injury at the Carolina Raptor Center, the bird was released back into the wild Friday morning.

From a field just off Jordan Lake, the eagle spread its wings and vaulted into the clear, blue sky as dozens of wide-eyed, camera-clad onlookers bade it farewell.

"Don't come back!" yelled handler Ron Clark with a smile after he propelled the bird into the air.

It sure didn't.

In seconds, the male eagle ascended, flirting with a nearby branch before coasting over the lake and disappearing behind a faraway line of trees.

"He was flying free, and it was just beautiful to see," said Gail Abrams, executive director of the Piedmont Wildlife Center, the Chapel Hill-based organization whose staff and volunteers rescued the eagle last month.

The bird -- officially known as Bald Eagle #11,600 -- might have been forever grounded if not for the keen eyes of a fisherman who spotted the raptor in a moment of need.

Jay Childress, 37, of Carthage said he saw a fish-hunting osprey diving into the water between Ebenezer Point and Vista Point at Jordan Lake on June 6. A closer look revealed a bald eagle in the water struggling with his claw hooked into a catfish, the osprey's apparent prey.

Childress pulled up close to scare off the osprey and stayed with the wounded bird for two hours until rescuers from the wildlife center arrived.

They took the terrified animal back to the wildlife center, where the puncture wound on the eagle's left foot was cleaned and bandaged, and the bird was treated for water in his lungs. The eagle then moved to the Carolina Raptor Center near Charlotte, where the rehabilitation staff gave him antibiotics and exercised him daily in cages large enough for short flight.

By Friday, the animal was ready to cruise the skies over Jordan Lake.

The site of his release is home base for flyers of different kind. Model airplane enthusiasts often gather at the same field to fly their radio-controlled craft. A sign there reads, "All flyers must have AMA insurance to fly at this site."

An exception was made -- just this once -- for Bald Eagle #11,600.

Available online here

Obituary: Ted Stone, 72, Evangelist

Appeared on Page 7B of the July 19, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C.

DURHAM - Ted Stone, the recovered drug addict turned Baptist minister known for his cross-country walks to preach against drugs and promote the Gospel, died in the midst of another footsore crusade.

Four weeks after the Durham preacher started his fourth long trek to tell his story of overcoming drug addiction through the power of faith, Stone died Sunday in Nashville on his way to a speaking engagement. He was 72.

Stone achieved fame for his highly publicized walks, which began in 1996. But behind this prominence was a deeply generous man who was driven to share his story and his faith with others.

Philip Barber, a protege who became one of Stone's closest friends, said his mentor gave him hope when Barber's drug addiction made life unbearable. He said he remembers Stone canceling his speaking engagements to come to his rescue as Barber lay on the floor of his east Dallas apartment, overdosed on drugs. Stone sat beside him, crying out for the Lord to save the boy. Barber is now a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

As a former addict who spent four years in jail on attempted murder charges after shooting a convenience store clerk during a robbery, Stone was driven to save people still living the life he left behind, Barber said.

"He had a passion for reaching out to people that the world had given up on," Barber said.

Relatives say Stone's zeal for spreading the Gospel made it hard for him to stay in one place for an extended period. While they say they missed him while he was criss-crossing the nation, they admired and respected his dedication to his cause.

Noted generosity

A graduate of Wake Forest University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Stone was a loving father who was generous to everyone, said daughter Carole Doll, 44. When she was a child, he once got on his hands and knees to feed a hamburger to a stray cat, she said.

"He was just a giant of a man," she said.

In addition to his preaching tours, Stone also wrote four books and made several runs for Congress. He was also active in the Southern Baptist community, sitting on the board of trustees at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"Ted was the type of guy that when he decided to do something, he did it with his might," said the Rev. Frank Zedick, Stone's former pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Durham.

When Stone wrote Philip Barber a letter asking him to join the preacher on his second cross-country trek, he said, "If we make it, praise God. If we don't, at least we died trying."

Stone is survived by his wife, Anne Fuller Stone, three daughters and five grandchildren.

The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Clements Funeral Home in Durham. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Grace Baptist Church, and burial will follow at Woodlawn Memorial Park.

Available online here

Bill is Safeguard to Some, Straitjacket to Others

Appeared on Page 1B of the June 26, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C.

Michael Davis doesn't like it when the government messes with his affairs.

So when Davis, a 43-year-old radio producer from Willow Spring, heard about legislation that would require adults in the back seat of a car to wear seat belts, he chalked it up to more government interference in people's lives.

"I think it should be their decision, not the government's," he said. "I'm tired of a maternalistic government trying to tell people what to do."

But what Davis calls too much government involvement, safety advocates call necessary, life-saving legislation.

The state House is expected to take up the issue Tuesday, when a committee considers a bill that would require all motor vehicle occupants to use seat belts or face a $25 fine.

In North Carolina, only drivers, front-seat passengers and children younger than 16 are required by law to wear seat belts. Adults in the back seat aren't obliged to buckle up.

Safety advocates, such as Tom Vitaglione, co-chairman of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, say that, in an accident, unbelted rear passengers can fly forward to kill or injure drivers. The advocates also point to rear-seat passenger deaths -- 364 over the past three years in North Carolina, with almost 70 percent unbelted -- as evidence that the law needs to change.

The provision would not only give passengers a reason to buckle up; it also would educate people about the danger of riding belt-free in the back of the car, Vitaglione said.

Statistics show that only 38 percent of passengers nationally say they consistently use safety belts when riding in the rear seat of a car, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

That pales in comparison to studies of seat belt use in the front seat. North Carolina has an 87 percent rate of seat belt use in the front seat, one of the highest in the nation.

"The inadvertent message of our current law is that the back seat is safe," he said.

New safety research

When North Carolina's current seat belt law was enacted in 1985, it didn't pertain to adults in the back seat because such a provision might have hurt its chances of passage, said Bill Hall, a manager at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center.

New research on the dangers of beltless back-seat passengers helped fuel the recent push for more comprehensive legislation. Although several attempts were made in recent years, the measure wasn't seriously considered until last summer, when the Senate passed the bill.

It met some opposition in the House, and legislators adjourned for the summer before it could reach the House floor.

Rep. Ronnie Sutton, a Robeson County Democrat, said he will vote against the bill if it reaches the House floor.

"I think we're going a little too far when we're requiring adults to wear seat belts in the back seat," Sutton said. "Most of my constituents like to have the option of not wearing seat belts in the back."

Weighing the risks

Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Cary Democrat, said evidence shows that drivers have five times the risk of dying in a crash if passengers in the back don't buckle up.

"That personal autonomy argument is a hard argument to make when you could be killing the person in the front seat," said Weiss, who is pushing the bill in the House. "So much of this is an education campaign, anyway."

North Carolina established itself as a leader in seat belt awareness and enforcement in 1993 by starting the "Click It or Ticket" program, in which police set up checkpoints to enforce seat belt laws. The program has become a model for similar programs across the nation, Hall said.

North Carolina has averaged about 140,000 seat belt violations a year over the past five years, despite a high seat belt compliance rate. Fatal and serious injuries for restrained automobile passengers, though, are on the decline.

Robin Jernigan, a 41-year-old nurse from Garner, said she has seen the often tragic results of not wearing a seat belt. That's why she would support further restrictions.

"It's aggravating, but I'm sure it's the safer way to go," she said.

Available online here

Triangle Still Has a Drought

Appeared on Page 1B of the June 13, 2006, edition of The News & Observer, the 180,000-circulation daily newspaper for Raleigh, N.C.

Drought? What drought?

After thunderstorms ripped through the Triangle over the weekend, residents may be wondering what has become of the oft-mentioned drought that led Raleigh and other cities to impose mandatory water use restrictions in November.

Don't get your hopes up, meteorologists say. The drought hasn't gone away -- for now at least.

The Triangle lucked out with the recent wave of thunderstorms, which have provided some relief from a long dry spell, said Jonathan Blaes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

In fact, rainfall totals for June have been nearly double the average amount so far.

The drought, however, is the result of a shift in the jet stream that has been sending storms north of the state since last year, Blaes said.

"We're still not out of the woods," he said. Rainfall totals for the year are still 5.4 inches below normal, a significant deficit.

The drought originated from a ridge of high pressure sitting over the southeastern United States. It diverted the main storm track away from North Carolina, Blaes said. As a result, areas such as New England have been hit hard with precipitation over the past few months, while North Carolina remained relatively dry.

Recent storms have been a big help, said Terry Brown, Water Control Manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The levels of water flowing from streams into Falls Lake -- Raleigh's biggest water supplier -- are above average for the month of June, following five months of below average inflows. According to the Corps of Engineers, water levels at the lake have been more or less average since the end of April.

The most recent weather system, however, was an isolated front that should finish passing through the area tonight. Meteorologists say they don't expect the recent flux of precipitation to last.

Summer storms tend to be sporadic, dumping large amounts of rain on small areas for a short time, Blaes said.

Although Tropical Storm Alberto is on a path to move up the eastern coastline toward North Carolina, its effect on the Triangle should be limited to wind and scattered thunderstorms late Wednesday and early Thursday, with more severe weather toward the coast.

"I would be surprised if we keep up this level of rainfall through the month," Blaes said.

This could mean a return to mandatory water restrictions this summer, said Robert Massengill, Raleigh's assistant public utilities director.

Restrictions were lifted in May as reservoirs returned to normal levels.

"If we have a dry summer, we could be in a similar situation where mandatory restrictions are needed," Massengill said.

"People need to be cognizant that water is a precious resource, and we can't take that for granted," Massengill said.

Available online here

Jazz Takes it from the Top

Appeared in the March 30, 2006, edition of Recess, the weekly arts and entertainment section of Duke University's independent daily newspaper, The Chronicle.

NEW ORLEANS--Step away from the strip clubs and tarot card readers of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, drive down a seemingly endless stretch of sleepy neighborhoods and you'll find one of the true gems of the New Orleans jazz scene--Vaughan's Lounge.

Vaughan's is the place to be on a Thursday night. That's when legendary trumpeter Kermit Ruffins brings his soulful, gritty jazz to the tiny Bywater club, packing it with scores of locals ready to get up and move their feet.

The atmosphere at Vaughan's is joyous. The people here come from all walks of life--bikers mingle with businessmen, truck drivers flirt with sorority girls--but everyone is dancing. One audience member smacks a tambourine. Another taps his beer bottle with a spoon. Outside, music and people pour out onto the streets, so even those who can't pay the $10 cover can join the party.

After a night at Vaughan's, it's hard to believe that only seven months ago this city was in shambles from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But even though the recovery process has been slow, locals insist that the jazz is back in New Orleans.

"When we first reopened at the beginning of October, it was just the neighborhood people who were straggling back," said Janet Kenkel, a longtime bartender at Vaughan's. "Now pretty much everyone is back."

Vaughan's itself was spared the worst of Katrina's devastation--the building came away with only minor flooding. But just a few miles away, in the Lower Ninth Ward, there is still destruction as far as the eye can see. Houses sit twisted off their foundations, collapsed roofs lie in heaping piles of debris and rusty abandoned cars litter the streets.

Despite the physical destruction, the scene at Vaughan's ensures that at least the sounds of the city remain intact.


Jazz has always been a vital part of the cultural gumbo that is New Orleans. The city, which is often dubbed the birthplace of jazz, has long stood at the epicenter of musical vitality in the Deep South.

In the early 1900s, its black Creole subculture, combined with a heavy dose of Gospel church music, gave rise to ragtime, blues and Dixieland. The intermixing of these musical elements led to an explosion in the popularity of big band jazz music in the 1930s. Since then, jazz has remained a vital part of New Orleans culture.

"The recovery of this music scene is absolutely essential to revitalizing the spirit of New Orleans," said Bill Taylor, director of Tipitina's Foundation, an organization that provides relief to the city's musicians and is housed out of a jazz club of the same name. "You can't separate music from life in New Orleans."

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, this connection manifested in a new way.

"Tipitina's was a base camp for rescuing people after the storm," said Erin Hoyer, a Tipitina's employee.

The club's Uptown location was spared from flooding, allowing it to contribute to the relief effort.

"Employees went around in a canoe and saved people's lives," Taylor said. They even delivered a baby inside the club.

Through the foundation, the club remains an important source of assistance for musicians in New Orleans. Tipitina's offers replacement instruments, free legal and accounting seminars and a Music Co-op Office for musicians to use during the day. So far, the Tipitina's Foundation has given away more than $500,000 worth of new instruments and 240 musicians have used the co-op office.

The foundation has also tried to find ways to allow as many musicians as possible to return to New Orleans.

"Finding housing for musicians who have lost their homes has been the biggest challenge in rebuilding the music scene," Taylor said.

Although the jazz scene is steadily improving, Hoyer said there is still more work to be done.

"A lot of bands are still scared to come down here," she said, explaining that musicians may mistakenly think that clubs have yet to reopen their doors.

Some clubs, like Preservation Hall, remain closed. The world famous French Quarter venue that has been a staple in the New Orleans jazz scene for generations does not plan to reopen until April 28.

And there still aren't as many people coming out to see the shows, said Kutlay Guc, a New Orleans resident and a regular at Vaughan's. The real question, he said, is when the scene will return to the way it was pre-Katrina.

Willie Washington, Jr., a New Orleans-based musician who relocated to Memphis after the hurricane hit, said he's not as worried about the clubs as he is about the street traditions that used to take place in areas destroyed by Katrina.

"Underneath the interstate--where the black community used to celebrate Mardi Gras with big celebrations that usually had four stages of music--there are piles of abandoned cars," Washington said. Ten-mile jazz parades, called "second-lines," used to frequently go through the Ninth Ward, in an area that is now almost completely uninhabited.

Whether such traditions return will depend on the city's plan for rebuilding the neighborhoods, but signs of revitalization are surfacing.

Second-lines have been popping up here and there in the Ninth Ward, and brass bands circle the French Quarter almost every night. "People are dying to hear music in New Orleans right now," Taylor said.

Available online here