History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, March 28, 2016

Leon Wagner, "Daddy Wags," helped christen the Angels

I don't recall if I ever saw Leon Wagner play at Metropolitan Stadium (Minnesota). The odds are over 50/50 that I did. Certainly fans of my age will remember "Daddy Wags." I included his name in the song lyrics I recently wrote about Albie Pearson. What? You're not familiar with either of these guys? Pearson and Wagner had roles with the Los Angeles Angels just like Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison with our Minnesota Twins. They were fixtures with a first-year team.
Wagner and Pearson were vital on the maiden voyage with the Angels of California in 1961. The team went by "Los Angeles" Angels. Later it would be "California" and "Anaheim," right? And I'm not even sure what they're called today. I have rather drifted away from major league baseball today. The first big blow for me was the players strike of 1994. Things were never the same for me after that.
FDR made sure baseball survived World War II. He made it a priority. Alas, baseball could not survive labor strife. To try to recover from that, baseball looked the other way while certain players like Mark McGuire used PEDs and thrilled us with home runs. I think pitchers were instructed to give him pitches to hit rather than to just pitch around him. Masses of fans paid good money to see those games. Sammy Sosa was in the same category.
I will say this for the baseball of today: it takes better care of the players, especially pitchers, than in previous times. The pitch count is used to protect delicate pitchers' arms. Is it done in the spirit of caring, or is it that pitchers represent a big financial investment? That's a rhetorical question.
Leon Wagner and Albie Pearson were important getting the Los Angeles Angels franchise established in California. The Angels weren't quite like our Twins. Here in Minnesota we got an established team to come here for our inaugural 1961 season. The Senators came from Washington D.C. It was one of the biggest thrills in the history of our state.
Meanwhile out in California, baseball was building its presence, having initially gotten the Dodgers and Giants. The Angels joined the (old Brooklyn) Dodgers in La-La Land. The Angels were a brand new expansion team. In those days, expansion teams in all sports were really expected to pay dues, to lose a lot.
My own recollection of the early Angels is that they didn't seem real exciting. But now that I research a little, they really did have some interesting players. They were fortunate having "Daddy Wags" Wagner, a lefthanded hitting power merchant.
I didn't know it at the time, but this gentleman was half African-American and half Cherokee Indian. He had a journeyman reputation by the end of his career. He would have looked good as a Minnesota Twin. He was a graduate of Tuskegee University. His trademark as a player was his rather distinctive body gesticulations, below the waist, before beginning his powerful swing. His weakness was on the defensive side of the ledger. When he was traded from the Angels, drawing the ire of many fans, complaints were heard that L.A. didn't get enough in return. They got pedestrian pitcher Barry Latman - I remember his baseball card - and a player to be named later who turned out to be Joe Adcock (in his declining days).
Wagner had enjoyed being an Angel and living in Los Angeles. He hit 28 home runs with the 1961 L.A. Angels, that first-year adventure. Baseball was steadily moving to the west because of the practicality of plane travel. "A trip west" used to mean St. Louis or Chicago. Wow! In those old days, California had teams in the Pacific Coast League (e.g. the Oakland Oaks), technically minor league, but it had talent which in many cases was commensurate with big league, legend has it.
Chuck Connors played out there and became an actor. Some of the early Dodgers and Angels got cameos in entertainment productions. I caught Don Drysdale on an old "Donna Reed" Show" just recently on the "Decades" channel.
Wagner himself tapped into this. Following his baseball career, he appeared in John Cassavetes' 1974 film "A Woman Under the Influence." He was also in a movie with the cumbersome name "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" (1976). I saw the Bingo Long movie at our Morris MN theater. Someone would have to tell me Wagner was in it. At any rate, I found it to be a depressing movie, a typical quality of 1970s cinema - a most cynical decade when we were wringing our hands over how the Viet Nam war turned out.
Oh, regarding Wagner's trade from the Angels for such an apparently minor return, I think the explanation was obvious: Wagner had defensive liabilities. We probably didn't pay enough attention to that in the pre-Bill James days. We just looked at a guy's baseball card and instantly assessed certain stats like home runs, RBIs and batting average. Bill James would steer our thinking in a much more constructive direction. Baseball is a game with many inputs.
Wagner had a quite fine 12-year carer with a .272 average, 211 home runs and 669 RBIs, stats that are quite fine by themselves. "Daddy Wags" played 1352 big league games. He was a day-to-day player for the first time with that inaugural '61 Angels team. He responded with a .280 average and those 28 home runs, along with 79 RBIs in 133 games. And he did even better in 1962! He launched 37 home runs from that restless stance of his. The stat was good for No. 3 in league. He surpassed 100 RBIs and scored 96 runs.
Two All-Star Games were played each year at that time. In the second showcase of '62, Wagner went three-for-four including a two-run homer. He was voted game MVP. Baseball went to one All-Star Game in 1963. Wagner was chosen again, but it was after that game, that he got traded. No one in baseball can escape that specter of being traded.
Wagner adjusted to playing in Cleveland and did quite fine there, especially in 1964. He ended his career as a respected pinch-hitter. He bounced around among various teams, always winning respect, and finally played his last game on October 2, 1969, with San Francisco.
Alcohol and drug abuse haunted this special ballplayer. He suffered financially. After all the talent he had shown, he came to the end of his life in utter obscurity and desolation. He lived in an abandoned electrical shed next to a dumpster in Los Angeles. His deceased body was found in January of 2004. He had died of natural causes. Would more intervention have helped in his life? Who knows, but we can feel joy reflecting upon the baseball energy, talent and power given us by Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner, RIP. He would have looked great in a Minnesota Twins uniform, standing astride Harmon Killebrew.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We're having brown, non-descript spring, n'est-ce pas?

The least-known city park in Morris: Thedin Park, west Morris (B.W. photo)
We ought to still have a little more snow on the ground. We ought to be on the alert for late-winter storms. In the old days we talked about snowstorms coinciding with the state high school basketball tournament. The basketball tournament has faded from general consciousness now, to where it's of interest primarily to communities fortunate enough to be in it. I'm happy to have blogged about the New London-Spicer girls team in its rise.
This is a time of year when attention starts turning to the Twins of baseball. As with high school sports, the amount of true general interest in the Twins is less than when I was a kid. Thanks to niche media, big league sports doesn't have to try to market itself to everyone anymore. It makes big money marketing to its best, most fervent fans.
Baseball fans can already, in March, see those pre-season games on TV and wonder what it's like living in those sun-drenched places in the South.
I was a typical fanatical Twins fan in my childhood. The interest held over into adulthood to a degree. It waned back around 1980 when the Twins ceased to create a lot of special excitement. It waned for my whole generation, then it stabilized and began picking up steam again with the Metrodome, the grand novelty with playing baseball indoors.
Those sports executives know what they're doing: People really do get tired of a sports venue and begin expecting a new one. It has to happen about every 30 years. We have now what appears to be an absolutely state of the art ballpark in Target Field. It's hard to imagine the day coming when our team owner pleads about having to replace it.
The Vikings stadium would appear to be the epitome also. It makes we wonder if the team's ownership is whistling past the graveyard: We have this huge and opulent new football stadium in a time where there is the very real possibility that the public will begin turning en masse against football. The health issues of football are making all of us take a long, serious look.
Your typical catcher in major league baseball is susceptible to a concussion every time he takes a foul tip to the mask. Doesn't Joe Mauer seem permanently impaired because of this? No one gave a thought to any of this when I was a kid.
Every spring, it seems, I make a resolution to try to pay a little more attention to the Twins. I try to follow the schedule and tune in a little more often. I reason that it can't be any worse than all the alternatives on cable TV. Right now the cable news channels are way too devoted to covering the presidential campaigns. Problem is, it all has a reality TV look about it. In other words it's all about conflict rather than a healthy clash of ideas (with a tone of civility). Ted Cruz doesn't "disagree" with people, he demonizes them.
Cable TV rewards the most extreme candidates, the candidates with the most provocative rhetoric. Is this less healthy than in an earlier time? It's hard saying yes to that, since when I was a kid, the political climate was such that the U.S. committed itself militarily to Viet Nam, and then escalated that conflict. Maybe the media environment of today would have prevented such a direction.
Donald Trump is described as dangerous, but the financial markets have not been affected. Three mornings out of every four when I awake, I expect to see the S&P Futures pointing up. I have begun to wonder if it's a function of the TV set. One after another these stock market analysts, people like Carl Icahn, say a substantial downward movement is coming for stocks, and it never happens. The downturns are brief, then those "red arrows" pop up again. I have found this to be uncanny.
Right now there is a meme that everyone hates Wall Street or is suspicious of Wall Street. Why? We have had a seven-year bull market. What do you want?
The stock market was stagnant in my youth. It seemed a foreboding place, a place populated by those distant, upper-crust rich guys. I never dreamt that the stock market would be a place for everyone as with 401Ks. Aren't you all a little worried about what might happen? Carl Icahn is no dummy. I also never dreamt in earlier years that banks would be paying almost no interest on savings. What hath God wrought?
Oh, regarding my annual resolution to follow the Twins a little better, it never reaches fruition. Baseball is simply too slow and boring. And if I, a non-millennial, feels that way, then. . .
Who needs the "farm section?"
Spring is the time when we in Stevens County see, if we're interested, the annual "farm section" that comes with the Morris newspaper. Many people have complimentary copies of the Morris Sun Tribune mailed to them.
The paper trumpets this section by proclaiming on its front page that the issue is "free." I had to laugh because the paper is not literally free at all - I'm sure you'd have to pay for a copy at Willie's Super Valu. But if you did grab a copy and walked out without paying, you'd have such an easy defense: "Hey, there's a headline on the front saying the paper is free!"
There is one word to describe the Morris newspaper's farm section: "anachronism." Why does the paper throw this extra pulp at us? It's tradition, knaves. Here's the idea: If you are in agri-business and are looking for info on any aspect of your business, you can go to this thing called "Google," 24/7, 365 days a year, and find anything you need. You don't need to wait for some stupid, once-a-year "special section" to the Morris Sun Tribune.
So, why do businesses keep advertising? You fools, you know how the ad salesperson begins his/her pitch. "This is what you bought last year." The onus is thus on you to buy a similar ad this year. You do this in brain-dead fashion. Knock it off. Just say "don't call us, we'll call you" to that infernal Morris newspaper, which charges people even for obits.
It reminds me of an old manager of the main street restaurant from the Floyd days: "How do you expect us to make any money?" She'd say that if you complained about he small size of the pancakes. "How do you expect us to make any money?" Floyd's tenure was interesting in that the restaurant was open all night. A lot of college students filtered in, and there was some hand-wringing, naturally, about them not spending enough money. I rather enjoyed being around those kids. Those were also the days of the "bar rush" on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a shameful part of our past.
Today if that restaurant (now called DeToy's) has any sort of reputation, it's of attracting a nearly all-male clientele in the early-morning, guys (good old boys?) who pull in in their 4-wheel drive pickups, many of them intending to play cards, and they overwhelmingly favor Donald Trump for president. I was teasing a waitress about that recently.
Tinted windows: unfair advantage
I have recently seen a couple of vehicles in Morris with tinted windshields. I know there's a point at which you're in violation of the law with this. I'm guessing you wouldn't survive long in this town driving around with illegally tinted windshields - the cops would get you - so I'm assuming the vehicles I saw were legal.
Here's my reaction: It is unfair, since these motorists with the tint have zero chance of ever being spotted for not wearing seat belts. It is an unreasonable advantage they have.
Cemetery: I'm still waiting for clarification
Since it's spring we might think of going out to the cemetery. I still don't know what the policy is for parking out there. I emailed Bob Stevenson several months ago and got no answer from him. I don't know what that means. I haven't tried to take my mother out to her husband's grave since last July 4. Until I get an answer, I'm not going out there.
It looks like cemeteries are headed toward being obsolete. The percentage of people preferring cremation is steadily shooting up. If we had no cemetery in Morris, maybe UMM could have expanded to the west. Maybe the soccer fields could have been established on the old school property.
Fan mail from some flounder, again?
Monday was one of those days when I got re-connected with an old college friend thanks to the Internet. An email came out of the blue at me. My old sidekick and I will communicate from time to time. We were friends during the Jimmy Carter years of the 1970s. Disco lives!
Both of us could have spent our time better than being in college. If you attended a state college in the early and mid-'70s, you certainly know there were many students there who, shall we say, did not have their priorities focused in the best way. It's water under the bridge now, or under the overpass or over the underpass. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, n'est-ce pas?
We're in Easter season (originally published 3/21 on "I Love Morris")
I associated Easter with the Easter Bunny and chocolate bunnies when I was a child.
I remember an editorial cartoon that had Ken Starr, harasser of Bill Clinton, listening through a door as Clinton spoke affectionately in a way that made Starr think another tryst was happening. "Bunny!" Clinton intoned. But this was no young friend, rather it was Bill's chocolate bunny for Easter! Willie's Super Valu has a good supply of chocolate bunnies available, I'm sure.
Of course, when we go to church leading up to Easter, the tone is not so innocent and fun. We hear the awful details of how Christ was treated leading up to the (alleged) crucifixion. How do we know this wasn't some tall tale built up through the years, maybe fashioned to promote some political ends? What? Politics as a basis for embellishment or fabrication? I'm astounded (not really).
The sheer misery and gruesome details begin chafing on me. Does it matter that Christ was tortured first? Why the emphasis on this in Lent services? Even if it happened, why the emphasis? Why not just dwell on the final (alleged) act: the murder of God's (alleged) son. Did you know that the story of the virgin birth came about because of a bad translation?
I know I'm sounding like an atheist and maybe that's because I am. I sure wouldn't mind a chocolate bunny or two, though.
I am puzzled why the Lutherans of this community are expected to go to the Catholic church for the Good Friday service. This is a church that has a policy of not offering communion to non-Catholics at funerals. At least this was their policy in the past. There was a controversy at the time of the funeral for Rit Eul: someone was turned away for communion. There were letters to the editor in the paper. I'm sure Rit would never have wanted any unpleasantness in connection with his funeral.
And now, the Catholics want us all to come over? I think it's strange.
The Catholics can have their own services, since they promote such exclusivity. I have no objection to Catholic bingo. We had a priest here not that long ago who was into child porn. The Catholics have also given us that "baby" tombstone at the cemetery - not the sort of thing Lutherans would agree to.
Again, let's all just enjoy our chocolate bunnies!
The coaching carousel (originally published 3/17 on "I Love Morris")
Apparently there is a rumor afloat here in Motown that we might see a change in coaching with our male Tigers.
Mark Torgerson got the appointment at a time when our community was embroiled in politics. A sociologist should have come here, camped out and written a book. I could try to write one myself. But as they say, it's all just water under the bridge. Or, is it "under the overpass," or "over the underpass," as Del Sarlette and yours truly used to joke.
The school district was the vortex for a lot of unpleasant stuff in the late 1980s. We had a new superintendent who wanted to appoint Chris Baxter as our BBB coach. I could see the wisdom behind the super's thinking: I think he saw it as healthy for an outsider with his own clear philosophy to come and and take over a program - a person with more of an AAU type of philosophy than what we had.
Our school district was being hurt in the eyes of the wider area, by having extracurricular programs not tailored in the properly ambitious way. To quote one friend of mine, we had programs that were little different from phy. ed class. Which is maybe wholesome enough, but we had to respect the kind of sports model that predominated, one which, like it or not, puts a premium on wins. Sports would be like a model for life in that regard.
A formal protest against the status quo grew in Morris. When our boys basketball coach departed, there was a vacuum that could be filled in either of two ways: the entrenched good old boys getting their way, or a fresh new outsider with a philosophy more in line with the prevailing standards.
Our new superintendent, presented to the public in a ballyhooed way, was forced into being a toady, in some respects, and our coach of today got the job, many, many years ago.
The old issues don't seem relevant now. In my opinion there were years when we could have done better, including this past season, or should I say post-season. Our BBB team can never be counted on to deliver pleasant surprises in the post-season, and I think that's sad. The situation is about the same for our girls program. The programs are treading water.
I know, not everyone can win. But it should be your goal to win and to be a special program like New London-Spicer.
I don't know if we already have a good candidate in the system to replace our boys coach if he should resign. I'm just getting old and tired.
I suffered miserably because of my known opinion of supporting Baxter. I was made into an absolute pariah in some quarters. It affected my ability to be a positive journalistic contributor for this community. I would argue it even forced the newspaper to hire a new editor, a very heavy-smoking person who spewed tremendous amounts of secondhand smoke into the air at the Sun Tribune shop.
I spent years as a pariah and I want to implore you all that I really am a good person. Maybe only God and I know that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A night at Prom Center with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis

I wasn't sure what to expect when going to St. Paul to hear the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis jazz orchestra in the mid-1970s. I feel fortunate to have had the experience.
This band didn't have the fame of some of the other touring big bands. Very often these bands would come to the St. Paul Prom Center (or Ballroom). Remember the old Lakeside Ballroom in Glenwood? The Prom had the same atmosphere but was much bigger. From the street it didn't look imposing or special. We saw that word "Prom" on a small sign and instantly got energized. All of the "name" big bands played there.
We don't generally associate big bands with the '70s of course. We associate disco. True, big bands were long past their heyday of the 1940s, that meteoric time when Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman entertained young adults. Big bands never vanished of course. How could such an appealing and exciting art form lose its following? We simply saw change.
The '60s were the low point. Let's face it, it was an anomalous decade.
In about 1970, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson caused a phenomenon among high school and college jazz musicians. He came out with the first of his "M.F. Horn" albums. Drummer Buddy Rich caused the same kind of excited following with his band. Yours truly and friends from Morris saw both these bands at the Prom Center.
Old Stan Kenton was in the mix, attracting concert-goers who had seen those other bands. Count Basie stayed true to his art all through the years. I heard the Basie band in St. Cloud. Woody Herman kept the faith and did so practically to his dying day, always embracing his art even though it was known he kept touring because he owed people money! We heard Woody and his group at the Prom. We ran right past him as we followed the ritual of trying to save the best seats - Woody had his clarinet out and was tooting some warm-up notes.
How we loved the Prom Center!
Finally I became aware of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis jazz orchestra (or big band). I had a music instructor at St. Cloud State who was acquainted with a band member: Cecil Bridgewater. My teacher told me to relay a "hello" if I got a chance. I did get a chance. Back then - more innocent days? - it was common for musicians in those bands to mix with audience members during breaks. Concerts might have three full sets separated by breaks. The star might sign autographs in a side room. Today I'm sure the sense of formality would be greater. It's the way our society has gone.
Those concerts of yore were long evenings rich in musical fulfillment and sheer excitement. We were all younger!
The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band was a total artistic flower. It did not have the steady sheer intensity of the other prominent big bands. It could surely be intense when it decided to. It had the kind of big band trumpeters who, figuratively speaking, could drive a nail into a wall. It chose not to give the audience a steady diet of this. We heard wondrous improvisation. The piano player became an audience favorite on the night I took in the band. It was an acoustic, not electric piano.
"Potpourri" was the name of the album the band was promoting at the time. We saw the leading duo on the cover, a black man and white man. I remember Jones, the African-American, coming onstage at the Prom as the musicians assembled, swinging his right arm in a circle as if he was warming up to pitch a baseball game! He played trumpet. He was a masterful arranger and consummate artist, and BTW came from the same family as Hank Jones and Elvin Jones. Jazz royalty to be sure. Lewis was the drummer.
This was a most distinctive band as it created new styles, succeeding in an era where big bands weren't particularly in fashion, and remaining integrated during racially tense periods.
The climate for big bands got so bad, Maynard Ferguson left the country. Maynard even hosted his own TV show in England. Del Sarlette of Morris has some precious video of those programs. England's tax structure ensured that the venerable trumpeter wouldn't stay there permanently. So Maynard made his triumphant return in the early '70s, buoyed by albums that used British studio talent. Let's consider him part of the "British invasion," sort of. Seriously, England had superior recording studio quality at that time, an often overlooked factor in appreciating that "invasion." What was the problem here? Distraction caused by the Viet Nam war, mainly. Young men worried about the draft. How ridiculous and tragic.
Planting seeds in NYC in the '60s
The Thad and Mel band was able to establish itself during that low point for their musical genre, the 1960s, helped by the fact they did this in New York City. Jim Carlson would chuckle at the following bit of background: "The orchestra started out as a group of all-star studio musicians getting together for midnight practice sessions at any place within walking distance from 'Jim and Andy's,' a bar frequented by New York musicians."
I remember when Jim and guest clinician Ed Shaughnessy posed for a photo I took at Jim's home after a UMM Jazz Festival concert. There was a beer can on the table and I suggested to just leave it there. Today I think there's more of an over-arching taboo with alcohol products. Oh, but not back then, when jazz musicians were associated with mind-altering substances.
If Jim had stayed here, would we still have a Jazz Fest at UMM with such phenomenal status? Well, I guess everything has its heyday, just like my father's men's chorus in the 1960s.
Coming out of nowhere? Jazz education
I don't think UMM or any other institution predicted big band jazz programs in the '60s. At the start it was called "stage band," as Sarlette readily recalls, because the word "jazz" seemed a little edgy. Conjure up those alcohol refreshments. Finally "jazz" seeped into the mainstream. Colleges all formed jazz bands whose members were absolutely mesmerized by the likes of Maynard, Buddy, Stan, and even Thad and Mel. (The young men wore corduroy pants, as pointed out by a critic who seemed to be sneering a little.)
The Thad and Mel band debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York City in 1966. Their originality and virtuoso skills immediately made impact. They blended big band swing, bebop and hard bop. The sound was powerful, fast, intellectual and fun to listen to. It was more restrained, requiring an adjustment for many of the corduroy-wearing (young) peers of mine. (Corduroy pants were considered a way around schools' dress code of the time. Silly.)
Jones already had a resume of writing for the Basie orchestra. He played flugelhorn as much as trumpet. Flugelhorn was Chuck Mangione's instrument, remember? Mangione got big (for a while) because radio deejays were tired of the Bee Gees.
Mel Lewis as drummer incorporated the loose, open approach of small group playing - an innovation. His cymbal work added a layer of texture. The Thad and Mel band developed a reputation of being the most influential big band since the swing era.
Since the mid-1980s, the band has been re-named the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, continuing its tradition as the Village Vanguard's house band.
The principals speak, rejoice in music
Interviewed in 1969, Jones exuded humility along with an unbridled love for his art form: "Well, there really is no particular significance attached to the band, other than the fact that we just want to play good music for people, and play it as well as we know how. We want to present our music to the people, and we hope they enjoy it as much as we enjoy playing it for them."
Lewis said "above all, we want to play, for the rest of our lives actually. It's something you never want to stop doing." Lewis continued: "We like to feel that this band represents musical maturity. Each man knows what's happening - he's paid his dues, he's learned, and he's reached a certain point."
And Jones said: "Knowledge by itself is a beautiful thing, but there has to be that additional factor of accumulation. The knowledge that you have means nothing unless you can constantly add to it."
The band performed for 12 years in its original incarnation. Of note: They toured the Soviet Union in 1972 at the height of the Cold War! They won a 1978 Grammy for the album "Live in Munich." They added a Grammy in 2009 for the album "Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard."
Thad and Mel have both left us. Thad went to that big ballroom in the sky in 1986. Lewis made his way there in 1990. Their legacy thrives. Click on the link below to get a nice sampling of what the band was all about, from YouTube:
Here's a toast to big band jazz, to Thad and Mel RIP, and to that night at the St. Paul Prom Center where musical artistry of the highest order was presented. Memories don't get any better. My favorite chart on the "Potpourri" album was "For the Love of Money." Let's put art ahead of money.
Addendum: Cecil Bridgewater, friend of my trumpet-playing instructor Al Moore of St. Cloud, was with Thad and Mel from 1970 to 1976. He also played with Dizzy Gillespie.
I got to hear Dizzy Gillespie in the '70s at St. Cloud, on a night when he didn't want to expend any physical energy at all, it seemed. He had no range on the trumpet that night. St. Cloud didn't rate for a top-notch effort, evidently. Dizzy had a playing style with the puffed-out cheeks that probably took a toll on him, and forced him to pace himself. In an indelicate way I might say Dizzy's concert was a ripoff.
I'm pleased to hear that Cecil is alive today, age 73, an adjunct faculty at the Manhattan School of Music, the Julliard School and other institutions. He has been a great supporter of the Jazz Foundation of America in their mission to save the homes and the lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians including those who survived Hurricane Katrina. Cecil is an Urbana IL native.
I liked Mr. Moore but I regret taking any formal music studies after the age of 17. I knew all I would ever need to know about music when I was 17. No one needed to tell me how to use my diaphragm.
Bravo for big band jazz! It will never die (to quote a rock n' roll anthem).
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 11, 2016

Assessing where we are with businesses and sports

Here's the famous five-way intersection of west Morris.
Welcome to another of my "compendium" posts with material that originally appeared as addendums to sports coverage posts (so you might have missed it). Thanks to all who stop by my two journalistic sites. - B.W.
Whither Morris' economy? (originally posted Feb. 18)
Maybe it's time we started having a frank discussion about the Morris economy. We all sense something is amiss, I think, but we keep such thoughts under a shroud. A community is all about people. We need businesses that attract a decent amount of people traffic. Coborn's was one such business, open 24 hours. If I realized I was out of dog food at 5 a.m., I could hop over there.
Coborn's closed. This void has never been filled. Thrifty White Drug made the drastic downsizing move that we are now grappling with. It's a tiny fraction of its former self in the Morris community, and it has left a gaping void on main street. We lost a major auto dealership in Morris Auto Plaza, now comfortably in Alexandria which is a haven for so many of us.
Morris could use another restaurant. We could use a basic "main street diner" of a restaurant with a hot beef sandwich special every afternoon with an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes with gravy. I'm not interested in all these new ethnic restaurants. I want basic American food. (Sorry if I sound like Donald Trump.)
Last time I checked, Paynesville had two basic main street diners: "Tuck's" and "The Wishing Well." "The Wishing Well" had a super Sunday buffet.
I heard someone say: "Why would anyone want to stay in Morris?" We are quite challenged in comparison to Alex with its lakes and big box stores. Yet we have a highly aggressive police department that harasses people, in my view, with trivial citations for such things as seat belt, plus we have a City of Morris that appears to harass people with vehicle-towing after modest snowfalls, and assessments mailed to grandmas for failure to shovel sidewalks adequately - rather remindful of "traffic cams" in their onerous nature. And the City did a terrible job of snow removal downtown on Monday (2/15), rendering the situation very problematic for people who simply wanted to park their cars (like by the senior center).
This community has some very real issues. Too many people just seem to shrug. Del Sarlette has long said that Morris should have an "apathy festival." Problem is, as Del points out, "nobody shows up for the organizing meeting." Rimshot!
Oh, and Cullen's left Morris too!
OK, let's all of us support the ShopKo pharmacy. ShopKo was quite the step up for Morris, as it remedied the horrible pothole situation at the old Pamida. Bravo! 
We're perplexed by Gophers (published March 11)

So, the Gophers got their clock cleaned in the Big 10 Tournament. So, we just write off the current season as if it's a bump in the road. OK it's a gaping pothole. Meanwhile we read about these huge sums of money sloshing around in U of M athletics. The numbers get dizzyingly high. Just think of an obscenely high number and you'll probably be in the ballpark.
I can't keep up with the embarrassing revelations about Gophers sports: the combination of under-achieving and bloated subsidy, like dumping wheelbarrow-fulls of money for coaches on the way out. Rich Pitino can take advantage of this at some time. I recently wrote a blog post about how Jerry Kill was able to fill his saddlebags full of money after an overrated tenure here. He took a one-time hefty payment and now he's probably gone, back to Illinois where he has a new lake home (in Carbondale).
Days later we got the banner headline in the Star Tribune about "sex videos." Do I have to write about that too? Do I have to write about these generous contract provisions for Rich Pitino whose main attribute appears to be his last name? The Gophers were embarrassingly bad this past winter. Are we supposed to just accept a throwaway season like this?
The U football team was marketed and promoted in a glass-half-full way, shrewdly, by the powers-that-be at the U. Really the football Gophers had just two legitimate wins, over Illinois and Purdue, and now Illinois has Lovie Smith as head coach, so look out for them.
Is it true Tracy Claeys never played college football? Well, one advantage is that his brain didn't get scrambled by playing a high level of football, so he might outdo his rivals just based on this. I expect a big-time movement of boycotting football to begin developing. I think the Southeastern U.S. will be the sport's last bastion, and as time goes by, the sport will be increasingly associated with socioeconomically deprived people.
Basketball? Between the Gophers and Timberwolves we've had ample opportunity to yawn over the recent past. I'm not sure the Timberwolves ever recovered from their earliest years when they stressed "winning today" too much, over taking lumps and getting higher draft picks.
Sports and media (posted March 7)
I had the pleasure of taking a Sunday walk on a day that felt almost like June. I walked past Chizek Field and realized a baseball game could easily have been played there that afternoon. Wow! I walked through the UMM campus and, as I always do, checked out UMM publications. I noticed something fascinating about the University Register. I did not see any "sports section." Well, it's about time.
Not that sports isn't important - all aspects of campus life are important - but sports can be presented so thoroughly and in such an enriching way online, on UMM's website. It seems rather duplicative to have these efforts made in the UMM student newspaper. Those articles slavishly written to review games played a week ago (or more) seem rather pointless for the general audience of the paper. The paper can explore campus life in so many other stimulating ways.
The "sports department" must seem like a rather obligatory thing to do, with a "sports editor." It seems rather quaint. It ought to be vestigial. I grant that sports isn't retreating in our culture. But the paper should strive to present material that people genuinely want to read. Think marketing.
I am assuming that the "Northstar" publication no longer exists on a physical basis on the UMM campus. I haven't seen any copies although I do see at least one empty newsstand with the "Northstar" sign at the top. Curious.
The existence of "Northstar" for at least two years on the UMM campus is probably the most embarrassing chapter in the school's history. It was not a serious journalistic endeavor. Do I have to spell that out for you, children?
I had it explained to me that UMM is a "liberal" institution which means, paradoxically, that UMM allowed this pseudo-conservative abomination of a publication to exist because UMM believes in "letting the students do whatever they want." Like, taking down the goalposts at the end of a football game.
Go Tigers! (a little further) - published March 3
Neither of our MACA basketball teams distinguished themselves in the post-season. This has been a rather long-running scenario. Our boys team in particular has been disappointing. March is the time of year when fans are really supposed to get their adrenalin pumping for high school sports. Instead it has seemed rather anticlimactic for us.
How much does the public care? I really don't know, I really don't. And look at the hockey program. If I understand what's being reported by the local media, we have a rather small boys roster, with half the kids theoretically from Benson, and there were just two wins, and nine kids are graduating? Should we anticipate the dissolution of the program? Should the Lee Center just become part of the Stevens County fairgrounds? I'm not sure I would have contributed a thousand bucks to that, if I had known hockey would unravel as a sport here.
We once had our own MAHS Tiger hockey teams. Well, that didn't last. We paired with Benson, a move leaving me feeling rather flabbergasted. A "Morris/Benson" team?
I bumped into a long-time hockey promoter at McDonald's last week, and he indicated that the current downtown might not be temporary. He observed that the cost of hockey is a factor. OK that may be true. But if it is, why can't we come up with resources on a community basis, helping make hockey a more feasible sport for parents by defraying some of the costs? Can't the community as a whole help make these youth programs thrive?
Are we all Republicans? Do we all feel we have to "pay our own way" for everything? Are we that anti-collectivist?
Is there one grade in MAHACA wrestling that will have just one kid out for the sport next year? Sports seems somewhat less than a shining star in Stevens County now. Disagree? Contact me.
When UMM hosted the preps (published Feb. 23)
Remember when Wheaton came here to play in their extended heyday for girls basketball (with the likes of Sondra Weick, later to be a UMM Cougar)? Their fans could be described as a "sea of red." Remember that little novelty song their fans performed? Remember Tom Grosland as their band director? He was Eleanor Killoran's nephew. I would take photos of Tom, publish them, and then his colleagues at Wheaton would needle him about it: "You must know someone at that Morris paper."
Oh, and remember those very grand and glorious days when the Hancock girls played in front of packed houses at UMM? Remember the relentless running and pressing style of those Owls under Dennis Courneya and later Jodi Holleman? Courneya reached some bumps in the road in his career and life, didn't he. We are so human an animal. Holleman had a good start coaching at Ridgewater College this past winter, but then fell into a swoon with several consecutive losses by a wide margin, and then I stopped paying attention.
The Courneya chapter in Stevens County sports history was amazing. A book should be written, other than the book written by Courneya himself. I'm not sure I would have wanted a daughter playing in that program. It was too intense, IMHO. When those girls finally graduated, they went into a world where those skills would mean nothing. Meanwhile the coach gets to build up his resume.
Hancock was divided after the criminal trial of Courneya, as I recall. A well-placed Morris source told me the reason he wasn't caught and convicted sooner was that "he won (games)." America and winning: they're synonymous, aren't they? Maybe we all need to take a deep breath.
Goodbye to "The Snake" (published Feb. 4)
Ken Stabler has gone to a better place. The old lefty quarterback doesn't have to worry about getting splitting headaches now. His brain was examined after his recent death. Add his name to the sad list of former football players with advanced signs of CTE. It's the result of brain trauma resulting from playing the game of football.
Are we getting the message? Let's all boycott this coming Sunday's Super Bowl game. How can we continue supporting this barbaric sport? It's unconscionable. I was in denial for a while about this. It is hard letting go of a sport we have enjoyed for so long.
Let's fight the addiction. Plan something special to do on Sunday, so you aren't even tempted to watch it. How easy it would be for all of us to live without football. Once we have accomplished this recovery, and found better ways to spend our Sunday time, we will wonder how we ever fell under that spell in the first place.
Ken "The Snake" Stabler, RIP. You picked apart our Vikings in the Super Bowl. I could not care less about that now. It's sad you became a casualty.
Willmar paper continues struggling (published Jan. 27)
The recent 59-56 win by the MACA boys over Benson got puzzling coverage in the Willmar newspaper, in that the Benson scoring list included two players with the same name: "Adam Lindahl." Adam Lindahl scored eight points and Adam Lindahl scored 20 points, according to that paper. Further down in the boxscore, we see the Lindahl name with first name abbreviations. We see "Ad." Lindahl and "An." Lindahl. I found the roster with Maxpreps and discovered we have Adam Lindahl and Andrew Lindahl with the Braves, a rare team still represented by a Native American nickname. And don't think "Braves" is intended generically, because the logo has feathers from a headdress. I'm surprised they've gotten away with this so long.
Seems to me the Willmar paper could refer to the Lindahl boys with full names always printed: "Adam" and "Andrew." We saw the same problem when the Holland sisters both played for MACA. First initials didn't work because the names were Beth and Becca. The type size is so small in the first place, the paper isn't saving an appreciable amount of space by abbreviating names.
The tiny type size is an issue by itself. Look at page B3: it's a sea of gray with type size so small, you'll at least need reading glasses. It has limited value in a scrapbook for this reason.
The Willmar newspaper would respond in its know-it-all way by saying a simple mixup with brothers' names is no big deal. Well, I can assure you it would be a big deal if I did it.
We learn that Rand Middleton of the West Central Tribune has been voted into some sort of football hall of fame. Well, what this means is that Mr. Middleton has spent the last 40 years or so promoting a sport that we're now learning has unacceptable health and physical consequences for its participants. I'd be ashamed getting an "honor" like that.
Morris newspaper under duress? (published Feb. 17)
This past Saturday's Morris newspaper was 22 pages, two less than the usual. The surprising thing is that this edition included the two tax pages, so you'd think they could actually bump up the size of the paper. But no, it's shrinking evermore, steadily, and should we really be surprised? Coborn's left us several years ago. Morris Auto Plaza deserted us for Alexandria. Cullen's closed up shop here. And then another significant advertiser, Thrifty White Drug, basically deserted us, downsizing to a degree that it's a tiny shadow of its former self.
It seems Thrifty White Drug pulled the rug out from under this community. It left a void in our main street, to be sure. The old drugstores were places that attracted a good amount of people traffic - you'd bump into your neighbors there and say "hello." No, it's a wasteland now. We can all go to Alexandria to be around people, including former Morris residents.
Let's all support the ShopKo pharmacy. The Morris newspaper still has "ad salespeople?" What are they selling?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 4, 2016

How about a song to honor "The Alou Boys"

He came from the Dominican Republic. He played all over the U.S. in major league baseball. And last year, Felipe Alou was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. What a worldly gentleman. And, he was one of three brothers distinguishing themselves in this manner.
They were dark-skinned men who could not be described as "negro." They were proof that whatever other arguments you could present against the old segregationist way - and those arguments were prima facie of course - the old way wasn't going to be serviceable in our new world.
Life wasn't wholly kind to the Alou boys in their native country. Poverty chased them. Felipe was going to try to escape this by becoming a doctor. He flirted with this dream for a time. His baseball talent turned heads after he switched to this sport from track and field. This life-changing transition happened at the Pan-American Games. Felipe's Dominican team took Gold.
He stuck with University studies for a time. Then in 1955 (the year I was born), family financial pressures persuaded him to accept a short-term financial fix from the San Francisco Giants. That "fix" was $200. How quaint to report on such a figure.
Baseball was integrated in the 1950s. Realistically there were still hurdles confronting players of color. Felipe was able to make his major league debut in 1958. In 1962 he became an All-Star as he batted .316 with 25 home runs and 98 RBIs. Brother Matty came along for big league play in 1960. Then came the baby brother, Jesus (pronounced "hay-SOOS") in 1963. The three were all initially Giants. In September of 1963 they all took the outfield together, a brother phenomenon that has not been repeated since.
Felipe moved to Milwaukee for the 1964 season. They were the Braves then, not the Brewers. Felipe shone as a Brave, reaching All-Star status. He later took his talents to Atlanta, Oakland, the Yankees, Montreal and the Milwaukee Brewers, over a career of 17 years. Any boy collecting baseball cards would almost consider Mr. Alou to be family. But then there were his brothers too.
Matty Alou was a fixture in big league ball for 15 years. I remember him mostly for his outstanding hitting with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was upstaged by Roberto Clemente. Oh, and Willie Stargell was in that lineup. Like Felipe, he played for several teams. Matty also played in Japan in 1974 through 1976.
Matty won the National League batting title in 1966 as a Pirate. He played with the world champion Oakland A's in 1972.
I have previously written a blog post essay on the life and career of Jesus Alou. He presented the unique issue of a name spelled identical to the Christian savior. This was seen as a problem or conflict by many at the time. Quaint.
"hay-SOOS" made the rounds in big league ball, looking fine in several uniforms. He had talent reflecting his brothers but had a marked weakness of not drawing many walks. He was probably at his best with the Houston Astros. He managed a .300 average with them, but with few walks and not a lot of power. He moved on to Oakland in the A.L. and was a bench player on two World Series championship teams.
Quite a trio, those Alou brothers, and pioneers in showing us the rainbow-like complexion of major league baseball rosters that was to come. The dichotomy of "white" and "negro" was unraveling and headed to the dustbin of history.
Felipe managed the Montreal Expos from 1992 to 2001. Thus he made an impact north of the border that brought that Canadian Hall of Fame status. Felipe managed the San Francisco Giants from 2003 to 2006.
I have previously written poetry honoring the Alou brothers for a post on my primary website, "I Love Morris." Anyone who follows my writing knows I love baseball. I decided to go beyond poetry and write song lyrics for a song that might be recorded honoring the Alou brothers. My song is called "The Alou Boys." It has a gentle, laid-back tempo. Lyrics are not the same as poetry. I invite you to read through the song as presented below. Embrace the memories. Visualize those old baseball cards. Thanks for reading.

"The Alou Boys"
by Brian Williams

The Alou boys made a big noise
Brought a real joy for their fans
They were brothers like no others
Showing real poise - man oh man
As a trio they were heroes
They would zero in on fame
Though they split up, they would stay tough
And their stature grows each day
The Dominican Republic is where their trail began
Bats and balls collecting in the yard
They were three young men with mettle
No doubts about their plan
We'd see those Alou boys on cards
There was Matty who was savvy
With his bat he. . .smacked the ball
So pugnacious with the Pirates
With Clemente he stood tall
There was hay-SOOS, he was turned loose
Gave a big boost by the Bay
With Cepeda he could slay ya
As the Giants slugged away
(Repeat 'B' section)
When Felipe swung for a home run
It was such fun, touch them all
In Milwaukee he was ready
With Hank Aaron - watch that ball
The Alou clan is a fine brand
Such a proud Dad, Mother too
There was Moises, little grandkid
What a fine lad, an Alou
Copyright 2016 Brian R. Willliams