The  Night  Train: Steve Holcomb (seated, center) with his U.S. bobsled team Gold Medal winning teammates: (from left) Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen

All Aboard…the Night Train!

As this is written, Canada has prevailed in overtime over the American hockey team for a dramatic win in the Gold Medal game that closed a spectacular 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. After opening on the tragic note of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvillii’s death on the super-fast Olympic track (and the ensuing controversy when the Olympic organizers issued a callous statement blaming the athlete rather than the track for the accident), the next two weeks featured exhilarating displays of high-wire athleticism on ice and snow, mostly at frightening speeds. The marquee U.S. athletes—Lindsey Vonn, Anton Apolo Ohno, Bode Miller, Shani Davis—and the lesser heralded but upset Gold winner in men’s figure skating, Evan Lysacek, who dispatched the presumed champ, Russian egotist Yvegeny Plyushchekno, with a performance of breathtaking grace and daring—performed solidly, sometimes brilliantly, doing themselves and their country proud. As usual, there were other storylines that could not have been predicted, most poignantly that of Canadian figure skater JOANNIE ROCHETTE, fighting through the emotional devastation of losing her mother to a massive heart attack only two days before her short program. Electing to continue her Olympic quest, Rochette delivered a personal best in the short program, then followed it with another compelling routine in the long program to capture third place and a bronze medal.

Ms. Rochette’s triumph preceded the thrilling Gold Medal performance of STEVE HOLCOMB and the fabulous U.S. bobsled team that called itself—and we especially love this at—the Night Train. As the driver of the Night Train team, which included Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen, Holcomb was first among equals in negotiating the tricky bobsled course at 90-plus MPH and capturing the first U.S. gold in that event in 62 years. We couldn’t miss Holcomb’s eyes tearing up and his breath quickening as Old Glory rose while the national anthem played during the medal ceremony. As spectacular as was the Night Train’s triumph, how great was it that Holcomb was actually able to see it all unfold before his very eyes, as the first man in the sled? In 2006 Holcomb was diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative condition that was slowly, inexorably blinding him. Before officially retiring from the team, he underwent an experimental procedure that involved combining riboflavin with light in the cornea. After the 20-minute operation, his vision, 20/500 when he came into the office, was restored to 20/20; he was, literally, back in the bobsled driver’s seat. Steve Holcomb may look more like he should be starring in Man v. Food than standing on the top tier of the Olympic medal podium, but he has the right stuff common to all champions, starting with a refusal to accept defeat, on or off the ice. Joannie Rochette and Steve Holcomb are real heroes. We are both humbled and ennobled by their achievements, by their character, and by their courage. They made this an Olympics to remember.
—David McGee

A video portrait of bobsled driver Steve Holcomb, by USA TODAY animator Keith Carter


Exploring the magic, the mystery and the music of Django Reinhardt, the sine qua non of gypsy jazz, in this, the 100th year anniversary of his birth. The music and his Quintet du Hot Club de France pioneered in early ‘30s France has more momentum than ever—witness the latest projects from John Jorgenson and Frank Vignola, the leading practitioners of contemporary gypsy jazz. Our coverage of the Django phenomenon includes:

The opening scene of writer-director Sylvain Chomet’s surreal, double Academy Award nominated film, Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003). Among characters resembling Josephine Baker, Fred Astair, Glenn Gould and Robert Crumb is Django Reinhardt. In the film’s opening sequence here, both Django’s two left fingers and toes get in on a solo, whereas Josephine Baker loses her bananas and Astaire’s tap shoes rebel and attack him.

CHASING DJANGO: An Interview with MICHAEL DREGNI, author of the definitive Django biography, Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend.

JOHN JORGENSON: That Django Swing, And Then Some by David McGee
With the simultaneous release of two fascinating, delightful albums of gypsy jazz music in different settings, JOHN JORGENSON, arguably the world’s premier exponent of gypsy jazz as defined by its master craftsman, Django Reinhardt, is certainly solidifying his reputation as a master of the style and its leading visionary. One Stolen Night is a collection of Jorgenson originals and well-seasoned covers (including Django’s ‘Hungaria’) as realized by the Jorgenson and his impeccable quintet; Istiqbal Gathering is a breathtaking, ambitious work with Orchestra Nashville and the Turtle Island Quartet that fuses gypsy jazz to classical, South American and even Chinese folk styles.

In “That Django Swing, And Then Some,” the first part of our John Jorgenson coverage, the artist compares and contrasts his two new albums, and explains his modus operandi with regard to pushing the music he loves beyond its normal boundaries.

In a quick Q&A session from his 2005 visit to the Austin Django Jazz Festival, Jorgenson gets into the particulars of the Django technique from the player’s perspective.

R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders perform their 1978 rendition of ‘My Girl’s Pussy,’ a song popularized in 1931 in its original version by British bandleader Harry Roy and His Bat Club Boys. The song is included on the soundtrack of the 2004 film, Head In the Clouds, which features gypsy jazz titan John Jorgenson in the role of Django Reinhardt.

FRANK VIGNOLA: Life Begins With Django by David McGee
With 100 Years of Django, FRANK VIGNOLA, himself a gypsy jazz guitar titan,honors the master who set him on the path—and there’s more where that came from

A warm reminiscence of one guitar legend by another who was deeply influenced by Django and befriended him when the gypsy jazz legend made his only visit to America and joined him again when touring Europe with his wife, Mary Ford. The first time he heard Django plays, Les recalls, ‘I thought, I might as well be selling shoes.’ After Django died destitute, Les paid for his burial and gravestone and chased down $10,000 in unpaid royalties for Reinhardt’s distraught widow. A classic Les Paul story here.

He will always be remembered for his achievements on the acoustic guitar and rightly so. But it is often forgotten that Django Reinhardt recorded in a variety of settings besides the famed quintet, including various modern combos, during the last five years or so of his life. His recordings during this period, were mainly on electric guitar or amplified acoustic and have been too often ignored. Redressing the imbalance, Wayne Jeffries looks anew at latter era Django and where he took his art before his tragic early death.

By Jules

Author-illustrator BONNIE CHRISTENSEN brings Django Reinhardt to life in poetry and painting in her new book, Django: World’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist. Her words, and her illustrations, tell the vivid tale her. Jules (aka Julie Danielson), who pens the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, sat down with Ms. Christensen for a cyber-breakfast and chat about her Django excursion.

An account of Django Reinhardt’s first and only trip to America, in 1946, when he was invited by DUKE ELLINGTON to appear with the latter’s band in a series of concerts. It was a bittersweet adventure…

TIME Magazine was impressed by Django and Duke’s November 4, 1946 concert in Cleveland. Its appraisal is reprinted here.

THE DAY I MET DJANGO by Albert Offenbach
As an 18-year-old on holiday in Deauville, France, Albert Offenbach crossed paths with Django Reinhardt, and had a chance to play guitar for the master. Herewith his account of that long-ago meeting.

A five-part documentary on the life and music of Django Reinhardt


Marcel Khalife: The Dylan of Lebanon
In the Arabic world few artists have been more dogged than Marcel Khalife in promoting a greater understanding of their culture's music to audiences around the globe, including in English-speaking countries. His voice is especially valuable in the United States, where too many people are positively spooked by the very mention of anything Arabic, and concurrently lacking in much background on the region's history, values and culture, except as it is filtered through the lens of Islamic extremism or ethnic strife within its own ranks.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS by Laura Fissinger
Man v. Food: The Bliss of Large Bites, Reclaimed

What's a show that seems to celebrates overeating doing, ascending to hit status on basic cable? Our Close Encounters columnista this month determines the secret of the Travel Channel’s most unlikely hit show: “No other eating/cooking/travel show stars the hungry dude with the love of sports in general (and minor league baseball in particular), the love of cooking and eating, the love of travel, and the love of town hall Saturday night guitar rock and roll.” Chips and dip at the ready? Read on…

By JC Costa

Our Man of the Classics, JC Costa, waxes eloquent on a reissue of a live album capturing the ROLLING STONES in their prime. “It’s hard to expect something recorded 41 years ago to stand unchallenged and undiminished as the greatest live rock and roll album ever recorded,” Costa notes, “but Get Yer Ya-Yas Out still makes a decent case for what was always an onerous distinction at best.”


After TAYLOR SWIFT’s disastrous Grammy performance, a few reactions were entirely predictable.

Crossing Over

*BOB KEANE, who launched Sam Cooke’s secular recording career, then founded Del-Fi records and discovered Ritchie Valens, Dick Dale, the Bobby Fuller Four, Johnny Crawford, the Surfaris, the Lively Ones and gave Barry White his first label job, passed away in November 2009.

*KATHRYN GRAYSON, one of film’s greatest female vocalists, star of Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate, passed away in February.

A founder of the New Left and former California State Senator, TOM HAYDEN remembers the inviolable integrity, for good and ill, of HOWARD ZINN, one of his early mentors.


Canada’s SOJOURNERS return, with a powerful, challenging gospel message in CD form.


ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: ELVIS PRESLEY—On Stage: Legacy Edition—Two shows; two pivotal moments in the first scenes of Elvis’s last act. There would be another couple of years of fully engaged performances onstage and in the studio, before the onset of steady, systemic decline on all fronts. That he produced any worthwhile work at all during the latter years is altogether remarkable, given the maladies afflicting him spiritually and physically. But here, in these moments of new dawn, he was a sight to see.

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: JOHNNY GIMBLE, Celebrating With FriendsPretty near everything about Johnny Gimble’s Celebrating with Friends is right. This legendary Texas fiddler, for one, truly is legendary, having been around long enough and been good enough to be one of Bob Wills’s Texas Playboys and to tour with Willie Nelson, so it’s right that he get an album-length tribute on which some notable musicians of our time (and of all time) gather ‘round to help him put on this little clinic here.

BRAND NEW STRINGS, No Strings AttachedIt’s not much of a stretch to call Brand New Strings the most exciting traditional bluegrass debut since Dailey & Vincent, and in fact one Jamie Dailey gives the band his own rave review on its website. Set aside “the best” debate for a moment, though, and appreciate what is irrefutably here on No Strings Attached.

THE COAL PORTERS, Durango— When a Kentucky-born Byrds/Dylan scholar and a Scottish standup comedian joined forces in London way back in the ‘90s and started playing acoustic bluegrass renditions of their original songs, it was solely in response to a dare. Since then they have been joined by a hotshot female Canadian fiddler (Carly Frey) and a stellar banjo man from Cornwall, Dick Smith, with Jeff Kazmierski doing the honors on doghouse bass. Truly multicultural at the right time in history, the Coal Porters are not quite like any other band out there in the roots field.

RANDY KOHRS, Quicksand Randy Kohrs has joked about his 2007 album, Old Photograph, showcasing his affinity for blues, country and bluegrass—to his disadvantage commercially, because a solid outing on disc fit neatly into no single niche. But to an artist whose simple description of his music is "acoustic," Old Photograph was true to his sensibility. Nevertheless, Quicksand should avoid the same classification conundrum as its predecessor, since this Kohrs-produced longplayer comes down foursquare in traditional country and bluegrass territory (them blues can really get you down sometimes), with ample dollops of fiddle, mandolin, banjo and of course Kohrs's impeccable and always tasty resophonic guitar and equally affecting vocals serving to evoke a classically backwoods feel throughout.

MARLEY’S GHOST, Ghost TownLow-key, deeply felt and beautifully realized in all respects, Marley’s Ghost’s Jack Clement-produced Ghost Town is the sort of roots exercise that lays easy on the soul upon first hearing, and grows more meaningful over time, as its core humanity reveals enduring truths about the human condition.

BOB STUMP & THE BLUE MOUNTAIN BAND For a mere six bucks, the self-released six-song sampler CD from upstate New York’s Bob Stump & The Blue Mountain Band may well be the best bargain extant in roots music. On the band’s website Stump says he seeks to paint “the American landscape in words and music.” The landscape in question is as much about inner geography as it is the lay of the land—and every bit as affecting. Anyone who has a heart will want to take this trip.


ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: FRANK SINATRA, Strangers In the Night— As a moment not of reinvention but rather of renewal, Strangers In the Night rises above a couple of unfortunate song selections—and the artist’s corresponding throw-away performances thereof—to stand honorably with the best of latter-era Sinatra.

Roundup: ‘Big’ Blues With a Feeling—Strong new blues albums from a couple of ‘Big’ artists who write as well as they sing:

BIG BILL MORGANFIELD’s Born Lover would make his father, one Muddy Waters, well pleased;

BIG PETE PEARSON’s Screamer and Finger In Your Eye, find this superlative bluesman getting better with age.

JEFF HEALEY, LUTHER ALLISON: SONGS FROM THE ROADTwo beloved bluesmen, both ace guitarists and deeply humanistic in their approach to the music, both gone too soon (and both victims of cancer), are honored by Ruf Records with like-titled CDs (and in Luther Allison’s case, an accompanying DVD of part of the show memorialized on the CD) that at once demonstrate their distinctive musicality and underscore how sorely missed they are on the contemporary scene, especially in the blues world.

ELLIS PAUL, The Day After Everything Changed—Ellis Paul’s his first new long player in five years turns out to have been largely, if not completely, financed by his fans—his mailing list apparently boasts some 20,000 names, and in his notes to this disc Paul writes: “People, one by one, came out of the blue to show support financially, far beyond our initial goal.” Folks, your money was well spent.

DVD REVIEW: TAIL DRAGGER LIVE AT ROOSTER’S LOUNGE Not missing an opportunity, Delmark is following its success with TAIL DRAGGER’s 2005 DVD, My Head Is Bald (the label’s best selling DVD to date), with another rousing live set captured on film for posterity, Live at Rooster’s Lounge. In short, this terrific set continues Tail Dragger’s resurrection, artistically and personally.



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