For the Want of a Timpani

Picking the Florida Phil clean; bringing blues to blacks

On a January morning of such meteorological perfection that it felt like a summer afternoon on the backside of Pike's Peak, vultures circled a parking lot on Federal Highway just north of Sunrise Boulevard. The carrion? Anything and everything not nailed down inside the headquarters of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. It wasn't surprising to see the lot filled (with cars belonging to the scavengers picking the bones clean) in a way the symphony never seemed able to manage during performances. Inside, the Fisher Auction Co. was giddily going down the list, selling off everything from file cabinets, seats, risers, audio equipment to an array of instruments including a pianoforte, roto-toms, and three sets of xylophones. Even the refrigerator and stove in the break room had numbers taped to them. From behind his laptop podium, auctioneer Louis Fisher raced through his list, finalizing the sale of "2 (Two) Realistic High Ball Mics." "OK, here we go!" he announced, starting the bidding on the next item, a "Voice-Activated FM Transceiver." "Yes or no?" he asked again and again in an overcaffeinated clip. "Yes or no? Yes or no? Gotta go!"

A fatal combination of the sheer number of folks bidding, the rapidly escalating prices, plus owning the slimmest checkbook known to mankind meant Bandwidth never cast a bid on that set of copper kettle drums (which went for $16,500). A pair of young, clean-cut Fisher employees looked over a sheet of totals and broke out into proverbial shit-eating grins. "Oh yeah," intoned one. "Oh yeah!"

"So, there's some great bargains here today?" asked Sun-Sentinel classical music critic Lawrence Johnson, interviewing an orchestra employee. The day before, I'd called up Johnson to ask him about his job security in light of the Florida Phil's death and the impending chest rattle soon to be heard from the Miami Chamber Symphony, which recently abandoned hopes of having a 2004 season. With classical music suffering two major blows inside of a year, what will happen, Bandwidth wondered, to Johnson's career? Would he end up reviewing junior-high flute recitals?

He laughed but continued in the harried tones of a reporter facing deadline. "I'll still be here," he said. "There's a lot for me to do." Terrible management and living beyond its means doomed the Philharmonic, he explained. And the MCS isn't officially dead yet, plus there's always the Florida Grand Opera, the FIU Music Festival, and New World Orchestra. "If any more of them were to fold," he added, "well, that would be catastrophic. As of now, there's more than I could possibly cover."


Not to beat a dead horse -- but simply in an effort to drive the flies away -- we present a brief follow-up to the South Florida Blues Society column from a few weeks back. As you may recall, dear observant reader, Big Daddy B-Width took issue with the society's narrow-minded vision and some of the statements from its leader, Bob "Bluesbobby" Weinberg.

His January 14 newsletter (submitted via an "SFBS E-blast") is typical of the misplaced affections that characterize his society. Weinberg devotes several paragraphs to stroking the ego of the Fritz and Franz Bierhaus in Coral Gables. It figures to be a meeting place for the blues gestapo, though it's clearly a Bavarian/Austrian restaurant first and foremost. While Weinberg claims it's "not your ordinary oompah place," it should be noted that Fritz and Franz replaced the former Satchmo's Blues Bar with beer steins, vintage tubas, and a wait staff "clad in custom-made lederhosen." Even the famous Satchmo Burger was rechristened the Bierhaus Burger. Sacre bleu!

And despite listing dates for local blues concerts for January, that SFBS E-Blast failed to mention a January 22 performance from Fort Lauderdale native son (not to mention the biological son of Muddy Waters) and W.C. Handy award-winner Big Bill Morganfield. The oversight was corrected in Weinberg's next newsletter, about 24 hours prior to Morganfield's Alligator Alley performance.

The bluesaroonies also reported a selfless act of cultural co-opting, taking place on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The SFBS expected great things when it set up a booth at Holiday Park and invited Sheba "The Mississippi Queen" to perform. According to Weinberg, this represented an opportunity "to bring the blues to our African-American brethren... especially to the black youth, hopefully as an alternative to hip-hop."

Ah, but what can you expect from a genre that expects its greats to answer to ridiculous names like Blind Lemon Pepper Chicken Jefferson and Jimmy-Joe "Cloudy Eye" Jenkins?

 
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