November 24: The Hyper Musician

Tod-MachoverComposer Tod Machover, a professor of music and media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been a leader in the melding of music, new technologies, and everyday environments, was born in Mt. Vernon, NY to a pianist mother and computer scientist father on this date in 1953. Machover is the inventor of several “hyperinstruments,” including a hyperviolin, a hypercello, and a hyperpiano, all of which wed classic instruments to electronic elements that respond in real time and fantastic ways to the music being played and the musician playing it. Machover is head of MIT’s Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group and has been involved with two consortia since 1995, Things That Think (TTT) and Toys of Tomorrow (TOT. He has composed major pieces for a wide-ranging list of musicians that includes Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, the Boston Pops, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and has built interactive performance systems for the likes of Peter Gabriel and Prince. To see him speaking about and demonstrating the music that cities make, look below.

“I have always been drawn to the ethical nature of Judaism, and to its dynamic concern with understanding how best to live in the here and now. Such issues, and the struggle to maintain hope in the midst of impossible circumstances, are central to all my work.” –Tod Machover


November 23: Paul Celan, Temporary Survivor

10890_0_1Paul Celan (Antschel), a German-language poet and translator who survived Nazi labor camps but lost his parents to the Nazi reconquest of Romania, was born in Czernowitz on this date in 1920. Celan became involved in Jewish socialist groups and causes, and in the writing of poetry, as a teen. He went to France to study medicine in 1938, passed through Germany during Kristallnacht, and was ghettoized with other Czernowitz Jews in 1941, during which time he translated Shakespeare’s sonnets into German and intensified his own poetic output. Celan’s parents, whom he had tried to convince to flee the country, were confined to a concentration camp in 1942 and were worked to death within months; Celan survived in a slave labor camp until the Red Army’s advance frightened Romanian fascists into abandoning the camps. In the post-war years, he lived in Vienna, where his first poetry collection, Sand from the Urns, was published in 1948, and then in Paris, where his reputation as a poet grew and he met his wife, artist Gisèle de Lestrange, with whom he would exchange some 700 letters over the course of 18 years. He was also a close friend with Nelly Sachs, the Nobelist poet who, like Celan, became best known for her writings about the Holocaust. Celan primarily made his living as a polyglot translator, able to translate literature from Romanian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, and English into German.He was awarded the Bremen Literature Prize in 1958 and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1960. Ten years later, he drowned in the Seine River in an apparent suicide.

“Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, ‘enriched’ by it all. –Paul Celan


November 22: Integrating Jazz

norman-granzNorman Granz, the founder of five jazz record labels who was a significant activist for racial integration in public performances during the 1940s and ’50s, died in Geneva, Switzerland on this date in 2001. Granz organized (on borrowed money) the famous “Jazz at the Philharmonic” jam session series in L.A. in 1944 and ’45, which yielded the first widely distributed live jam session recordings and a series of national touring concerts for the next dozen years featuring racially integrated bands. He cancelled more than one concert in venues that tried to segregate audiences or refused to accord black musicians  the same accommodations as whites, and he was known for paying black and white musicians equally and for putting his own safety on the line to assure their fair and equal treatment. Among the artists signed by Granz’s labels were Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald (whose great career he managed), Count Basie, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, and numerous other jazz giants. Granz lived to be 83 and spent much of his last three decades in Europe. To read Gary Ferdman’s account of the political collaboration between Norman Granz and Dizzy Gillespie, click here. To see Norman Granz introducing “Jazz at the Philharmonic” on television in 1956, look below.

“See the tall old man standing next to Ella Fitzgerald, and they don’t know who he is . . .” —Norman Granz


November 21: The Comic Creations of Harold Ramis

haroldramisComic actor, writer and director Harold Ramis, whose best-known works include Caddyshack (1980), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Groundhog Day (1993) and Analyze This (1999), was born in Chicago on this date in 1944. His early work included substitute teaching, helping in a mental hospital, joke-writing for Playboy magazine, freelance journalism, and sketch-writing for Second City TV. He broke into screenwriting with Animal House and Meatballs (with his frequent collaborator Bill Murray); other screenwriting credits include Ghostbusters, Year One, and Bedazzled. Ramis once pitched the Disney Company with a film script about Emma Goldman (with Bette Midler ready to play the title role), but the project went nowhere despite his success as director of some of the highest-earning comedies of all time. “Ramis’ comedies were often wild, silly and tilting toward anarchy, but they also were cerebral and iconoclastic, with the filmmaker heeding the Second City edict to work at the top of one’s intelligence. This combination of smart and gut-bustingly funny led a generation of comedic actors and filmmakers,” wrote Mark Carol in the Chicago Tribute after Ramis’ death this year from an auto-immune disease at age 69. To read about Ramis  learning some Yiddish with Hershl Hartman, click here. To see him touting high-paying job opportunities for philosophers on SCTV, look below.

“[S]ome people have a fear of rejecting all the security that comes with family, church, and state. They become fundamentalists. In a lot of ways, every child is a miniature fundamentalist. They need to believe in these things. It’s too terrifying otherwise. It takes maturity to embrace all that ambiguity. Once you’re alienated, you’re on your own.” —Harold Ramis


November 20: Magnum Photos

intro_thDavid “Chim” Seymour (Szymin), a co-founder of Magnum Photos in 1947, was born in Warsaw on this date in 1911, to parents who were publishers of Yiddish and Hebrew books. He moved to Paris in the 1930s, became an active photographer, and met his Magnum co-founders Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. From 1936 to 1938 Seymour photographed the Spanish Civil War, and during the Second World War, in which his parents were killed by the Nazis, he served in U.S. Army Intelligence. In 1948 he became UNICEF’s first international photographer, commissioned to take pictures of Europe’s war orphans and other needy children. He also photographed celebrities throughout the continent (including Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Avedon, and numerous others) and news events, and went to the Middle East to capture on film the emergence of the State of Israel. In 1956, Seymour was killed by Egyptian gunfire while photographing a prisoner exchange near the Suez Canal. To see some of his work, look below; to see his UNICEF photos, look below that.

“[L]et the news in, show the hungry face, the broken land, anything so that those who are comfortable may be moved a little.” –David Seymour