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23 july 2016

I play jazz standards on my piano every day, working my way through my songbooks and then going back to the front of the books and starting over. The easiest composer in the American songbook to play is Richard Rodgers, many of whose tunes are like scale exercises – not that there's anything facile about knowing which scale exercises are going to sound inevitable for a singer or pianist. The hardest to play is Cole Porter, though he also gives you the most instruction. Irving Berlin is surprisingly complex. Jerome Kern isn't easy. George Gershwin is somewhere in the middle. Harold Arlen wrote some of the simpler of the great American tunes: "Come Rain or Come Shine," "One for My Baby," "Over the Rainbow."     read more


22 july 2016

Le photographe is a tense, superbly focused political thriller – perhaps I should say artistic thriller, because though it's set in the world of politics, political ideas (narrowly considered) are of no interest to its protagonist. Like Pierre Boulle's other novels, Le photographe manages to be an intellectual page-turner, never sacrificing thought for action or action for thought.     read more


21 july 2016

I saw the deeply impressive Munch and Expressionism exhibit earlier this year at New York's Neue Galerie, wrote away for the catalogue soon after, and have been saving it for a treat most of the summer. I'm going to save it as a treasure for years to come.     read more


20 july 2016

The Murder of Dr. Chapman, by Linda Wolfe, is one of those histories where the author patches in all kinds of local color from indirect sources. We learn about stagecoach travel, 19th-century medical and legal proceedings, the geography and customs of Philadelphia and Bucks County in the 1830s, early prisons, Joseph Bonaparte, and many another interesting thing – not as the characters directly reported them, but as they might have experienced them. There's nothing really wrong with this approach, as long as it's lively and the author owns up to the technique in her documentation (check and check). But as history it's a somewhat outmoded style – even while, as true crime, it can be luridly compelling.     read more

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