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Blow, Mr. Dexter: A Look Back at Round Midnight, 30 Years Later

The French-American film Round Midnight, directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring my late husband, Dexter Gordon, as a jazz musician in Paris in the late 1950s, premiered in New York City 30 years ago today. As I near completion of Dexter’s biography, Dexter Calling: The Life and Music of Dexter Gordon, memories of the film come flooding back. They are bittersweet, as many of the performers have since passed away, most recently Bobby Hutcherson (1941–2016), who died this past summer. Bobby plays Ace in the film and delivers one of its most memorable lines. In the hallway of the Hotel Louisiane, Ace is holding a bowl of jambalaya as Buttercup walks past. He says, about living in Paris, “It would be the best city in the world if I could just find some okra.” Dexter loved that line, and whenever he repeated it to Bobby, they would both burst out laughing. Bobby Hutcherson at the Berkeley Jazz Festival, 1982. Photo by Brian McMillen. Bobby had known Dexter since he was a boy in Los Angeles (Bobby’s older brother, Teddy, was one of Dexter’s best childhood friends), and Bobby recorded with Dexter on the 1965 Blue Note Records album Gettin’ Around. A vibraphone and marimba player, Bobby was one of the most important jazz originals of all time. When Tavernier began casting for Round Midnight, Dexter put in a word for his good friend, but Tavernier was reluctant to give the role to a musician over an actor. Bobby did have some acting experience, however—he appeared as the bandleader in the Sydney Pollack film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)—and when Tavernier called Pollack to verify Bobby’s ability, he was pleased to learn that Bobby had done a great job on the film. That settled the question. Billy Higgins and that inimitable smile, 1978. Photo by Brian McMillen. We have also lost the incomparable Billy Higgins (1936–2001), whom Dexter knew from childhood as well and whom he considered one of the greatest drummers to play this music. Billy played on 10 Dexter Gordon albums, including the classic Go! on Blue Note (1962). Many regard Go! Dexter’s finest album for its rhythm section of Billy, Sonny Clark and Butch Warren. (Dexter later said all other rhythm sections should rise to the level of those three.) Their strength enabled Dexter to float on top, playing anything that came to mind. Dexter requested that Billy be cast in Round Midnight because when he looked behind him onstage he wanted to see that inimitable smile. It let him know that everything was going to be all right. The great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (1936–2008) passed several years ago. When Freddie arrived in Paris to shoot his scenes for Round Midnight, he didn’t realize that he had flown halfway around the world just to play on a set modeled after Birdland, the famous New York City jazz club. When he got to the location, he said, “This looks like Birdland.” I told him, “It’s a movie set.” He said, “You mean I flew all this way to play the blues? No one told me.” Years later, whenever I would see Freddie, he would recall how the whole experience had felt like a flashback to his early days playing in New York. Freddie Hubbard. Rochester, New York, 1976. Photo by Tom Marcello. Freddie's scene with pianist Cedar Walton (1934–2013) and drummer Tony Williams (1945–1997), two more musician-performers we have lost, reminds us at once of the beauty of jazz and the fragility of life. I can still recall hearing these musicians play live when I was a teenager going to the Village Vanguard and Birdland, sitting in the listening session, acting very grown up, and being ever so anxious about the day when I could sit with them up close. Round Midnight was a remarkable achievement for Tavernier. His idea to cast real musicians and record all the music live brought an authenticity unmatched by any other musical film—an authenticity that extends to the dialogue as well. When Tavernier first showed Dexter the script, the dialogue sounded nothing like the language jazz musicians actually used. But during the course of filming, the director listened closely to his musicians on set, and every day before shooting he made small adjustments to the script. Dexter and Bertrand Tavernier on the set of Round Midnight, 1986. Photo courtesy of Dex Music LLC. The film’s humor and irony all came from Dexter; he had a way of seeing the world that could change the grimness of a situation into laughter. In one scene, on the beach in Normandy, Dexter’s character, Dale, says to his friend Francis (François Cluzet), “It's funny how the world is inside of nothing. I mean you have your heart and soul inside of you. Babies are inside of their mothers. Fish are out there...in the water. But the world...is inside of nothing.” Then he adds, “I don't know if I like this or not, but you'd better write it down.” Dexter was just like Dale: He was dead serious but he didn’t take himself seriously. François Cluzet and Dexter on the beach in Normandy, 1986. ©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection The costar of the film, François has since become a very popular actor in France, best known for his roles in Tell No One (2006) and Intouchables (2011). He had a marvelous relationship with Dexter while filming, and Dexter predicted that François would become famous and rich. Last year, when I saw François in Paris and we began reminiscing about the film, he said, “Eh bien, Dexter était presque correct. Je suis célèbre mais je ne suis pas riche.” (“Well, Dexter was almost right. I am famous, but I am not rich.”) Dexter and François also made changes to the script to make their relationship feel more genuine. In one scene, Dale, a self-destructive alcoholic, asks Francis, “Is there water in this wine?” In the original dialogue, Francis lies and says no. In the final cut, however, Francis answers yes. Dexter and François agreed that two characters as close as they were supposed to be wouldn’t lie to each other. When the film was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1986, the audience stood and cheered for what seemed like an eternity. At that moment, Dexter and Tavernier realized that what they had made was not only a tribute to jazz, but a work of art. I have traveled with Round Midnight as far as Madagascar and throughout Europe and to universities across the U.S., and in its 30th year, the travels continue. As I write these words, I am attending the 30th-anniversary screening of the film in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Dexter lived from 1962 to 1976 before his triumphant return to the United States and his almost unthinkable Oscar nomination for best leading actor in 1986. When Martin Scorsese (who plays Goodley in the film) told Dexter, long before Round Midnight was finished, to pack his bags because he was going to the Oscars, he knew what he was talking about.   Maxine Gordon is the author of the upcoming biography Dexter Calling: The Life and Music of Dexter Gordon (University of California Press) and the president of the Dexter Gordon Society. Learn more about  the Dexter Gordon Society at www.dextergordon.org and follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dextergordon.official/.

by Maxine Gordon

Oct 10, 2016

Insider Interview: Amanda Signorelli of Techweek

When most people think of technology, they think of Silicon Valley, Stanford and legions of brogrammers. It’s quite specific, simultaneously a monolith and monoculture. What people don’t think of are the smaller, specialized loci popping up around the country, the Kansas Cities and Detroits out there that are worthy and in need of just a little water, fertilizer and sunlight. The events group Techweek, which lands in New York today, exists to be this catalyzing force, and it’s led by a woman only three years out of a midwestern university. Now, less than a year into her CEO role, she has a plan to expand into the wild world of digital media. Everyone, this is Amanda Signorelli. Q: You are relatively new to Techweek and you have a background with McKinsey. How do you apply a Fortune 100 consulting methodology to a conference startup? A: Techweek has been about structuring problems and work flow. So the grand plan is important, but what is more important is how you get there—boiling it down into different pieces to ensure efficient and timely execution. The thing that has been most insightful for me is understanding how malleable and flexible startups are, which makes things so much easier. You can have an idea, work on different solutions, execute them and move quickly. There are so many opportunities with a startup: Let’s try this thing in this market and see how it works. And if it doesn’t, let’s try to figure out how to do it better the next time. Q: It must be refreshing. A: It is, as is this element of tangibility. With startups you can see it right in front of you and you can see the change. Q: As an events organization focused on technology, how do you decide where to host? A: The mission of Techweek is to provide a national platform for cities that often don’t have a voice. So we are looking at the cities that are the next iteration of Silicon Valley that are really driving technology. We look at criteria from a clinical perspective, such as investment activity: What are we seeing in terms of angel investments? Tech sector job growth? Engineering? Then you’ve got the concentration of the ecosystem, which is incredibly important: Is there an incubator that is driving the momentum? How involved are the universities and how connected are they? And the other big piece is the concentration of corporate partners. With regard to flavors and personalities, there are a lot of differences. Detroit is the leader in mobility. Kansas City is the leader in big data. Toronto has a very large clean tech sector. In L.A. there is a lot of focus on gaming, which is also starting to rise up in Dallas. Then there are other elements such as the types of entrepreneurs that come to life in the cities. So, for example, Dallas seems to be a young professional community, which is an older demographic than the kind you see in Chicago. Things like that are very interesting in terms of how the event comes to life. Q: Which city is the most fun? A: The city that has really retained a soft spot for us is Kansas City. It is a market that we anticipated being smaller, but in the first year we had 6,000 people come through, and the partnership with the Kansas City grant foundation is unique. We’re able to award $50,000 grants to companies that then come in and build their businesses in KC and contribute to job growth. So it’s one of the clearest examples where we’re really driving toward improving the ecosystem, the community and investment in these companies. Landing page promoting Techweek New York, happening now. Q: What are your plans for growing the business? A: Techweek is currently an events company, but we’re transitioning to become a media company, and in order to do that we have had a lot of conversations among ourselves about what this means in terms of content delivery. We’re catching up quickly when it comes to becoming a voice in the media in a way that is both tactful and aligned with where content delivery is going. You’re going to see a lot of different content coming from us, whether that’s streaming videos that can circulate, live-streaming videos of speakers, articles by contributing editors and so forth. We’re most excited to really understand what will work and what won’t, and we’re hoping to be a good example and pilot for what to do as we embark on this new phase in digital media. Q: Who are some of the players that you’re looking to as a model as you expand into media? A: We’re fascinated by what The Onion is doing. They’ve got a large production team here in Chicago, they have this great partnership with Facebook, they have a partnership with Univision, and they’re just turning out amazing, incredibly humorous and high-quality videos, and so they’re the first people we look to as the gold standard in terms of content production. Q: Are you a cord cutter? A: I am definitely a cord cutter. My go-to device is my iPad. I carry that with me and I am constantly watching videos on tech news when I’m traveling or commuting. I used to have two TVs, but I sold them because I don’t need them. I’m not willing to pay for cable; I have all the access I need while I’m traveling, which is significantly more valuable. My favorite binge is Mr. Robot. I am in it for the long haul. They have a very active and loyal viewer in me, and I am going to stand by them. I even ran into some Mr. Robot people at South by Southwest and I have been pitching them to be a part of the L.A. or New York conference. Q: Are you considering an OTT/VOD track currently? A: Right now we do not have one. But it is something we’re thinking about for the future. I think OTT will be interesting in two years. I’m no expert, but the premise itself is something I would be very bullish about. I think the biggest piece for me is really watching where we are at in terms of streaming, to see how much it’s going to proliferate. For example, Twitter is now streaming the NFL, which is a massive step forward when we think about content delivery. It completely changes the game when live-streaming is not something that’s super-niche anymore but a critical part of content delivery. For something like video on demand, I agree we are in a phase of consolidation, but it will take some time and effort to get there. Techweek New York runs from Monday, October 10, to Friday, October 14. Click here for more details.

by David Pfister

Oct 10, 2016

Insider Interview: Chris Pizzurro of Canoe

In this series of interviews about the emerging video space, we’ve spoken with thought leaders in live streaming, product development, content recommendation and massive end-to-end delivery solutions. One of the critical facets we have not yet explored is advertising in Video on Demand (VOD). Enter Chris Pizzurro of Canoe. Canoe is an ad tech specialist that works with TV network programmers and cable providers to facilitate the next generation of ad placement for VOD platforms. It was established by six of the leading cable operators, including Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, to anticipate the fast-approaching changes in video. Since 2011, Pizzurro, as head of business development, has been optimizing reliable, high-quality ad placement for the new generation of video delivery. It’s the kind of thing that when done well, you don’t even notice it’s there. Q: With all the recent developments in VOD, where do you guys come in? A: The networks need help with all this new technology. We say to them, we can help you with VOD, we can help you with OTT [over-the-top content], we can help you with TV Everywhere. We have tried-and true techniques. And as on-demand viewing delivery and behavior continues to change, we are finding efficiencies and expanding it organically to these other areas. As long as people are running ads, we’ll be serving them. The machine is in place, OTT is growing, TV Everywhere is growing. Whether it’s through this pipe, or that pipe, you still need to get the product there in a quality manner: quality of video, quality of ads, no buffer, no time-outs. Q: It does seem like the growth of emerging TV is compounding. A: When we consolidated on VOD about four years ago, we had a head count of 40 people. We still have the same number and we’re doing 10 times the volume. We have to adapt. We know techniques. You, as the network programmer, can go down the road and mess up, or we can help you. So a combination of automation, experience and people has led us to keep the head count where it is, grow the business and help the programmers. Consumers can get video anywhere and anytime, which is great. But people are working really hard behind the scenes to make sure that’s the case and that it’s seamless. I think programmers have finally realized that TV is a combination of broadcast, cable, VOD and OTT. And that is complex. Programmers need help and that’s why they appreciate Canoe, because we make it easy for them to have a successful pitch to cable operators. We make it work. Landing page for VOD specialist Canoe. Q: Let’s talk about the two major models: subscription vs. advertising. A: This has existed since the beginning of time. What’s interesting is that people think a household has to be one or the other. But there are all different combinations within a single household. Even now with cord-cutting, there is this misconception that they must be either a cord-cutting household or not, or they’re not. That’s not the case. In reality, multiple preferences have coexisted and will continue to coexist within a single household, and programmers are constantly weighing the revenue for each and the cost-benefit of each. Even in today’s world where HBO and CBS have gone OTT so much, that’s the way their economics have always been in relation to the cable operator. They can afford to play around a bit more than others. A&E may not be so aggressive, because it is getting that revenue from the operator. Each programmer will find which balance is right for it to maximize revenue. It’s in no way an either/or situation. Q: Are we in a phase of proliferation or consolidation right now? A: It’s a bit of both. There is definitely consolidation, because companies see that they have to consolidate domestically to compete globally. There’s a reason why Comcast buys a software company like Freewheel, which does a deal with a company in France. The global vision is driving the domestic consolidation. Not that it’s easy, but technology makes it easier. It’s really about what it takes to compete with Google or Facebook. And the first check box is, you need to be global. Q: Your business is measured in impressions, which often gets a bad rap. A:  We thought long and hard about how to measure a true view. I think that’s one of the reasons we were successful: Our data is as pristine and pure as Nielsen’s. For all the knocks Nielsen takes, at the end of the day it is solid and reliable and it is still the standard. It’s consistently bad for everyone or it’s consistently good for everyone, but it’s consistent. I think part of our success has been getting that balance of the best of digital and the reliability of a single source like Nielsen. So we feel our impression is a really good impression. And the currency for TV is an impression. Q: Who is making the best use of ad targeting in VOD? A: The ones who are most successful are not reinventing the wheel, but rather regurgitating the wheel in a smart, cost-effective way. Now you can insert an ad in a timelier fashion than you did before. I can deliver that ad so my creative is actually relevant to that person. No one is particularly fancy in their targeting or their creative, but people are certainly using the platform for what it can do. Where we are finding a lot of smart stuff going on is in the networks using targeting in their tuning for programs, including other VOD programs. For years there was this mentality of, “I’m a linear network, all this new stuff is just noise.” Now they’re like, “Oh, maybe it’s okay to advertise on VOD.” And the networks are also saying, “Wait a minute, maybe I should put a VOD tune-in spot after someone else’s show to use as a recommendation engine to drive people to my program.” Well, that’s kind of sophisticated and kind of cool. The VC guys don’t get all excited over our solution, because it’s not the next Snapchat, but the people who actually do this on a daily basis for the good of the stock price get it. Is it as sexy as the new iPhone? No. But we can look at set-top-box data and tell them if something is a good idea or a bad idea. Q: And you have to continually prove your worth in this environment. You can’t just ride if for five years with a sexy PowerPoint. A: Nope. There’s nowhere to hide. No one can phone anything in anymore. For more information on Canoe, visit canoeventures.com.

by David Pfister

Oct 5, 2016

This Week, in Limerick: The Limericist’s Valediction

Friday, September 30 The Limericist’s Valediction I’m not sorry if I’ve upped your dander Or upset you with obnoxious candor. But I’m saddened and tearful— No, no, not at all cheerful— To say farewell to dear Mediander. I, who’ve been a paid poet on deadline, Who’ve enjoyed every Friday a headline, Give you thanks, my dear readers And my faithful cheerleaders, As I go out and queue in the bread line! But it’s sure been a whole lot of fun To make fun of that Son of a Gun. And both I and my Muses Surely hope that he loses. In the meantime: Bye-bye, everyone!

by James Waller

Sep 30, 2016







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