Friday, February 24, 2017

Town Hall or Town Brawl?

Town Hall or Town Brawl?
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 24, 2017

Has the Earth begun spinning in the opposite direction? It must, as I agree with something Senator Bernie Sanders (S-VT) said. “If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress.”

As a strong First Amendment advocate, more speech, not less speech is advantageous – it is transparent – it sheds light on what people and groups are about. I have been fervent in my support of more speech on college campuses, and I affirm as much where Congressional town hall meetings are concerned – provided there is no inciting to violence, or shouting down others to the point where holding such a gathering becomes counterproductive. (

From coast to coast (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Utah) members of Congress have scheduled town hall meetings where hundreds of protesters, either esoterically manufactured or legitimately concerned about the new administration, have attempted to disrupt or prevent such meetings from occurring, are responsible for displaced criticism some members have received.

Protesters attend Republican members’ meetings, en masse, shouting “do your job,” and “you work for us.” While the second part of their mantra is absolutely true, GOP members are largely unable to do their jobs due to Democrats’ obstructionism in both houses of Congress. The protesters should express their rage at jobs not being done toward the Democrats.

All the bluster aside, it is wrong for members of Congress, and this has been heard from some GOP members, that in order to avoid the chaos, they will simply not hold town hall meetings for their constituents. That is just patently wrong. It only feeds into the media’s increased criticism of the congressional members and support of the protesters, the complete antithesis of what happened during the Obama administration upon the advent of the TEA Party.

The TEA Party crusade was branded as racist, sexist, homophobic, and any other -ist and –ic the media could heap upon them in an effort to excoriate them as a fringe effort. But the TEA Party movement disavowed those labels with their actions and behavior. Quite the opposite is true of the current protest movement in its attempt to vilify the Trump administration as its behavior and actions are malevolent. If they want to be taken seriously, and there are plenty of protesters who should be heard, here are a few suggestions on how the protesters and members of Congress can coexist during the town hall meetings.

First, members of both major parties should host town hall meetings in their home districts – preferably in a centrally located school big enough to hold a crowd attending a basketball game at a good school.

For all the pickets, signs, bullhorns, and agitation, there is a way to control the crowd on the inside of the building. Do not allow any of those items into the building. Security should maintain one entrance to the building to control who enters. Priority seating should be given to residents of that specific congressional district. They will be required to provide photo identification and sign in. Once inside, attendees should behave respectfully, in a calm manner, and avoid ad homonym attacks against the congressman holding the meeting. While the members do, in fact, work for us, they also deserve a modicum of respect.

And that respect should swing both ways. Members of congress should LISTEN to what their constituents say and ask before responding. The elected officials should give answers that match the question asked. If a member does not have a legitimate answer, have an aide take the resident’s contact information and respond with an actual answer within one week. Remain at the meeting until all questions have been answered. You sought out the office, hold it responsibility, and with respect for both the office and those you represent – even those who did not cast a ballot for you.

Every member of Congress should hold a town hall meeting under the above conditions. In spite of the rowdy environment, Congressman Leonard Lance (R-7th), representing my long time home district in New Jersey, said he will hold another town hall meeting. Bravo to Rep. Lance. Sadly, my member of Congress has not held a town hall meeting. Regardless of the tenor of the atmosphere, I would be there, were I a member of Congress. Hmm – maybe I should…

This should not be a partisan issue. All members of Congress should do the job they asked for. If that becomes too cumbersome for them, step aside for those who will. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN – in the state’s 5th Congressional District. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Remembering Al Jarreau (1940-2017)

Remembering Al Jarreau (1940-2017)
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 13, 2017

Long before I had the tremendous opportunity to interview Jazz, R&B, and Pop legend Al Jarreau, I was a fan of his musical genius. My favorite Al Jarreau albums are Jarreau (1983) and High Crime (1984). While maintaining a vigorous performing schedule through 2016, Jarreau left it all on stage for his fans. I attended two Al Jarreau concerts, the most recent, with my wife, in 2014 at the Palladium in Carmel, IN. It was after that performance where I last spoke with Al Jarreau. Between that and the interview, which was a three-part conversation over three separate days, Al Jarreau was a genuine delight – positive and upbeat, even when discussing challenges he faced. Al Jarreau died Sunday, February 12, exactly one month prior to his 77th birthday, in Los Angeles. What follows is my 2004 interview with the man with a mellifluous voice.

One on One with Al Jarreau
An Interview by Sanford D. Horn
August 30, 2004

Calling Al Jarreau versatile and energetic would be obvious and terribly understated. Yet triteness prevails when attempting to describe the 64-year-old, five time Grammy® winner who, even after surgery in 2000, airplane flights between both coasts, still exudes boundless energy whether discussing his charitable work with Verizon Reads, autographing his latest CD and posing for pictures with a seemingly endless line of fans and well-wishers, or reading to inner-city school children – all of which he accomplished on a recent visit to Washington, DC.

Getting Jarreau to sit down long enough for an interview proved challenging enough, but well worth the effort, following an appearance he made at a Borders bookstore in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, August 24. During his appearance, Jarreau, a crossover legend in the musical genres of Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, and Pop, entertained a group of nearly 100 with stories, impromptu scats, and his sense of humor.

Al Jarreau’s sense of humor proved evident before taking his seat at the front of the room when he introduced himself as “General Colin Powell,” referring to the current Secretary of State. But before long, the Milwaukee, WI native and classic car collector – owning a 1949 Cadillac, for example - talked about some of his early song challenges in the music business.

“Mornin’ was a challenge with the long held note in [the lyric] ‘Touching the face of G-d,’” said Jarreau of the popular hit on the 1983 album titled Jarreau. That line, about touching the face of G-d came from the poem High Flight written by World War II flying ace John Gillespie McGee, Jr., said Jarreau, providing a bit of a history lesson to his fans. McGee, an American airman flying for the British Royal Air Force, was killed in action on December 11, 1941 at age 19.

With the song “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” from the 1981 release Breakin’ Away “you have to remember to breathe. It’s a very difficult song to sing – I’ve never done it live,” said Jarreau, as he sang portions of that very song to the approval of the standing room only audience.

“You just did,” came from several audience members.

Jarreau also mentioned how the song “Alonzo,” from the 1980 album This Time “is so rangy. I’m not as high any more – I have more lows,” he said, referring to the range in his voice as he ages. Listening to the several scat offerings he provided that evening, it would be hard to say that Al Jarreau has lost a step in his upbeat lilt.

Jarreau comes by his musical talent honestly, via both parents. “My dad was a singing dude – a preacher with the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Alabama. He gave that throat to my two older brothers singing in the living room,” said Jarreau, who began singing at the age of four. “At age four or five people started smiling – that’s infectious – people pinching cheeks, slobbering over you. I was well into my teens before I began to really listen to the sound of my voice. I’m still getting accustomed to what I sound like as a singer. I’m still realizing what a wonderful instrument this is. I’m still reforming.”

“I sang every chance I had. In the ‘50s I sang with a dance band. I played parties, the Urban League, sororities. I was 15-years-old [earning] $7 for an evening. I was doo-wopping before it was doo-wop,” said Jarreau.

“My mother played piano and organ,” he said, explaining why he couldn’t play those instruments as a child. “You couldn’t get the baseball glove off my hand,” said the one-time aspiring shortstop. “We really thought I had promise. I had serious aspirations,” said Jarreau, a one-time teammate of the late Tommy Aaron at a Milwaukee Braves clinic for 15 to 18 year olds. Tommy Aaron ultimately played a seven-year Major League Baseball career for both the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, and was the younger brother of all-time home run king Hank Aaron.

Today, Al Jarreau is still a Braves fan. He also roots for the Dodgers, as he and his wife of 29 years, Susan, live in Southern California. “I like the Brewers in Milwaukee and I would like to see the Bucks do well,” he said, referring to the NBA team in Milwaukee. “I’m just a sentimental sap – I can’t help that.”

Al Jarreau also played basketball and ran cross country. When asked about his basketball prowess at his alma mater Ripon College in Ripon, WI, just west of Oshkosh, the three-year starting college player said, “these legs should not be shown. I never should have played basketball,” he said, despite the scholarship he earned for his hardwood skills. Taking pride in his undergraduate college, Jarreau pointed out that actor Harrison Ford was a classmate, and another actor, Spencer Tracy also claimed Ripon as his alma mater.

After earning his Bachelors of Arts in  psychology at Ripon College, Jarreau went on to garner a Master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation at the University of Iowa before moving to San Francisco to practice rehabilitation counseling.

“I fell in love with social work and wanted to help other people – teach – we are responsible for one another – teachers, preachers, doctors, social workers – but I wanted a career in music,” he said.

“I left rehabilitation counseling in 1968 in part because I was not a great counselor. It was not the right setting – working for the state. I was not a quick study or quick with the bureaucratic stuff – good morning, good night in triplicate,” said Jarreau, who remained in San Francisco and met jazz legend George Duke.

In addition to naming Duke as an influence, Jarreau praised Johnny Mathis, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstein, and Sarah Vaughn. “Can’t leave out Stevie [Wonder], Aretha [Franklin], Sly Stone, Bill Evans on jazz piano, Miles Davis as influential who touch me. Singer, song writer, poet Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell – important lyricists. I’m a student of John Hendricks from way back. You can hear it in my jazz offerings – the lyrics for ‘Spain,’” said Jarreau, singing a few bars from the song from the This Time album. “Pound for pound the best jazz singer on the planet – bar none. He’s never gotten his due. The heyday, the golden day, is not now,” lamented Jarreau, who named Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock as additional jazz influences.

As much as Al Jarreau has enjoyed performing R&B and Pop, citing “Boogie Down,” from Jarreau as an example, he referred to his latest production, Accentuate the Positive as “the music that taught me to be Al Jarreau. This is music that has personally come out of my heart and soul. I owed this album to the community at large. I promised for 20 years a project of this sort. This is a serious venture into Jazz land. These are jazzy songs in a jazzy kind of manner,” said Jarreau. He added there would be more jazz. “I’m not done – this is chapter one,” also projecting a Big Band album “within the next three years.” He even anticipates an album of Brazilian music.

A Big Band production would add to Jarreau’s versatility as his five American Grammy Awards fall under three categories – Jazz, Pop, and R&B. His first came in 1977 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, followed a year later by winning the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist with his fourth album All Fly Home. Jarreau earned his third and fourth Grammy Awards in 1980 being named Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist. In 1992 Jarreau took home Grammy number five – Best R&B Vocal Performance coming on the heels of that year’s release of Heaven and Earth.

Ironically, it was a nomination that did not turn into a Grammy victory for Jarreau that perhaps earned him the most recognition.

“Lee Holder, composer for TV and movies told me that Cybil Sheppard and Bruce Willis liked my music,” said Jarreau of the stars of the popular 1980s program Moonlighting. Jarreau wrote the title theme song specifically for the series. “Oslo, Norway and Djakarta, Indonesia found me because of that song. They never asked me to come on that show,” he said of the two co-stars while offering up one of his special facial expressions.

“I was nominated for a Grammy [for Moonlighting]? Was I? Where’s my nomination plaque,” quipped Jarreau in good humor.

With Al Jarreau’s continued success and recognition, he has become very vocal on the educational and literacy scene and since 2002 has been a Literacy Champion with Verizon Reads.

“Verizon does understand that they are part of the community,” said Jarreau. “We’re giving away 20,000 books to people and kids who wouldn’t ordinarily have them. Doing a good job is more than just having a great bottom line at the end of the fiscal year. We need to figure out how to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and house everybody,” said Jarreau, noting the 92 million Americans who are illiterate or “reading just barely at the sixth grade reading level or below. They can’t read a bedtime story to their kids. They can’t read a map to get cross town. They can’t fill out a job application. I’m spreading the word. Let’s get back to reading.”

Al Jarreau understands the benefits of reading from personal experience. “I had an academic scholarship, but I lost it. I was not ready for that setting – high standards. My basketball scholarship helped me get through. Some of my professors held my hand,” he said, adding that he had problems reading as a younger child. “My mother got me there. That’s part of why I’m with Verizon. I love teachers and educators,” said Jarreau, noting that he gives CDs to teachers at his concerts.

When Jarreau reminds people to “get back to reading,” he sets an example for them. “I love spy novels. If cosmology were written in as attractive a manner as they are for video, I would read more of that genre. I like reading about the universe – who we are, what we are – star stuff – not Hollywood star stuff,” said Al Jarreau, a man who has been entertaining people globally for decades, yet has his feet firmly planted on the ground.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

First Amendment Denied at Berkeley

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1956) – not Voltaire, as is often incorrectly attributed

First Amendment Denied at Berkeley
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 2, 2017

Free speech and tolerance were in full bloom and on display at UC-Berkeley last night. Liberals, socialists, thugs, malcontents and miscreants utilized their First Amendment freedom of speech and expression while campus keystone cops tolerated the violence, destruction of private property, and overall criminal behavior.

Denizens at the self-pronounced “birth place of the free speech movement” demonstrated their antipathy toward the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by thwarting the efforts, and ultimately forcing the cancelation of a speech to be given by Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos, 33, is a Greek-born British citizen and the senior editor for Breitbart News, a conservative operation.

Yiannopoulos, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, is considered controversial by the left simply because they take issue with his conservative stances on numerous key issues. Regardless of his viewpoints and beliefs, he accepted an invitation to speak on the Berkeley campus, and should have been able to do so unfettered from violence and destruction. Peaceful demonstrations and non-violent protests should be welcome – after all they are the bellwether of the foundation of the United States. Don’t like the speaker’s perspectives, host a speaker of your own or write a letter to the editor.

Instead, more than 1,500 pedantic anarchists and left wing hooligans both from on campus and off, took to the streets in a tumultuous riot lobbing Molotov Cocktails, committing arson, throwing bricks at law enforcement, looting a Starbucks, and writing graffiti death threats on private property. One rioter pepper-sprayed a woman wearing a Trump hat, while another Trump supporter was beaten by other thugs exercising their expressiveness. At only one arrest, there is plenty of video from which to cull and identify the miscreant participants. Ultimately, the Yiannopoulos event required canceling. Yet it begs the question, where is the safe space for those people wishing to attend the speech – the same safe space liberals clamor about when they claim they can’t even listen to words with which they disagree?

The college campus, long the home of spirited debate, has in the past two generations deteriorated into a fascist den reenacting George Orwell’s 1984, rife with its so-called free speech zones. So-called, because to have a free speech zone, is to surrender the right of free speech on the remainder of the campus. In fact, most campuses with so-called free speech zones require appointments made weeks in advance to utilize the space and the topics need to be approved by the campus thought police masquerading as administrators.

The answer to objectionable speech, is more speech, not less. People, especially the younger generations, are barely able to communicate with one another anymore thanks to technology – people have their headphones on, and their eyes diverted to computers, phones, tablets, all living in their virtual world communicating with strangers, but not knowing how to talk to the people around them on campus or the workplace. This is not just sad, it is dangerous. It’s dangerous because less speech leads to less understanding of others and ultimately the violence and intolerance that was born of liberal odium of philosophy and ideas divergent from their own. Thus the signs reading “this is war,” and “Nazi scum,” in objection to Yiannopoulos, who apparently identifies as gay and Jewish.

Liberals and conservatives are at a linguistic crossroads. While conservatives are said to want to censor certain book lists seen as inappropriate for students of younger ages, it is liberals who want to censor the words and thoughts of anyone deigning to disagree with them. They seem to have a visceral fear and loathing of alternative viewpoints with an uncontrollable need to silence the masses. Liberals don’t like a television program, they want it removed from the airwaves, while conservatives simply change the channel.

A complete investigation into the myriad criminal activities must be undertaken to identify the guilty. They need be prosecuted to the limits of the law. Students involved in the chaos and bedlam should be suspended from school with the concomitant loss of scholarships if applicable. Regardless of whether students or not, all guilty parties must be held financially accountable and make restitution. This also means the police must do their jobs. Where is Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system? Hearing crickets.

For a college campus whether UC Berkeley or any other bastion of so-called free speech and thought to demand the suspension of the First Amendment, perhaps President Donald Trump was right when he suggested denying the school federal funding. A war was fought to guarantee the people’s rights. It’s time to fight again to preserve those very rights.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.