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Whooo, I've been craving CORN PONE all day!

For my yankee friends, corn pone is one of the most beloved comfort foods in all of southern cuisine: a thick cornbread that's been cooked over a fire in a cast iron skillet.

There are many ways to enjoy corn pone. Some folks like to bake it in the oven and serve it with a bowl of beans or hearty stew. Others like to mash up warm chunks of the stuff into a cold glass of buttermilk, then devour the entire mixture, dessert-style, with a long spoon.

As for me, I like corn pone best when it's been fried in butter until the edges are as brown and crunchy as hushpuppies.

Readers of Mark Twain (not to mention friends of my Dad) are no doubt already familiar with "corn pone humor," the southern gentleman's ready penchant for pulling your leg, making silly, off-color jokes and telling the tallest and most ridiculous of tales.

As you might have guessed, people can be corn pones, too. Southerners affectionately tease unsophisticated country folks for acting "like a corn pone."

More often than not, the designation is intended not as an insult, but as a term of endearment for the best kind of friends — the ones back home who never put on airs, like you for who you are, and get along easily with just about anybody.


Like many who grew up before the era of personal computers and video games, I spent countless hours in my youth reading the adventures of superheroes in comic books.

Here are 12 of my favorites and what I learned from each:

1. SUPERMAN — Rise to the occasion. Be courageous, respectful, honorable and selfless. Your strength comes more from your character than your talent. Remember that even the greatest of us has an achilles heel, and sometimes needs solitude. Usually, however, it's possible to hide in plain sight!

2. SPIDER-MAN — With great power comes great responsibility.

3. GREEN LANTERN — Your imagination and willpower are the only real limits to what you can create.

4. BATMAN — Childhood trauma can be a source of strength. Facing your fears can be transformative. And having the right equipment is half the battle.

5. X-MEN — Evolve! Celebrate diversity.

6. WONDER WOMAN — Strong women are sexy.

7. IRONMAN — Dress for success. Clothes make the man. There will be setbacks, but don't let your flaws define you. And innovate! A better version is always possible.

8. FANTASTIC FOUR — There is power in teamwork.

9. THE FLASH — Be the best at what you do.

10. THE HULK — Never judge a book by it's cover. You can't know what a man is capable of simply by looking at his appearance...especially what he might be capable of if he gets angry.

11. CAPTAIN AMERICA — Know your mission. Be willing to take a stand, even if it's unpopular.

12. THOR — Remember your birthright, but don't seek glory. If you do the job right, you'll get it anyway.



My friend Allen Smith, the great trumpeter who passed away this week, will be remembered as a Bay Area treasure and a true gentleman of jazz.

Raised in Pittsburgh, Allen succeeded Clark Terry in the World War II Navy Band before touring with Johnny Otis and becoming one of San Francisco's most beloved musicians.

Allen recorded with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, and performed with Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat "King" Cole, Quincy Jones, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Gerald Wilson, Tony Bennett and others.

In recent years, Allen shared the stage with the Bay Area's leading vocalists. A swinging and soulful soloist in the style of Harry "Sweets" Edison, Allen appeared with Kim Nalley, Lavay Smith, Jackie Ryan, Paula West and many more.

I'm personally grateful for having the opportunity to know, perform with, listen to and learn from this brilliant musician.

On behalf of his many friends and in recognition of his lifetime of excellence in jazz, it was my privilege in 2004 to present Allen Smith with the San Francisco Jazz Festival's coveted Beacon Award.

Through his music and the memories of all who loved him, Allen Smith lives on.



"Congratulations to my friend (and producer of my album Penumbra) ORRIN KEEPNEWS, on the occasion of his receiving the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.

The NEA Jazz Masters Award is our nation's highest honor for jazz musicians and industry professionals.

I can think of no one more deserving than Orrin, who, by following his own street sense and good taste, became the leading curator of American jazz, producing nearly every historically significant jazz album of the modern era.

Like many musicians and fans, I trace the beginning of my jazz education to nights at the turntable, courtesy of Orrin. Thank you, Mr. Keepnews -- and kudos!



"According to 'Good Morning, Arizona,' the monsoon season officially begins tomorrow. What is monsoon season? It's when the tropical rains arrive, bringing welcome relief from the desert heat.

Here in the Sonoran Desert, we call these thunderstorms “monsoons”...a misnomer, since the term refers "to a seasonal shift in wind direction." But that simple definition doesn't do justice to the spectacle of Arizona’s summer monsoon season.

Every year, sometime between mid-June and mid-July, the prevailing winds, which come from the west most of the year, change direction and flow from the south and southeast. This seasonal shift of winds brings tropical moisture from the Sea of Cortez and the Gulf of Mexico into Arizona.

When this moist tropical air collides with the desert heat, monsoon thunderstorms--one of the most spectacular and thrilling of nature’s displays--are born.

We desert dwellers yearn for the crack of thunder, the brilliant flashes of lightning and the deafening downpour of rain that cools the sweltering desert heat and makes the creosote bushes release their aromatic, herbal fragrance...if only for a few hours.

And when a monsoon moves in, temperatures may drop from 105°F to 60°F in a matter of minutes.

I can't wait."



I first read Harper Lee's southern gothic story To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 12, at the Brookstone School in Columbus, Georgia.

I was too young to fully appreciate the novel's themes, but its compelling characters made a deep and lasting impression, ultimately becoming part of my personal mythology.

I've always aspired to be like ATTICUS FINCH:  a beloved, respected, tireless crusader and a morally upright community leader.

Atticus is educated, honest and articulate, yet free of racial and class prejudice. He does not hold himself to be superior to his neighbors. In fact, he hides his extraordinary skills (for example, he's an expert marksman) until they're necessary. Atticus is the intersection of supreme intellectual confidence and absolute social humility.

As it turns out, I'm no Atticus Finch.

I'm more like BOO RADLEY: a pale, reclusive, misunderstood shut-in.

I keep to myself, emerging for the occasional creative, caring or heroic act. These go, for the most part, unseen, unsung and unpunished.

And I'm more like the MOCKINGBIRD: I don't do much but make music for folks to enjoy...(and that's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird).

Congratulations, Ms. Lee, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of your masterpiece -- and thank you.

A LABOR OF LOVE ~ DM on Monarch Records 

Like many independent jazz labels, Monarch Records was a labor of love. None of us got rich, but we had fun and were able to make available some quality music by Cedar Walton, Dave Ellis, Eddie Marshall and others. We released dozens of recordings before the company was sold. I'm most proud of our live recording by Art Farmer, one of his last and our best.


Amina Figarova can play faster and with more energy than any horn player. I tease Amina and the "crazy Euros" about their intensity, but I admire their joie de vivre and their work ethic. They challenge me artistically and every performance is a party. Amina is a world class pianist and is one of the most distinctive jazz composers in Europe today. I met her at the Monk Institute's summer jazz colony in Aspen a few years ago and we hit it off. In the years to follow, our international band became like a family, touring and performing all over the world together and having a great time always.


OLD SCHOOL ~ DM on Red Reflections 

Red Reflections was my first CD as leader, recorded when I was 29. We mostly recorded my originals. Art Farmer recommended that we include "The Outlaw" from the Horace Silver book. We also did a Michael Brecker tune we all used to play at jam sessions in Boston. We played a string of club performances and then went into the studio—old school—so the recording really captures our live quintet sound just as it was in the mid-'90s.

PASSING THE TORCH ~ DM on the Jazz Lineage 

It has been my privilege to work with a number of master musicians over the years. The lesson I learned from all of them is to follow their example, aspire to excellence, and pay it forward.

Now that I'm having some modest success of my own, I try to encourage young talent they way I was encouraged. As James Williams used to say, jazz is about passing the torch, from one generation to the next.