Port Of Call
An Inside Look At Outside Musical Terrain
Review by Jim Merod
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San Diego's designation as America's "finest city" is earned by the inclination of city boosters seeking leverage in interurban rivalries that attract multi-millions of dollars in tourist and conference visits. Whether San Diego deserves such a designation depends upon personal preference more than objective criteria of outlook or judgment.
Enter this commercial equation Jerry Melnick, pianist/composer/ entrepreneur. Melnick's catchy city-thumping song, "San Diego, My Port of Call," assembles some of the West Coast's most stellar jazz musicians -- guitarist Jaime Valle, percussionist Allan
Philipps, saxophonist John Rekevics, pianist Rob Whitlock, trumpeter Derek Cannon, and trombonist Kevin Esposito… a veritable who's who of San Diego musicians that rivals any group of hipsters in any city on the planet.
Enter this scene, too, a big band vocal ensemble, led by Quino of "Big Mountain," surging like heavy surf slamming an ocean pier. The production values of Melnick's "Port of Call" are right on target. The audience is anyone who cares to dance across an "upbeat, jaunty ride"... as the album's cover notes boast, quite rightly, since -- beyond a few well-known jingles that celebrate cities: New York, New York; Chicago; and the one about a lost heart in the tangles of Bay Area traffic -- most towns craft cultural despair unrecognized in song or lyric.
Once you've entered these domains, you're up against a royal fact of business life. Un-hip "city fathers" (where are the mothers?) rarely see past the edge their desks. What budget, which cultural enrichment program, supports musicians, artists and entrepreneurs seeking to exercise the full of their talent in the service of an urban locale they call "home"?
There are a few exceptions: Austin (Texas), Portland (Oregon), and at one time in the early days of country music's build-up Nashville (Tennessee). San Diego has long had arts funding in the service of organizations, not individual artists. The issue for musicians is underwhelming recognition: ignorance about the role that music plays in public spaces. America is a vastly rich nation with a vast degree of audio illiteracy.
That topic "audio illiteracy" deserves exploration. In the interim, a related theme prevails. Musicians own a vital cultural role as yet untapped in most North American cities. High school marching bands are warm adornments for public school programs, splendid additions to the Rose Bowl parade. The daily grind of urban life is relieved a jot when parks and downtown plazas mount musical programs that showcase individual and ensemble talent and, also, reassert the communal cheer of artistic gatherings.
Such civic cheer and communal fellow feeling can almost never enough be reinforced in a culture defined by urban fear, sullen indifference, and just plain boredom. Confronted with massive public anonymity, cultural need, the routine expectation is that nothing much can be done. Too often, city pops (big daddy political fathers) fumble artistic hand offs like an injured fullback nailed behind the line of scrimmage. The administrative instinct is, thus, perennially to cover one's
toosh, pass the buck, wait for an unlikely groundswell of public enthusiasm to sweep across the office floor… and there the buck stops: when the balloons are popped.
Therefore, welcome each flag-waving carnival barker. Who doesn't love to strut, perhaps against the beat, with or without barbecue in hand (you dig)? Anywhere is home. Everywhere is River City. Welcome each and every music man and woman. One remembers with fondness childhood's clowns and tuba bands. Any day is an occasion for the tuba man… his crazy sidekick, floppy shoes and orange hair waggling, your own heart pounding a beat or two quicker than you think.
San Diego now has an upbeat song bearing its name and imprint. In that, and in the example of those few (classic) city-boosting tunes that gladly wear their town's embrace, one finds much to cheer. Can anyone doubt that music is the answer? Choose your favorite problem. San Diego -- a city with ample beaches, punctual sunshine, and numerous fancy enclaves: Rancho Santa Fe, La Costa, Del Mar, La Jolla, Fire Mountain -- boasts landscape beauty essentially unrivaled in the contiguous lower forty-eight states. Its cultural hip'ness awaits added value.
When so many remarkable musicians, as those assembled by Jerry Melnick for "San Diego, My Port of Call," come together and wail -- call it doo-wop, call it funk, oompa shoe-shine clatter, or bazooka juju jazz: just don't call it nothing -- you've got something on your
side... if you know how to build a team.
Wanted: ubiquitous happiness; a benign cultural mafia; rampant songs and artful dancing. There's the invisible rub. Most cities are loose collections of private interests held together with the string of inefficient government services. When was the last time your local community or town council restricted development in favor of unclogged roads, urban sanity, peace and what might be left of untrammeled environmental beauty?
So it may be contradictory to expect political inaction magnates who specialize in rubber-stamping expensive commercial agendas (after multiple, ponderous public meetings) to endorse, on one side, artistic work while, on the other (stronger) side, restricting patchwork urban sprawl. It may be equally contradictory to imagine that the very bozos who sanction development exploitation of local resources to champion artistic entrepreneurs whose only public service resides not with tax dollars, or political "contributions," but with cultural enlivening.
'Enlivening,' an iconoclastic notion in a world hell-bent for dumping downs all things intelligent. Consider, in miniature, the outlook of an important agency like the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau -- a centrally placed, deeply significant part of the San Diego commercial and cultural environment. Its leader, Reint
Reinders, is a man hip enough to carefully entertain the possibility of joint city sponsorship of a major jazz and arts festival: sponsorship that would affiliate San Diego's unique attributes with a major city in Europe. That such a notion did not come to pass yet, does not mean the idea was flawed or the man was asleep. Some ideas have their hey-day on enigmatic terms.
Now that San Diego has a song, a lyric, and a potential commercial boost to kick it along as few other North American cities do, you'll imagine that well-placed sponsors within the bowels of San Diego's established infrastructure will emerge to make Allan Phillips and Jerry Melnick's jaunty jingle a momentary or more permanent reach toward national attention -- a salutation only music lends eager subjects -- as San Diego prepares for Super Bowl 2003 and the huzzahs of those who haunt its unforgettable "port of call."
San Diego, My Port Of Call can be found by accessing www.MyPortOfCall.com.
Percussionist/pianist/arranger Allan Philipps is one of the most highly-regarded musical provocateurs on the West Coast. His longtime colleague, JAIME VALLE, has gained international acclaim for several albums, most notable perhaps,
Round Midnight, newly re-released as an SACD album by PalMusic.
Jim Merod's book-length essay, The Question Of Miles Davis, appeared in vol. 28/no. 2 (summer 2001), boundary 2, Duke University Press,