Letters for February 4 

Readers sound off on our review of the Jonah Kit and Zoyres Eastern European Wild Ferment, and Soundwave Studios.

"The Jonah Kit: American Songbag," Local Licks, 12/31

Critic or Bitch?

Hmmm, finally someone has defined sprechstimme. It's off-key. Thanks. Now I can hate Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Kurt Weill. Oh yeah, and Bob Dylan. Let's throw in Captain Beefheart. If I had more faith in this community, I would hope that this "review" would only further expose the critical shortcomings of this community. Is this our musical journalism? If so, I must say that it is off-key. Anyway, if you long for the lost art of songwriting, buy this damn album. It's more legal than killing an indie rocker, and it accomplishes more. Enduring art never fails to provoke this response from critics, aka professional bitches. It presents a challenge. Please meet the challenge.

David Hernandez, Felton, CA

Imperfect Perfection

I've seen the Jonah Kit live, and Watchman does a credible job writing and performing his caffeinated folk tales of modern life. While some of his lyrics may be a little Dylanesque, my guess is he's been listening to Bowie for vocal inspiration. His voice is quirky, but perfect pitch isn't everything — if it were, we'd have to condemn such talented songwriters as Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed to the trash bin.

Bruce Kaplan, Point Richmond

Damn You, Jonah

Being a music reviewer in the SF Bay Area is a very relaxing gig. So much diverse talent packaged into non-threatening pillows of bliss. I get sleepy just thinking about it ... yawn. And just when I'm about to nod off to never-never "outsider folk" land, here comes the Fricking Jonah Kit daring to scream original songs in my ear. Damn you, Jonah, for being so original and in my face. Let me deal with this one quickly ... ignore how great the songs are ... ignore the brilliant production ... dwell on how his voice makes me squirm ... throw in a Dylan reference for good measure ... so I can finally go to sleep and dream of two-chord songs without choruses.

John Swerdan, Berkeley

"Obama Plays Right, the Left Faints," Opinion, 12/31

Don't Hope Too Much

In 2000, naive evangelical Christians were ecstatic at the judicial coup d'etat that installed George W. Bush and disillusioned when he turned out to give only lukewarm support to their pet cultural causes. In 2008, naive liberals are ecstatic at the election of Barack Obama. I hope Obama isn't as bad as Bill Clinton, but there's no doubt that many naive liberals are going to be disillusioned when Obama turns out to give only lukewarm support to their pet cultural causes.

The bigger issue is that both political parties use cultural issues to win elections but then govern with largely the same corporate agenda. The Democrats aren't as bad as the Republicans, but all of us who want real change should focus more on traditional issues of political economy and work with disillusioned Republicans to fight corruption. I say let's start with public funding of elections. It's not a liberal or conservative issue but one that anybody who cares about democracy should advocate.

Hastings Hart, Oakland

"Riding the Sound Wave," Feature, 1/7

Al Rules

Soundwave has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I moved to the Bay Area in 2001 and started my first band the Stonedmasons. We were among the first set of bands to move into the monthly studio building and shared a space with stoner-rock staples Greenhouse Effect.

Since then, being a part of the Soundwave family has brought me into a close-knit family of musicians and producers that I feel privileged to have met — Testament, Flipsyde, Third Eye Blind, Man Made God, High on Fire, and MIRV, to name a few. Heck, I even saw Lars Ulrich at a 4/20 anniversary party there a couple of years ago.

My most humbling moments came over the last year when my current band, Soul Broker, was praised by metal gods Exodus and Testament (who both caught glimpses of us during rehearsals at the hourly). The other proud moment for us was when Dave Lopez caught us at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland. He heard about the show through the Soundwave family and came up to me to tell me how much he enjoyed our set. I told him I was a big fan of Flipsyde, to which he replied "yeah, yeah, thanks ... but YOU guys were really awesome!"

This is the kind of support that crosses genres — from a Latin-infused hip-hop guitarist to a blues-based metal band vocalist — in an atmosphere that only Soundwave can provide.

So, Al, a big thanks from Soul Broker for all that you do. We can't thank you enough.

Mike Billings, Oakland

"Teaching Every Student to Write, One by One," News, 1/7

Here to Stay

Jocelyn Wiener painted a compelling, and accurate, picture of our WriterCoach Connection (WCC) program at Media Academy in Oakland's Fruitvale District. Like the neighborhood it's in, the school presents a highly diverse population, and significant challenges to the education process. But we've found the school district and Media staff to be wonderfully receptive to community volunteers and the students to be smart, personable, and, after some understandable skepticism at the beginning, engagingly open to the one-on-one interaction offered by our writer coaches.                

Full information about WriterCoach Connection, including how to become a coach, is at WriterCoachConnection.org and I invite anyone to contact me about the program at 510-528-5066. This year, 325 WCC coaches are working with 1,600 students in seven East Bay schools and will have conducted more than 11,000 individual writing conferences by the time we hit summer.

It took us eight years to get to Oakland, and we're here to stay.

Robert Menzimer, Executive Director, Community Alliance for Learning, Albany

Zoyres Eastern European Wild Ferment: Biserka!, Music, 1/7

The Klezmer-Jazz Connection

If we include big bands in the genre of jazz (who can argue that Louis Armstrong wasn't jazz?) then we must say that the roots of klezmer in America go way back before 1993, back to Arthur Pryor's band in about 1915 to 1920. In fact, Pryor's band is on the cusp of the big band sound and the klezmer sound, especially in his later works.

Also, it's important to note that Louis Armstrong was raised in part by Jewish foster parents, the Karnofsky family (who bought him his first trumpet). It's likely that he went with them to synagogue and was influenced by the music.

So, if anything, it could be said that klezmer is at the root of jazz.

It's so nice to read a review of Zoyres, especially by someone who is conversant in music. The folks of Zoyres put together some really, really good music. They're a treasure.

David Kaye, San Francisco

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