Friday, May 28, 2004

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I must report the passing of Ziva Kunda, a 1985 Michigan Ph.D. recipient and for the last many years a professor at the University of Waterloo. I just learned of this sad development by reading the Society for Personality and Social Psychology newsletter Dialogue.

Ziva and I overlapped only one year in the social psychology program, so I did not know her as well as did others. I remember attending her wedding, probably some time in the summer of '85. I think it is a sign of her generosity and inclusiveness that she would have wanted to share the experience of her wedding with a wide variety of people in the Michigan program, even those with whom she might not have had as much contact. In the years following graduation, we would chat briefly every few years at conferences. Even during that one year of overlap during grad school, it was clear to me that Ziva was headed for greatness in the field, which her subsequent achievements strongly confirmed.

Her husband, Paul Thagard, has created a web memorial to Ziva. Beneath the picture of Ziva are several links, including remarks from her family and colleagues.

Friday, May 14, 2004

As a thriving college town, Ann Arbor would probably have enough variety and frequency of live musical performances to satisfy virtually anyone's tastes. From the mainly folk music at The Ark, to the classically oriented University Musical Society, to the rock/R&B available in various clubs around town, to even watching UM marching band practice at Elbel Field (named after Louis Elbel who, as an undergraduate, wrote "The Victors" fight song), the breadth of local music seems impressive.

I would like to focus the present entry on a style of music that, outside of large metropolitan areas, is relatively difficult to access: jazz. It is hard for me to imagine many other towns of 100,000 population that would have as rich a portfolio of jazz offerings as Ann Arbor (although I'm sure it helps Ann Arbor to be near the large metropolitan Detroit area).

In my five years at UM (1984-1989), I was able to see a number of prominent jazz artists live. My own tastes in jazz are somewhere in between the pop-oriented style of "smooth jazz" and traditional "straight ahead" jazz. I like improvisation, but also melody. I don't like what I consider the overly watered-down music of, for example, a Kenny G (who some critic accused of engaging in "safe sax").

With the above characterization in mind, the artists I saw in Ann Arbor (listed below) should come as no surprise. As can be seen from the web links associated with these artists, most are still going strong today.

One group I saw twice in Ann Arbor is Spyro Gyra, once in Hill Auditorium and once in the Power Center. The group, named after the algae, spirogira, sometimes sounds a little too pop-oriented to me, but they've never crossed the line, in my judgment.

Two other concerts I saw in Hill featured popular jazz guitarists. One was with the Pat Metheny Group, and another was with Earl Klugh (I actually saw Klugh during a 1982 visit to Ann Arbor before I actually was going to school at UM; Klugh was also scheduled to play on campus in 1986, but cancelled).

Metheny, through his use of guitar synthesizers and accompaniment by band mates from around the world (who are each usually talented on multiple instruments), manages to create a sound that is both unique (as in "that's the Pat Metheny sound") and different (even different passages within the same song can sound very disparate). I hope that makes sense.

A couple of years after seeing the Pat Metheny Group, I saw a group headlined by Lyle Mays, the keyboardist of the Metheny group and a frequent co-composer with Pat, play at (as I recall) the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. As best as I can recall, Mays was accompanied on drums by Peter Erskine, and on bass by Marc Johnson.

Klugh, on the other hand, plays only the acoutic guitar, with his trademark rich melodies. Though probably most identified with jazz, Klugh would also fit in well, for example, on a stage with country music guitarist Chet Atkins.

I can recall going to three other jazz concerts at the Power Center. One was with saxophonist Michael Brecker, then starting out on a solo career after years with groups such as Steps Ahead. One of the members of Brecker's band that night was fiery guitarist Mike Stern.

I also was able to see two legendary jazz trumpeters, now deceased, at the Power Center, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie (in separate concerts). Gillespie, famous for his bent trumpet and puffed cheeks, was accompanied by a big band. Davis, well into his pop-funk phase, lived up to his reputation for aloofness. As one example, he never introduced the members of his band.

A few years after that concert, Miles Davis walked into a Santa Monica, California restaurant with a group of men, as my family and I were dining there during one of my school breaks. When I got back to Ann Arbor, I told Claude Steele, a jazz buff and former UM professor (now at Stanford), about seeing Davis. I think Claude was impressed.

As implied above, guitar is probably my favorite jazz instrument. At The Ark, I saw a young, up-and-coming electric guitarist named Kevin Eubanks (later to become the Tonight Show bandleader). In his early career, Eubanks went back and forth between pop-oriented tunes (including some cover versions) and some serious, fairly complex jazz standards. The night I saw him, I recall, he stuck to the latter.

I also saw guitarist John Scofield, with his jazz/bluesy sound, at a club called the Blind Pig (if you get a pop-up about installing special language characteristics to be able to read the Blind Pig's website, you can just hit "Cancel" and still see the page). Earlier in his career, Scofield had been a member of the Miles Davis band. (On the subject of Miles Davis, I cannot resist repeating a line from comedian Steven Wright, who wondered if in Europe, the famous jazz trumpeter was known as "Kilometers Davis.")

Ann Arbor has a jazz club called the Bird of Paradise. The only performance I recall seeing there was that of Emily Remler, a young guitarist who died only a few years later. Many jazz guitarists' styles have some similarity to the great Wes Montgomery, including perhaps to some degree Metheny and Eubanks. Remler probably came the closest, however, with one of her albums entitled "East to Wes."

I also enjoyed seeing the Brazilian trio Azymuth at the Michigan Theater. As with the aforementioned Lyle Mays performance, a piano-bass-drums trio (a traditional rhythm section) is a different sound from a group led by a guitar or saxophone. I find, however, that the interplay between the musicians is heightened in such an arrangement.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that in no way was the jazz talent limited to touring, out-of-town performers. Jon Krosnick, who overlapped with me for one year in the graduate program (1984-85) and who has gone on to become one of the most prominent scholars of political attitudes (within the hybrid field of political psychology) at Ohio State University, is an accomplished jazz drummer. Jon was part of a group called the Lunar Glee Club during his Ann Arbor days and in more recent years, has been a member of the group Charged Particles (Jon is the one on the left in the picture that will come up).

I don't know if that many people were as "jazzed" about this aspect of the Ann Arbor music scene as I certainly was, but I consider this to be one of the more important cultural components of my UM days.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, a case emanating out of Topeka, Kansas. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the case, the social psychology program at the University of Kansas will be hosting a conference May 13-14 entitled Fifty Years after Brown v. Board of Education: Social Psychological Research Applied to the Problems of Racism and Discrimination. The Brown v. Board conference will then spill over into the annual Social Psychologists Around the Midwest (SPAM) meeting May 14-16, also at KU.

As one might infer from the inclusion of this item on this board, the KU events will have a strong Michigan flavor. Among the KU social psychology faculty members hosting the events are Monica Biernat and Chris Crandall, two 1980s Michigan Ph.D. recipients. Further, among the speakers at the Brown event are current Michigan psychology professors Patricia Gurin (Emerita) and Rob Sellers, both of whom also received their Ph.D.'s at UM (clickable web links for Monica, Chris, Rob, and a large number of other 80s-era Ph.D. alumni are available in my January and February 2004 postings; see right-hand side of page midway down for links to the archives).

Rob returned to UM several years ago in the personality psych program after an initial stint on the faculty at the University of Virginia (the reason I mention this is that my younger brother Steve, a sociology major, took a course from Rob at UVa).

I plan to do a more extensive entry in the coming weeks marking the two-year anniversary of Pat's retirement celebration in Ann Arbor.