Where Will You Go For Free Museum Day?

Cartoon Art Museum - free museum day
Flickr, Kim Smith

Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or having a staycation this Saturday, be sure to include some culture. September 28 is Museum Day Live! (aka Free Museum Day), when museums all over the country open their doors without charging admission.

The annual event is inspired by the Smithsonian museums, which offer free admission every day. You’ll have to register and download your free ticket in advance, which will get two guests in free to participating museums.

A few of our favorite museums participating:

Chicago
Smart Museum of Art
The University of Chicago’s art museum is always free, but this weekend is also the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and museum-goers can also enjoy free concerts in the sculpture garden.

Dallas/Ft. Worth
American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum
Regular price: $7 adults
Serious airline nerds, frequent flyers and those on a long layover can check out this museum of aviation and American AIrlines history, just a few miles from DFW airport. Exhibits include a rare Douglas DC-3 plane.

Las Vegas
Burlesque Hall of Fame
Regular suggested donation or gift shop purchase: $5)
What’s Sin City without a little strip tease? See costumes, props and photos documenting the history, traditions and stars of burlesque dance.
Los Angeles
Grammy Museum
Regular price: $12.95 adults
Pop music lovers can check out four floors of music exhibits and memorabilia. The current exhibition features the career of Ringo Starr, including an interactive drum lesson with the Beatles‘ rhythm man himself.

New York
Museum of Chinese in America
Regular price: $10 adults
Learn about the immigrant experience in New York’s Chinatown in a building designed by Maya Lin. Current special exhibitions on the glamour of Shanghai women and the role Chinese-American designers in fashion. Follow it up with dim sum in the neighborhood.

San Francisco
Cartoon Art
Regular price: $7 adults
Take your comics seriously? This is the art museum for you, with 6,000 works of cartoon cels, comic strips and book art. Best. Museum. Ever.

Washington, D.C.
Museum of Crime and Punishment
Regular price: $21.95
Value the free admission and your freedom at a museum dedicated to criminals and police work. Fans of police procedural TV shows will enjoy the CSI lab and the filming studio for “America’s Most Wanted.”

On The Road With NPR Music: Matt Fleeger At KMHD, Portland, Oregon

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place. This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Portland, Oregon might be known for its indie scene, but as Matt Fleeger shows us, it’s also home to a burgeoning jazz scene. As Fleeger points out, when most people think of jazz, they think of a scene that ended in the late 60s. On the contrary, it’s a genre that’s alive and well, full of fusion acts and creative ensembles. Check out Fleeger’s playlist for a good feel of what this city has to offer.

Name: Matt Fleeger

Member station: KMHD Jazz Radio

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Program Director/Host of “New Jazz For Lunch” M-Thurs 12 (noon) to 1 PM, M-Thurs.

When people think of music in Portland, what do they think of?

A DIY, underground approach to music, independent music. In terms of Jazz, highly creative ensembles and players – people who aren’t afraid to think outside the box a bit.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

At KMHD, we try to “hold up” the really creative, interesting, different sounds that are coming out of our city. We partner with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, which is an organization is concerned with fostering new Jazz compositions and releases a different CD featuring a Portland band each month. We bring local musicians into the studio every Friday afternoon for live performances direct to air, and we film local bands playing in various spaces throughout the city. My show in particular features all new releases in an attempt to expose our audience to new sounds. Often times, the Jazz audience gets caught up in the thinking that Jazz ended in 1969, but there are many very interesting sounds and directions happening within the scene today.

How has the Portland jazz scene evolved over the last few decades?

Portland has always had a certain forward-thinking aesthetic when it comes to music, but on the other hand there’s a very laid-back sensibility at work here, too. The Jazz scene has changed a lot over the past few decades, but it’s always been inventive. In the 70’s – Portland (and Eugene, to the south) gave birth to a sort of world-jazz fusion through bands like Oregon, or saxophonist Jim Pepper. Music education factors heavily into the equation as well, whether it’s from Thara Memory (Esperanza Spalding’s mentor) or Portland State University’s Darrell Grant, who is a world-renowned Jazz musician in his own right.


What would you say is the most unique thing about your music scene?

Really it’s the people. And by people, I mean the audience, the people who consume the music. Portland is very (VERY) supportive of its homegrown talent. For example, during the Portland Jazz Festival at least two of the 12 headlining shows are always local acts, and these shows always sell out before the national or international acts that are visiting. That’s something you don’t find in most cities.

What are three new up and coming bands on the Portland scene right now and what makes them distinct?

Nowadays, it’s bands like the Blue Cranes or Grammies that are fusing the improvisational ideas of this music with other bands or genres that influenced them (think Fugazi or tUnE yArDs).

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

“Everything is Going to Be Okay” – Blue Cranes
“Echolalia” – Kin Trio
“Strong Fire” – Andrew Oliver Sextet
“XSABCESS” – Grammies
“Give Thanks” – Darren Klein
“Rainy Day, Sunny Heart” – Gunga Galunga
“Blossom Bell” – 1939 Ensemble

Listen to the complete playlist on Spotify.

On The Road With NPR Music: Gwen Thompkins At WWNO, New Orleans, Louisiana

We love music here at Gadling, and this month is Public Radio Music Month, which is why we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Today we’re headed to the birthplace of jazz: New Orleans. But New Orleans offers a whole lot more than jazz, and the local scene is one that’s well known outside of Louisiana. Thanks to local music host Gwen Thompkins we get the insider scoop on the music of this exciting city, from singer-songwriters to high school brass bands.

Name: Gwen Thompkins

Member station: WWNO, New Orleans

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Host, Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins. NPR contributor.

When people think of music in New Orleans, what do they think of?

When people think of New Orleans, they think of music and vice versa. The city and its music are synonymous – traditional jazz, modern jazz, bounce, blues, R&B, brass bands, gospel, boogie woogie, swamp pop, hip hop, funk, cabaret. If your tastes run to opera, New Orleans has that too. In fact, the first opera house in North America was built right here in the French Quarter, which back then wasn’t just a neighborhood. It was New Orleans. Jelly Roll Morton talked about what he heard and saw at the opera house all the time. But what most people forget is that the legendary Boswell Sisters also grew up in New Orleans. In the 1920s and 1930s, their vocal jazz harmonies dominated the national charts and sold tens of millions of records. Ella Fitzgerald credited Connee Boswell as the only singer she ever tried to emulate.

New Orleans later topped the national charts with early rhythm and blues. Nearly everything Fats Domino touched turned to gold. But there’s no use skipping over Shirley and Lee of “Let the Good Times Roll,” or Ruth “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” Brown or Lee “Working in a Coal Mine” Dorsey. And the whole nation heard about Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law.”

These homegrown songs and many, many others are still part of our daily lives in New Orleans. We hear them every day on radio and at a growing number of music festivals around town.

More often than not, today’s visitors to New Orleans want to fit into the groove right along with us. So they’re looking to absorb the whole musical experience – from trumpeter Buddy Bolden to the Meters, from Mahalia Jackson to Mystikal and from Louis Prima to Trombone Shorty to L’il Wayne. They also want to know about the great producers – Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew, Wardell Quezergue and Cosimo Matassa – who helped shape, shift and funkify modern American music. And they want to hear from some of our piano royalty – Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr. John, Huey Smith, Ellis Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., David Torkanowsky, Jon Cleary.

And then there’s Louis Armstrong. He’s the immortal one, the reason we all want to be from New Orleans.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

I look to my left and I look to my right and chances are – wherever I am in New Orleans – there’s someone or something great nearby. Just a few doors down from my house lives Lionel Ferbos who, at 101, is the oldest performing jazz musician in town. I see soul queen Irma Thomas at the dry cleaners and Dr. John at the grocery store. Talent is ubiquitous down here, which makes us a little spoiled. So I’m creating an archive of hour-long discussions with some of the most seminal artists of our time. We talk about the experiences and influences that helped create their sound and, by extension, music that is treasured around the world. We broadcast the interviews each week on radio and allow folks to stream them on the web.

How has the New Orleans scene evolved over the past few decades?

We’ve said goodbye to way too many wonderful artists in recent decades. Some, like James “Sugar Boy” Crawford or “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, died. Others, like the great pianist Henry Butler, moved away because they had to start over again after Hurricane Katrina. But those who can come back eventually do.

Since the 1950s, New Orleans has had its share of traditional jazz revivals and currently traditional jazz is in full bloom, with a crowd of established and up and coming artists. Try visiting Preservation Hall or the Palm Court Cafe or walking Frenchman Street in the Marigny (neighborhood). There’s nothing like seeing kids with dreadlocks and tattoos slow dancing to an old classic like, “Careless Love.”

That said, bounce has grabbed a lot of music lovers by the ears. Big Freedia and Katie Red are the divas to beat and when they team up with funksters like Galactic, they’re unstoppable.

Brass bands have gotten funkier too, which has set off an aesthetic debate down here about the meaning of tradition. What a trumpeter like Shamarr Allen teaches young brass band players is a world apart from what a drummer like Shannon Powell learned from the celebrated jazz greats of Treme.

What would you say is the most unique thing about the New Orleans music scene?

New Orleans has open arms. There’s room in the city for homegrown talent and for musicians who were born far, far away. It’s rare to find a place in the world where so many different people can play so many disparate styles and still feel at home artistically.

What are three new up and coming bands on the local scene right now and what makes them distinct?

The first lesson a music lover learns here is, “Ain’t nothing new.”

But if you’re coming to New Orleans don’t miss:

Alex McMurray: one of the finest songwriters working today in New Orleans or anyplace else. McMurray was born in New Jersey, came down here for college, took in a Neville Brothers/Marva Wright show at Tipitina’s and decided he was home. His songs are fully realized narratives about protagonists who drift through blues melodies, ditties, lounge music or flat out rock ‘n roll. McMurray writes about old boxers and sea faring lads, barflies, soldiers, at least one courtesan and a nutty guy named, “Otis.” Through a strange set of circumstances involving Disney and Japan, McMurray also knows an unusual number of sea shanties by heart. Filthy? Yes. But they’re awfully fun. He plays solo and with a band called the Tin Men. Check out: “The Get Go” “Me and My Bad Luck,” “It’s Not the Years, It’s the Miles,” “As Long as You Let Me.”

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Great singer-songwriters, not afraid of a guitar and a violin and a yodel or two. Alynda Lee Segarra, originally of the Bronx, New York, writes most of the songs. The melodies are mostly folk rock, but take on a Cajun quality at times. Hurray for the Riff Raff has been reported to admire The Band, which makes them A-OK by me. Check out: “Look Out Mama,” “Junebug Waltz,” “Little Black Star.”

KIPP McDonough 15 Middle School Brass Band. Director: Kelvin Harrison, Sr.: One of the many young brass bands coming out of the schools of New Orleans. Others include: O. Perry Walker High School Brass Band and Joseph S. Clark Prep Brass Band. Each school won a top prize at the 2013 Class Got Brass competition held by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. This is how the city’s second line tradition is reaching the stars of tomorrow.

Each year, the foundation uses some of the money earned at the city’s annual jazz and heritage festival to help continue local music traditions. The bands win prize money to buy and maintain their instruments. If you wanna know who’s gonna be the next Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen or Dr. Michael White, start seeking out these and other young brass bands.

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

“We Made it Through That Water” – Free Agents Brass Band

“Heart of Steel” – Galactic featuring Irma Thomas

“Blessed Quietness” – Zion Harmonizers & Olympia Brass Band

“Petite Fleur” – Dr. Michael White

“Tou’ Les Jours C’est Pas La Meme – Carol Fran

“Careless Love -Don Vappie

“Atrapado” – Tom McDermott

“How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come Around)” – Dr. John

“Cry to Me” – Professor Longhair

“Tipitina and Me” – Allen Toussaint

Listen to the complete playlist on Spotify.

Why Chicago Beats New York

chicago el platformYears ago, when I told a group of colleagues in New York that I was moving to Chicago, the reaction ranged from bemusement to outrage.

“Chicago?” one began, tentatively, as if they’d heard of the place but couldn’t quite place it. “Why would you want to live there?”

Another co-worker was more blunt.

“Chicago’s a dump,” he said. “You’ll be back in New York in a year.”

Like many New Yorkers who consider their city the capital of the world, he’d never actually been to Chicago, or anywhere else in “Fly Over Country.” My career ended up taking me away from Chicago after two stints totaling five years, but I never went back to New York, except for brief visits, and I never regretting moving to The Second City. How could I? I met the woman I would marry on my very first day in town.New Yorkers are always crowing that they live in the greatest city in the world. It is undoubtedly a singular place; perhaps the only can’t miss city in America for tourists alongside San Francisco. But I find all of the “We’re #1″ bravado tiresome. There are a few things I like better in New York than Chicago – weather, weekend travel opportunities, pizza and bagels – but I’d much rather live in Chicago than New York for all of the following reasons.

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Less Attitude

chicago housing projects boy smilesChicago attracts young people from all over the Midwest, so although it’s a big city, there’s a friendly, middle-of-America vibe. New Yorkers tend to be friendly towards tourists but rather hard on each other. When I lived in New York, I found that native New Yorkers were often friendlier than transplants.

I have a couple friends who are Staten Island natives, and I’ll never forget how newly minted Manhattan residents from other parts of the country would mock them as “Bridge and Tunnel” people. For me, the locals with the accents who live in the Outer Boroughs are the real New Yorkers, not all the transplants who live in Manhattan and look down upon everyone else as soon as they get a 212 area code.

More Affordable

chicago winter tennisAccording to Bankrate.com’s cost of living comparison, New York Metro’s cost of living is about 95% higher than Chicago’s. In the Windy City, you can buy a fairly nice three-bedroom home in a nice, close-in suburb with good public schools for about $450,000; whereas that same amount of money barely buys a small condo in a sketchy neighborhood in New York.

In New York, I lived in a neighborhood called Bay Ridge, a long subway ride from Manhattan near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn, because I couldn’t afford to live closer to my office in Manhattan. But when I moved to Chicago, I felt like there were only a couple of neighborhoods that were completely off limits due to price.

Chicago is also cheaper to visit. I was in town last week for a visit and got a room at the Hyatt at Michigan Avenue and Wacker for $55 on Priceline. No chance you’ll get a nice room in NYC for that price.

Lake Michigan

chicago skyline lake michigan aerialThere are more bike paths in New York now than when I lived there but there’s still nothing quite like Chicago’s killer lakefront, which has an 18-mile-long bike path and several very nice sandy beaches, including one just steps away from downtown.

Better Smells

Thanks to the Bloomer Chocolate Company, the sweet smell of chocolate permeates the West Loop neighborhood but New York has more foul smells than good ones. If you Google “New York smells” or “What does New York smell like” the most common results involve urine.

You Can’t Get Lost in Chicago

If you give me the east/west coordinates of any address in the city of Chicago, I’ll immediately know where it is, thanks to the city’s street coordinates system. Midtown and Uptown Manhattan are straightforward but the rest of the city’s a mess and God help you if you need to find something in Queens.

Billy Crystal and Yoko Ono Have no Apparent Connections to Chicago

Chicago has a few obnoxious celebs, but New York has scores of them. Donald Trump. Rush Limbaugh. The Jersey Shore kids. (some of whom are from NY rather than NJ) The list goes on and on.

Vintage Street Signs

Chicago has more vintage street signs than any city in the country and these old beauties are emblematic of the way the city preserves its past, rather than bulldozing it.

The Green Mill and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted

BLUES ChicagoNew York also has its share of small, atmospheric jazz and blues music venues, but there’s nowhere I’d rather hear live jazz and have a stiff cocktail than the century old Green Mill in Uptown, and if I could hear blues in just one place in the world, it would be B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, which features authentic live bluesmen and women 365 nights per year.

Conclusion

It’s silly to claim that one city is definitively better or worse than any other city. One man’s paradise is another man’s prison. But for me, Chicago’s the most livable big city in the country. It’s a place where it’s easy to meet people, easy to fit in, no matter who you are, and hard to leave.

There are harsh, long winters that stretch into hot, humid summers, legendary traffic tie-ups, and miles of boredom outside the city limits in every direction. But there’s something about Chicago – the neighborhoods, the architecture, the people, the vibe – that has hooked me in a way New York never did. It’s a huge city that still manages to be a well-kept secret.

[Photos by Dave Seminara, TheeErin, Spiterman, Cliff 1066, Nimatardji Photography, mdanys and Michael Clesle on Flickr]

Jazz for French Cows

There’s something about the French countryside that draws writers and photographers to the farm scene, maybe because of the idyllic fields and lovely landscapes or maybe because people just love animals. Wander over to Flickr and type in “France Cow” and you get almost 12,000 hits. Try that with “America Cow” and you get 8,500. My own sister has cow-chasing pictures taken in Italy, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t the best bovine pictures out on the flickrs.

So what happens when you mix a jazz band and French cows? Auditory and visual warm and fuzziness. Take a look at video above to see how the cows react.