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News briefs 9.10.03 

'It don't mean a thing if...'

After a long pause, a brave soul spoke up: "To swing." Satisfied with the young bass player's interpretation of a rhythm section's function, trumpeter and "jazz spokesman" Wynton Marsalis replied, "To swing... Hard."

            Welcome to Wynton's place, where the standards of excellence are specific and the understanding of history and tradition are of the utmost importance. During a master class at the Eastman School of Music last Friday, Marsalis continued his quest to push the importance of jazz music (sometimes to the exclusion of other musics) and encourage the youth of America to aim towards excellence and to "purify [their] thought."

            The class began with Wynton successfully putting the student performers at ease (any pressure of performing for Wynton was multiplied by the hyper-charged media that stared with cameras poised) by reminiscing about his childhood experiences with clinicians: "They said I was sad, I didn't like 'em. They said I was good, I liked 'em." After the students' rendition of Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues," Marsalis dug in, focusing most of his comments on issues like confidence, time, communication, and, of course, swing. Equating historical understanding with sophistication, legitimacy, and integrity, Wynton encouraged all the musicians to study up, as "there's a vocabulary of American Music that you're responsible for every time you play."

            In true Wynton Marsalis fashion, charismatic comments to the young musicians were often given in the form of sports or food analogies, and every now and then were sprinkled with subtle jabs at avant-garde and popular music. (He mentioned that many musicians "turned to 'art-improvisation music' to escape the challenges of swing.")

            Despite this, Marsalis was able to get at many things that the students could work on to improve their playing in this genre. And for many, just the presence of such a great trumpeter was enough to push their jazz playing to a new level.

--- Josh Rutner

No home improvement

The federal housing program known as "Section 8" keeps an affordable roof over many a family's head. More than two million households in the US receive Section 8 vouchers, which ensure that low-income tenants don't pay more than 30 to 40 percent of their income for shelter (rent plus utilities). The program is no substitute for true social policy on housing, but it accomplishes a good deal: The tenants can avoid homelessness and better afford food and other essentials; the landlords get market-rate rents for their properties; the local economy is at least stabilized.

            Trouble is, funding for Section 8 is chronically short, and many eligible families are left in the lurch. In Rochester, for example, the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers runs to something like 6,000 names. The Rochester Housing Authority, which administers the program, has resorted to a lottery system to give tenants a fairer shot at securing a voucher. In 2001, says the RHA website, more than 5,300 application/lottery cards were submitted; just 2,500 names were drawn.

            You'd think that during a recession --- or whatever our leaders are calling it this week --- the Section 8 program would be a good candidate for increased funding. But the US Congress and one influential local Representative have a different idea.

            The Senate and House recently grappled with Section 8 funding, and after some parliamentary sleight-of-hand with cost projections, etc., things are not looking good. According to a September 5 report in the New York Times, there could be 114,000 fewer vouchers available next year --- around the same number of vouchers that New York City issues annually by itself. (There are 150,000 families on the Big Apple's waiting list, says the Times.)

            The lowball funding could prevent the renewal of many current vouchers, say some observers. But US Representative Jim Walsh, a Republican-Conservative who represents parts of Monroe County and points east, contests this. He told the Times that the recently approved Congressional funding would be sufficient. The House, he said, "provided a 7 percent increase, which is more than the president requested." He did not, however, address the Congressional Budget Office finding that to renew all vouchers, the House would have to allocate $900 million more than it did.

            The Congressman also told the Times, apparently with a straight face, that none of this is related to recent federal tax cuts. (Walsh's press secretary did not return a call for comment by press time.)

            Michael Hanley, a Rochester attorney who specializes in housing with the Greater Upstate Law Project, says the "big issue" is "whether the total number of families served will be less in this area." He fears that "600 or so" local families might be out of luck. "This is the first time people may be losing ground," he says. He adds that any shortfall would represent "a real loss to the local economy."

            The loss is felt first in low-income households, of course. A brand new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition notes the "average income earned by families with extremely low incomes... is $8.34 an hour." At this level, says the report, no family in any state in the nation can afford the fair-market rent on a two-bedroom home.

            But the inadequacy of public subsidies and programs causes damage across the community, too. For one thing, lower subsidies can lead to lower property values in low-income neighborhoods and widen the gap between jurisdictions. And we're already pretty far down that road. Consider this: In 2002 the city of Rochester, with a population of 219,000, had a total full-value assessment of $4.711 billion. The town of Pittsford, population 27,000, came in at $2.075 billion. If federal subsidies slip ever downward, comparisons drawn after the next census will be even more stunning.

Making (air) waves

If you've had trouble tuning in jazz on WGMC 90.1 and 105.1 FM in recent weeks, it's not your radio's fault. The station has been off the air for a while during the installation of its new tower. WGMC is now back on the air. And the tower that's been the focus of countless fund-drives is now a 199-foot-high reality on the reinforced roof of Greece Athena High School.

            But that doesn't mean the fundraising is over. The $35,000 tower was Phase I of a plan to make the station's signal reach across the entire metropolitan area. During Phase II, WGMC needs to raise another $30,000 by the end of December (when its permit expires) to purchase a transmitter. The transmitter, along with a $20,000 antenna (to be purchased with funds already in the bank) will complete the station's goal.

            "We're just one step away from truly becoming Rochester's Jazz station," says station manager Jason Crane. "The support from the community has been outstanding."

            The station's future also involves the recent addition of well-known local jazz DJ Forrest Cummings. Rather than accept an inconvenient new timeslot at his long-time home, WRUR 88.5 FM, during a recent shake-up to allow collaboration with WXXI 1370 AM and 91.5 FM, Cummings has brought his show to WGMC and can be heard Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

--- Ron Netsky

First volley

Labor Day marked the official onset of political campaign season and no spaghetti dinner is safe.

            Maggie Brooks got her mug and her message on television with the first of what presumably will be a long line of ads. Brooks, the Republican candidate for county executive, followed her TV debut with a press conference, pledging to make jobs the top issue of her campaign. "Voters are talking about one issue --- jobs, jobs, jobs in Monroe County," she said. Her very first action if elected, Brooks said, will be to make sure any company receiving county government tax benefits will have to use local labor in its new construction or expansion.

            She also vowed to create an economic roundtable to remedy the "disconnect" between government and local businesses, community members, and higher education. Brooks blasted Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson's record on jobs. There were approximately 10,000 fewer city residents employed in 2000 than in 1990, according to census figures. "The mayor has a record and it's nothing to brag about," she said.

            Johnson got a little help from Democratic Party boss Molly Clifford, who called the county clerk's television ads nothing more than "an attempt to qualify herself for the campaign." In a press release, Clifford credits Johnson with creating more than 10,000 jobs during his tenure and retaining more than 20,000 jobs. She also cites $445 million in new investments in 1,067 companies under Johnson.

            The mayor has played a role in bringing the fast ferry, bus terminal, and soccer stadium --- all projects in development --- to Rochester. "One person in this campaign has demonstrated leadership ability and the qualifications for the job," Clifford said. "The other --- Clerk Brooks --- does not."

            Johnson himself turned up at a meeting of the Greece Rotary Club and a dinner for the National Association of Women in Construction. Johnson's own television campaign got underway in July. Asked if the mayor would crank up the TV action now that Brooks has hit the airwaves, Johnson spokesman Travis Heider said that Johnson's camp believes debates, not "a 30-second sound bite," are the best way for voters to hear from candidates.

            Let the games begin.

Way below radar

You vs. terrorism

You may not think much of Rochester Gas and Electric during a blackout. But at least the utility's helping to fight the War On Terrorism. RG&E has included a booklet recently with electric bills that should allay all your deepest fears. It proclaims "You Can Help Prevent Terrorism, Too." Yes, now every one of you with too much time on your hands and an itchy phone-finger can help make America safe again.

            What does the handy tract suggest? "Know the routines. Be alert as you go about your daily business. This will help you to learn the normal routines of your neighborhood, community, and workplace." And why is this useful? "Understanding these routines will help you spot anything out of place." For instance, if you see somebody in a behemoth S.U.V. NOT talking in smug oblivion on their cell phone, that's certainly an anomaly that deserves closer watch.

            Other helpful hints include: "Take what you hear seriously." For example, if TV newspeople claim that steroidal musclemen with German accents are running for public office, you best put your whole family on red alert.

            "Be on the lookout for suspicious activities," the pamphlet instructs us, but in no way defines the term "suspicious." We suspect that the guy next door drinks way too much Sterno and the woman across the street is having an affair with the kid who cuts her lawn. And we can even marshal some evidence to prove these points. But we also suspect no one really cares.

            Much more useful was the New York Terrorism Tips Hotline, also touted in your electric bill. The woman on the other end of the line explained that they collect information on "suspicious activities." When asked what exactly that meant, she said "for instance, if you saw a group of people video taping a bridge or reservoir or other piece of critical infrastructure," you should report it. If you see people "who don't belong there" hanging around a reservoir, you certainly should call John Ashcroft.

            We asked how to tell the difference between terrorists and a family on vacation taking home videos of their lakeside campsite. She said they should not be reported, "if they're obviously not terrorists" and left it at that. There you have it, your tax dollars at work keeping you safe. After all, if you say the words "tourist" and "terrorist" quickly, they sound suspiciously the same.

--- Th. Metzger

Correcting ourselves

In last week's Metro Ink, we referred to an air-polluting power plant on the Lake Erie shore in Chautauqua County. We got it mixed up with the Carlson plant in Jamestown, Chautauqua County. The plant on the lakeshore is the Dunkirk Steam Station. Both plants are coal-burners.

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