Life on Aisle 2: This is What Plan C Looks Like, Episode 4, On Beer

Craft beer has changed a lot in the last five years.  Some employers get it, some, well, don’t. Here’s how it has affected my work life.


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Life on Aisle 2: This is What Plan C Looks Like, Episode 3 These are My Neighbors

If in 1988, when I first moved to the East Village, you told me that I’d be there for 30 years, I would have thought my life was a dream come true.  It is dreamy at times, but the East Village has changed.  So have I.  This episode parses those phenomena.

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Life on Aisle 2: This is What Plan C Looks Like Episode 2

This blog is my attempt to make sense of my transition from newspaper columnist to cheesemonger to craft beer buyer and the downward mobility that accompanied the change.   In this episode I acclimate to a different sort of coworker.

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The New Blog Series: Life on Aisle 2: This is What Plan C Looks Like

Two years ago as I tried to get a firmer grip on the unpredictable sequences of events that had defined my middle age, I launched The Do Over, a blog that wondered if 56 is the new 26.  It is and the real question was to how welcome the challenges with the open arms and open heartedness of a young adult when the only “Young” in my life is a brand of British beer.

Then just as I turned 57, I surged into a lengthy infatuation with a bartender in my neighborhood.  To further the relationship possibilities, I began cooking for her on a regular basis and blogging about it.  Thus Cooking for K, a blog about food, craft beer, New York City 2017 and the swirling relationship prospects of two professionals whose career swirled downward into the gig economy was born.

I’m still fascinated by what my life has become.  I’m somewhat resentful that it doesn’t include the perks of being middle class.  I’m still somewhat bitter that Plan A and Plan B didn’t work out.  But hey, I manage the Craft Beer program for a store near my home and write for a high profile respected newspaper.  Even if it isn’t what I would have liked, life could be a lot worse.  And of course, it’s still very interesting.  Thus, I started a new Blog, Life on Aisle 2: This is What Plan C Looks Like.   The game plan is to post twice a week.

The blog helps me make sense of my life’s changes.  I hope you find it entertaining.



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At WSJ on Vintage Grant Green Releases

‘Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970)’ and ‘Slick!—Live at Oil Can Harry’s’ by Grant Green Reviews

In an era often belittled by jazz fans, guitarist Grant Green spearheaded a movement that expanded hits in innovative ways.

Grant Green at Oil Can Harry's in September 1975
Grant Green at Oil Can Harry’s in September 1975 PHOTO: © GERRY NAIRN

Grant Green (1935-1979) was a great guitarist often overshadowed by even greater ones. During the early part of his career, in the ’60s, his best work was surpassed by Wes Montgomery, and in the ’70s players like John McLaughlin, George Benson and Pat Metheny dominated the spotlight. Yet Green was a masterly player and composer who was uniquely diverse in his range of styles.

Some of Green’s best work was revealed after his death. Now two vintage Green recordings, “Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970)” and “Slick!—Live at Oil Can Harry’s” (both on Resonance Records), will be released on vinyl Saturday for Record Store Day, then in other formats next month. They showcase Green’s virtuosity, display his stylistic evolution, and counter some persistent stereotypes about that era of jazz.

Both were made from radio broadcasts of concerts by Green. The French recording documents appearances by Green’s band in the city and town of the subtitle; “Slick!” features a Vancouver show in 1975. This was a time of tumult in the jazz community. Sales nosedived in the ’60s, even though the music was at a creative peak. Then, at the end of that decade, several artists—most notably Miles Davis —began incorporating rock and funk rhythms into their music. Green is best known for music with crossover appeal. His 1970 cover of the Don Covay/Steve Cropper classic “Sookie Sookie” became a staple of the early ’90s Acid Jazz scene that typically fused jazz, hip hop and other musical styles, and his music has been sampled by a legion of hip-hop artists ranging from A Tribe Called Quest to Kendrick Lamar. Yet Green’s legacy is far deeper than that. His 1965 release “Idle Moments” (Blue Note) is some of the best music of the period; elegant and restrained, it nearly defines the concept of after-midnight tranquility. On his 1964 recording “Matador” (Blue Note)—released in 1979 after Green’s death— he works with drummer Elvin Jones and pianist McCoy Tyner, both stalwarts of the John Coltrane Quartet, to create an ambitious and sprawling work.

“Funk in France” shows Green in transition. The set includes splendid renditions of jazz standards like “Oleo” and “Sonnymoon for Two,” as well as a tender take on the bossa nova classic “How Insensitive (Insensatez).” But the recording leads off with an edgy cover of James Brown’s “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I’ll Get It Myself),” which had been a big hit for the Godfather of Soul that spring and summer. Green’s solo style expands on the tune. He was always a great bluesy player, but on this ode to self-reliance he captures the firm and assertive tone of the original by adding some scratchy licks to his solo.

The Vancouver recording offers the same mix, but in greater extremes. It opens with “Now’s the Time,” by Charlie Parker, one of Green’s idols. Then, after a funkier version of “How Insensitive (Insensatez),” the band launches into a 32-minute medley of funk and jazz-funk hits that includes Stanley Clarke’s “Vulcan Princess,” the Ohio Players’ “Skin Tight,” the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money,” Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and Bobby Womack’s “Woman’s Gotta Have It.” The bassist Ronnie Ware plays long, snorting and reverberant tones. Green’s guitar work is deep and piercing. In an interview from the Vancouver gig, included here in the liner notes, Green said he was pleased that his music was reaching a younger audience, but his renditions of the repertoire here suggest that he wanted to recruit them without sacrificing his unique sound.

Many think of popular 1970s jazz as bland, dumbed down, soulless covers of hit tunes, a trend that led to what is today called smooth jazz. In fact, Green spearheaded a movement that expanded hits in innovative ways. And they provide yet more evidence that Green was a greater guitarist than the works released during his lifetime suggested. He’s due for a re-evaluation.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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More Gender Musing at Medium

I think Chimamanda is right.  We all *should* be feminists; privilege is a real thing but so too is the burden of maintaining privilege.  So I keep writing.  The message on Aly Raisman’s body is that a woman shouldn’t have to be modest to be respected.  I agree and wrote about it.

Here’s the link. Applause or disagreeing and disdainful commentary is welcome.

This is what it looks like.

What We’re Still Not Getting About #metoo

A lot of times, I start writing a piece then I abandon it. Usually it’s because life’s complications push it out of my primary focus until the issue has lost its currency. But sometimes a point just sticks in my craw and the piece won’t let go of me. So, forgive me I’m late in addressing the peg for this story, but I think the point is still relevant. Perhaps more so.

Simply put, there’s a lot to the #metoo movement that people, well yeah, mostly men, are either willfully oblivious about or need the point hammered home to them. I was feeling like a handyman a couple of months ago, so I’ll don the overalls again now.

Two months ago, I started writing because I was outraged by the response in some circles to Aly Raisman posing nude for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The outrage wasn’t the usual prudishness, it was because she had been one of 150 women who bravely testified against Larry Nassar, who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault for molesting girls when he was the team doctor for USA Gymnastics. In addition, she went on 60 Minutes to tell her story. Yet the near universal acclaim she received for those activities was almost entirely undercut by the reception she received for appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

SI has long recognized that smart, accomplished women like to look good in swimsuits, and probably close to half the famed issue is now devoted to photographs of women celebrating their physical self- confidence rather than models being objectified to accommodate male fantasies.

Given the capriciously high standards of beauty that women are subjected to, I’m inclined to think that any woman, who likes the way she looks in bikini deserves a high five, a bottle of their favorite wine or some such. But that’s beside the point. Sexual harassment isn’t actually about sex! That’s the point. It’s about power and the intimation of rape. The acts of sexual harassment closely mirror those of rape. They are attacks of the sovereignty of a woman’s body by an outsider with no right to that access. It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference if they were motivated by lust or by thoughts of chocolate mousse. The act is wrong and usually, preferably always, criminal. It is intolerable in a just society.

Aly Raisman in Sports Illustrated spells it out for you.

To equate Raisman’s appearance in the magazine with the culture that facilitates or even excuses this behavior illustrates (sorry!) that we just aren’t getting the gender politics in 2018. This silly association, the worst sort of false equivalency, is on the same low level that blamed women in miniskirts for rape. If every woman in New York City decided on some warm day to dress in their sexiest, most revealing outfit, or forego clothing altogether, the only agenda for Gotham men is to develop a respectful response and keep their eyes on the road. Lust can be a great motivator; it isn’t an excuse for disrespectful, antisocial and illegal behavior.

The disapproval that Raisman received also obscures the fact that her posing was entirely consistent with the boldness and courage that she demonstrated in testifying against and speaking out publicly against Nasar. She posed nude, not to please men but to celebrate her independence and the ownership of her body. Lots of women are doing just that. They show up in my Instagram feed following the examples of Nude Yoga Girl, Rhyanna Watson and others. They show up at Burning Man, New York City Body Painting Day and the World Nude Bike Rides. It’s become a vital way of embracing the glass as half or three quarters or whatever full and it flips the bird to a culture that screams at women that the glass is really ten percent empty.

I used to think that as a society we had at least learned to respect women in pantsuits, but the 2016 election has persuaded me otherwise. It isn’t optional. Whether she’s fully dressed or completely undressed society has to find a way to respect women and their own prerogatives. It really isn’t optional; the survival of the species depends on it.


Martin Johnson is a freelance writer whose work on music, sports and culture has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Newsday, New York, Vogue, Rolling Stone, The Root, Slate, The Atlantic, and numerous other publications and websites. He also blogs at Rotations, and he can be contacted at



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At WSJ on Sara Serpa’s Stunning “Close Up”

Close Up’ Review: Breaking New Ground

Songs on Sara Serpa’s new album draw on the works of Virginia Woolf and other writers.

Sara Serpa

Since her arrival on the New York jazz scene 10 years ago, vocalist and composer Sara Serpa has blazed her own path. Although she can sing compelling versions of standards with conventional backing, she is more likely to create groups where her voice, often singing wordlessly, is at equal standing with other instruments in the ensemble. Her compositions are unique, lithe and often based on classic literature, among them works by John Steinbeck, Herman Melville and Herodotus. She has released eight recordings; her style expands the range of jazz vocals.

“Close Up” (Clean Feed), her ninth, comes out on Friday, and it continues to break new ground. Some of the nine songs on the recording have literary antecedents. In the liner notes, Ms. Serpa cites writings by Virginia Woolf, poet and essayist Ruy Belo and philosopher Luce Irigaray as inspiration, and the title track reflects the deep impression made on her by Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 film “Close Up,” particularly the fluid identities of the movie’s characters.

The music is spare and entrancing. Ms. Serpa leads a trio where she’s joined by two virtuosos, cellist Erik Friedlander and saxophonist/flutist Ingrid Laubrock. The ease and grace with which the members move between rhythmic and lead roles underscore that this is no academic exercise in abstraction. Ms. Serpa’s compositions usually follow easily recognizable song forms, often with narrative flow even if they mostly lack words. It’s delicate music played so confidently that the results are often enchanting. The interactions often work so well that I think of dancers moving to the music in varying duos and trios.

The 41-minute recording opens with “Object,” which begins with Ms. Serpa’s fluttering vocals and Mr. Friedlander’s cello. The short staccato lines of the cello contrast beautifully with Ms. Serpa’s high-pitched voice. Then Ms. Laubrock’s flute enters, curlicuing lines around her bandmates as Ms. Serpa reaches a repeating motif before they reach a resolution. Then Ms. Serpa solos over Mr. Friedlander’s plucked lines before the band repeats the theme from earlier in the song. “The Future,” based on an entry titled “Future” from “The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 1: 1915-1919,” also starts with a Serpa-Friedlander duet, her gentle chants contrasting with his long, agile lines. Then Mr. Friedlander shifts to pizzicato and Ms. Serpa sings the title repeatedly, varying her intonations and accents as Ms. Laubrock plays gentile unisons and accenting lines.

Ms. Serpa, who is 39 years old, was born and raised in Lisbon, where she studied piano and classical singing at the Lisbon National Conservatory. She moved to the U.S. in 2005 and enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, followed by graduate work at the New England Conservatory of Music. She has sung with pianists Danilo Perez and Ran Blake and collaborated with Guillermo Klein, Nicole Mitchell, Tyshawn Sorey, John Zorn and many others.

Voice as a textural element has been a growing trend in jazz for several years. Important composers and bandleaders like Steve Coleman, Ryan Keberle, Maria Schneider and Jen Shyu employ vocals in unique ways, but usually in large or midsize ensembles. Ms. Serpa’s triumph is to bring this ambitious approach to an intimate setting. Even without words she conveys the emotion of her innovative music, and that should broaden its appeal to fans of many different genres.

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