31 January 2008

Bouncing Queen + Mardi Gras: Airs Feb. 4


A quirky tradition at the St. Paul Winter Carnival is the Bouncing Team: Fourteen guys holding a round, canvas blanket rocket a young woman 30 feet into the air. She does an aerial gymnastic move. They catch her. The Winter Carnival started in 1886, so did the Bouncing Team; they've been tossing woman skyward ever since -- not one dropped yet.

Listen to a story produced by host Todd Melby. It also aired on NPR's Day to Day and Hearing Voices.

And then we're off to another festive event: Mardi Gras.

We'll air a piece called "Costuming for Mardi Gras" by Eve Abrams. Here's a desription of that story: "If you live in New Orleans, you have to know a thing or two about costuming. A handful of New Orleanians explain how it's done, what it means, and why it's so darn important."

And then we'll conclude with another piece called "Mardi Gras Indian Music." The title pretty much says it all. But if you want more information, here it is: "On Mardi Gras Day, tourists line New Orleans' wide avenues to watch the grand parade floats. The celebration tourists rarely see takes place on the strrets and stoops of the Treme, Black Pearl and the Ninth Ward, some of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Those are the parade grounds of New Orleans Black or Mardi Gras Indians. The Wild Magnolias, the Fi Yi Yi, altogether about 40 tribes march in elaborate costumes inspired by the noble Native Americans who were not enslaved by whites. , Some say the tradition reflects West African masking and dance rituals. While their numbers have diminished since Katrina, a number of tribes have recorded music through the years. Producer Virginia Prescott dusts off the stacks to hear the music of the Mardi Gras Indians."

It'll be a great show. Tune in!

07 January 2008

January is Jon Kalish Month

I spent Christmas Eve sipping He'Brew beer at Grumpy's bar in Minneapolis. The alternative-to-that-other-holiday event was called Jewbilee and it was sponsored by Indie Jews of the Twin Cities. That wasn't enough Old Testament for me.

So, I've decided to dedicate most of January to Jewish-themed documentaries. We begin with Jimmy Breslin: The Art of Climbing Tenement Stairs on Jan. 7, followed by Rabbi Abulafia's Boxed Set on Jan. 14 and Brooklyn According to Kalish on Jan. 21 + Jan. 28. All three documentaries were reported and produced by Jon Kalish, a New York-based producer whose work frequently airs on NPR. The tour de force in this set is the two-part series on Brooklyn's Orthodox community. Reviewer Eric Nuzum says the program "offers a deep view into Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish life that few outsiders have a chance to observe. The intimacy of the piece is almost palatable--leaving you to feel like you should whisper while listening, so not to revel yourself."

Here's hoping you listen in. And don't be afraid to sip a He'brew while doing so.

Brooklyn According to Kalish airs. Jan. 21 + Jan. 28

In 1983 New York-based radio reporter Jon Kalish started covering the Orthodox and Chasidic Jews of Brooklyn for NPR. In 1999 he produced "Brooklyn According to Kalish" for WNYC. The hour-long documentary utilizes recordings Kalish made for pieces he produced for "All Things Considered," "Morning Edition," "Weekend Edition," as well as WNYC and other outlets. Rich in sound and featuring the extraordinary access Kalish gained in the close-knit Orthodox world, this program explores all aspects of the lives of religious Jews as seen through the eyes of Kalish, who is Jewish but grew up outside the realm of Torah-observant Jews. From the yeshivas of Flatbush to the bungalows of the Catskills where Brooklyn chasidim summer, "Brooklyn According to Kalish" explains the mysterious world of the black hats to secular Jews and Gentiles alike.

"Brooklyn According to Kalish" is a 60-minute documentary. Listen to it on Jan. 21 and Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. on KFAI, 90.3 FM Minneapolis.

Rabbi Abulafia's Boxed Set airs Jan. 14

For more than two years in the 1950's, avant-garde ethno-musicologist Harry Smith recorded a Lower East Side Rabbi's cantorial music, folk songs and Yiddish story-telling. The Rabbi's eccentric grandson, 82-year-old Lionel Ziprin, is hoping to re-release a condensed version of this material. It's a holy mission for him. Ziprin is a Lower East Side legend who sounds uncannily like the late Lenny Bruce. But, unlike the comedian, Ziprin hangs out at a Lower East Side yeshiva and his life has been a lot wilder.

Reporter Jon Kalish first met Ziprin in 1998 when one of the reporter's elderly Yippie friends introduced him to the man. Kalish did a short radio piece and a newspaper article about Ziprin's rescue of the 15-LP's his grandfather, Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, recorded with the eccentric Harry Smith but knew the story would ultimately make a compelling radio documentary.

Listen to "Rabbi Abulafia's Boxed Set" by Jon Kalish on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. on KFAI, 90.3 FM Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of NPR)

Jimmy Breslin airs Jan. 7

Love him or hate him, Jimmy Breslin has always been a force of nature in the world of print journalism.

On November 3, 2004 after calling the election for Kerry, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author announced he was leaving his thrice-weekly post as, arguably, New York’s most famous columnist and champion of “the little guy.” He hasn't stopped writing -- he’s working on at least three new books and is involved in a movie project based on his “The Church That Forgot Christ,” -- and he’ll contribute a column for Newsday “from time to time.” But that voice of moral outrage, from one the hardest working muckrakers in the newspaper business, no longer appears regularly in newsprint.

Jon Kalish, an independent radio producer and freelance newspaper writer based in New York, first met Breslin when Kalish was a young reporter, and over the years, he’s covered Breslin’s various headline making exploits. Kalish also learned a thing or two about reporting from Breslin, who taught him the importance of climbing tenement stairs.

In “Jimmy Breslin: The Art of Climbing Tenement Stairs,” a half-hour documentary commissioned by public radio station KCRW, Kalish talks to Breslin’s friends and nemeses, from pal Pete Hamill and the late investigative reporter Jack Newfield, to the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch. He’s along for the ride as Breslin sleeps on the streets with New York’s homeless, and talks to the columnist right after Breslin broke the story of the the city’s Parking Violations Bureau kickback scandal. There’s even an excerpt from Breslin’s 1986 hosting of "Saturday Night Live." Kalish also talks to Breslin’s second wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a former New York City councilwoman.

But most of all, it’s the hard-hitting, no-nonsense gritty voice of the irascible Jimmy Breslin that commands the attention of your ears, in the same way his columns grabbed the attention of readers for decades.

“The Art of Climbing Tenement Stairs” is produced and hosted by Jon Kalish.

It airs on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. on KFAI, 90.3 FM Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

Singing Salvation Army Bellringer

If you tuned in the Dec. 31 show, you didn't hear my piece on Arthur Jackson, a singing Salvation Army Bellringer. We'll try airing that piece again soon. In the meantime, check it out on the NPR Day to Day site.