This week's issue includes a handy pullout guide to summer fun. Miles Davis, in response to the white-breadness of that three-letter catchall, reportedly once asked, "What the fuck is fun, anyway?" The man had a point. But what other word so succinctly describes how your brain perceives the hot, summery chemical buzz that comes from learning (or leaving learning behind for a couple of months), jazzing, painting or baseballing? Hometown, maybe.
Uncle Ned's Band
School is out at Shawnee Mission North. But mixed with the glee that comes with the beginning of summer break is some anxiety that one of the high school's most beloved teachers, Ned Scott, won't be back next year.
Scott, 52, is himself a North graduate, class of 1974. He's been a teacher for 22 years, 12 of them at North, where he teaches world geography to freshmen. He's also the sponsor of an after-school activity called the Combo Club, where kids bring their own instruments and jam to old songs. (Scott is a Deadhead.)
This year, as Nadia Pflaum reported in a Plog last week, Scott received three letters of reprimand from North's principal, RichardKramer. "A lesson on Homies (the toys) failed to address the curricular objectives of World Geography," Kramer complained in a letter dated January 21. He ordered Scott to follow, unwaveringly, the course objectives outlined in district curriculum guides — or risk termination.
Scott sees geography as a means to study culture. "I try to get them to relate to different cultures around the world — regional cultures, economic cultures, ethnic cultures and age-group cultures," Scott says of his students. "I try to get them to see that their own teenage culture is just as viable a model for them to understand other cultures." Hence, the occasional inclusion of pop culture, as with Homies or in references to TV shows such as The Simpsons.
Kramer just wrapped up his second year in the position. Prior to that, he was the vice principal. Before that, he was a gym teacher.
When Scott complied with Kramer's demands and dialed back his syllabus to by-the-book, district-approved material, his students noticed. Parents called the school's office and complained. And the "I Support Mr. Scott!" Facebook group emerged.
Scott says he isn't involved with the group, though it's administered by his daughter, Bekah, a Shawnee Mission North senior who graduated in May. Many of the group's 997 members are current students; others are North alumni who remember Scott's class. A few are fellow teachers.
Scott figures that Kramer has just one goal: to raise his school's test scores in the Kansas Assessments. As a result, teachers are told to teach to the test. If there are three questions on the test about China, for example, Scott must spend three weeks on China. But there aren't any test questions on the topics that Scott's students have found engaging in his past classes, such as immigrant workers in Los Angeles, migrant farmworkers in the Midwest, or India as a center of ancient religion.
"It's not supposed to be about the career advancement of adults," he says of teaching. "It should be about the education of kids."
If Scott is fired, he'll contest it. "If I'm considered a whistle-blower, I guess that's the price I pay," he says.
But if he pays that price, 997-and-counting Facebook friends are gonna have something to say about it.
Gettin' Gi Gi With It
At the end of May, Pitch Music Editor Jason Harper had pretty much the perfect classic Kansas City night. As Harper noted in a Wayward Blog entry, he started the evening right: hanging with Cowtown Ballroom survivors, getting kicked out of El Torreon and reconnoitering at the Tower Tavern. Brewer and Shipley were there. The Royals were winning. After a couple of hours and several cocktails, he saw one of his neighbors truckin' down the sidewalk. When Harper ran out to see where his pal Rogers was headed, the destination turned out to be a new jazz club on Troost.
A jazz club on Troost? Phase two of the night had just been launched!
Approaching midnight, Harper found himself at Gi Gi's Jazz Inn and Art Gallery. Couples in their 40s and 50s, dressed to the nines, occupied a few of the tables in front of the small stage, on which the Horace Washington Quartet was dishing out a blend of jazz standards, funk and a little fusion.
Gi Gi's is a family place. It's named for Sharon "Gi Gi" Hill and is run by her daughter, Nisi Michel. On the walls are paintings by Gene Garland, Sharon's husband and Nisi's father.
Garland covers his canvases with nightlife scenes real and imagined, full of gorgeous dames, dapperly dressed men and swinging musicians. Some re-create famous Kansas City clubs. Others imagine the '20s and '30s in Paris and New Orleans. As a student in the late '60s, Garland spent several months in Paris. He began his career at the Kansas City Art Institute but got kicked out because he didn't believe in grades. ("How can you grade art?" he asks.)
Much of his art is inspired by his love of jazz. Figures such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon (whom Garland calls "the most photogenic" of the bop-era musicians), Eric Dolphy, and Louis Armstrong jostle in Garland's paintings. And even though Garland doesn't care for rap, one of his works salutes hip-hop culture: In the lower-right corner of one painting, he paints himself cooling out in Harlem alongside LL Cool J, Biggie and Diddy.
The next day, Garland showed Harper his workshop, where two dozen or so paintings were finished or in progress. Garland talked about his background in KC — his time at the Art Institute and at other places, including the College of Commercial Arts, which used to be in the building now occupied by Westport High School. In grade school, he said, his Spanish teacher was the sister of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
And he offered some smart and simple parting advice: "If you know Chet Baker, you know jazz." Cool.
David Martin noticed recently that Kansas City Star sportswriter Bob Dutton had taken to calling one of the Kansas City Royals "Zeus." Finally, a local ballplayer with a cool nickname!
Upon closer reading, however, it became evident that "Zeus" had not been assigned to a player with, say, a white-flecked beard and the power to hurl lightning bolts. It's simply a truncated form of DeJesus, as in David.
The Royals are much improved this season, so it's high time that the players and their coaches put more thought into what they call one another (at least in public). But listen to manager Trey Hillman: Bench coach John Gibbons is "Gibby," catcher John Buck is "Bucky," and pitching coach Bob McClure is "Mac." Pitcher Brian Bannister? Yep: "Banny."
Good nicknames are in such short supply that dermatologist, broadcaster and superfan Rany Jazayerli has had to lend his sizable brain power to the cause. Last year, Jazayerli started the Nickname Project in an effort to break the Royals of their habit of limiting their imaginations to diminutive forms. The project takes credit for grafting the nickname "Mexicutioner" onto closer Joakim Soria. Star baseball writer Sam Mellinger has also made commendable efforts.
Uncreative nicknames are by no means limited to the Royals. (As Jazayerli points out, "A-Rod" is a soul killer.) But Hillman, a man so uptight that he poops Jesus figurines, deserves at least some of the blame. Would Travis Hafner be "Pronk" today if Hillman had been managing the Cleveland Indians six years ago? Maybe not.
Hey, boss: If you can't think of anything original, refer to your players by the names their mammas gave them. It's either "Miguel" or "Olivo" — not "Miggy." And through that void, may we end up with nicknames good enough to get on baseball cards.
Let's get it started by referring to the hot-tempered Jose Guillen as "Cuddles."
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