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Smithsonian Scientists Trace Anthropocene Roots to Early Human Activity

Smithsonian Science

A new analysis of the fossil record by scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has revealed that the structure of plant and […]

The post Smithsonian Scientists Trace Anthropocene Roots to Early Human Activity appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

“Star Wars” Roundup: From Science Fiction to Science Fact

Smithsonian Science

Pulverized planet dust might lie around double stars » A planet like Star War’s Tatooine, which orbits twin suns, would have likely suffered from more […]

The post “Star Wars” Roundup: From Science Fiction to Science Fact appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

VERITAS Detects Gamma Rays from Galaxy Halfway Across the Visible Universe

Smithsonian Science

In April 2015, after traveling for about half the age of the universe, a flood of powerful gamma rays from a distant galaxy slammed into […]

The post VERITAS Detects Gamma Rays from Galaxy Halfway Across the Visible Universe appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Rare squid “T. danae” captured in new video

Smithsonian Science

No divers were in danger when two large squid (species Taningia danae) began acting aggressively toward a robot submersible operated deep in the Pacific from NOAA’s […]

The post Rare squid “T. danae” captured in new video appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Ancient Ink: Iceman Otzi Has World’s Oldest Tattoos

Smithsonian Science

The debate about the world’s oldest tattoos is over—they belong to Ötzi, the European Tyrolean Iceman who died and was buried beneath an Alpine glacier […]

The post Ancient Ink: Iceman Otzi Has World’s Oldest Tattoos appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

12 Days of Smithsonian Libraries Collections

Smithsonian Libraries

Just in time for the holidays, we’ve scoured our collections to find you some appropriate imagery to go along with that beloved carol, “The 12 Days of Christmas”.   This post was written and compiled by Mario Rups, cataloger in our Resource Description unit. We hope you enjoy the delightful selection!   A Partridge and Pears   more »

The post 12 Days of Smithsonian Libraries Collections appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

National Postal Museum To Unveil Art Exhibition

National Postal Museum
The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum is unveiling an exhibition of original artwork Dec. 10 titled, “New York City: A Portrait Through Stamp Art.” On display through Mar. 13, 2017, 30 pieces of original artwork will be publically displayed for the first time, celebrating the influence of New York City on American society.

The Value of YES!GG

National Museum of Natural History
The following blog is a part of a series written by the students and staff of the Youth Engagement through Science-Global Genome program (YES!GG). The high school internship program offers teens hands-on experience in genomic research. -Asia Hill working in Laboratories of Analytical Biology (LAB) Photo by Adrian Van Allen...

Long-Lost Uncle Found in Smithsonian Exhibition

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service
In developing museum exhibitions, the goal is to give the audience a meaningful experience. Yet how often can a visitor find a piece of their own life in an exhibition? Such a moment occurred in September in Austin, Texas, as the staff of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) were setting up I Want the Wide American Earth – An Asian Pacific American Story, a Smithsonian traveling exhibition created with the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center. This exhibition celebrates Asian Pacific American history across a multitude of cultures and explores how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped over...

The Gap of Time [Hogarth Shakespeare] by Jeanette Winterson [in Library Journal]

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

Jeanette Winterson inaugurates “The Hogarth Shakespeare” series – “a major international project [that] will see Shakespeare’s plays reimagined by some of...

The post The Gap of Time [Hogarth Shakespeare] by Jeanette Winterson [in Library Journal] appeared first on BookDragon.

Using Barcodes for the Sidney N. Shure Rapid Capture

National Postal Museum
The Sidney N. Shure Collection is approximately 100 albums of stamps and postal history material from Israel and Palestine. It is an extensive collection of which we will be imaging 1,000 pages this week. I have already written about what a Rapid Capture project is, and how we were able to catalogue this important collection this past summer. This blog post is about the 3,600 barcodes we chose to associate with these objects.

Seaside Lichens

National Museum of Natural History

Very few plant species can survive close to the ocean, where pounding surf fills the air with tiny salt crystals. Too much salt is not good for us, and it is not good for most plants. When you think about it, the land side of the seashore is a really harsh environment, with crashing waves, salty spray and a constantly moving shoreline. Living things need special adaptations to survive there.

One group of organisms called lichens, however, have made a specialty of surviving in difficult environments. In places like deserts and mountaintops where not much else can live, you will often...

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

Exactly a year ago today, POTUS and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro announced a joint agreement reestablishing relations between two countries...

The post Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle appeared first on BookDragon.

A memory of Chuck Williams, kitchenware store founder

National Museum of American History

Curator and FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 exhibition project director Paula Johnson recalls a memorable visit with Chuck Williams.

Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma—the kitchenware emporium that, beginning in 1956, introduced Americans to distinctive tools and cookware from different parts of the world—died on December 5. Upon hearing the news, we thought back to a sunny December day in 2011, when we took a field trip to Mr. Williams's San Francisco offices on behalf of the exhibition project, FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

One man and two women standing in an office with wooden cabinets, desk, and white walls

Curator Rayna Green, Associate Director Maggie Webster, and I were visiting several California donors to the exhibition and our first stop was at Williams-Sonoma headquarters. At 96, Mr. Williams was still coming to work regularly, and, dapper in coat and tie, he welcomed us warmly into his office overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The room itself was rather like a Williams-Sonoma store—open wooden shelves held an array of objects, artfully placed, that subtly beckoned to us, urging us to come a bit closer: a brilliant red KitchenAid stand mixer, a white ceramic creamer shaped like a playful cow, a painted water pitcher in the form of a chicken, and ceramic tea pots and decorated bowls arranged just so. We realized that this was the same design aesthetic that set Mr. Williams's stores apart from other purveyors of kitchen equipment—at the time, mostly hardware stores, where stacks of pots, pans, and tools were the norm. When we settled in for a conversation, he remarked on how his sense of design informed the look and layout of his stores from the very start: "That was one of the things I did right at the beginning. . . Not just putting the pots on the shelf without thinking about it. Putting it so the handle was partly out in front of the shelf and it welcomed the customer to pick it up to look at it."

Much of the conversation that day had to do with Mr. Williams's role in what we were calling the "good food movement" in the exhibition.

With roots in northern California, the movement was largely a reaction against the fast, processed, and packaged foods that had become so popular in households across America in the 1950s and 1960s. The California devotees of fresh, local, and organic foods were also interested in trying new cuisines and learning to cook beyond just the basics. While Julia Child guided these intrepid home cooks through unfamiliar techniques and recipes, Chuck Williams supplied them with previously unavailable cookware from France and Italy to help them achieve results. When asked about particular items, he said, "I think the most popular one was the soufflé dish. Just a plain, white soufflé dish. There wasn’t anything like that available in this country." We decided then and there to include one of Julia Child's white soufflé dishes made by one of Mr. Williams's favorite sources, the French company Pillivuyt, in the exhibition.

White food processor with clear plastic bowl, feeder chute, and thick white base

During our visit, Mr. Williams also talked about the early 1970s and the debut of the Cuisinart food processor, and what a difference it made to home cooks. He recalled offering the Cuisinart for sale almost immediately in his stores and how he, too, began using one in his own kitchen. As we talked about Julia's early adoption of the food processor, Mr. Williams offered to donate his first Cuisinart for the museum's collections and for the exhibition.

Man with glasses seated at desk with chicken-shaped water pitcher in front of him

We note Chuck Williams's passing with sadness, but also with gratitude for his generosity to the museum. By sharing his memories of the "good food" movement, he helped us shape a section of the exhibition and provided insight into the types of objects that would most accurately represent that important story in American culinary history.

Paula Johnson is a curator in the Division of Work and Industry. She has also blogged about cooking with Julia Child in Washington, D.C.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 13:30
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100 years of Frank Sinatra and jazz

National Museum of American History

Do you think of Frank Sinatra as a jazz singer? As we celebrate his 100th birthday, guest author Eric Felten explores this question.

When Frank Sinatra took the stage at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, the "jazz purists" were unhappy (so said Variety). Unhappy not because of "his own brand of casual hipness" nor even because of his Vegas-honed "glamour showmanship"—an aesthetic that included leaving the festival by helicopter like some stadium rock star; no, the purists' problem was that Sinatra was "technically not a 'jazz singer.'"

Frank Sinatra in hat and tie stands at microphone with music stand in front of him, mouth slightly open

Not a jazz singer? Says who? It's a debate that has persisted, and still has some relevance. What, after all, was the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra doing presenting a Sinatra centennial concert if the man's music can't credibly be called "jazz"?

It depends, of course, on what one expects from a jazz singer. Sinatra rarely strayed far from a melody; he didn't sing the blues; he didn't scat (unless one counts "doo-be-doo-be-doo" at the end of "Strangers in the Night," the less said about which the better). But he did swing—was one of the great champions of swing—and without that jazz idiom underpinning everything he did, Sinatra never would have achieved his undeniable status as the greatest interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

Saxophonist Lester Young clearly thought Sinatra was up to snuff, jazz-wise: "If I could put together exactly the kind of band I wanted, Frank Sinatra would be the singer," he said. "Really, my main man is Frank Sinatra." (Sinatra would eagerly return the favor: "We had a mutual admiration society," he said of Lester Young. "I took from what he did, and he took from what I did.")

Black and white photograph of Frank Sinatra on stage under a spotlight, holding microphone in left hand

And after all, it was jazz that saved Sinatra's career, after it had become mired in Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller's dismal concept of what made a hit record—two parts treacle to one part novelty. Miller pressed Sinatra into notorious atrocities such as "Mama Will Bark," sung as a duet with a tone-deaf actress named Dagmar. But once Sinatra had escaped Miller, the question was how he would differentiate his new Capitol Records sound from his old Columbia Records output. Capitol's producers found the answer in the sophisticated swing arrangements being penned by a young house arranger, Nelson Riddle.

Riddle's arrangements remain the essential Sinatra sound. They start off with that distinctive two-beat that Riddle pilfered from the Jimmie Lunceford band (to hear where that Sinatra groove comes from, listen to Lunceford's 1935 recording of "My Blue Heaven"). Then, following the ease of that two-beat, comes a hard-swinging 4/4 with Frank's phrasing driving the rhythm every bit as much as the bass and drums.

Color painting of Frank Sinatra singing, eyes closed

Nowhere is the concept more perfectly executed than in Riddle's arrangement of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." It starts with an easy two-beat riff; Sinatra sings the song beautifully and (perhaps more important) knowingly; then the band builds and builds through layered riffs, exploding into Milt Bernhart's hard-swinging trombone solo; when Sinatra comes back in, he somehow manages to ratchet up the energy and excitement a notch or two more, wailing "Dooooon't you know, little fool…" And then after that cascade of climaxes the whole thing is neatly buttoned up with a tidy double-bass coda.

"Under My Skin" remains a high point of 20th-century American culture—and if it doesn't count as "jazz," more's the pity for jazz.

Through the '50s and '60s, Sinatra would work with many of the greatest arrangers in jazz and swing and orchestral pop—not only Riddle but Billy May, Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Don Costa, and Gordon Jenkins. The ace Los Angeles studio groups that usually backed him included such jazz masters as trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, bassist "Little Joe" Comfort (who happened to teach a young Charlie Mingus how to play), and drummer Alvin Stoller. Sinatra, whose apprenticeship was with the bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, would continue to perform with essential jazz big bands—Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, and most compellingly, Count Basie.

Album cover with color photo of Frank Sinatra winking and beckoning

All along the way, Sinatra operated at the intersection of pop and jazz, even as jazz began to move away from its popular roots as dance music. At a time when jazz was succumbing to a tendency to ramble—please, oh please, no more seven-minute bass solos!—Sinatra and his arrangers proved time and again what could be accomplished in three minutes and change. And though the Chairman's comic stage-show interludes were excruciating—please, oh please, no more Sinatra "monologues!"—when the singer was singing, he proved time and again that high art and entertainment can coexist.

Sinatra did not call himself a jazz singer, choosing to identify himself, instead, as a "saloon singer." That label captures a moment when jazz was the province of juke joints, and the music was about love, lost or found, when swing could bring both swagger and solace. Now, 100 years after Sinatra was born, jazz musicians still—or maybe more than ever—have much to learn from Frank.

Eric Felten is a writer and jazz musician in Washington, D.C.

Eric Felten
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 08:00
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Dr. Gustav Sander's Victorian-Era Exercise Machines Made the Bowflex Look Like Child's Play

Smithsonian Magazine
A Smithsonian librarian highlights the precursor to today's gym enthusiasts

The Two Brains at the Forefront of the Fight Against Alzheimer's

Smithsonian Magazine
Rudolph Tanzi and Doo Yeon Kim have invented a revolutionary new tool to study the mysteries of the disease and counter the coming epidemic of dementia

How Theaster Gates Is Revitalizing Chicago's South Side, One Vacant Building at a Time

Smithsonian Magazine
The artist's creative approach to bringing new life to a crumbling neighborhood offers hope for America's beleaguered cities

The New Yorker Editor Who Became a Comic Book Hero

Smithsonian Magazine
The amazing tale of a determined art director who harnessed the powers of the greatest illustrators around the world to blow kids' minds

Meet Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Genius Behind "Hamilton," Broadway's Newest Hit

Smithsonian Magazine
Composer, lyricist and performer, Miranda wows audiences and upends U.S. history with his dazzlingly fresh hip-hop musical

Why Bill Hader and Fred Armisen Are Parodying Documentaries in Their Latest, Ingenious Project

Smithsonian Magazine
The "SNL" veterans behind the sly new series "Documentary Now" add a layer of authenticity to the art of sending up nonfiction films

How Alan Stern Brought Pluto to Earth

Smithsonian Magazine
The scientist behind NASA's New Horizons mission gave cheering earthlings their first close-up view of the dwarf planet

This Wildly Creative Art Project Transformed an Ugly Interstate Into a 2,400-Mile-Long Visual Masterpiece

Smithsonian Magazine
Zoe Crosher and Shamim Momin are behind the effort to turn the classic American eyesore into true art

Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

“I believe that art is an essential element of revolution,” Leila Abdelrazaq begins her “Artist Statement” on her website. She’s half Palestinian...

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