Watson Wins It.

“I for one welcome our new machine overlord,”

If you haven’t already heard it, you will – over and over again. It’s what Ken Jennings wrote below his Final Jeopardy! wager knowing full well he and his other humanoid competitor were going to lose to a computer.

For all you “Singulartarians” out there – IBM’s super computer Watson, which beat two of the best Jeopardy! players ever tonight, could very well be one of the milestones that Mr. Ray Kurzweil will point to that validates his theory that within 35 years, human existence will be completely transformed by the overwhelming processing power of computers when we physically merge with hyper-intelligent technology. Want to be totally freaked? – read his book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

If you want to read some color commentary on the actual performance of Watson – Forbes.com’s account is pretty good.

Here’s a section of the piece that is demonstrative of the fragility, and also the complexity, inherent in Watson for it to be able to compete against humans… because the questions on Jeopardy! are displayed in all capital letters, “Having to read all-caps was going to confuse Watson’s ability to parse meaning from a long phrase without knowing which are the proper nouns or acronyms. Fortunately for the Watson team IBM Research also happens to have some math geeks around who can write-up a quick statistical program to derive the true case of the letters in any phrase.”

“I for one welcome our new machine overlord,”

Who Is Esperanza Spalding?

If your young daughter has recently been acting despondent or unexpectedly displaying  flashes of primal rage it most likely is related to her favorite singer losing the new artist of the year Grammy to a mostly unknown 22 year old jazz cellist and vocalist from Portland.  

 Yes, Justin Bieber got trumped by Esperanza Spadling who took the new artist award on Sunday to the disbelief of the millions of “Bielibers” who were certain that their 16 year old American idol would take the prize. 

Occasionally, the Grammys can get it right – sometimes. Choosing a true artist over arguably a manufactured pop sensation (whose CDs will be in the bargain bin in a few years no doubt).  Picking Bieber would have been consistent with other notable winners such as Milli Vanilli ’90, Hootie & the Blowfish ’96 and Starland Vocal Band ’77. But in this case Ms. Spalding is better accompanied by The Beatles ’65, CSN&Y ’70, and Natalie Cole ’76.

If you’re like most dads out there – you probably have  heard of lil’ Justin and, god forbid – perhaps even attended, unwillingly of course, a concert – but most likely have no idea who Esperanza Spalding is.

Ms. Spalding has been quietly producing a few luciously groovy jazz and Brazilian-influenced vocal compositions since 2006. Her New Artist win is notable not only because of the upset over Mr. Bieber (can I even call him Mr.?) – but also because she is the first jazz artist to win the award in the 53 year history of the Grammys.

Having discovered the cello at 14 after seeing and listening to Yo-Yo Ma on Mr. Rogers, she became a concertmaster at 15 and earned a full scholarship at the prestigious Berkelee School of Music where, after some struggle, considered giving up music and following her passion for political science. Thankfully, for all of us, she was discouraged to do so by none other than world renowned  jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny who told Spalding she had what it took and that if she applied herself she would certainly succeed.

Her compositions from both her “first” U.S. release and the most recent album Chamber Music Societyblends classical jazz orchestrations with samba and bossa nova. She’s played with Pat Metheny, Stanley Clarke, Patti Austin, Joe Lavano and many others. Here’s a little taste:

Ponta De Areia (from “Esperanza”)

Winter Sun (from “Chamber Music Society”)

Christina Aguilera: Star Spangled Style Over Substance

I’m aware that I’m not the only one commenting on the vocal fireworks display put on by Ms. Aguilera at the Super Bowl that ultimately was an equally shining example of style over substance.

Known for her supernatural singing talent and incredible feats of vocal ability, she has perfected melismatic singing (which is the style of singing that so many R&B singers employ – and almost every American Idol wanna be, which is the singing of multiple notes over one syllable). Most people would consider it just “runs” but in fact the style is called melisma  – or what I call it – oversinging.

Not a huge fan of the technique – especially when it’s sooooo overused in pop and R&B – think Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, etc. The trend of  employing melisma by mostly R&B singers emerged with the 1990 release of Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” – which was resplendent in multi-octave runs that dazzled listeners and critics both. I’ve always liked the song – here it is for those who don’t know:

Mariah Carey – Vision of Love

But getting back to the point of this post. Although Ms. Aquilera has sung the anthem countless numbers of times over her career and despite the fact that the Star Spangled Banner is considered one of the hardest songs to sing (lyrically, sonically and performance-wise – which is typically in a large echo-ey stadium/arena) – she so over-delivered on the style while flubbing the essence of the song’s meaning – which is predicated on the lyrics. Had she been trying out during Hollywood Week on Idol (where the standing rule is “don’t forget the words)  – Christina Aguilera move have been kicked-off.

I’m not a die-hard patriot who holds the anthem sacred but it irks me that she’s being paid to deliver the song and what she provided was a wrenchingly over-sung version that transformed the song into a melodically unrecognizable series of vocal runs stitched together into one auditory splurge of sound that was – in the end – sung incorrectly.

A teachable moment… get the basics down first before you try to impress and add your own flourishes. I’m all for originality and bringing one’s own style to anything/everything one does but not at the cost of f**king-up the words.