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Help with Holiday Shopping


We turn now to Jesse Kornbluth. In desperation, Jesse is known on the Web as the Head Butler. On his site, he makes daily suggestions for great books, movies and music. He is our cultural concierge as well. And today we asked him to help us with ideas for those last few holiday gifts, the ones you just keep putting off because you can't think of the right thing to get. Remaining on my list: the brothers-in-law. So Jesse is to the rescue, I hope with music.

Mr. JESSE KORNBLUTH (HeadButler.com): Of course music. Because music helps people get through. I'm thinking one classical, one for a child, and then one for everybody that gets people totally into a holiday spirit.

ELLIOTT: It's nice to have you with us again, Jesse.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, this is a pleasure because I get to help Vivaldi, and Vivaldi, poor Vivaldi...

ELLIOTT: Needs help?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Vivaldi needs a great deal of help because of a piece of music he wrote called "The Four Seasons," which has been played to death. It's the Gypsy Kings of classical music, and you hear it come on and you think, you know, why not just play the "Pachelbel Canon" and get it over with?

But the fact is, Vivaldi was a wonderful composer. He composed 400 concertos. Now, Stravinsky mocked him; he said that it was the same concerto 400 times, because Vivaldi was fast and he was confident. But here is the thing about Vivaldi. He was the chorale master of "La Pieta," which was a home for Venetian orphans.

And let us not get weepy about these Venetian orphans, because they were the illegitimate children of married noblemen and their mistresses. And their quarters were exquisite, and the musical standards were therefore very high.

Vivaldi had only female voices to work with, and so he wrote primarily for them. And so I have been listening to - with enormous satisfaction - 10 CDs of the Vivaldi sacred music recorded by Robert King and the King's Consort. You can buy any of these 10 CDs and be amply rewarded.

ELLIOTT: Let's listen to a little bit.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: Jesse, this seems to just put me right in an ancient cathedral.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, I have to say, I have heard this music in Venice. In the winter, it is the most soul-warming music. I find it incredibly exciting. It's an intellectually interesting, subtle, brassy, small, elegant, and you know, it has the emotional punch of rock and roll.

They do the whole range. They are terribly exciting. And they make you wonder why - and this is the really amazing thing. Vivaldi died in 1741, was buried in a pauper's grave and was almost forgotten for two centuries.

So here this guy who is like, you know, the Elvis Presley of classical music, gone, forgotten until the '20s, and then, sadly, remembered mostly for "The Four Seasons."

ELLIOTT: Okay. That is just lovely. Now, you mentioned that you've also picked something for children. I just happen to have a couple of toddlers on my list. Do you have something that they might like?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, is Laurie Berkner like the Beatles in your house?

ELLIOTT: No, but I hear from a producer that they are the Beatles in her house.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, let's put it this way. I have a four and a half-year-old daughter. I had to sneak into her room at night, pass the little army of animals that were guarding her little CD player, and then extract it so I could go to my office and listen under headphones, lest the sound wake her and she discover that her most precious CD had been stolen.

Because Laurie Berkner is a goddess to these children. And there's a reason. Laurie Berkner is like the coolest mom there ever was. She had been in rock and roll bands and then she started teaching music to kids, and suddenly she discovered that she had a knack for writing these really catchy kid songs.

And she got her husband to join her and a keyboard player. And these songs are simplicity itself.

(Singing) We are the dinosaurs marching, marching. We are the dinosaurs. What do you think of that?

(Speaking) And the dinosaurs march.

(Soundbite of song "We Are the Dinosaurs")

Ms. LAURIE BERKNER (Singer): (Singing) We are the dinosaurs, marching, marching. We are the dinosaurs, what do you think of that? We are the dinosaurs, marching, marching. We are the dinosaurs. We make the earth flat. We make the earth flat. We stop and eat our food when we're in the mood. We stop and eat our food on the ground. We stop and eat our food when we're in the mood. We stop and eat our food and then we march around.

KORNBLUTH: See what I mean? It's like somewhere between Beatles '65 and "Rubber Soul."

ELLIOTT: I can hear this is sending my kids marching through the house.

KORNBLUTH: I can see you reaching for the Advil, because they march over and over and over.

ELLIOTT: So I still have this brother-in-law problem. I don't think the Laurie Berkner band will work for them. Vivaldi, I'm not just quite sure if that's just right. Any other ideas?

KORNBLUTH: Well, this was a year that had some really extraordinary records. Josh Ritter's "Animal Years" is sensational; Paul Simon's "Surprise" is just so literate. But why not give an actual surprise? And I'm thinking of CD called "Dimanche a Bamako" - Sunday in Bamako. Bamako is the capital of a country called Mali.

The singers are Amadou and Mariam. They are married, they are blind, and they are ferociously good. These people were extremely big in African music. And then a few years ago they ran into a producer named Manu Chao, who is a god in Europe.

And Manu Chao is what's called a kitchen sink producer. He throws everything in - police cars, ambulances, the sound of traffic, kids playing. And it's perfect for what he's done here, because what this is is a fake concert on a Sunday in Bamako. It begins with a pleasant introduction. It ends with a lullaby, and in-between are songs about trucks and fast food and taxis and just what it's like to be alive on a Sunday in Bamako, Mali.

The song I particularly cannot get out of my head is called "La Realite." The idea of this song is that the world is full of ups and downs. They sing in French. (Speaking French) Ups and downs, I saw the life in this world; it's a sad reality. But let us dance together. And this music will make the dead rise. It is completely addictive dance music. And we should say, if you are in your car, keep that foot off the accelerator. If you're at home, watch out for sharp table edges.

(Soundbite of song "La Realite")

AMADOU AND MARIAM (Duo): (Singing in French)

ELLIOTT: Jesse Kornbluth is the Head Butler. To see all 50 CDs he recommends for your holiday needs, visit his Web site, headbutler.com. Jesse, as always, it has been a pleasure to talk with you, and I thank for your help this holiday season.

KORNBLUTH: It is great to share spirited music with all of you. Thank you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Have a happy holiday.

KORNBLUTH: You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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