Jazz Gallery music and anthology celebration bring it all back home


Here I sign copies of my back pages, beside current Jazz Gallery manager Mark Lawson (left) who apparently still hasn’t turned in one of his blue books. See Mark sheepishly reporting to his old English professor amid the congenial crowd at the concert and book-signing for the newly-revised anthology “Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984.” Photo: Ann Peterson.

Some of my best memories of an extraordinary place rekindled Friday night. The space once occupied by the now-legendary Milwaukee Jazz Gallery had a warm energy, passion and intelligence similar to the older place when I covered it for The Milwaukee Journal as documented by the book we were also celebrating: Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984.

What an honor to remember this place and know I’d played a part in getting the word out about it’s very special role in our community. So I’m grateful so many musicians and friends showed up, also because it seems this community is on the rise again.
In fact, Center Street seems to be a bit of a jazz alley lately. Besides the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, here at 926 East, right up the street, Company Brewing continued its ambitious jazz booking Friday with New York-based trumpeter John Raymond and his trio. Then there’s the newly-revived Jazz Estate on Murray St. across the nearby Milwaukee River.
Competition, of course, is quintessentially American, but so is jazz.

The current incarnation of the Jazz Gallery as a center for the arts always leaves it a step behind, like the Packer defensive backfield, given that, unlike the other two nearby jazz venues, it lacks a bar, the traditional financial backbone of such places. As an all-volunteer-run nonprofit entity, it needs all the help we can give it and, one hopes sooner than later, a genuine jazz angel or two.

So it’s always extra-special when people show up there, and you know that it’s for the music.
Only this time it was also for appreciating the history of the original Gallery and being able to relive it, in effect, by perusing the many articles and reviews written (under deadline) and documented in the anthology I humbly signed my name to.

Yep, as a pre-emptive reminder, all of those reviews got filed either in a late-evening scurry by Milwaukee Sentinel reviewers (like Jim Higgins or Rich Mangelsdorff, sometimes by phone), or into the early morning hours, for Milwaukee Journal reviewers, like Bill Milkowski or myself, writing for the afternoon deadline.
Yet, I was always writing in something of a jazz buzz, and yes, I was so much younger then so, even at say, two-thirty, it never made me too hurty.

But last night, I felt younger than that now, thanks to the music, the memories, and the spirit.

To me, as classic a form as it now is, jazz is always a youthful music, perpetually running in the moment. I’ve rarely had more stimulus for writing is a journalist as I did those years covering the Jazz Gallery, with its quiet fire and extraordinary mix of local, regional and national artists, under the watchful, pipe smoke-filled eye of club owner and visionary hipster Chuck LaPaglia.

BTW, I don’t gave a damn about too many Dylan allusions, just as Dylan wouldn’t. (Bad jokes? Well, it’s my blog!) I know this dedicated acoustic space is just the sort of Greenwich Village place that Dylan haunted as he recounted in his autobiographical book Chronicles Vol. 1.
Jazz, folk, rock, blues, it’s all part of the American mosaic to me, and guys like Dylan love the whole glorious pattern (for proof, listen to his radio show, if it’s still on).

Friday night reflected a replenished musical spirit, although the scheduled artist with maybe the biggest national renown ended up calling in sick. It’s no knock on sidelined bassist Billy Johnson, but it was really somethin’ – to see octogenarian guitarist Manty Ellis playing right on time, like a grandfather-clock pendulum that never stops swinging in its own sweet, eccentric way. And drummer Victor Campbell plays like all those clock parts exploding into the Twilight Zone, so somehow it all fits together.


Guitarist Manty Ellis and the Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, perform at a book-signing event to celebrate the second edition of the anthology “Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984.” From left to right, Victor Campbell, Clay Schaub, Ellis, Eric Schoor. Photo by Ann K. Peterson 

As for me, I directly thank all of the friends, neighbors, jazz lovers and players who showed, including Howard Austin,
Milwaukee’s pre-eminent drive-time jazz disk jockey on 88.9 WYMS, before it was “88.9,” during the Gallery glory years. And thanks to musicians like Mark Davis, Frank Stemper, Steve Tilton, Rick Ollman and guitar-god-in-his-p-j’s John Kurzawa, who might just need to stick to golf.

But most of all, thanks to Mark Lawson and Elizabeth Vogt of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and everyone in the Riverwest Artists Association for putting on this event.


Mark Lawson lets me clear my throat before I hand over souvenir Jazz Gallery anthologies to the musicians who made the music live Friday, as in the days I used to write about. Photo: Frank Stemper

Because Manty Ellis is so impeccably reliable, the jewels-under-the-lumpy-rug surprise for me was tenor saxophonist Eric Schoor, even though I’ve heard him a number of times. He’s one of those brilliant young musicians who seem capable of anything his fingers might conjure.

In this case, it was the ghost of Stan Getz, especially, as you might imagine, on the ballads. There, beyond your closed eyes,  that limpid, pearly tone lapped softly, dissolving over the melody like a burble of sea brine. Here, my memory-peddling prompts me to indulge (again, cuz it’s my blog) in a poem that I wrote for Stan Getz years ago, and leave my thank yous at that, because I’ll have only apologies left after this.

Some will recall, or read in the anthology, that Getz also played the storied Jazz Gallery, though the venue was the Performing Arts Center on the night in question.

Bossa Not So Nova

Fattening and fifty-seven, Stan Getz

sweats out a melody, red-faced.

The sax sings effortlessly.

“Hey thanks for the article,
I gotta walk to the Hyatt,
can you carry my horn?” he croaks.
The sax sings light blue.
Young and tan, and tall and lovely
the girl deep in knee socks comes walking.
And Stan stops, signs, walks and goes,

But it ain’t so much an elder appraising sweet youth.

Or it’s that too, with a clear trace of chagrin.

“I’m beat,” his cigarette breath bellows softly. “Just go slow.
Hey can you find a doctor?
My bass player needs one.”
His bass player?

We walk along the Milwaukee River
at 10 PM Sunday.
Is there a doctor in the river?
They’re all on-call, sleepin’ or smokin’
in a big, green, long-and-cold halllll.

Stan wonders about Mader’s, do I know?
His belly rumbles like southern volcanos.
The sax sings effortlessly, but just not really at me,

no, right from its case like the wind,

in her hair, in her long and lust-erous hair .

Tall and tan and young and handsome,
the boyish man from Ipanema is wheezin’

while a woman somewhere dreams…
to the old scratchy side that goes, Ahhh.

The sax singing ever so softly

as in a morning sunrise,

on a tide-swept beach full of guys.

(tenor sax solo to fade-out)

– Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular), 1988







Special jazz show and book-signing for the newly revised Milwaukee Jazz Gallery Anthology


By Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular)

Milwaukee’s jazz history and jazz present converge on Friday night, Dec. 2, at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E.Center St. Milwaukee. The featured band, Manty Ellis and the Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, includes two musicians – esteemed guitarist Ellis and bassist Billy Johnson – who were among the many local, regional and national musicians who made the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery one of the nation’s great jazz venues from 1978 to 1984.

The current center for the arts, in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, occupies a modified version of the same space occupied by the original Jazz Gallery.


The Mike Pauers Quartet with trumpeter Kaye Berigan performed recently at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, which is the site of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photo by Elizabeth Vogt.

Ellis is a Milwaukee legend and mentor to many great players. He co-founded the jazz program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music that gained national recognition during the era of the original jazz Gallery where it’s most luminous students developed into striking young stars, including Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch; pianists David Hazeltine and Lynn Arriale; bassists Johnson, Gerald Cannon, and Jeff Chambers; and drummers Carl Allen, and Johnson’s brother Mark Johnson. Manty Ellis, to this day, is an earthy and dynamic player,  an original stylist influenced by Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane.

A Milwaukee native, bassist Johnson is now based in New Jersey, and has played with numerous nationally-known artists. The band, performing from 7 to 10 p.m., also includes the superb drummer Victor Campbell and Eric Schoor, faculty saxophonist for the Jazz Institute at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and a member of the Conservatory’s faculty jazz ensemble, We Six.

This is also a great opportunity to gain historical insight on the jazz gallery’s great legacy from primary-source journalistic sources. That’s because the event will celebrate the publication of the second edition of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery Anthology, which includes most of the actual journalistic coverage of the club during its hey-day.

Among the national jazz and blues performers whose Milwaukee performances are reviewed in the book are Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Art Pepper, Betty Carter, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Koko Tayor, Sunnyland Slim, Max Roach, Jimmy Smith, Jack DeJohnette, Milt Jackson, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers with the Marsalis brothers, among others.


Jazz vibes giant Milt Jackson performing at the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photo by Tom Kaveny

Organized chronologically, the 244-page, 8.5 x 11-inch anthology also includes musician interviews, news and features, as well as many of the venue’s monthly event calendars, which tell its story in a different way. The book was assembled by Milwaukee Jazz Gallery original owner Chuck LaPaglia. Now based in Oakland, LaPaglia can’t make the event.

However, this writer will be on hand to sign copies of the anthology. I wrote an introduction to the new edition, and much of the journalistic coverage reproduced in the book is my own, primarily from when I was writing for The Milwaukee Journal. The anthology also includes Jazz Gallery coverage by noted jazz critic and author Bill Milkowski (Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius), and current Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel book editor and feature writer Jim Higgins, among others.

chuck-at-jgChuck LaPaglia, the founder and owner of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, in his club during its run as a major jazz venue from 1978 to 1984, documented in a newly revised anthology of the club’s extensive press coverage. Courtesy Milwaukee Jazz Vision

Those years were extraordinary, exciting and unforgettable times, and Friday’s live music and this revised and improved anthology help to bring it all back into sharp focus. Back then you could hear and feel – in the intimate, pulsing confines of the Gallery – the fire in the belly of these great players, the passions borne of modern jazz and the struggles for civil rights and social justice, as well as the pure joy of such creative music-making. Some of those historic names are gone, or remain somewhat underheard, what I call “voices in the river” in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.

That book is about jazz, creative writing and the democratic process, and includes several memoir sections of my recollections of life and covering the Milwaukee jazz scene during the years of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery.

The Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, formed by Manty Ellis, is an organization sponsored by by The Jazz Foundation of America, to aid and support jazz musicians in the Milwaukee area.

Proceeds for sales of The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984, will go to the Riverwest Artists Association, the nonprofit organization which runs the current Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and which published the anthology.



Sharon Jones (1956-2016): From a prison guard singing to inmates to her own kind of glory




Soul singer Sharon Jones. May 4, 1956 – November, 18, 2016. Courtesy assets.rollingstone.com

Due to large looming deadlines, this appreciation must be brief but I can’t let the passing of the wondrous Sharon Jones pass without notice. Jones, a Hillary Clinton supporter, had reportedly suffered a stroke while watching the 2016 election returns. But she had long struggled with pancreatic cancer.

Sharon Jones, 61, exemplified what a woman can do, despite all the glass ceilings she had to fight through in this still male-chauvinistic American life. To that point, witness the latest election, in which a historically white male-centric-contrived system, The Electoral College, has allowed a seemingly misogynistic and race-bating candidate to be named “president-elect,” despite the American people having voted to elect Hillary Clinton, by a still-widening popular vote victory.

But just as Clinton was born to be a public servant, this woman was born to serve the public soul, as an anecdote from a New York Times unpublished interview indicates:

“Before she was discovered, she worked as an armoured car attendant and a prison guard at Rikers Island in New York City, often singing Whitney Houston ballads to lonely inmates.” 1

Part of Jones’ challenge was that she decided to become a professional soul singer at middle-age and without having the proper singer-diva physical package (think, Whitney Houston…) being a short, pudgy, ordinary looking African-American woman. After she formed a band, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings,  music industry executives and marketers rebuffed her repeatedly.

So she finally went her own independent way and her persistence, fortitude and talent won out, with a fairly successful if all-too-short career. Like many others, I recall the immense feeling of first hearing her music, which rekindled the fire, passion and love of life in all its peculiar colors, in the tradition of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s rhythm-and-blues soul singing.

Her singing carried deep grit but also a phrasing instinct that almost invariably curved upwards toward an impervious radiance and joy that no disease or social affliction or oppression could suppress. That was Sharon’s gift to us, to show that a black everywoman could drink deeply from the the fountain of creative youth and glory, and share the light with us, even in seemingly dark times.

It’s a style without the over-the-top glamour-posturing and glitz that seems de rigeur for most pop singing these days.

Neo-soul music is generally enjoying a resurgence but Jones was one of the very few women driving that wave and riding its crest. And she was fast embraced by her peers as this wonderful video indicates:


Thanks to Harvey Taylor for alerting me to this video.

The duet appearance with Susan Tedeschi in 2015 occured shortly before Sharon Jones’ group joined the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s tour this last summer. Both singers draw deeply from the R&B tradition, as is evident from their delicious renderings of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me.” and Etta James’ “Tell Mama.”

If you have troubles or the blues these days, you can tell this soul mama, even though her body has passed on, by turning on one of her records and letting her commiserate and lift you back up. For the holidays, she also has a bracingly lovely rendition of “Silent Night” following the two Tedeschi duets on Youtube.

But don’t just youtube her. If you haven’t yet, buy her records, for the sake of her band and legacy, for an investment in what her music means to be sustained, rather than freely exploited.



Remembering Sharon Jones: An Unpublished Interview




The Cubs fan waved the ball, defiantly chanting “Tinker to Evers to Chance…” in The Twilight Zone


There’s a signpost up ahead. You’ve just entered…

It all began when I encountered this door — in this window — in the photo below, the day before the seventh game of the 2016 World Series…Perceptions, and perhaps reality itself, shifted ever so slightly and nothing was the same again.


“You unlock this door with the key of imagination…” 

Rod Serling: “And then, the Cubs wake up to a wild pitch and, like a steel ball sucked to a mighty magnet, it bounces into the mitt of a fan in the first row. He steals the ball, waving it over his head, defiantly chanting “Tinker to Evers to Chance!” as he dissolves into the crowd.

“Shortstop Joe Tinker, to second baseman Johnny Evers to first baseman Frank Chance was the 1908 Cubs’ deadly double-play combination, immortalized by a 1910 baseball poem by Franklin Pierce Adams.

“Two Indians score on the wild pitch and fan interference. The Cubs lose, again. It seems the fan was a descendant of the mythologized — but quite real — first baseman Frank Chance, and this Cubs loyalist didn’t want his ancestor’s glory relegated to the dustbin of history.

“Frankly, in The Twilight Zone, these Cubs never had a Chance.”


(L-R) Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance, 1908 Chicago Cubs


Rod Serling-and-the-door photo by Kevin Lynch



Voter’s guide overview: Trump “The Stump,” “Crooked” Hillary and the despised media


“It’s Trump the Stump!”, graphite and pastel, 2015. By Kevin Lynch  1

Note to readers: This voter’s aide is adapted from one of my most well-received blogs of recent times, which still applies. So I decided to re-post a revised version now that we’re getting down to election 2016 crunch time. Those who read this the first time might want to re-read it but may also skip, if they prefer, to two specific additions. They are marked “Press and Media Addendum” and “Hillary Addendum.”

Thanks, and remember to VOTE on November 8th, or before!

Drum-roll please. Brassy bugle fanfare.

The conservative online news site World Net Daily, whose columnists include scourge-of-the-right-wing Ann Coulter and and ex-metal-rocker-pundit Ted Nugent, has declared Donald Trump “Man of the Year”!

Trump, who needs no introduction, has persevered till now against all Republican presidential candidates and beyond virtually everyone’s expectations of his seemingly Charmin-thick bloviation as a politician of substance, a potential statesman.

Soon it’ll be finally time vote – to decide if he’s a dangerous, un-American racist, sexist demagogue, or a guy who can somehow magically make American great again, as if it ever stopped being. (Sorry the buglers lips fumbled their cue here, thrown off by their own clucking and head-shaking at the notion of a Trump presidency.)

We all know he’s a master performer, for at least an adoring 35 per cent of the angry, mostly white-male Republican base. Their frustrated fury – precipitated in economic fact largely by the Republican legislature’s stultifying obstructionist politics-as-usual – after the GOP-sponsored Great Recession, is understandable. But it’s also misdirected and rides on “magical thinking,” as Joan Didion called her own extended self-delusion. Trump understands them too, like a snake oil salesman understands a vulnerable, needy family whose house he’s slithered into and fully sized-up for the kill.

Far worse is most of the press fawning over “The Donald,” forced by the pressures of ever-changing e-media ratings and poll-numbers — virtually Trump’s whole game. In the most recent and self-important fawning, WND characterized his rise and 2015 man-of-the-year “triumph” thusly:

“At the start, Trump was savagely attacked by leftist activist groups and journalists after referring to some illegal immigrants as ‘rapists’ during his presidential announcement speech.

In normal times, Trump’s campaign would have been killed, skinned, hung and deydrating into dried fruit, many times over by now, because it rarely had more substance than sweet and excessively fresh  fruit – invigorating as it can be, at first – that soon turned over-ripe, usually as soon as he tweeted about it. Pardon the unvarnished Heartland metaphor, but it seems apt.

Trump flag

“Trump the Stump,” supposedly on the campaign stump, but actually pretending the flag is a woman.

But while most other politicians would have apologized, Trump responded with what has become his characteristic tactic – doubling down. Trump re-framed the debate on immigration to focus on crimes committed by illegals. The arrest of a previously deported illegal immigrant for the murder of Kate Steinle in the sanctuary city of San Francisco gave Trump’s charges new weight.” 2`

And that seems the essence of Trump’s substance, and sleazy appeal to the lowest common denominator in the American psyche.

Press and media addendum: Again, I don’t think of the average Trump supporter as dumb, though plenty of them surely are. But from their comments to the press they do seem quite misinformed or under-informed and you’ve got to depend on the maligned mainstream media – not left-wing or right-wing media – to get the truth. The mainstream still provides democracy its crucial freedom-of-the-press service pretty damn well – despite their previously critiqued guilt in copious free Trump exposure and excessive personality-politics and rumor-riding, especially the TV media. I’m not talking about talk radio, which only feeds meat to its respective base, as they say, although I will concede that for, Chicago’s WPTC progressive talk station, “facts (do seem to) matter.”

For me, the worthy mainstream is MSCNBC, CNN, PBS Newshour, TIME Magazine, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post and yes, The New York Times and Washington Post.  Yes, most of their working reporters are liberals, but they know how to, and exercise, fair journalism by and large, given their biases. And there’s plenty of of good independent media reporting, such as the progressive Laura Flanders Show.

I’d include The Wall Street Journal, The Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel – a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner in recent times – and The Chicago Tribune in the list of reliable mainstream, even though clearly they lean to the right editorially.

Even Fox News has a few good moments, like when Charles Krauthammer opines, despite his stuffiness. And yes, I’m a liberal, but historically-informed Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, on MSNBC, is one of my very favorite commentators. He’d make a hell of a good candidate in the comparatively noble Grand Old Party of Lincoln-to-Eisenhower.

As a career print and radio-media professional, I’m clearly not voting for Trump (as the satirical drawing above I drew of him would suggest) and in my blog I admit bias as its a opinion forum and cultural features-and-criticism site, and in reporting I always strive for fairness.

Back to Trump. In a nation where everyone is constitutionally innocent until proven guilty, the arrest of a single previously-reported illegal immigrant and alleged murderer, is the new wobbly top-stone of his “gravitas,” the the WND editors judge.  Time and again, Trump sows xenophobia, irrational fear and racism in the public consciousness, with Trumped-up rhetoric and demagoguery.

Yet, we now know that statistically twice as many Americans have been killed by domestic terrorist attacks by right-wing zealots than by jihadists since 9/11, according to the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington and in New York.

According to TIME Magazine’s National Security blog site: “In their June study, the foundation decided to examine groups ‘engaged in violent extremist activity’ and found that white extremists were by far the most dangerous. They pointed to the recent Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, as well as many lesser-known attacks on Jewish institutions and on police. They found that 48 people were killed by white terrorists, while 26 were killed by radical Islamists, since Sept. 11.”

The study also found that the criminal justice system judged jihadists more harshly than their non-Muslim counterparts, indicting them more frequently than non-jihadists and handing down longer sentences.” 3

See a full breakdown of the numbers here.

Yet facts, and illustrative, rationally meaningful statistics — which Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders showed a surpassing command of — mean virtually nothing for Donald in Wonderland.

Hillary Addendum: And a word about Hillary for all the on the fence-sitters or Trump-leaners who are obviously not racists: Yes, both she and the amazing effective and beneficial Clinton Foundation have taken full advantage of the fund-raising liberties that the truly deplorable Citizens United Supreme Court decision have allowed. That’s because she and Bill Clinton are supremely smart politicians (given their weaknesses and blind spots). And she needs to completely dis-associate herself from the foundation on Day 1 of a Clinton presidency.

Nevertheless, the charges of corruption are based mainly on a matter of perception or as the media says these days, “optics.” Over these many years, nothing has been proven regarding Hillary pay-for-play influence, even though we can assume some of that big money has certainly influenced her point of view.

But if such money had truly corrupted her, we would have evidence of it in her senatorial policy-making and Secretary of State decisions which, despite Benghazi’s tragedy and horrible optics and her e-mail-server misjudgement, mostly have been upstanding, moderately liberal. And, if she governs like she talks these days, she will be as progressive as she almost always has been on her own terms on social matters. I also believe she’s somewhat chastened on her hawkishness.

Those who continually conflate her with her husband or even with Barack Obama’s administrative policies – as Secretary of State she had very little to do with domestic social policy – betray evidence of sexist bias, if not prejudice.No surprise, it’s baked into institutional American convention and the male American historical make-up. Every male, including self-proclaimed male feminists, must be vigilant to overcome this deep and subtle force from within (very similar to racial bias). That remains Hillary’s biggest challenge, I believe, at least as much as her own weaknesses.

Back to Trump: So if Trump is given credit for a certain intelligence, in manipulating the public and the press, but beyond that really, what is there? Where’s the policy meat, beyond the thick layers of baloney? These questions prompted the image that I created recently.

It is not a purely illustrative drawing, because I’ve spent my career as a print journalist although my background is as an artist. So — as Trump is mainly his rhetoric — it also incorporates quotes from him, and a couple of comments from the peanut gallery of Nature, which surely observes Trump with the great curiosity and perhaps to dread. He seems sanguine at best about global warming and the need to address it, like virtually all the Republican candidates.

After the drum-roll and the bugle fanfare die down, what do we have? As Shakespeare wrote, in Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. 

Perhaps “the walking (and talking and talking) shadow” behind Trump does signify, well, Trump, a blend of 19th-century carnival barker and confidence man, 20th-century billionaire skyscraper builder/fantasy show-and-beauty pageant producer, and quintessential 21st-century media narcissist, obsessively referring to himself in third person, with almost salacious admiration.

Trump’s no idiot. It’s just so often he talks and behaves like one, and almost nobody calls him on it directly. Otherwise, he’ll strike back with a low-as-he-can-reach savagery, which the WNT does not comment on.

One hopes that the vast fictional paranoia fantasy Trump is orchestrating does not end as tragically for America as Macbeth’s. Will he be heard no more, after his very distended and bloated hour upon the stage?

Upon these questions, I offer you this drawing titled “It’s Trump the Stump!” *


  • For those who can’t read the little flags in the big Trump stump – all Trump quotes or paraphrases – or the worm’s comment on the bottom, save as a word document or download the image and then magnify it.
  • 1 The original Trump drawing (above) is currently on display at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 932 E. Center St., Milwaukee. Thanks to Mark Lawson.



Cuban keyboard whiz Harold Lopez-Nussa will get you up and at ’em


Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa. Courtesy juvenudrebelde.cu.

The Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. 7:30 PM Thursday, October 20 Admission $25. To order: visit this link

Quick Currents: It’s time to wake up –- as I just did – to an extraordinary keyboard talent coming to Milwaukee. The Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio feels like a jolt of high-grade java from somewhere in ripe Southern climes. Is there Cuban coffee this powerful?

You don’t really need that if you get a taste of Harold Lopez-Nussa. This promotional video shows his trio percolating to the very rim of your cup. It’s got some fun and silly surrealism going on. At one point, you see the pianist’s bodily detached right-hand.

Baby boomers might respond to the ensuing keyboard flourish by saying “Thank You, Thing!” in remembrance of the mischievously deft right hand -– sans body – that worked as a servant for The Addams Family, in the original, wonderfully mordant TV show with Lurch, Uncle Fester and the gang.

But this is serious musicianship and overflowing creativity as much as it is vibrant, quirky fun.

As Down Beat‘s Howard Mandel writes in his review of Lopez-Nussa’s latest album El Viaje, the pianist’s “single-note grace is akin to Herbie Hancock’s, and his two-fisted attacks are as joyous as Chick Corea’s. What distinguishes him, though, is his warm buoyancy…”
And that’s superbly sustained and stoked by the pianist’s younger brother Ruy Adrian on drums and bass virtuoso Alune Wade.

The brothers’ father is also an master drummer, and the family has been called a Cuban version of the Marsalis family of jazz. I’m not sure if that’s a shot of hype. But from what I’ve heard, it’s in the ballpark, and this music is a scorching line drive off the left field wall.  There’s some very special bloodlines at work here, on their very own terms.

And what I like is that, for all his clear virtuosity, the keyboardist (expect some electronics) is never really about showboating. The music takes you where it wants to, pretty damn far, and I don’t think you’ll regret where you end up.

The trio will play at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22, as part of a long American tour.


Thanks to attorney-pianist Steve Tilton, whose law firm Tilton & Tilton is co-sponsoring this event with the Conservatory.





Wherever we’ve wandered the globe, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble calls us all home


Sing Me Home — Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble (Masterworks)

Hear how world music connects to basic human experience. Silk Road Ensemble’s best-yet cultural convergence is a companion album to Music of Strangers, a documentary of Ma’s pan-cultural troubadours by Oscar and Emmy-winning director Morgan Neville. This trip includes Bill Frisell, Rhiannon Giddens, Jeffrey Porter, Toumani Diabate, Sarah Jarosz, Abigail Washburn and a few Americana classics amid far-flung ethnomusicological riches.

Among the bejeweled highlights: “Ichicila,” with Diabate’s spangled kora and Balla Koutate’s warmer balafon; the vocals and sitar of Shujaat Khan improvising on the strangely blissful raga melody of “Madhoushi.” Giddens and Romani gypsy musicians re-casting the abject yet artful blues of “St. James Infirmary.” For all the globe-trotting, it’s all ultimately about the difference and commonality of home, as Washburn proves stunningly on Bohemian Antonin Dvorak’s beloved adaptation of the black spiritual “Goin’ Home,” intermingled with Chinese lyrics by Washburn’s vocal partner here, Keith Lipson, with Wu Tong.

Perhaps the most deeply celebratory piece is Kinan Azmeh’s “Wedding.” See SRE at the Global Musicians Workshop perform the tune live at The Tanglewood Festival. Take the ride on this video sequence of impassioned solos by trombone, shakuhachi flute, bagpipes, clarinet and sheng (wind) player Wu Tong’s vocals — unearthly yet yearning for the home a wedding strives to create. The playing is as hot and fiery as any jazz or improv piece I’ve heard in a long while. And the ensemble’s chemistry and dynamics fuel it.

The recorded version of ‘Wedding” is shorter and not as far-reaching. But the in-concert expansion of “Wedding” brings me to a key point about this group. When I saw them perform a while back, I discovered what I trust most do who see this group live – how vividly they embody the shared potential of the global human experience, which is intensifying with startling urgency, more and more every day throughout the world.

That’s also evident in Yo-Yo Ma’s curatorial role – his genius here is in his musical vision and remarkable humility given he’s among the world’s greatest cellists. On Call Me Home, one of the few times he allows his exquisite playing some space, is on “Cabalino,” a work song from Spain’s Galia region. With Taiko on drums, it’s a probing incantation that expresses the laborer’s dependency on a strong but vulnerable work horse.  Along with Davide Salvado’s mournful vocals, Ma’s cello beautifully conveys the symbiotic passion of the man and his creature.

“The Shingashi Song” is a fisherman chanty that describes the harsh life on the northern tip of Japan — “historically, a new frontier attracting pioneers in pursuit of their dreams,” writes Haruka Fujii, who arranged it.
He continues: “just as a rivers bend, in turn, ‘The Shingashi Song’ took on many forms before arriving at this arrangement for the ensemble.” They help the music “sail in the open ocean. Though the songs referenced are considered important cultural assets of Japan, many folk arts are struggling to survive as villages across the country face depopulation.”

Accordingly the music of cello and taiko drum contrasts the playfulness of a child’s game at home to the out-on-the-edge struggle of such fishermen.

You hear and envision how culture remains the lifeblood of indigenous peoples in their homes and work, even in the most inhospitable of places and circumstances. Our shared cultures can be powerful bridges as we all face as thousands of refugees continuing to flee what was once their homes in this tragic era of political strife and environmental catastrophe.

This album is as moving and comforting as it is soul-searching and transporting.

Geoff Keezer, a jazz messenger, defies the death of jazz like so many other flame-keepers

keezer and margot Blu full size

Pianist Geoff Keezer and vocalist Gillian Margot at Blu nightclub in Milwaukee Saturday. Photo by Mark Davis

“Death don’t have no mercy in this land.” — Rev. Gary Davis

Saturday night I finally caught up with pianist Geoff Keezer again, and it’s sad that it took this long for me, due partly to over a decade of my very unsettled existence. But I think it’s also a comment on the state of jazz as a still-neglected if indomitable art form.

I had attended a convivial, if rain-swept, early-evening block party in my North River West Milwaukee neighborhood, so my girlfriend Ann and I had to change our cloths, and dry out. So we got to the Pfister Hotel’s 23rd-story nightclub Blu too late to get seats to appreciably hear and see Keezer.

But it was Saturday night at the high-altitude downtown hot spot and Keezer (and his talented current touring partner, vocalist Gillian Margot, who I can’t do justice to here) have enough of a rep to get an SRO crowd in their two-night stay.

We did have an expansive and romantic nocturnal view of Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan shoreline, with the music only fitfully filtering back, enough to hear Keezer’s ingenious adaptation of Peter Gabriel’s “Come Talk to Me.” The pianist’s irrepressibly affirmative performance of the song (here) beats back the night that The Grim Reaper always hopes to mercilessly claim again. Human connection perseveres.

Then a friendly but chatty conventioneer and outboard motor collector sat down in our far-flung corner and, for our ears, Keezer’s second set drowned in a flurry of motorboat memories, and the flotsam and jetsam left in its wake.

Water-logged once again (figuratively this time) and no closer to a better seat, we left before the end of the third set. But after the second set, I did get a chance to catch up with Keezer personally though we’d never actually met. I’d begun following his career since his earliest auspicious recordings on Columbia DIW. He played as the last pianist – with another Wisconsinite, trumpeter Brian Lynch – in the last edition of Art Blakey and Jazz Messengers, including the band’s final recording One for All, months before the firebrand drummer-bandleader’s death in 1990.

And that brings me to a theme of this column, the death of jazz musicians, including recently passed vibist Bobby Hutcherson. Though it’s hardly the death of the vernacular and art form, as musicians like Keezer, Lynch (no relation to the writer) and thousands of others prove daily.

Keezer, is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which naturally piqued this Badger-state native’s interest when he first came to my attention in the early ’90s. There may be no better pianist to come out of Wisconsin. As David Velleman, a YouTube commentor, noted recently to Keezer: “A lot of piano players from WI Lynne Ariele, Ethan Iverson, Melvin Rhyne, (David) Hazeltine, Dan Nimmer, Jon Weber, etc. I think you and maybe Hiromi are the only pianists on earth who can play that Chromatic to Diminished to whole tone (all scales) (or that set of set of tones you heard.)…You the man!”

Last Saturday, when I bought a CD from Keezer and introduced myself to him, a few more things came to light.
I told him that I had last seen him as a member of the fairly audacious and visionary group The Contemporary Piano Ensemble, which toured across the country in the mid-1990s.
I told Keezer of the remarkable phenomenon of seeing these four great jazz pianists — Keezer, band founder James Williams, Mulgrew Miller and Harold Mabern — playing four grand pianos with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Tony Reedus. And that this had happened outdoors at the zoo, in Racine, of all places. I’d gone down to the Racine Zoo to hear the ensemble with a dear friend Jim Glynn, a popular disk-jockey on WMSE and amateur jazz-improv drummer and flutist who (thematic strains again) died before his time, in 2004.

Keezer recalled the concert but then admitted that he never realized he was playing at a zoo. The facility’s aesthetics and humane discretion had set aside a park-like setting with bandstand for its concert series. So it created a natural physical and acoustic cocoon from the zoo itself, probably so animals would not be unduly disturbed.

The CPE recorded only two albums, Four Pianos for Phineas, a tribute to pianist Phineas Newborn on Evidence, and The Key Players on Columbia DIW in 1993 (ex-Jazz Messenger pianist Donald Brown would sub on a few tunes, and on tour.)

contemporary pianoCover of “The Key Players” on Columbia DIW. Courtesy allmusic.com (top to bottom, Harold Mabern, Geoff Keezer, Mulgrew Miller, James Williams.)

But the Contemporary Piano Ensemble managed to be both straight-ahead and cutting-edge at the same time. Their repertoire of both standards and originals proved compelling and, in their eight piano hands, captivating and sometimes head-spinning. They rarely sounded gimmicky and, like the sort of “witch-doctor” Art Blakey could invoke, these musicians could shake, entrance and transform you. But they never felt like the musician-doctors who dole out medicine for the confused and weary patient, as some self-justifying improv music does.

Most amazingly, they rarely got in the way of each other, a sign of deep mutual respect of each other and their material. Here’s an example of that from The Key Players, as they play Miller’s “One’s Own Room.”
Carrying four grand pianos on tour must’ve been a bit like Hannibal leading his elephant-driven army over the mountains, so the group was perhaps as short-lived as it was memorable.

And the things Keezer carries today in his memory remain heavy. James Williams and Mulgrew Miller, friends since their days together at Memphis State University, both died young. Williams passed barely 51 in 2004 and Miller, the ensemble’s best-known pianist, died at 57 of a stroke in 2013.

“I think about them every day,” Keezer told me. “They were mentors, they were my guys,” and a clear melancholy fell momentarily over what appears to be the man’s naturally upbeat demeanor.

The ensemble’s senior member Harold Mabern survives, yet he knows of the death of jazz mates perhaps more than Keezer.  In 1965, Mabern began playing with Lee Morgan, among the most celebrated of Jazz Messengers. Mabern’s association with Morgan continued on and off until the night in February 1972 that Morgan was shot dead at Slug’s Saloon in lower Manhattan. Mabern was present at the killing, one of the most shocking in jazz history. Morgan was among the most fiery and soulful — and in his last years among the most politically engaged — musicians in jazz. That’s one of the most tragic jazz stories ever, as W.K. Aker’s article details here:

Death of a Sidewinder

Morgan was killed by the woman who had saved and loved him, and it’s a long story of drugs, co-dependency and what can happen when a person decides to start carrying a gun.

But for the piano ensemble, it’s notable that Mabern, Miller and Williams – all from Memphis (including Donald Brown) and all African-American – embraced the young white man from Eau Claire. It’s the jazz tradition of democracy and meritocracy – if you can play you can stay, and say your piece. In French, Eau Claire means “clear water” and if the deep, muddy Mississippi on the city’s shore ever provides clarity, it is when it offers up submerged American musical voices in the river for renewed scrutiny and historical appreciation.

Geoff Keezer, now based in San Diego, emerged from the Jazz Messenger hard-bop tradition, and helps advance the music’s ever-extending global currents, including world music and alt-rock. That’s clear on several of his more recent albums, including .
Aurea, Mill Creek Road (with San Diego guitarist Peter Sprague) and The Near Forever. But you can also pay it forward all alone, as in his most recent offering, a solo album, The Heart of the Piano. There you feel a certain loneliness, but also a deep connection to those who’ve come and gone, and left still-untold riches.


Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular) is the author of the forthcoming book, Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.


For Milwaukee and America: Johnny Cash “tells it like it is” about guns


Johnny guitar

Take your guitar to town, son, but not your guns. Courtesy moesrealm.com

Like many, I’ve been contemplating the tragic chaos of my hometown of Milwaukee (I drive through Sherman Park at least twice week) and the gun violence that triggered it, and all the other often-senseless gun killings we have endured, like a living hell, across America.

It’s also the most glaring spotlight this city has endured in a long time — for example, the long, page-one feature in Sunday’s New York Times. 

Then I was listening to some Johnny Cash videos and this one arose, like the Man in Black rising from his grave, to remind us of this great cautionary tale, which we seem to have forgotten. Guns seem to bolster all-too-many males’ sense of manhood and “rugged individualism” (misplaced in a loaded barrel, like a constipated-but-dangerous macho id, I think).

In the same sense, gun “power” too often seems to bring out our worst angels, those little demons who goad our basest, ugliest, racist instincts, as with this Neanderthal.

By contrast, we have Cash, one of the manliest of voices and men — who lived a pretty crazy, drug-marred life at times — speaking profound sense and sanity, in a nation addled with a tragic addiction to guns. Most readers know perhaps his best-known song “Folsom Prison Blues.” The prisoner-narrator recalls his mother warning him never to play with guns. “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die/ When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.”

This song, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” which he began singing in the late 1950s, has a disarming charm in its ambling melody and storytelling, but it’s message is deadly serious.

Listen to Johnny Cash, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers:






A couple of first-hand remembrances of vibraphonist-marmibist Bobby Hutcherson

bobby www.nga.ch

Bobby Hutcherson. Courtesy www.nga.ch

My recent blog appreciation of the great jazz vibraphonist and marimbist Bobby Hutcherson, who died August 15, prompted two first-hand remembrances of him, which I would like to share with readers.They provide insight into the personality and values of the man.

The first comment came from John Koenig, who produced the superb 1982 Hutcherson album Solo/Quartet (Contemporary/OJC), which combines several multi-tracked solo performances by Hutcherson, as well as several tunes performed with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Herbie Lewis and drummer Billy Higgins. I discussed the album in detail in that posting, here:

Bobby Hutcherson brought spiritual questing and down-home allure to the vibes

Producer John Koenig commented in a Facebook message:

“I enjoyed your piece very much. Of course, I’m thinking a lot about Bobby, one of my favorite people with whom I’ve worked, in the wake of his passing. For all of the appreciations I’ve seen in recent days from musicians and commentators alike, it’s a pity he wasn’t more recognized in his lifetime. But as he told me once when he turned down a proposed recording project that would have paid him a lot of money for an album of Stevie Wonder covers, ‘I’m not trying to get a new car; I’m trying to get to heaven.’ And, of course, I appreciate being remembered and recognized myself. So thanks for that.”

Bobby’s comment about the Wonder proposal was perhaps a measure of his integrity and values as a jazz musician. I imagine he appreciated Stevie Wonder, but likely felt that an album of his songs would come too close to commercial pandering. He had made a modest amount of very accessible R&B influenced “soul-jazz,” including some tracks on his very last album with saxophonist David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Hart, titled Enjoy the View.

But he was a true artist of the hammered jazz instruments that encompass melody and harmony, a man shaped in the 1960s when jazz was expanding its parameters, staking new and sometimes challenging ground. Of course, Bobby’s aesthetic embraced sonic and melodic beauty as well.

.  So it’s somewhat ironic that a group that he co-founded, the SFJAZZ Collective, ended up recording two albums of Stevie Wonder songs. Their instrumental arrangements are rich in jazz harmony and rhythm, and I suspect that Hutcherson liked the recordings and perhaps wished he had been on them. The first recording, Wonder: The Songs of Stevie Wonder won a NAACP Spirit award for a jazz recording, which I think is well-deserved for an album that reaches out beyond the “pure jazz” audience. The second recording Music of Stevie Wonder and New Compositions: Live in New York 2011 Season maintained the collective’s balance of repertory and original compositions.

The second Hutcherson remembrance came from Chuck LaPaglia, the founder and owner of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, which had a memorable run as a national and regional jazz showcase in the late 1970s and 1980s. Paglia went on to do musician booking for Yoshi’s, the San Francisco jazz club and restaurant. This charming remembrance is part of an introduction LaPaglia is writing for the online version of Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, an anthology of the extensive journalistic coverage his club commanded during those years (disclosure: The anthology includes a number of articles and reviews by this writer).

LaPaglia recalls the first time Hutcherson came to Milwaukee with his quartet in 1979, shortly after his primary influence Milt Jackson had played at the club:

“The next full band to play the club was the Bobby Hutcherson Quartet on October 29, 1979. For me, it was a particularly happy occasion to be able to hear Bobby one month after hearing Milt Jackson. I was especially sensitive to the vibes, having grown up with another great vibes player, Carl Leukaufe. The band drove from Chicago and arrived the afternoon before the gig. I was in the bar room when they showed up.

“When they came into the club they seemed to have some sort of attitude. I wasn’t sure what their problem was, but they seemed stiff and formal. The first night they got such a warm reception and such close attention from the audience that it completely turned them around. They suddenly were the nicest jazz musicians you’d ever want to meet.

“They left on Halloween. As they were outside the club packing up the car, a Halloween parade of little kids from the local grammar school came marching down the street. Bobby ran half a block to meet them, and then proceeded to lead the parade, twirling an imaginary baton. When he got back to the corner, he got down on his knees and blew kisses to all the kids as they passed by.”

Hutcherson was a human who suffered, and ultimately died, from complications of Emphysema. My thanks to John and Chuck for adding a bit more dimension to our understanding of this human, and perhaps the greatest artistic proponent of the vibraphone in the second half of the 20th century.