As the days dwindle down, jazz heats up in Milwaukee

The days may be dwindling down to a precious few, as the great jazz standard “September Song” informs us, but the fire of the trees signals that live jazz is just heating up in Milwaukee.

The first concert of late fall note seems a bit under the radar or perhaps obscured by fallen leaves. The Dave Stoler Quartet will perform tonight at 9 p.m. Several things make this event special but most of all that the featured member of the quartet will be tenor saxophone great Rich Perry, who himself doesn’t have the recognition he deserves. This  is partly because he has been a key member of important jazz orchestras as much as the leader of a small ensembles.
So although Perry has made a series of acclaimed small combo recordings on the redoubtable straight-ahead jazz label Steeplechase since the mid-1990s, he made his mark in New York first with the great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, arguably the best modern big-band of the late 20th century. And today he shares lead tenor chores with the somewhat more high-profile Donny McCaslin in the 21st century’s preeminent jazz big band to date, the Grammy-winning Maria Schneider Orchestra.
So Perry is a master of both highly inventive straight-ahead swinging improv, as well as artfully orchestrated and even painterly playing, frequently demanded of players in the often magical-sounding tonal pallets of Schneider.

In this promotional poster on The Maria Schneider Orchestra’s Facebook page, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry solos with the Grammy-winning orchestra in the photograph on the lower right. Perry will be featured performer tonight at the jazz estate in Milwaukee with The Dave Stoler Quartet. Courtesy Maria Schneider Facebook page.

One of the lesser known of Perry’s small-group recordings is as a side man with none other than Madison pianist Dave Stoler on his excellent 1994 album Urban Legends which also includes tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza and the sterling rhythm section of bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart. Stoler makes his home in Madison but periodically  plays small group gigs in New York, and that recording reflects the sort of respect he commands among musicians in the know.
Stoler himself has sounded like he’s been woodshedding extra hard in recent times and is playing at the absolute top of his game, as recent gigs have shown. Perhaps it’s a extra hard focus on his plans for another recording, which probably will include Perry again.

Along with Perry, Stoler’s quartet at the Jazz Estate will include his highly simpatico regular rhythm section of bassist Chuck Ledvina and perhaps Milwaukee’s preeminent jazz drummer, David Bayles.

The jazz estate will remain a focal point of world-class jazz when The Tom Harrell Quartet performs two shows on Monday, October 30th. Harrell is consistently regarded among the finest trumpeters in modern jazz today and his skills as a composer remain in the highest echelon. He has written for full orchestras including his brilliant album Impressions which also drew from the classical Impressionist tradition of orchestration.

Trumpeter Tom Harrell. Courtesy Montreal Gazette.

And yet the quintessential genius of the man himself may be best captured in a small group live recording, Tom Harrell: Live at the Village Vanguard from 2001. And that’s the sort of bag one should expect to hear him playing in at The Jazz Estate, although it’s hazardous to predict such things as this inventive musician seems forever full of surprises.

Harrell will perform with superb Milwaukee-based musicians, pianist Mark Davis, bassist Jeff Hamann (perhaps best known as the house bassist for the popular NPR program “Whaddya Know?”) and drummer George Fludas. I’m sure those musicians are boning up on charts for Harrell’s most recent High Note album, Moving Pictures, which characteristically displays his ability to take the listener far beyond mere notes and chord changes and melodies to something that evokes life, beauty and truth, just as the multimedia magic of the cinema can. For information on tickets to the Harrell concerts, visit:http://tomharrell.brownpapertickets.com/

Finally among upcoming fall offerings, keep in mind Saturday November 4, when the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra and the UWM Jazz Ensemble kick-starts the 2017-2018 season with a dynamic concert celebrating the Milwaukee jazz tradition that was championed by Milwaukee native and jazz legend, Woody Herman.

Thee Annual Woody Herman memorial concert will surely feature classic Herman material from the famous Milwaukee-native clarinetist and big band leader, who helped to bring the big band tradition into the modern jazz era.

But the concerts will also be a great chance to hear music from the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra’s recent recording Welcome to Swingsville!  which invites you to an imaginary place populated not only by this orchestra but also the full spirit of unadulterated swing, which thrives there from dawn until ’round midnight, and beyond. The recording includes originals by leader and reed player Kurt Hanrahan and guitarist-composer Steve Lewandowski as well as classics by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, Frank Loesser and Charlie Parker with Gil Evans.

General Admission is $10; Seniors (w/ID) & UWM Faculty and Staff (w/ID)- $10; Students (w/ID) & Under 18 – $5; Peck School Majors (w/ID) – Free

So don’t let the mournful “September Song” and its accompanying season give you the deep-down blues. Better yet transmute that bluesy spirit into a passion for natural and musical beauty, for live jazz, and go and get it.

 

 

 

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

A candlelight vigil held in Red Arrow Park in Milwaukee for the late Dontre Hamilton, held by his family and other mourners and activists. Photo by Jennifer Johnson.

It was a pleasant surprise to run into my former colleague, Madison-based  writer and critic Rob Thomas, with whom I worked at The Capital Times for a number of years, before returning to my hometown of Milwaukee in 2009.

I was also heartened that Rob cared enough to travel to Milwaukee to cover the film we were both attending, Blood is at the Doorstep. So I am offering a link to his excellent report on the film, which in its Milwaukee debut was a bonafide event, with a post-screening onstage talk-back with the film director in attendance as well as important members of the late Dontre Hamilton’s family, who provide much of the film’s soul and substance.

Documentary on Hamilton Shooting Comes Home By Rob Thomas

As a fine film critic, Thomas is well aware that this film transcends, reaches beyond Milwaukee, while being an inextricable product of the city’s lacerated heart. As he points out in his article, Blood has already made waves throughout the country, having been shown at a number of film festivals including the prestigious SXSW film festival in Austin. It has also gained an independent distributor and filmmaker Eric Ljung hopes it will have a continuing tour into 2018. I want to consider why is this important but I also want to focus on the film’s quality and effectiveness.

The film has a conventional, straightforward linear narrative, like most documentaries. It details how a Milwaukee police officer, Christopher Manney, approached the sleeping African-American Dontre Hamilton, even though other officers had inspected him earlier in the day and determined he was a threat to no one.

This tragic moment should never have happened for several other reasons.

Manney’s record reveals that he amounted to more of a threat to the community than a safeguard. The film, three years in the making, reveals he had already been guilty of more than a dozen instances of excessive use of force, as well as a sexual assault charge. So in retrospect, it’s unsurprising that when Manney confronted the sleeping young black man, he put his hands on him. The groggy Hamilton reacted instinctively by grabbing Manney’s threatening billy club.

A witness to the altercation says that neither Manney nor Hamilton landed a blow with the club. Nevertheless Manney then pulled out his handgun and shot Hamilton 14 times, as he lay on the blanket he had been sleeping on. Talk about living and dying a nightmare.

Later district attorney John Chisholm says, in a tortured decision, he determined there was no criminal intent because, whether or not a blow was landed, the policeman’s club in Hamilton’s hand posed a threat. Thus, the district attorney’s reasoning is that somehow Manney was justified in his slaughter even though Hamilton never struck Manney.

Objectively speaking, Chisholm should probably have not been ruling on this case because he works closely with MPD as public prosecutor. So he can hardly be judged a politically impartial investigator. This built-in conflict of interest in city justice systems is just beginning to be addressed across the nation, partly because of the preponderance of virtually all policemen being absolved of guilt in cold-blooded shootings of unarmed black men, time and time again.

Another reason this never should’ve happened was the poor community relations that Milwaukee Police Department has with the people it is sworn to protect. A recent independent report has thoroughly documented this problem. So in this instance, we see police chief Ed Flynn, who comes off in the film as arrogant and self-serving, rolling his eyes and even ignoring the public as he sits before them at one hearing while he stares at his cell phone. He says he was keeping track of a new murder case. If any one needed Flynn’s consultation about that matter, one can assume they would have contacted him. Flynn also defensively profiled Hamilton as homeless and as an armed robber, neither of which was true. The dead man did suffer from a mental disease, perhaps schizophrenia.

And it is clear that officer Manney failed to follow police department protocol in approaching a citizen. He ended up being fired for not following police procedure, but the department  ignored the possible first-degree murder charge. This allowed Manney to appeal his firing as “wrongful.” Manney himself claims that he saw a bulge in a pants pocket of the sleeping Hamilton, which the cop said might have been a gun or a shard of broken glass that might be a potential weapon.

No such weapon existed, merely Manney’s lame, lethal excuse. And because the district attorney absolved him of any responsibility for the man he killed, the officer ended up receiving 75% of his pay for the rest of his life, in effect living off the fat of city taxpayers as a retired officer only in his ’40s. Such miscarriages of justice inspired this film.

Blood is also deeply stained with color, tone, texture, and a weave of a diverse group of people, from family to protesters to witnesses and police. It simmers with complex and heated emotions set against the backdrop of an unassumingly beautiful city (quiet as its kept) in which the tragedy took place in. This is not to distract from the heart of the film’s message – an urgent call for social justice and political activism in the face of system racism.

But this film is not simply agitprop. Rather it radiates visually stunning artistic meaning and truth, more than most documentaries that don’t celebrate nature’s visual bounties. But the amalgam of human tragedy gives it a powerful pulse, brimming with passion, angst and contrastingly beautiful textures — cityscapes in a vivid array of luminous sky, atmosphere, light and grid patterns of intersecting streets. We see snow accumulating on the red sculpture in Red Arrow Park where Hamilton died, as months and then years pass after his death. Thick snowflakes fall like tears, or melting hearts chilled by harshest realities that seem to defy hope. And yet here we see The Rev. Jessie Jackson, among those activists who attend the hearings and protest rallies, embodying his most famous words, to keep hope alive.

Photo courtesy www.yelp.com

The tragic death scene, a symbolic sculpture, is situated in the heart of downtown Milwaukee across the street from City Hall and the city’s largest fine arts performing arts venue. The park might be the most popular public gathering place in the city, and includes a skating rink. Yet the red sculpture now seems fraught with meaning as tortured as the political circumstances of this case. The artwork’s arrow form commemorates the sleeve insignia symbol worn by the celebrated 32nd infantry division comprising Wisconsin and Michigan soldiers. The division is famous for its heroic efforts in advancing through seemingly impenetrable enemy territory during both world wars, so tough the French nicknamed them “Les Terribles.”

The artwork now seems laden with irony in that these soldiers fought so hard to protect our freedom and democratic way of life. Dontre Hamilton was sleeping beneath this sculpture when he was accosted and killed by a Milwaukee police officer. A federal civil rights lawsuit on his family’s behalf remains pending. The arrow, also embodying the symbol of a cross, strains toward the heavens for deliverance and righteousness. Dontre Hamilton truly seems a kind of martyr, yet not unlike many other unarmed (or his case and that of 14-year-old Tamir Rice, dubiously “armed”) black men gunned to death by police. Today his family still feels shortchanged of full due process in their son’s killing.

Among the most touching moments of the Milwaukee Film Festival event was Hamilton’s brother Nate, now a strong activist, presenting the film’s director Eric Ljung with a denim jacket festooned with graffiti-like spray paint decorations.

(Left to right) “The Blood is at the Doorstep” director Eric Ljung, cinematographer Daniel Thomas Peters, editor Michael T. Vollman, and subjects Maria Hamilton, Nate Hamilton and Dameion Perkins speak at the Milwaukee premiere of the film Friday at the Oriental Theatre. Photo by Rob Thomas of The Capital Times.
Nate Hamilton read off the names of black men killed by police which were also hand-printed on the jacket. This brought to mind, for me, some celebrated artwork of African-Americans “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” which were shown in an exhibit in The Milwaukee Art Museum some years ago. Among the most striking works were patchworked quilts made of the denim work clothes of the women’s men, some who had died. Hamilton’s truly remarkable mother Maria, also at the screening, has lost one of her most precious men and now the humblest of clothing has been passed on to another man who turned her son’s story into art that can never be killed.

And mother Maria is a sort of madonna who has doubtlessly imagined a final embrace of her dead son akin to Michelangelo’s The Pieta too many times, yet she also embraces passionate activism. Still, we see in the film, she has some inner, hard-won serenity that has her draw the line when overzealous activists seem to become counterproductive.

At the film event Friday, Maria Hamilton appeared blessed with heavy but tearful joy, that her journey and quest continues, and that it may not be in vain.

Dontre Hamilton’s Mother Maria and brothers Dameion and Nate. Courtesy Milwaukee Magazine

 

 

 

 

Of Charlottesville, the “first white president,” black football players, and Civil Rights history

 

The cover photo of “North of Dixie” is by Don Hogan Charles, from Newark N.J. July 1967. 

The racial profiling, physical abuse and near-murder of Seattle Seahawks star defensive lineman Michael Bennett by Las Vegas police recently demonstrates that it doesn’t matter how famous you are. If you have black skin, and especially if you’re male, you could be gunned down by the police at any time.

It’s especially resonant in Wisconsin as Bennett is the twin brother of Packer tight end Martellus Bennett (The Packers beat the Seahawks in Green Bay Sunday). Michael gained notoriety of sorts for his one-knee-on-the-ground posture during the National Anthem before Seahawks’ preseason games this year. His stance of mourning dissent was akin to Colin Kaepernick’s, and those of a handful of recent Cleveland Browns, among others. Their resistance to reflexive patriotism has eloquently and provocatively highlighted the nation’s ongoing betrayal of its exalted ideals, “the land of the free,” through pervasive systemic racism and now, a presidential administration that promotes and defends hatred and racism at most every turn.

Of course, many previously-anonymous, unarmed black men, like St. Louis’s Anthony Smith, became famous posthumously at the deadly hands of police – a disturbing recurring story. It just keeps happening over and over, which is why a longer perspective on American race relations and reform of police procedures and behaviors is urgently needed. (Please see footnote) 1
The powerful and incisive new article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the latest Atlantic magazine provides deep and illuminating insight into the mentality and real-life effects of whiteness and white privilege, and into why Donald Trump and his administration has boldly supported and advanced racist activities and policies. It’s a meaty and tough-minded read but well worth your time:

“The First White President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A provocative historical premise of the article undercuts the conventional wisdom that Democrats must woo back working-class whites to win again: “The myth of the virtuous white working class was made central to American identity, its sins needed to be rendered invisible. The fact was, working-class whites had been agents of racist terrorism since at least the draft riots of 1863; terrorism could not be neatly separated from the racist animus found in every class of whites.” 2

Coates’ article, with its long historical perspective on race in America, complements visual history in one of the year’s most compelling photography books, North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South by Mark Speltz, a public historian from Madison. The book documents how the Civil Rights movement and racism of the 1960s extended deeply into the North (and protests went as far back into the 1930s Jim Crow era). As the book’s website notes: “Photographs inspired activists, galvanized public support, and implored local and national politicians to act, but they also provided means of surveillance and repression that were used against movement participants.”  3

Author Speltz explains that many Northern newspapers and magazines, fearful of controversy, refused to publish many of these civil rights photos, such as the one of Malcolm X below. Contextualizing them today, the photos may also give insight as to why Trump won in rust-belt states nobody expected him to win, which gained him his Electoral College victory.

You’ll also see imagery not far removed from that seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently the subject of profound and tragic controversy regarding white supremacists, white nationalists and Nazis. The photo below from North of Dixie looks like a shot from Charlottesville in 2017, but it’s actually counter-protesters taunting Chicago Freedom Movement marchers in 1966. It illustrates how frequently young men seem to be attracted to fascist ideology, if they are cultivated into racial hatred.

Photo by Art Shay, Chicago, Illinois 1966

The next photo below, also from Chicago, suggests how early such hatred can be developed, certainly before young people are properly educated. It underscores the crucial role of education, in terms of teaching the nation’s democratic foundation of equal treatment and opportunity espoused by the framers of the Constitution. Also one must learn of the tragedy of the Civil War fought over the South’s social and economic dependence on slavery. Sadly, the social animus – and its underlying hateful, fearful and anti-American presumptions – persist today, not only in the South.

Photo by Art Shay, Chicago, Il 1966

These photos are journalism, but 1966 Shay’s alley shot has an art photo’s symbolic resonance, as it leads the eye from the nasty, illiterate pavement scrawls to the boy’s smirk, then down a deep perspective, following a zig-zagging crack into an uncertain and ominous future. That future is now, when bigotry and hate crimes have spiked dramatically since Donald Trump began his provocative, divisive presidency. But it also queries where we go from here.

The ensuing photo shows a Civil Rights protester serving a dual purpose, opposition to the Vietnam war as well as to racial hostility in America. This correlates to the intelligence and strategies behind today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

Photo by Julius Lester, New York, NY 1967

Malcolm X was the militant Civil rights leader who embraced nonviolence in late in his life and was perhaps killed by a black man for doing so. In the photo below, he displays the Nation of Islam newspaper, with its shocking headline. This was an unpublished picture, among hundreds taken for a May 31, 1963 LIFE magazine article.

Photo of Malcolm X by Gordon Parks, Chicago, Illinois, 1963

It’s also important to remember that people on both sides of the racial divide are only human, all sinners as a true Christian should acknowledge, though some transgressions are worse than others, like that of Malcolm’s killer.

Let’s consider Ezekiel Elliott. Justice, ideally blind to her own biases, seems also a gagged-and-bound hostage, somewhere beneath a football stadium. Elliott, a star running back and alleged girlfriend-beater is playing this season for the Dallas Cowboys. A procedural decision by a Texas judge recently overruled the NFL’s evidently appropriate decision to suspend the African-American Elliott for the first six games of 2017 season, without pay. Regardless of those who might question her motives, his ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson was quite evidently abused and beaten by Elliott, multiple times in 2016, right before the Cowboys drafted him. Since being charged, he also forcefully exposed the breasts of another woman in public, not having learned much, it seems. The Cowboys have a history of ignoring some of the worst behavior of football players, if they think they can squeeze out some wins by hiring them. A bit like the blind loyalty of some Trump supporters, it’s a sad commentary that the Cowboys remain “America’s team” with by far the NFL’s leading profits of fan sales of team merchandise.
The league, to its credit, finally listened to a woman seriously, and will continue to pursue this case. For his many faults, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shows he can learn and change. So, one hopes, Justice has her day.

But Elliott is the African-American exception, having won a large measure of privilege that he’s apparently abused as well. By contrast, Civil Rights activists have been peaceful, strong-backed, but largely non-violent, unless the police or counter-protesters get physical or worse, as Speltz’s important book shows.

Photos by Charles Brittin, Los Angeles, CA 1965

The next photos (above) by Charles Brittin show that police tactics were not much different back in the 1960s, as we see a black woman In Los Angeles in March 1965 being brutally removed from a peaceful non-violent site protesting the shocking violence in Selma, earlier that month.

The shot below by Julian Wilson graphically Illustrates the courage of non-violent protesters, risking being buried alive in hopes of stopping construction of a new school that would further segregate neighborhood schools. The image also hauntingly recalls the burial of exterminated Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust. 4

Photo by Julian C. Wilson, Cleveland, OH April 1964

This daring sort of act may have inspired “Tank Man,” (below, photo not from North of Dixie) a single anonymous protester at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He stopped the Communist Chinese government tanks in their tracks by simply standing up to them, part of a student-led protest demanding freedom of speech, freedom of the press and government accountability. The protests were forcibly suppressed after the government declared martial law. In what became known in the West as the Tiananmen Square Massacretroops with assault rifles and tanks killed at least several hundred demonstrators trying to block the military’s advance towards Tiananmen Square.

Photo of “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square, June, 1989,  by Jeff Widener Associated Press

North of Dixie also covers one of the most subtly pernicious and far-reaching aspects of systemic racism: redlining or housing discrimination. My own hometown of Milwaukee – to this day one of the most certain segregated cities in America –  became a fair-housing hotbed, especially when the iconoclastic Catholic priest James Groppi began leading the fight against housing discrimination. Groppi – whom I was fortunate enough to have studied religion with as a young elementary school student – was an inspirational and hard-headed figure. I’m sure he helped inspire me to later do fair-housing testing: going to homes for sale posing as a prospective home buyer with a black female partner. (A 2017 independent report on the Milwaukee police procedures and policies, requested by the police chief, found the department sorely lacking in its relations with, and profiling of, the minority populations it ostensibly serves.)

In the North of Dixie photo below, Groppi stands with two other pioneers, Milwaukee’s first black alderwoman Vel Phillips, and (at left, in the white hat), comedian and social activist Dick Gregory, who recently died, but not before publishing a powerfully provocative book of his own, Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies. 

Dick Gregory, Father James Groppi and Ald. Vel Phillips. Unknown Photographer, Milwaukee WI, Sept. 1967, from “North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South.”

I can’t wait to read Gregory’s new book, but he has been on my radar as an author ever since I bought his first book From the Back of the Bus in the early ’60s. It was a collection of his stand-up observations, which included pithy posed photos of Gregory illustrating some of his gags and points, and it came two years before his better-known 1964 autobiography Nigger.

Dick Gregory’s 1962 photo-illustrated book “From the Back of the Bus” helped open my young eyes and mind to Civil Rights, and Gregory himself is a subject in Mark Speltz’s new photo documentary book “North of Dixie.” Photo by Kevin Lynch   

A telling Gregory comment in From Back of the Bus addresses Northern redlining of real estate: “Down South, they don’t care how close I get as long as I don’t get too big; and up North, they don’t care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close.” 5

The final photo I’ll share from Mark Speltz’s North of Dixie book shows the human side of the controversial Black Panthers, a militant civil rights activist group of the era. The Panthers did resort to violence at times, by the dictum of “by any means necessary” for racial justice. Yet they were also demonized whole-cloth by the government, especially the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. In the photo below, we see Panther Charles Bursey serving breakfast to a child in Oakland, California. The Panthers raised enough funds and resources to help feed numerous neighborhood children and families throughout the United States.

This brings us forward to the next steps for The Black Lives Matter movement and the implicit query of all these photos: Will we learn from the history laid bare in this book, that racism’s poisoning and coagulation of the American spirit infected the North as well as the South? BLM is now forming new initiatives – The Electoral Justice Project and The Black Futures Lab – that, they say, will address black voter alienation and transform the ways that black communities participate in the 2018 election and beyond, as reported by Dani McClain in “The Future of BLM” in The Nation. 6

In this age of increasingly visually-oriented information and learning, a book like North of Dixie takes us to the heart of our greatest and oldest struggle as a nation, something that Northerners as well as Southerners must own, and help overcome together. The road ahead, like Art Shay’s 1966 photo above, may feel like a defaced, cracked back alley, with misguided youth going in the wrong direction. But the greater mass of millennials cry out for a more just and equal America. We press ahead in search of our nation’s spiritual replenishment and deliverance.

Photo of Black Panther Charles Bursey by Ruth-Marion Baruch, Oakland, California, 1969

__________

For more information and to order the North of Dixie book, visit the official website: North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South
3. An important new book, Policing the Black Man, edited by Angela J. Davis, with essays by Davis, Bryan Stephenson and others, documents the rampant police killing of black men and the full scope of systemic racism, from hands-on-the-hood street profiling to excess sentencing in the highest state courts and a very profitable penal system. In the September 15 acquittal of St. Louis officer Jason Stockley from a first-degree murder charge of Anthony Smith, the system allowed Stockley to avoid a jury case and the Republican judge claimed insufficient proof that the officer did not “fear for his life.” The prosecution argued that Stockley planted a silver revolver in Smith’s car to cover his murder. The only DNA on the gun was Stockley’s –- not Smith’s – and police cameras show no evidence of a gun in Smith’s car during the chase and incident, according to a CNN report. Stockley was recorded rummaging through a bag in his car and returning to Smith’s car, allegedly to plant to revolver. If the gun were Smith’s, it almost surely would’ve contained his DNA. Further, the police cruiser recorded Stockley saying, “I’m going to kill that mother fu–er. Don’t you know it.” The judge claimed that the statement “can be ambiguous depending on the context.” There is no ambiguity in this context, especially given that Stockley shot Smith five times less than a minute later. Such lame judicial reasoning in such an important case is unforgivable. No wonder protests broke out. This is not untypical of the way the judicial system almost always acquits police killings of unarmed black men.
2. “The First White President,” The Atlantic, October 2017, 80
4. My friend, Chuck LaPaglia, founder of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery,  sees a historical precedent in America’s current extreme hatred and racism, especially regarding the potential deportation of DACA “Dreamers” which he frames in the backdrop of the Holocaust. His Facebook post is worth considering: “EXILE (definition) The state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons.
  1. The same Fascists who were behind the exile (and extermination) of Jews in Nazi Germany are the ancestors of our present day Nazis and white supremacist. The exile of 800,000 of our children is red meat for the Fascists. They can’t be allowed to get away with it.”

    A group of 7,000 Jewish people expelled from Germany by the German Nazi authorities and living in Zbaszyn on the Polish-German border, 3rd November…
    GETTYIMAGES.COM
    5.. Dick Gregory, From the Back of the Bus, Avon, 1962, 64
    6. “The Future of BLM,” cover story by Dani McClain, The Nation, Oct 9, 2017, 14

 

Lapham Peak Unit remains a peak nature experience

peak 2Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is sort of legendary among state parks and locations in Wisconsin, a place of stunning beauty, of rich physical interaction with nature as a hiker, biker, skiier or picnicker, and a place of magnificence and romance.

I revisited it for only the second time on Labor Day Sunday and I sensed it as all of those things. The only reason it wasn’t a wholly romantic experience was because too many people had the same good idea on a sunny holiday weekend. So it was busy, but everyone was in a good mood. Being out in nature does that to people. But if you choose the right time…

You’ll find that people have carved their names as individuals or as couples into the soft, aging wood of the Lapham Peak Tower which is the climax experience of this park. I wouldn’t be surprised that, if I searched a little bit, I might find one inscribed “Cupcake and Snugs.”
That would be my old friend Frank  “Snugs” Stemper, back in high school with his very first girlfriend, “Cupcake.” That was back when they didn’t know much better. They were too starry-eyed with puppy love, surely on the night when they climbed the tower together all alone, and declared their “love” as another one of the stars twinkling in the sky.

They could’ve been “Romeo and Juliet,” but no…I think Cupcake made up the silly names of affection, but big hulking Marquette High offensive lineman Frank went right along with it, like a puppy dog with tail a-waggin’. 1

To be clear, I am not at all encouraging or endorsing any defacing of this fine public facility! And I’m not accusing Cupcake and Snugs of such public malfeasance.

Nevertheless, Frank did leave a piece of his heart stuck in this park, like an arrow through a tree, or the sword in the stone in the legend of King Arthur. He told his buddies in the MUHS poster club a grand tale about his transporting romantic experience at Lapham Peak with Cupcake.

And not long after that, as I recall, on one Monday back at school, I thought I detected a bit of frosting on Snugs’s smirking lips.

Frank did “deface” the wall of the Poster Club by inscribing “Cupcake” on top of “Snugs” on the wall – as this fairly accurate painting of the club I did way back then shows – right below the black horizontal line above the sink.

Well, nobody ever quite stepped on Cupcake, but the romance made for very messy icing on the miniature cake, with anniversary candles we’ve kept burning as a running joke all these years.

And Snugs’ romance with Cupcake was finally smushed under the heel of reality. More than anything, the mythical Van Gogh-esque “Starry Night” on Lapham Peak was a fleeting comet. The high school sweethearts broke up before too long, and Frank ended up marrying a great woman named Nancy and they raised five remarkable kids together.

I first visited the peak, in the 1980s, on a gloomy, overcast day, with my first wife, who may have been under the weather, I can’t recall. But she seemed deathly afraid of climbing the tower and looked like a sick puppy as she hung on to the top railing for dear life. Poor neglected Romance stayed down at the bottom, quivering in fear, or at least in angst of disappointment. (My spouse would later go out on the open-air top of one of the World Trade Center twin towers without a discernible problem. So, go figure)

My current girlfriend Ann Peterson, by contrast, delighted in our hike Sunday and the tower climb, as the picture of her at the top illustrates.

peak 1

Here’s Ann (above) taking a photo on a picturesque turn in the portion of The Ice Age Trail we took to hike up to the tower. The park’s ascending geography includes parking lots at several levels, so the less-than-able can drive up to a lot right under the tower.  But otherwise, I strongly recommend one of several deliciously meandering hikes you can take around the park’s undulating hills before rewarding yourself with a climb up the tower for its stunning views.

Another of the rewards of taking a trek on the Ice Age Trail is encountering trees like one great old oak, full of aging majesty, secrets-laden shadows and sculptural expansiveness. I had to pose for a picture with it (below).

kev and tree lapham

Another couple of trees (below) – which stand like quirky sentinels beside the bottom of the Lapham Peak tower – add great character to the old tower’s proud presence.

peak 4

The peak and park are named for Increase A. Lapham, one of the most-celebrated figures in the pantheon of Wisconsin environmentalists along with Aldo Leopold and John Muir, as the state’s preeminent popular historian John Gurda explained in his latest column for The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Crossroads section last Sunday. Gurda (whose younger brother Paul was also in the Marquette High poster club in my sophomore year) was making the case for including Charles B. Whitnall among those great Wisconsin names, in his excellent column about Whitnall Park.
But I know John Gurda has given Increase Lapham (I love to type that distinctive name) his due in the past. Among the things, Lapham increased awareness and support for the region’s splendid natural resources and beauty. He also increased safety on the Great Lakes. It’s worth recounting this history.

Lapham Peak is the highest point of Waukesha County at 1,233 feet in elevation. In 1851, Charles Hansen acquired the land from the  government and developed it as a tourist attraction. He built a 20-foot-high observation tower and charged a small fee to climb the tower and picnic at its base. During the 1870s, the government use the park tower for surveying purposes.

In time, Increase Lapham – a self-educated engineer, scientist and naturalist – began to make a big difference. Through his work, the Federal Signal Service Division of Telegrams established a signal station at the peak to receive meteorological observations from Pikes Peak in Colorado. Lapham collected this weather data and relayed it to all Great Lakes ports to give advance warning. These warnings helped prevent shipwrecks and gave birth to the National Weather Bureau.

Increase A. Lapham examining a meteor that fell in Wisconsin in 1868. Curiously, “Cupcake” and “Snugs” (see story) had their romance on Lapham Peak in 1968,  exactly 100 years later. Through a wrinkle in time, could this astral rock be the refuse of that “shooting star” romance, or a centennial harbinger? Photo courtesy of Wikipedia public domain

In 1916 Waukesha County Historical Society named the peak in memory of Increase Lapham to honor his efforts in scientific study and his founding of the US Weather Bureau. The state of Wisconsin purchased the hill in 1907, as part of a parcel of land for a tuberculosis sanitarium site. The sanitarium site is now the Ethan Allen School for Boys. In 1939, 50 acres of land surrounding the peak was transferred to the Conservation Department. A 1940 WPA (Works Project Authority) project employed about 60 men who constructed the 45-foot observation tower, installed benches, and developed picnic areas and hiking trails. Today, the Lapham Peak Unit is part of the Kettle Moraine State Forest and its various units are connected by the Ice Age Trail and by the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive which traverses six counties over 115 miles from Whitewater Lake north to Elkhart Lake.

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By contrast to my last visit here, it was great getting to the top of the tower on such a lovely day (above). The views were vast and breathtaking.

However there was a haze along the horizon. Someone pointed out to me that you can see Holy Hill (about 25 miles north) if you look closely, even through the haze that day. I took a photograph and if you look closely (in a slightly magnified view below) you can see the famous church on its own lofty skyline perch in another portion of the Kettle Moraine Forest.

Another remarkable environmental circumstance hovered in this mighty vista. Meteorologists report that the haze on the Wisconsin horizon was due to the wildfires now blazing in California. With all the amazing, even mind-blowing and too-often-tragic extreme weather events these days, it’s nothing too surprising, upon reflection.

I am among the great majority of Americans who have no doubt, along with virtually all scientists, that lot of this environmental chaos has to do with human-made climate change. That’s all the more reason we must do something about improving our public policies and personal attitudes and behaviors. What hangs in the balance is the health of our environment, as well as its beauty, to survive for ensuing generations of romantic couples, and any human who simply appreciates natural life, clean air and water, and the rough, rolling magnificence of the American landscape.

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Photos by Kevin Lynch and Ann Peterson, unless otherwise noted 

  1. Coincidentally, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is being staged through September 9 at the Lapham Peak SummerStage, the park’s performing arts theater. Information on the venue’s theatrical and musical events is available on the Friends of Lapham Peak website below, under the “Facilities” tab, on a drop-down to “SummerStage.”

Here’s more information about The Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest:

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Latin Jazz climaxes in Milwaukee this week with VIVO and Tony Castaneda

 

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The Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet in action at the Cardinal Bar in Madison. 

It’s a muy grande week for Latin Jazz in Milwaukee. Tuesday evening at Humboldt Park Milwaukee’s most bracing Latin jazz ensemble, De La Buena, heated up Chill on the Hill, the park’s weekly summer music series. The  ensemble deeply explores the Afro-Cuban daispora, and features some of the area’s top musicians, including percussionist Cecile Negron Jr., tenor saxophonist Aaron Gardner, trumpeter Jamie Breiwick and baritone saxophonist Mike Pauers.

On Thursday at Jazz in the Park in Cathedral Square downtown, virtuoso wind player Warren Wiegratz will host two groups with which he has sustained his renown. He’s the leader of Streetlife, the high-energy band that races all over the musical map as the long-time house band for the Milwaukee Bucks.

But there’s a mellower side to Wiegratz, in the WAMI Award-winning Latin-infused group VIVO, which shares the Jazz in the Park bill with Streetlife. Here you get to hear more of Warren on flute and melodica. Augmented by her skilled guitarist-spouse Tim Stemper, VIVO vocalist Pam Duronio, who also peppers mallated bongos, sings an intoxicating array of bossa nova and samba songs in Spanish and Portuguese.

ZVIVO's lead vocalist-percussionist Pam Duronio and wind and keyboardist Warren WEigratz perform live

Vocalist-percussionist Pam Duronio and winds and keyboard player Warren Wiegratz of VIVO. Photo by Kevin Lynch 

Then, at the Jazz Estate on Murray Street on Milwaukee’s East side, conga player Cecile Negron’s crackling band, CNJ Latin Jazz, with guitarist Neil Davis and vibist Mitch Shiner, will play on Thursday and Friday. Here’s a link to events at The Jazz Estate:

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The citywide mini-Latin jazz fest climaxes Saturday night at the Jazz Estate. There,    Wisconsin’s pre-eminent extant Latin jazz ensemble, The Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet, will make its Milwaukee debut. This will be a quintet version of the band. Cover charge is  $10.

It’s amazing that they’ve never played a public date in Milwaukee before, considering that the band was formed in 1998 and, with a remarkably stable lineup, has worked steadily since.  This may reflect the curious cultural gulf that still exists between Milwaukee and Madison, which might otherwise be sister cities. It’s partly because the smaller city, Madison, has its own self-sustaining, highly-diverse culture even if it is a largely white and college-educated populous.

Also, Castaneda’s excellent band ought to be documented more frequently on recordings than it is. However, its 2007 album Mambo O Muerte (mambo or die) remains a classic of Midwest-bred Latin jazz. Here’s my original review of “Mambo O Muerte” from when it was released.

Like De La Buena, Castaneda’s group is an all-star aggregate of its city’s musicians, including percussionist leader Castaneda, keyboardist Dave Stoler, guitarist vocalist Louka Patenude. Finally,  Castaneda’s band carries a powerful growling bottom with bassist Henry Boehm and, also like De La Buena, a top-notch baritone saxophonist, Anders Svanoe. The band specializes in classics from the so-called  golden age of Latin jazz in the 1940s to 1960s, but the ensemble also includes several accomplished composers and striking original tunes. Here’s a sampling of videos of the band in action: http://www.tonyclatinjazz.com/photos-video/

 

 

In This Case, Lesser Lakes is More

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Lesser Lakes Trio – The Good Land (Shifting Paradigm)

Lesser Lakes Trio is a quietly intriguing, even enchanting conceptual music trio that seems both of the land and above it, like a cloud , or a broad-limbed tree, or a hovering consciousness.

Their website self describes the Milwaukee-based group as three “sonic storytellers” undergoing a “restless search.” These  storytellers weave a web of enlightenment with melody and rhythm. Harmony is comparatively spare, reflecting the influence of the original  Ornette Coleman Quartet, which liberated itself from the “background” of harmonic changes, and the pop-like but serious musical sensibility recalls another contemporary trio, The Bad Plus.

The evocative statement also notes “there is something timeless and haunting in a waterway whose path skirts the larger bodies for more subtle divergencies, defying where gravity would cause most to rest.” The album cover depicts a vintage photograph from 1911, of three human figures standing on a Lake Michigan shore engulfed in snowdrifts.

Accordingly these somewhat meta “lesser lakes” strive to illuminate rivulets and rushes, “a regional riddle that unlocks a universal desire for musician and audience alike; to feel the wonder of it all.”

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The music radiates openness, a wide-eyed intelligence that embraces the natural world.  On the title tune, “The Good Land,” trumpeter Jamie Breiwick, here as elsewhere, is more pied piper than strutting jazz virtuoso. He unfolds a spare but eloquent theme that seems to reach out its hand to followers. The consciousness seems to survey the land, pronounce it as good and worthy of preservation, for harvesting, conservation, and appreciation. Breiwick’s trumpet solo uncovers thick textures, like a spade digging into soil, turning over rock and roots, perhaps even a night crawler.

So the group’s musical agility and creativity serve an overarching yet humble purpose. Bassist John Christensen breathes and bellows the musical movement. Devin Drobka is a special drummer, his style uses a deft sense of space, rhythmic disjunction and momentum that implies plenty of life’s complexity, but at an organic level that is not humancentric – down to the ground enough to dance with that earthworm.

A shorter version of this review was published in The Shepherd Express.

Rosenblatt continued: Remembrance of art people past, and present

This post follows, in large part, the pull of nostalgia, which had me recently trekking over to the UW-Milwaukee’s art building (in the Peck School of the Arts), on a sunny windswept afternoon…I’d spent countless hours in this building when I was earning my BFA in the early ’70s. Especially time-consuming was the work on bronze cast sculpture molds, which required applying layer after layer of silica sand slurry to the mold…and waiting for each layer to dry…to build up a sturdy resistance to the infernal temperatures of the prepping furnace before pouring the fiery lava flow of molten bronze into the mold for a cast sculpture.grooms mural

A portion of artist Red Grooms’ mural group portrait of students and faculty of the UW Milwaukee art department in the early 70s, still located on the second floor of UWM’s art building.

During some of those slurry sessions I envied the folks up in the fourth floor, where painting was the area of concentration. But we make our choices and at that point in time I had chosen art that I knew would literally stand up and be counted and appreciated from all directions in its own space. Part of it began with the fast gratification of first working in wet clay and coming up with forms fairly quickly, someone akin, in three dimensions, to the gratification enjoyed by working painters swimming in intoxicating oil paint.

The crossroads between painting and sculpture leads me to my present subject, which I’ll try to be brief about, given that I just recently wrote an extended review of it off Rosenblatt’s retrospective at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, which is here:

Adolph Rosenblatt: A great eye, gifted hands and a huge heart

The exhibit, primarily of figurative ceramic sculptures, will close this Sunday, when it is viewable from noon to four although there are also viewing hours Thursday and Friday. Four hours and Info, click here:

Moments & Markers: An Adolph Rosenblatt Retrospective

 Rosenblatt, who died last winter at 83, was a remarkable man and artist, with an outsized personality to match. Though short in stature, he could fill up a room with his presence, especially when he started laughing.
Rosenblatt’s daughter Sarah commented, in sharing my review post on Facebook, that she considered her father a handsome man, so she was uneasy with my description, which spoke of a disparate assemblage of parts in his face. I even drew a comparison to a face Picasso might create.

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Blowup photographs of Adolph Rosenblatt at the retrospective of the late artist, at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee. The show will be closing Sunday.

I would agree with Sarah that he was, in his own way, a handsome fellow, as the blow-up photos of him, probably in his 40s, show (above) at the Jewish Museum exhibit.  His long dark locks were dashing, with their deep, natural swerve, down and up the side of his forehead.

But she understood my impression of him and, and reminded me of the portrait of her father in the marvelous mural (see image at top) the New York-based artist Red Grooms had done of faculty and students of the UWM art department in the early 70s. I recalled it had graced the art department commons lounge  right outside the fine art gallery, for years. Sarah told me that yes she was referring to the mural, and that the mural was still on display there. I was delighted to know this, and decided I would go revisit it, before the Rosenblatt show ended this Sunday.

Turns out, Grooms’ mural remains easy enough to see during hours that the art school is open. Simply go to the second floor. The elevator opens and there it is.

It remains a stupendous and utterly delightful work, for anyone to see, though nostalgia enhances it for those depicted in it, or who were part of the art department then.

Several outstanding faculty members are depicted in the left portion of the mural (at top). Note the looming mustachioed man, Tom Uttech who, to this day, I’ve never met or seen in person. He stands as tall and imperiously mystical as one of the grand trees in his woodland paintings, magical mystery tours that are among the most beloved productions of any Wisconsin artist.

I’m not sure who the professor is sitting in the wheelchair at the far left. Anybody out there who can name him, or anyone else here?

As for the mural’s other inhabitants, I don’t recall the names of hardly any of the art students partly because I spent, by then, most of my time down in the building’s basement with the scruffy sculptures students. The painters on the fourth floor always acted good-naturedly as if they were a bit above us basement heathens and, of course, literally they were, by four floors. But I do recall the very sweet woman in the middle in the purple sweater, beneath the guy in the yellow Rolling Stones “bitch” T-shirt. Her name was Vicki, whom I may have met in Rosenblatt’s life drawing class.

Grooms ‘signature and the dates are visible in the panel below the seated fellow’s crossed crutches (in image below).

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In the image below, you see Rosenblatt’s face. One senses that Rosenblatt’s presence may have helped attract Grooms to UWM For a residency given the affinity between Rosenblatt’s animated sculpture and Grooms’ celebrated 3-D pop-up arts. When he got here he also experienced the Milwaukeean’s mischievous hilarity, which was evident all over his face and head in the mural.

Now I realize that in describing Rosenblatt’s demeanor in my review,  I was subconsciously recalling this portrait – Grooms depicting his face as a nest of colorful strokes of energy swimming in crazy circles. I’m sure Rosenblatt dissolved into his jello-bowl of laughter over it, a number of times.

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The colorful character of artist Adolph Rosenblatt is captured in Red Grooms image of him at the top of this portion of the UWM mural. 

I’ve been thinking more about Rosenblatt’s inimitable laugh and now I think I recollect it even better. It seemed to have a looney hiccup right in the middle of it. He’d repeat the high-pitched giggle-hiccup several times before composing himself with a slightly satisfied, hoarse sigh.
It was a bit like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland after a few too many drinks. Not that Professor Rosenblatt was drinking on the job – life and art were clearly a natural high this man.

Below Rosenblatt in this mural section is bespectacled Professor Joseph Freibert, a far more mild-mannered man, but an excellent teacher and artist. To the right of Freibert stands red-haired Professor John Colt, an art department star, whose original painting style centered on mysterious, even mythical nature forms amid glowing, watercolor-like atmospheres.

I’m not in the mural, being a sculpting basement dweller. But I was there back those days, Below is a photo of me down in the sculpture department’s open-air courtyard, working on my carving to be titled “Chained Life Force.”

Yes this was the early ’70s, as you can tell from the styles of everyone in the mural as well as myself. May those times and people live on, as an indelible piece of Milwaukee cultural history.

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Culture Currents blogger Kevin Lynch sculpting at UWM in 1972.

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All photos of Red Grooms’ mural by Kevin Lynch

 

 

 

Adolph Rosenblatt: A great eye, gifted hands and a huge heart

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The late Adolph Rosenblatt, with his many quirky friends in his large sculpture “My Balcony.” Courtesy UWM Photo Services

Adolph Rosenblatt Retrospective: Moments & Markers, Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, 1360 North Prospect Ave., closing Sunday, August 27. Hours are Monday-Thursday 10-5 PM, Friday 10-3 PM, Sunday 12 noon-4 PM. Free parking is behind the museum building.

I first met Adolph Rosenblatt in the early 1970s when he taught me life drawing in a class at UW-Milwaukee. He helped inspire me to switch my major focus to sculpture, from advertising design. He had just begun exploring the possibilities of figurative clay sculpture, after being primarily a painter. And when I took a basic sculpture class I was seduced by the sensual and palpable life I sensed in wet, malleable clay in my hands.

In our life-drawing class Rosenblatt would set up a large wooden board with mounds of wet clay on a drawing easel and bring the goopy lumps to life. This incongruously proved quite relevant to our ostensibly two-dimensional discipline, as we were trying to create the illusion of sculptural three-dimensionality on paper, with graphite or chart.

He and art professor Joseph Friebert helped liberate my drawing technique, which had been hard-edge and perhaps cold in its attempt at realism. Rosenblatt, a short, slightly hunched man, who died in February of natural causes at 83, would wander among our drawing easels, making incisive, wry and sometimes slightly outre suggestions. After all these decades I don’t recall any, so I’ll borrow from students quoted in a display at the wonderful Rosenblatt retrospective Moments & Markers, at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, 1360 North Prospect Ave., which is closing this week on Sunday, August 27.

One student took seriously Rosenblatt’s seemingly counterintuitive advice: “If a painting isn’t working, paint out your favorite part.” I think Rosenblatt understood the tendency of artists to fall in love with their own work, to even fetishize a part they’ve focused on and perhaps overworked. When all else failed, he would say “F–k the world and just paint.” Either was a way to let loose and let go, and see your work with fresh eyes.

And did this man ever have fresh eyes! However, one thing he did miss, it appears, was a self-portrait. Seeing again at his marvelously rough-hewn, vibrantly animated work, I see it reflecting the face of Rosenblatt himself. He should have done a sculptural self-portrait, because his face was a slightly incongruous assemblage of mutating forms. He could concentrate deeply but he always seemed on the verge of slipping over the edge into utter hilarity, of dissembling into laughter, and his infectious giggle of glee. His whole face would become a smile of many mirthful, slightly askew parts, almost Picasso-esque. But I suspect his disheveled lack of self-regard kept him from a self-portrait’s potential narcissism. He had a great eye with a fine mind, a master observer of others.

And the humor that coursed through his whole body transmuted into his art, which might be called “The Human Comedy.” And, not unlike Honore de Balzac’s novel masterpiece La comedie humaine, this artist saw and interpreted the world with a deep sense of the fallibility, absurdity and neuroses amid the beauty in each person. Rosenblatt also gives his figures a gritty gravitas that rarely feels solemn. The retrospective does reveal his social and political consciousness with a series of life-sized head portraits sculpted of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Another is of Anita Hill, famous for her sexual harassment testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. “I had to tell the truth,” Rosenblatt quotes her in the fired clay. “It is a high-tech lynching.” Hill here is expressive and beautiful, all of her facial contours rise as if struggling up a hill. Another example of the peculiar dynamism Rosenblatt could convey in a high-relief sculpture is “New York Times – Berlin Wall” in which he re-creates a front page of The New York Times in clay, with the headline “East Germans Flood the West: After 40 Years.” The front-page “photograph” is a mass of humanity surging forward toward the viewer, brimming with pent-up hunger for deliverance and freedom, palpable in the heaving urgency of their bodies pouring out of the sculpture.

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Rosenblatt’s “New York Times – Berlin Wall.”

In such work you sense, beneath the surface, how humanity’s crookedly ambling collectivity often flirts with, or converges into, tragedy. And yet, Rosenblatt will likely be most remembered for his depictions of modest, undramatic scenarios. He would take his boards full of clay into places like the Oriental Pharmacy lunch counter and render customers, or to the balcony of the Oriental Theater, which both became fairly “epic” works, if such a word could be applied to such striving to capture unassuming human humility and comedy.

One of these centerpieces of the show is the massive tableau, “My Balcony” (1997) depicting the Oriental Theater’s balcony with 50 or 60 people sculpted in quirky detail. You see couples necking, hands and legs entwined, a mother with a squalling child on her knee, another mom nursing her infant in the theater’s ostensible darkness. Each figure seems to radiate a virtual lifetime in the subtle facets of Rosenblatt’s gestural, fingerprinted way of modeling the figure, as if each has been shaped by the slings and arrows of fortune, the vicissitudes of time. This mastery of revelation gives his work a timeless and fascinating humanity – as if each figure has many tales seeping from their pores.

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Adolph Rosenblatt vividly captured a wide swath humanity in his large sculptural tableau, “My Balcony.”

The second major piece is less of a frontal display than the balcony, more of an experience of a quotidian place of unique yet oddly familiar people. “Oriental Pharmacy Lunch Counter” (1987) was a now-gone Milwaukee institution of sorts, a layout of long dining counters that snaked its way along five or six lanes of countertops. It was often jam-packed, as it is here and one feels more voyeuristic than with “My Balcony,” because you walk can around it and peer at the mood and situation of each customer and lunch-counter employee, eating, or chatting or daydreaming. One wonders what brought each one of them to the counter on this particular day.

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One corner of Rosenblatt’s large tableaux, “Oriental Pharmacy Lunch Counter.”

The work’s total effect is an exposure of human types that Balzac might have described had he lived in Milwaukee in the 1980s. These two big pieces have a discursive quality akin to Balzac’s sprawling masterpiece, though ambitious on their own terms. Other influences I detect are one he likely admitted to, Honore Daumier, the great artistic lampooner of lower, middle and upper 19th century French classes. Daumier also did highly textural sculpture, and sometimes in apparent affection, as in his classic “Third-Class Carriage.” His superb painting of industrialized France depicts the quiet fortitude of passengers in the third-class train carriage including, like Rosenblatt’s Oriental balcony tableau, a nursing mother.

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Honore Daumier’s “Third-Class Carriage.” Courtesy metmuseum.com

I also sense at least a parallel sensibility in now-famous “underground” cartoonist Robert Crumb’s artlessly skilled renderings of slightly gawky and sometimes sadly comic humans. I see, too, the Crumb parallel in Rosenblatt’s whimsical way with architecture, as in the delightful 1977 sculpture “Houses on Bartlett.” Here, a snowy landscape seems to pulse through its steep, rippling surface and even the houses almost expand and contract, as literally breathing from the lungs of Gaia. Or, more prosaically, an animated cartoon stands smack in the middle of a gallery.

The show’s second gallery shows different sides of the artist, including a good-hearted satire of elderly sun worshipers in “Snow Birds,” and a surprisingly ominous, noirish cast-bronze scene in which human features are wiped away.

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Rosenblatt’s “Snow Birds.”

A revelation lies in one of Rosenblatt’s large paintings. The stunning untitled oil bears the influence of another great Jewish artist, Marc Chagall, who is represented in the first gallery by a mural-size wall hanging. Chagall’s famous magically flying humans appear in Rosenblatt’s canvas, floating amid a burning atmosphere of abstract impressionism/expression. Such color-soaked brilliance brings us back to his fired clay sculptures, most of which are deftly and creatively hand-painted, adding another dimension to his 3-D art.

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Rosenblatt’s large, untitled abstract impressionist painting, with floating figures reminiscent of Marc Chagall.

And to that end, for all this show’s riches, I must close by returning to the movie theater balcony, a very revealing detail. On the furthest occupied seat to the right in one balcony row sits a man isolated by empty chairs around him, the only notable cavity in the crowded balcony scene. His head turns away from the whole crowd; his left leg rests on his right knee in a posture of a man whiling away the afternoon at the movies, hidden from the world. But he’s not watching the movie, only staring into his own private infinity.

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This lonely figure tells a deeply human story in Rosenblatt’s “My Balcony.”

His slightly shambling presence, to me, seems the essence of a quietly bereft but almost stubborn solitude. Rosenblatt has purposely captured him in this manner as a flip side – among the most common and universal sides – of The Human Comedy, the heart of loneliness. And for that, it’s a testament to Adolph Rosenblatt’s insight into humanity, his expressive skill and unerring generosity of spirit.

May Adolph live on, at a lunch counter in the skies, with bottomless cups of heavenly, hearty coffee and camaraderie.

All photos by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise noted.

 

Father Sky is soulful music to your ears and to the earth

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Singer-composer-pianist Anthony Deutsch on the cover of his debut album. Photo by Danielle Simone Charles

Father Sky – Father Sky (self-released)

A capacity crowd recently at bucolic Villa Terrace for his debut CD-release celebration and Father Sky itself are testament. Young Milwaukee pianist-singer-composer Anthony Deutsch has old-soul wisdom and gifts for speaking to people about matters of the heart, and of the mind/body disconnect that often separates us from our deepest nature and from Nature.

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Milwaukee’s bucolic Villa Terrace overlooking Lake Michigan, was Anthony Deutsch’s choice of location recently to perform his nature-oriented music, “Father Sky.” Photo by Kevin Hansen.

His bluesy melodicism recalls the deceptively spare alt-jazz tunesmithing of The Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson, a thread strengthened by Father Sky bassist John Christiansen and drummer Devin Drobka.  But Deutsch loves Nina Simone. His singing follows her forlorn, loamy eloquence – her world-weary persistence and faith. To me, Deutsch’s style also mirrors the exquisite jazz singer-pianist Andy Bey – the naked willingness to reveal male vulnerability.

Still, Deutsch’s folky, Father Sky-meets-Mother Earth sensibility tends to personal ecological vision, like someone picking pieces of grimy dust out of a spider’s web. Deutsch croons artfully but, unlike Bey, he’s a tall, large person, so his spacious baritone sometimes projects like a wolf howling at the moon. He leans a lot on the sustain pedal for sweet wisps, but the piano also pirouettes in sun-lit atmospherics. And “Soon, My Love” has a funky kick Gil Scott-Heron would dig. “Gonna Find Home” yearns for a home that’s everywhere, like the holy land Lakota Black Elk spoke of. There’s musical and spiritual substance here (he shows harmonic chops playing standards live). This beguilingly wayward talent might just take you away, home.

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A slightly shorter version of this review was published by Shepherd Express.

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz Now will celebrate the Milwaukee jazz experience in time, sound and spirit

Jazz Now event poster II

Poster designed by Elizabeth Vogt

Milwaukee ain’t The Big Apple, nor is it The City of Big Shoulders. On its best days, the city shines, like the magnificent Santiago Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. On its worst days, it weeps a river of tears.

This is a struggling rust-belt city with more than its share of social and racial problems. That doesn’t mean it’s not a city of vibrant and meaningful culture, a city that can heal and grow by virtue of its diverse community, perseverance, and vision.
The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, once the home of the storied Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, counts on that progress and is willing to celebrate it right now, with something called Jazz Now. It’s a special event that acknowledges the city’s special genius of jazz and the toil to survive and connect, singing the song of Milwaukee’s surprisingly vaunted musical past, its present and, most importantly, its future.

So I am especially proud of an invitation to be part of this celebration, which will happen on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7).

I will give a reading from my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy, specifically parts of it which highlight the history of jazz here, especially in the halcyon days of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery,  in the 1970s-80s. I will be joined by trumpeter-bandleader-educator and jazz archivist Jamie Breiwick. He will briefly also explore the city’s musical pasts and present, especially as archived and documented in the valuable website Milwaukee Jazz Vision.

Special awards will be given in the name of perhaps the city’s greatest living jazz legend, guitarist Manty Ellis. The Manty Ellis award will honor persons for “exceptional support of jazz in Milwaukee” Ellis has exemplified decades of stellar musicianship and historic commitment to jazz education. He has also organized more recently The Jazz Foundation of Milwaukee. The organization is affiliated with the national Jazz Foundation of America, which will sponsor the event and cover it for their national newsletter.

Awards recipients will be announced at the event.

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Manty Ellis (seated at center) will perform with his quartet at Jazz Now at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts on Sunday, August 12. Photo by Elizabeth Vogt.

Ellis and Breiwick will also perform at the event with a quartet and special guest performers.

Another award will be given in the name of Chuck LaPaglia, the founder and owner of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, for persons providing “outstanding promotion of jazz in Milwaukee.”
Without his vision and dogged dedication, Milwaukee would’ve had a far poorer jazz scene and history.
But LaPaglia was there when we needed him, and now we are here in celebration.

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Milwaukee Jazz Gallery founder-owner Chuck LaPaglia back in the day.

One more than one occasion, the center’s current manager Mark Lawson has said to me, “What this place really needs is an angel or two.”

The event will honor one angel who has finally delivered something and several other meaningful supporters of Milwaukee jazz, awards chosen by Manty Ellis.

Nevertheless, the venue could use another benefactor, to sustain general operations, including maintenance, booking and promotion. But that’s one reason to get the word out on this event, where we’ll measure and acknowledge the center’s great value to our city and to the music and the arts.

Come on down and let the good times roll.

 

Jazz Now event poster II