About Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is author of "Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy." He is a veteran, award-winning arts journalist, educator and visual artist. He was a long-time staff arts writer for The Milwaukee Journal (where he was lead writer of a Pulitzer-nominated Newspapers in Education project) and at The Capital Times in Madison. He has written for Down Beat, No Depression Quarterly of Roots Music, The Village Voice, The Chicago Tribune, New Art Examiner, The Antioch Review, American Record Guide, Shepherd Express, , NoDepression.com, and elsewhere. Lynch is currently working on a novel, "Melville's Trace or, The Jackal."

World War III is here and it’s not with North Korea or Russia or any human enemy…

This is a digital projection but major coastal cities will be vulnerable to major floods if climate change continues apace and unchecked, says Bill McKibben. courtesy neatorama.com

Right now, World War III rages across the globe. And while the US President whistles through the battlefield like a world-class fool, even all those nations who agreed to the Paris Accord aren’t doing enough. That’s the dire warning of Bill McKibben’s deeply knowledgeable and far-reaching jeremiad from 2016 which grows more urgent and relevant each passing week, literally.

“Enemy forces have seized huge swaths of territory; with each passing week, another 22,000 square miles of Arctic ice disappears. ” he writes. “Experts dispatched to the battlefield in July saw little cause for hope, especially since this siege is one of the oldest fronts in the war. ‘In 30 years, the area has shrunk approximately by half,” said a scientist who examined the onslaught. “There doesn’t seem anything able to stop this.’”

McKibben notes that the gargantuan enemy isn’t angry at us, or otherwise emotionally or psychologically motivated, which can lead to mistakes, like Hitler’s many in WWII, or would likely happen to Kim Jong Un, if the North Korean dictator tries to use a nuclear weapon.

Rather, McKibbon notes, the enemy is indifferent, just as Nature was in Moby-Dick, our greatest American parable, among other things. Except Nature is now on a tsunami roll, far more destructive than it ever was in the mid-1800s, when Melville published his book.

The natural environment of Arctic wildlife disappears at a catastrophic rate week after week. The implications for the earth and civilization are staggering. Courtesy Huffington Post.com

Worse, North America’s corporate and governmental technological efforts are going in the wrong direction, as the massive oil spill of the new Keystone pipeline in North Dakota recently showed. One the eve of the decision to grant final approval to build the pipeline, it’s almost as if Nature – in the form of 210,000 gallons of gushing crude oil – sent a very pointed, and sprawling, message. Here’s a New York Times report on the spill:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/17/us/keystone-pipeline-transcanada-leak.html

McKibben has been our greatest scholar, writer and activist on environmental crisis for a long time and remains at the peak of his powers. 1 He was one of Bernie Sanders’ primary civilian expert consultants for his presidential race, when Sanders accurately declared climate change was the greatest threat to the world.

“World War III” is McKibben’s term, but he says we can still win the war but only if we mobilize in the way that is comparable, to an exponential degree, to our belatedly successful technological manufacturing response in the face of Nazi Germany virtually swallowing up all of Europe. Except now, most major nations will need to do the same.

Back home, even coal miners and their champions need to read this article and understand that the change necessary will only benefit coal miners, in terms of financial security and personal safety. The only constant in life is change, the truth we must all face up to once again. Now that the season of catastrophic weather –- hurricanes and hellish wildfires of unprecedented magnitude – we need to marshall our forces with clean, renewable energy production, which will also create thousands of new jobs. Even if there is a seasonal ebb and flow, natural catastrophes will only worsen if we don’t do something ambitious – aimed at the big, harrowing picture, at the long, serious, precipitous haul.

Wildfire photo courtesy images2.naharnet.com

Please don’t judge the war by my introductory words. But take Bill McKibben very seriously because he knows more about this than virtually anyone. McKibben is not an environmental extremist; he is an environmental realist  And he writes a very compelling story, full of historical and scientific perspective.

And this war is not a metaphor. It’s as real as Hurricane Harvey. As real as death. McKibben’s article is very readable, but a long one, only because we need some substance to get to the truth of a global war.

Here is McKibben’s story: A World at War

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  1. Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of the climate group 350.org.

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer venture deep into darkness past and coming

Sister singer-songwriters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer have recorded their first duo album, mostly brilliantly realized covers. Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff

Album cover courtesy rollingstone.com

Album Review

Shelby Lynne/Allison Moorer Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross)

The lateness of this first, yet seemingly natural, collaboration of sister singer-songwriters carries old, heavy freight. Both witnessed their father kill their mother, then himself, in the backwoods of Alabama. Decades past, finally realized, Not Dark Yet reveals both as artists mature enough to transmute tragedy into a deep array of poignant expression. The album cover does depict three figures wholly shrouded in shadow, a teenager and an adolescent frolicking while a third person plays guitar.

Lynne is a fairly straight country artist and younger sister Allison (the ex-spouse of Steve Earle) is decidedly alt-country. And yet, they avoid the sentimental pitfalls common to country autobiographical song with a brilliant array of covers of other singer-songwriters, save one song by Lynne. The title song, one of Dylan’s best late period creations, clearly encounters trauma’s impact: “Feels like my soul has turned into steel/I’ve still got the scars the sun didn’t heal.” Yet it has graceful depth, an offhanded philosophic recognition of darkness’s inevitability in life. Here and elsewhere, their voices’ blood-matched closeness plumbs their souls and touches the listener.

Their oblique approach to their parental loss dwells in their rendering of  Townes Van Zandt’s chilling “Lungs,” uttered from the strangely-elevated viewpoint of a person dying of lung cancer: “Jesus was an only son and love his only concept/strangers cry in foreign tongues and dirty up the doorstep.”

Or perhaps they’re searching for their martyred mother in Jessi Coulter’s “I’m Looking for Blue Eyes.” Here their vocal harmonies are soul-straining but wrenchingly radiant, entwining each other like tendrils of a crown of thorns. Or hear the yearning of Jason Isbell’s “The Color of a Cloudy Day”: “I can never find you in my dreams,” an obsessively repeated refrain. Nirvana’s “Lithium” activates a chemistry that seems to reach into the sisters’ shared historical essence. A forlorn, layered spirituality dwells in this album, an acceptance of the larger mysteries.

And yet, such fathomless beauty and tenderness carries through their lovely, life-worn voices that one feels them, not merely as orphans, but as women artists who have lived, lost and learned. This is among the year’s most indelible roots music albums.

And it’s an activist statement: They list the contact information for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence  beneath the inside-cover song titles and credits.

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

Melville speaks across generations of American veterans

The sky hangs shrouded in greys today, and the ground increasingly blanketed with fallen, dying leaves, even as flashes of fading autumn glory continue to cling to trees above.

That all seems very appropriate for Veterans Day today. I hung out my 13-star American flag, signifying America’s founding colonies.
And my soul feels heavy today, but not overcome. I offer this post humbly to honor all veterans, living and dead. But I am personally prompted by two veterans who have passed away, and not in the romantically heroic manner of a battlefield death.

The first was my late cousin John Zeh, who served as a gunner on a helicopter in the Vietnam War. John survived the war, but upon returning back home after his service the Agent Orange poisoning his body began to take its toll, and he died. It was the byproduct of rampant napalm spraying of Vietnam by the U.S. during the war, ultimately an insidious sort of “friendly fire.”

Sadly John Zeh is not listed among those late veterans names etched in the beautifully magnificent and understated Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, an oversight in my opinion. John was a great guy, a good husband and father, and a funny fellow, and is still deeply missed.

*

In 1971, my late cousin John Zeh sits in the middle foreground, after his return from Vietnam War service. He wore a wig due to baldness incurred by chemotherapy for Agent Orange, the Vietnam War-era affliction which ultimately killed him. This happy occasion also includes (from left) John’s brother Bill Zeh, my sister Anne, myself, my sister Betty, John’s wife Karin Zeh and their child Teri, and my sister Sheila. 

The second departed veteran was a very close friend of mine, Jim Glynn who died in October of 2004 of bladder cancer, which I am convinced arose from his need to use catheters for all the post-war years he lived vibrantly as a paraplegic disabled veteran. Jim is well-known in the Milwaukee music community for his popular, long-time eclectic jazz radio program on WMSE, also as a flutist-percussionist, and a grade-A culture vulture who consistently, despite his disability, directly supported and attended countless arts events in our community.

Disabled veteran Jim Glynn, right, served as the best man for my wedding in October 1997..

Jim also served during the Vietnam War although he was stationed in Europe. One day he was riding in a Jeep which lost control. He was thrown from the vehicle and the catastrophic injury to his legs left him paralyzed, unable to walk ever again, without crutches.
I recently had the pleasure to selected some CDs from his magnificent music collection, which he bequeathed to me, but his sister Shannon has kept it stored for some years and we agreed to allow it to be offered among certain friends and disc jockeys. It was a joy to see his collection again. The collection reportedly will be digitally filed and made available online by WMSE. Roaming through the boxes of CDs was a sweet experience that also reached in and pressed on my heart like a great elegy.

I have done radio music programs in the past and I hope to do a music program after I finished my novel about Herman Melville. I look forward to the opportunity to play some of the music from the Jim Glynn collection.

Speaking of Melville, I offer, on this Veterans Day, one of his wonderful poems “Shiloh: A Requiem” from his book of Civil War poems, Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, from 1866. It’s an alternative viewpoint to the brilliant and overwhelming immersion of Ken Burns’ recent documemtary TV series The Vietnam War. I also offer this because I think the poem resonates to America today, even though Melville wrote it shortly after the Civil War, and with that great conflict as his subject. Yet the poem reaches far beyond its time, because America today is stricken with great internal conflicts, mired in the same subjects the Civil War was fought over — the profound American stain of racism, and the desire to “preserve the Union” as President Lincoln put it.

Today we suffer from deep schisms over race, that lacerate the nation’s soul, and from the way the current presidential administration seems, for so many, like an increasing threat to our sacred American democracy and way of life, as exemplified by our national motto E pluribus unum: From many, one.

Melville’s complex attitudes toward war were far less optimistic and patriotic than Walt Whitman’s better-known Civil War poems, “Drum-Taps” from Leaves of Grass.

In addressing Melville’s point of view, I turn to the great poetry critic-scholar Helen Vendler from “Melville and the Lyric of History,” one of the supplemental essays in the Prometheus Books edition of Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War.

Vendler’s quote here references a couple of other poems in Battle Pieces which I invite you to investigate but her interpretive points apply aptly to Shiloh: A Requiem:

“Melville can never focus on one aspect, is never content to be single-minded: the costs borne by the brave men drowned in the Tecumseh must haunt the close of Melville’s victory narrative, just as the college colonel, in the brilliant poem of that name, cannot forget, as he leads his exhausted but victorious regimen home, the unspeakable truth that came to him in battle.

“And just as “The March into Virginia” began not with epic narrative but with reflection, enclosed not with narrative but with the tragic knowledge gained both by those who perished in those who lived to fight another day, so “The Battle for the Bay” begins in wisdom, continues with narrative, and ends in the tragedy that must qualify every deeply-felt battle song, even one of victory.” 1

Shiloh is not a poem about victory, it commemorates fallen veterans on both sides of the war. This reflects, to me, the most generous and courageous of spirits as a poetic observer, even if it was too challenging and equivocal for much of Melville’s readership then, and it remains, at times, challenging for contemporary readers. But Battle-Pieces is immensely worthwhile and enjoyable, one of the still-underappreciated masterworks of perhaps the greatest of American creative writers.

Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
      The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
      The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
      Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
            And natural prayer
      Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
      Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
      But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
      And all is hushed at Shiloh.
Finally, as a Veterans Day postscript, I offer you an opportunity for a bit of activism, specifically this petition for a cause to benefit severely disabled veterans.
Peace,
Kevin Lynch
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Online Melville text courtesy The Poetry Foundation.
 1. Helen Vendler, “Melville and the Lyric of History,” supplemental essays to Herman Melville’s Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War,  Prometheus Books, 2001, 260-261.

Pianist Richard Goode time-travels and “recomposes,” for his moment and ours

 

Richard Goode in recital. Photo courtesy Karsten Moran, New York Times.

MADISON – The winds of time may ruffle pianist Richard Goode’s whitening hair, and he now sports spectacles to eye the score while playing. But nothing has diminished his fluency, and his ability to “recompose” music, as he once explained as an ideal, in an interview I did with him a few decades ago.

That means, rather than slavish adherence to the written notes, he finds a way to go beyond mere recitation and even interpretation. He convincingly seems to play music that emits from his whole being and perhaps his own creative soul, though it was born in the mind of a great composer.

He opened his recital at Wisconsin Union Theater with four Prelude and Fugues from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, exercises in stylistic range and digital dexterity, from the F sharp minor’s elegant pacing that finally bloomed in counterpoint, to the resplendent harmonies and dancing gait of the G major. The pieces continued in a bubbling brook of counterpoint, the left hand prodding the right into sheer effervescence, even with a slight flub amid the dazzle. Goode’s playing built to a robust lilt, a full-chested articulation, a master grappling with a musical god.

But what impressed even more was how he reinvented Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata Op. 1, from 1908; giving the youthful work of the Second Viennese School composer maturity and depth I have not heard on recordings of this. The sonata is carved in a far rougher marble than Bach, with plenty of raw, wide-open veins. Berg was beginning to explore the implications of 12-tone technique, but Goode revealed this as still-romantic in its roots, amid sweeping lines and with a segment of counterpoint that alludes to Bach, an ingeniously apt program pairing. Goode gave the Berg voluminous grace that didn’t deny its grit. Halfway through the 10-minute sonata came a passage nearly tender, but which grew into a firmly-laced fortissimo, flinty yet majestic. He made this tough music breathe and, yes, sing.

Sometimes literally. Goode has always performed with an extremely animated face, especially with an utterly pliant mouth and lips and at times in the recital one could hear him humming softly along with his dancing fingers.

This all brought special resonance to the concert’s centerpiece, Beethoven’s Sonata o. 28 in a minor, Opus 101. He opened it more forcefully than his cherished recording of the work, without the perhaps-precious tiptoe-over-the lily-ponds effect. But now the pianist gave the opening melody a stronger arc of line, and elegant dance of hands that befit the acerbic chords that ensued, which nevertheless melt into a harmonic azure.

Richard Goode  Photo credit: Steve Riskind

The second movement’s march unfurled smartly, left hand crossing over right, then the left rising above the keyboard to pause, then both loping and strutting. This was not without some misterioso in the bass, which foreshadowed the adagio.  This somber interlude is brief but just enough, with Goode’s exquisitely held-breath pauses, yet a lovely undercurrent kept the tempo aflame. And at one point, his craggy brow and imploring lips brought to mind an aging Charles Laughton revisiting the pathos of his greatest screen role, as love-lorn Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, eloquently pouring his heart out to the cathedral gargoyles.

And yet Beethoven, with his own bedevilments, breaks free of his emotional quicksand, as did Goode. The finale slyly alludes to the march with songful Germanic hubris – the piece unfurls in swarms and stitches, the structural and improvisational aspects melding all of a piece, devil may dare and so does Beethoven.

After all this meat and potatoes, the post-intermission program of all-Chopin seemed a buffet of desserts, yet hardly without its strains of depth and glory. First, Goode book-ended four spritely mazurkas with a nocturne and the Ballade No. 3 in a flat major, Op. 47. That B Major Nocturne lent a smokiness to the underlying melodic sweetness and, among the mazurkas was the C major, spring-like and flirting with summer with the sound of rough-housing young rascals (lending rue to one’s rainy November mood). By contrast, the D-flat major mazurka is more probing and graced with the scrim of chiaroscuro, yet solidly grounded in the dance pulse.

These pieces set up the sumptuous Ballade, which is surprisingly acerbic, yet the melody shines among the composer’s most fetching, like a single determined flower breaking through earth, bolstered by its stout chromatic heart. Then this beauty is circled completely with arpeggios, and many aspects of the tempo and theme fragment and reassemble, a work of surprising power and radiance, which summoned its own ovation from the audience.

Then, another Nocturne, in C sharp minor, felt like a man soaking up the night, letting darkness infuse himself; he walks around, a shadow, a living mystery but somehow doesn’t deny his palpable existence.

It all ended with a Barcarolle in F-sharp major, with one of Chopin’s most beguiling, almost innocent melodies, yet the pungent key lent it heft and tart radiance.

For all this, Goode deserved an encore, and he chose a theme variation by British Renaissance-era composer William Byrd, written for one Lady Neville. It was a watery creation with swiftly coursing lines and glimmering light, but it also had some gallant flourishes, giving the lady honor, as in her subject’s most artful, sweeping bow (dripping wet?). She was finally charmed with a fugue passage that sounded born of a folksy English air, and she surely was satisfied.

Centuries came and went, to and fro, and Richard Goode remains the most sure-handed of time-traveling guides.

 

 

 

 

 

Jackie Allen mesmerises with personal vision and poetic music

Jackie Allen – Rose Fingered Dawn: The Songs of Hans Sturm (Avant Bass)

Milwaukee-born, Nebraska-based jazz singer Jackie Allen is on a sky-kissing career arc. Though still possessing far more talent than renown, her new album tops her previous, which I’d considered her best.  Dawn is more personal and artful, yet also as accessible as anything she’s done. That’s because of the nifty yin-yang between poetical art song-like creations often with enchanting world music settings, and more down-home groove songs, all created by her spouse, bassist-composer, Hans Sturm. The title song brilliantly evokes the dangers of romance: “You’re the light on the cliff over walls of mist/you’re the rocks below I can’t resist.”

Allen’s alluring voice, in its natural vibrato, glimmers like gulps from the heart, yet she transmits lyrics and sentiments with effortless aplomb and exquisite timing.

On “Moon on the Rising” her voice, in dramatic effect, speeds up the image to evoke the rising moon in a manner of seconds. On “Steal the Night,” her limpid phrasing sounds as if a circling well of water drifting into a slow current just out of reach of the departing lover who may never return.

Courtesy Jackie Allen Facebook page

Dane Richeson is rather wizardly in adding dimensions of percussive impetus as layered as they are propulsive, revealing his long study in African percussion and world musics. His uncanny chants open the album, like a shaman preparing his followers for a sacred ritual. The album follows with due spiritual fervor and complexity. Bassist-composer Strum remains central to the experience at all times, like a great stone well around which followers circle in dance or huddle, dipping into its riches like hungry fishermen.

Guitarist John Moulder also adds potent expression laced with shard-like textures, another veil of mystery that Allen dances behind.

Try this singer out and you’ll fall hard. Return to her and you’ll know why you always do.

 

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The black and white photos were taken by Leiko Napoli at Jackie Allen’s spring concert at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee.

As the days dwindle down, jazz heats up in Milwaukee

 

“September Song on two. Take me to the river”

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 lacks the recognition he deserves. This  is partly because he has been a key member of important jazz orchestras as much as the leader of 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 low-flying master of both high-flying 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 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 (the latter a member of Herbie Hancock’s iconic Mwandishi group). 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 an 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 Picture, 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 oft- moving and multimedia magic of cinema can.

The evidence of that recording shows once again that Harrell is an extraordinary master of lyricism, both in his distinctive ways of assembling tunes, and in how he thinks as a soloist – with lucid, deliberate articulation of shimmering and songful ideas. He can even pull this off at a fairly fast tempo.

And he does this consistently as a prolific artist, with annual albums and not infrequently two, and sometimes three, recordings a year.

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 a musical and brethren 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

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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.

kev on lapham tower 2

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/