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, The Village Voice, The Chicago Tribune, New Art Examiner, The Antioch Review, American Record Guide, Shepherd Express, The No Depression Quarterly of Roots Music, NoDepression.com, and elsewhere. Lynch is currently working on a novel, "Melville's Trace or, The Jackal."

Al Jarreau (1940-2017): He “got by” and then some

aj

The great singer Al Jarreau grew up not far from where I live, just south of Riverwest on Reservoir Avenue, west of Holton Street. Right up the street, an expansive view of Milwaukee’s picturesque skyline unfolded, which might’ve inspired him as a young man to greater heights in life and music, and to retain some precious memories of his hometown, which he captured in at least two different originals — the title song of his first album We Got By and “Milwaukee,” from his second album Glow.

You can imagine Al walking down the nearby Holton Street Bridge, singing and practicing by himself (as saxophonist Sonny Rollins famously had done on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York). The bridge carries you to the East  Side’s hippest sector, Brady Street, and to downtown beyond.

downtown from Holton St.

A view of downtown Milwaukee overlooking the Holton Street Bridge from Reservoir Avenue, where Al Jarreau grew up. Photo by Kevin Lynch

When Jarreau released that debut album I was working at Radio Doctors “Soul Shop” at 3rd St. (now Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.) and North Avenue. I fell hard for the album as did other “Soul Shop” workers and customers, including the store’s assistant manager Mark Olson, whom I remember a exclaiming, “This guy’s gonna make it, big!”

I had never heard of Al at the time, but he did not have a real long career paying his dues on Milwaukee music scene. His family migrated out to California and so he was still quite young when he started his recording career.

But even then, he didn’t sound like anyone else but Al. There was plenty of jazzy nuance and suppleness was singing and reflective moods. But he could also crank it up into a funky R&B groove and reach deep down for gospel depths. And that’s that was the combination and range is I’m sure what got him signed to a big label like Warner Bros. There were also tunes, like “Spirit,” that deftly juggled the stylistic differences.There were also songs in which he seemed to unlock his heart while declaring it was time to “lock all the gates,” knowing the harsh realities of the real world on the street.
But nothing of his ever beguiled me like that album’s title song, “We Got By,” a tender, ardent story of young life in Milwaukee:

I hardly had a bellyful
Never knew a new bicycle
Hand-me-down books and shoes
They brought the yule tides in July

I rode a bus, a train and sometimes
Strolling for miles to a movie show
Singing a song “Shoobedoo
“While birds and rich folks flew
Right on by

But we got by
Lord knows we got by

Winter wishes wait till June
We brightened July with
That hot dog fun
Tell your mama you’re with Sue
You bring the beans and I’ll
Find the wine
Them neon lights were bright
Till 2:00
And sneaking back home with
This girl named Jo
I hurried down to say do”
And stared my first man-child
In the eye

But we got by
Lord knows we got by

And now baby’s got his bellyful
And finally here’s that new bicycle
Working, praying, June to June
And mama’s got LA gleaming
In her eye

And we got by
Lord knows we got by

You see we kept on walking
And talking, hawking
Ooing, cooing, wooing
Loving, tugging, hugging, rubbing
Sugging, fugging, laying, praying, swaying
Letting, fretting, begetting, lying
Flying, trying, sighing, dying.

You see how Jarreau puts you right there, on the bus beside him. This story leads to a powerfully moving scat-song passage rippling with his highly-charged rhythmic phrasing and soulfully trumpeting high baritone.

The song “Susan” sounds like the sweet essence of his first love, herself and his irrepressible passion and tenderness for her.

“You Don’t See Me,” from the same debut album, is one of his first demonstrations of his extraordinary vocal elasticity, which he would explore in even more challenging settings such as his adaptation of Dave Brubeck’s famous rhythmic juggernaut “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” written in an 11/8 time signature.

Jarreau’s third album, Look to the Rainbow, demonstrated brilliantly his total command of live performance as it was a two-album set recorded live during a European tour. The doubled length allowed him to stretch out and show his jazz chops, especially the uncanny ability to mimic most any instruments.

He probably never reached any such extended heights on subsequent recordings, as he consistently conceded to his natural instincts toward R&B, and its inherent formulas, and to contemporary overproduction. However, jazz was never far away, as he demonstrated on his Grammy-winning Heaven and Earth in a fairly sublime two-part reading of the Miles Davis-Bill Evans classic “Blue in Green.” with his own original lyrics rendered with fine concision and an allusion to John Coltrane’s, A Love Supreme, then a medium-up tempo recasting of the brooding tune, which somehow worked superbly.

Personally speaking, Al’s death the other day was a real kick in the gut for me, because I had been thinking about him lately and about the sad fact that I had never seen him live. I moved to Madison in 1989 and stayed there for nearly 20 years working at The Capital Times, so I missed this reunion concerts in Milwaukee.

But I thought it would be great to see him before it was too late so I had sent the message just a few days earlier to Lynn Lucius, who does much of the booking of jazz and more creative music for the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. I suggested that somebody like her should book Al again. She recounted the last couple times he was here and what a kind gentleman he was offstage.

I explained to Lynn that several years ago, I decided that if I ever did a radio show again, I would use Jarreau’s “We Got By” as my theme song. That’s because Al understood the meaning and value of one’s roots and expressed it so well in that song, and I figured I would do record a program that blended jazz and roots musics.

One way to remember him now is to visit the exhibit Melodies and Memories: 200 Years of Milwaukee Music at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, 910 N. Old World Third Street, running through April 29 (continue reading below information box):

Events & Exhibitions

The interactive exhibit includes listening booths that allow you to hear recordings by Milwaukee musicians, singers and composers. One booth includes Al Jarreau performing the aforementioned Dave Brubeck composition “Blue Rondo a La Turk,” a stunning performance of virtuosic and expressive vibrance.

aj pic

This interactive listening stand at the exhibit “Melodies and Memories” allows you to listen to songs by various Milwaukee-native musicians including Al Jarreau. Photo by Kevin Lynch

Along with Liberace, Al Jarreau is the most famous singer to emerge from Milwaukee. His music will always help us get by, and then some.

.

 

 

 

You can now pre-order “Heartland,” the spring 2017 issue of the No Depression print quarterly

Here’s the cover of the Spring issue of No Depression’s print quarterly, highlighting The Heartland.

Roots music fans,

My editor at No Depression has requested contributing writers share the announcement of pre-orders for the spring 2017 issue of No Depression‘s print quarterly. The issue highlights America’s heartland, the Midwest, and includes my own survey of Midwest roots music performance venues. It also includes a profile feature on Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey, among other articles.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the ND print quarterly sets new standards for quality in photography, artwork and and writing  in roots music journalism. The coffee table-sized journal is designed to be something you will enjoy, cherish and keep on your bookshelves.

I’m proud to contribute to this outstanding cultural effort.

For more information on the issue, and to order a copy or subscribe, here’s a link:

http://spring2017.nodepression.com/

The night of Trump’s inauguration inspires this protest march

park crowd

The crowd for the first gathering of the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump crowded into Red Arrow Park on Friday, before beginning a protest march throughout downtown, on the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts is in the background. All photos by Kevin Lynch.

_____

The national news today report, and document live, huge rallies and marches – 600 different marches – across the United States in response to the Trump inauguration, including the Washington women’s march, over 500,000 strong. This represents perhaps an unprecedented groundswell of grassroots political response. But my report below is a prelude to all that, a protest rally in Milwaukee last night, only hours after the inauguration.  

MILWAUKEE – The looming fog and surly mist may have reflected the dark inner mood that brought thousands of people to Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee Friday evening. They came from all directions, gathering to protest what they felt was the questionable legitimacy and ominous threat of Donald Trump, who had just been inaugurated as America’s 45th president hours before. Now, while Trump gallivanted around to various inauguration balls in Washington, the crowd milled about, some hopping back and forth to stay warm, their own little dance of defiance.

The event didn’t unfold seamlessly; the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump at this point is perhaps a bit too ad hoc to have provided for electric amplification for leaders to speak to the throng. Instead they use hand-held megaphones and, standing about 15 yards away from their podium, I and others near to me could not hear what the speakers said, except for fleeting words.

So I climbed a staircase behind the podium and crowd and got a better vantage point and suddenly could hear better. One woman then announced that time had come to begin a march through downtown.

The massive coil of humanity began to unfurl and snake its way west onto State Street. As I followed, I passed a woman standing next to a park bench. She held a sign and told marchers: “Don’t forget Dontre Hamilton!”

Yes, of course, I thought to myself. This is Red Arrow Park, and that bench is probably the very one that Hamilton, a young black man slept on a few years back, until he was accosted by Milwaukee police who then shot and killed him –  after other officers had previously reported that Hamilton posed no threat to anyone. It was Milwaukee’s own dire story of police violence against unarmed black men, which has repeated itself time after time, seemingly week after week, across America in recent years.

protest rink

The crowd begins to begin a march by leaving beside the Red Arrow Park skating rink, and past the park bench where Dontre Hamilton was killed by Milwaukee police.

Donald Trump, however, had campaigned on “law and order,” and apparently more of the same, a stance strongly supported by David A. Clarke, the controversial cowboy hat-wearing black Milwaukee County Sheriff, who was the object of several chants this night, especially as the crowd reached the police station and County Sheriff’s office.

protest on stateThe marchers head west on State Street toward The Bradley Center and, in the background, the Milwaukee Courthouse.

The protest march moved across The Milwaukee River, past The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel communications building, where I once worked. Spirits now rose as chants began and the walking marshalled energy, including a woman, her hat bedecked with pro-women buttons, pushing a young man in a wheel chair. In the next moment, the march ground to a halt, at the corner of Fourth and State Streets in front of the marquee of the Bradley Center advertising for an upcoming Bucks game.

Suddenly police became conspicuously evident especially gathered on Fourth and State. Television cameramen scrambled around, trying to get good angles to shoot from.

“Why did it stop?” one woman asked. “Is this as far as it’s going to go? They said we would go much further than this.”

“I don’t know, maybe the police stopped it,” I answered.

But one of the organizers, a short, African-American woman with a megaphone, continued to muster rhythmic phrases, which the crowd chanted in unison: “NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA!”…“NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA!”

Some of the countless handmade signs spoke quite bluntly, including one message, held aloft by several young women, which read simply “PUSSY GRABS BACK,” a reference to an obscene comment that Donald Trump had made about his efforts to molest women, in a recording that gained notoriety during the presidential campaign. My own hand-made sign read “Chop Down Trump the Stump” and included a printout of a satirical drawing I did during the campaign, depicting Donald Trump as a tree stump, with a number of small banners stuck into it, bearing various racist, sexist and xenophobic comments he made during his improbable rise to the presidency, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes.

Still, the march remained stalled. Police stood by in ready, their dark uniforms silhouetted in the night.

“I’m getting scared,” a middle-aged woman said to me. I said nothing but patted her on the back reassuringly.  An electronic sign flickered above with the image of Milwaukee Bucks giant All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, a sort of real-life god whom, in this uncertain moment, anyone might claim for their cause.

The minutes passed in increasingly agonizing slowness, as the trailing end of the marchers now began massing more tightly in the intersection.

And then for no apparent reason, the marches began moving forward. I wondered if the coalition’s strategy was to stop to make a statement at this conspicuous spot, where the largest crowds gather in downtown, although for sporting events.

protest overpass

The crowd continued up State Street until we made a left turn and headed toward the brilliantly lit tunnel that penetrates the Milwaukee County Courthouse building.

protest tunnel

The marchers enter the Courthouse tunnel and raise a thunderous din.

And here something extraordinary happened. The crowd instinctively realized the acoustic resonance of the long tunnel and a huge roar began swelling as they entered and occupied the extended space. The sound magnified into a boisterously massive white noise of human passion, and probably some defiantly anarchic energy. The tunnel normally expedites swift-moving cars, and right there I felt thankful that the protest organizers had apparently received the proper permits to march through most of the major downtown streets that cars normally prowl.

protest courthouse

That became all the more striking when the march approached, from 3rd Street, the entrance to the Grand Avenue Mall and then turned left onto Wisconsin Avenue. Though a Milwaukee native, I had lived in Madison for nearly 20 years, until returning to my hometown in 2009. I had participated in some Madison protest marches. Now, it suddenly struck me: I was walking down the middle of Wisconsin Avenue, the main street of Milwaukee at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, protected by the river of humanity.

protest on Wis

A large protest sign floats down Wisconsin Avenue, like a ghost from the 1960s.

We approached the Riverside Theater and its grand, gleaming marquee advertising upcoming live performances by big-name entertainers. (Continue reading blow)

 

Protest on Wis toward RivProtest Rivprotest Riv 2The protest crowd heads down Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee’s downtown main street, to the Riverside Theater.

It struck me how our own cultural and political performance now intersected with the downtown’s other primary venue of entertainment performance, besides the Bradley Center. It felt like we were playing out a statement about what seemed important and vibrant and culturally alive, right now. One young woman began singing out the great Civil Rights-era anthem “We Shall Overcome,” and others nearby, including myself joined in. Right here, in this moment, the song’s resolute, hopeful lyrics, and stately, chest-heaving melody moved me, and I knew I was not alone.

Again we crossed over the Milwaukee River and eventually wended our way back to Red Arrow Park, situated across from another of the downtown’s largest entertainment venues, The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Yes, ours was a performance, a drama of dissent, but it was virtually spontaneous, aside from its provisional organizing.

“What does democracy look like?” one of the organizers had shouted through a megaphone several times during the march.

“This is what democracy looks like!” The crowd responded. Yes, it’s a familiar refrain at American protest marches. It signifies the people getting their moment to sing out, to let their cultural utterance seek out the truth, even as the dawn of a new presidency feels as dark and gloomy as this night, which seemed akin to the Trump’s strikingly ominous inauguration speech.

James Fallows, the National Book Award-winning author and national correspondent for The Atlantic, has read all 45 presidential inauguration speeches. Fallows noted last night that Trump’s was the first such speech to not display humility in honor of the office, nor an effort to open his arms to all of America, to try to bring us together, despite our differences.

But the light of energy this crowd radiated for several hours is the kind of force that could turn that dark dawn, slowly but surely, into something powerful, positive and righteous for the great mass of the American people and their democracy, which tonight looked like this, in cities all across America.

 

 

Culture Currents best jazz recordings, etc. of 2016

zeitlin cover

Readers will note, in my belated list, a preponderance of piano recordings indicating that, like classical music’s string quartet, the piano trio remains jazz’s most fundamental and vital chamber ensemble form. And my top choice, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s epic 2-CD adventure in tribute to America’s National Parks and beyond, shows how far a chamber-sized jazz group can travel in their evocation, expression and beauty.

At the spectrum’s other end, Darcy James Argue makes his maximalist orchestral approach incisive, dramatic and unsettlingly to the point that presses into our darkest fears about beneath-the-radar politics, especially conspiracy “theorists.”

The improbable sleeper of the year is The State of the Baritone by Madison WI reed player Anders Svanoe, who rewarded producer-saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s faith in him, with an ambitious and conceptually lucid statement about the hulking horn’s ability to float like a butterfly and roar like a buffalo stampede, among other qualities.

And historically speaking, Resonance Records continues to open up windows into the past that we never dreamed existed.

Top Ten Jazz Albums of 2016 (in order of preference)

Wadada Leo Smith – America’s National Parks (Cuneiform)

Denny Zeitlin – Solo Piano: Early Wayne: Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions (Sunnyside)

Fred Hersch Trio – Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto)

Darcy James Argue Secret Society – Real Enemies (New Amsterdam)

Kim Davis – Duopoly (CD/DVD) (Pyroclastic)

Frank Kimbrough – Solstice (Piroet)

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life – Nihil Novi (Blue Note)

Loren Richardson – Shift (Blue Note)

Anders Svanoe – State of the Baritone (Irabaggast Records)

Aziza – Aziza (Redeye)

Anders cover

Best Latin Jazz Album

(tie) Harold Lopez-Nussa – El Viaje (Mack Avenue)

Edward Simon – Latin American Songbook (Sunnyside)

Best Vocal Album

Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)

Best Historic Recordings/Reissues

Larry Young – In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance)

Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (Resonance)

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings at the Village Vanguard (Resonance)

Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Got a Mind to Give Up Living Live 1966 (Real Gone Music)

Best Blues/Roots Album

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By (Deluxe Edition) (Fantasy)

Best World Music

Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road Ensemble – Sing Me Home (Masterworks)

Best Live Performance

Tedeschi Trucks Band/Los Lobos,  White River Park, Indianapolis, July 27
Rick Germanson Trio, Jazz Estate, Milwaukee, Dec. 23

 

Trucks Los Lobos

A cool aspect of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Wheels of Soul” tour was its communal/interactive value. Here guitarist Derek Trucks (foreground, left) jams with David Hidalgo, lead guitarist-singer with Los Lobos, which preceded the Tedeschi Trucks Band in Indianapolis. The onstage band here includes members of Los Lobos and the TTB horn section, on far right. Photo: Kevin Lynch 

 

Christmas postscript: The star over Bethlehem burned brilliantly within this piano trio

rick-and-peter

Pianist Rick Germanson and bassist Peter Dominguez perform Dec. 23rd at the The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee (Photos taken by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise indicated, in a low light without flash.) 

T’wasn’t the night before Christmas, but all through the club all the creatures were swinging, even the mouse. Actually it was two nights before the magical, mystical night in a Bethlehem manger.

The band did play one seasonal song, Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” — as if they’d just dreamed it up in a sugarplum fever. Yet pianist Rick Germanson so deftly veiled it in fresh voicings that it spurred a debate between me and my girlfriend on the song title (I won).

“Merry Christmas, everyone,” the pianist said at the song’s end.

But these three men were home for the holidays. And by that time, in the second set, they’d delivered arms full of gifts, like three wise men from the Orient, casting riches upon our little jazz scene — compared to New York, as humble as the hay-strewn Bethlehem manger.

Sure enough they were all coming far from The East. New York, that is – not “the Orient” (which still exists only as a dated cultural construct).

All the rest of it was quite serious music-making, or I should say serious fun, because it mainly grew out of the loamy soil of hard-bop, which takes the most salient and vibrant aspects of bebop and he gives them a palpably funky and bluesy boost.

Or to mix a merry metaphor, it tasted like eggnog spiked liberally with something that never made Milwaukee famous – modern jazz, on December 23rd at the newly renovated and reopened Jazz Estate on Milwaukee’s East side.

The New York-based Rick Germanson Trio, all Milwaukee-area natives, made their hometown proud, and even gave this veteran jazz observer jolts of surprise, delight and, at times, mystification, as in: How the hell does he do that?

rick-g-solo

Rick Germanson takes a solo.

I figured that Germanson and his mates would be pretty damn good. But this was nearly off the jazz charts that none of these guys needed. In fact, the pianist, whom I observed closely with a virtual keyboard-side seat, repeatedly played extremely complicated and dynamic passages with intense concentration. Yet his eyes fixed somewhere far beyond the keyboard. That “look-ma-no-look!” effect just hints at the man’s mastery.

“In New York, Rick’s nickname is ‘Brick,'” said his bassist Peter Dominguez after the gig, flexing his right arm into a curl for emphasis, “because he’s so strong! And he takes no prisoners. Either you’re ready for him, or not.”
Consider that New York is, by far, the toughest and most competitive jazz scene in the world, and you begin to sense the mark with Germanson is making far beyond old Brewtown.

rick-g-head

On his Jazz Estate gig, Milwaukee native Rick Germanson displayed the musical determination to succeed as a jazz artist, which has earned him the nickname “The Brick” in New York, where he now lives. Photo by Ann K. Peterson.

Yet, he still seems under the national radar, despite his New York bona fides, including extended stints with guitarist Pat Martino and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band featuring Louis Hayes, and work with The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Mingus Dynasty, Tom Harrell, Jeremy Pelt, Brian Lynch among others, and co-leading his last recording with trumpeter Eddie Henderson.

Germanson was nowhere to be found in the latest Down Beat International Critics Poll, which I have contributed to in the past. After listening to his too-few recordings as a leader and on this stunning night, I would place him in the top 10 pianists, perhaps even number seven, right behind Brad Mehldau. And noting the unsurprising poll-winner Kenny Barron, it struck me why Germanson’s dark-horse presence is so well-earned. His overall style compares with Barron’s. Perhaps the elder pianist possesses unsurpassed elegance, offhanded ease and range of repertoire. But Germanson, at 44, is right in his prime, and can do most anything Barron can do, it seems.

(Full disclosure: about 17 years ago, Germanson played solo piano at my second wedding’s reception in Madison. But it was an accident of circumstance, as my chosen pianist, Dave Stoler, needed a last-minute substitute. I had little chance to really hear Germanson play that busy day.)

Some close-listening critics might argue that his influences remain a bit too evident. They’re detectable but also myriad. Just sitting through a few tunes, I scribbled down the relevant names: Ahmad Jamal, Cedar Walton, Ramsey Lewis, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Timmons, Hank Jones, McCoy Tyner. But Germanson tosses off these aspects with such alacrity that they ultimately feel integrated into an astonishingly wide mainstream jazz piano vocabulary. Call the dialect “post-hard-bop Germanson.”
There was Evans’ pensive ballad “Very Early,” with his sinuously-kneaded chord changes, and then Bobby Timmons’ groove-twitching “Jive Samba,” a tune Germanson surely played countless times with the Adderley Legacy Band.

Then yet another stylistic shift to the modern Coltrane-esque modalism of Cedar Walton’s “Holy Land,” wherein he carries you to the Promised Land with powerful gusts of crystalline sand and whirling wind. You can imagine how brilliantly he embraced the McCoy Tyner-esque stylistic power strokes Elvin  Jones was accustomed to in his rhythmic cauldrons.

Yet, at times, I wish he’d be a bit more harmonically daring and bullish, dash one flat or second interval hard across the grain, like Monk might. But Rick’s fully sophisticated in the post-bop tradition, so that caveat only seemed like a late-set afterthought. In re-voicing familiar tunes like “Autumn in New York” or “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” he lulls you with a theme-in-the-breeze, like a siren on the shore, rather than simply stating it. That way, he pulls you into his orbit and, with his encyclopedic stylistic resources, you feel set for a long stay.

The strategic success, at least of this live set, took off from a hard-bop pad. So the band often plays like a canny, old-time carnival clown – plenty of deep pockets full of surprises and loads of nimble wit to spur bobbing heads and chuckles of amazed delight. And in a place as intimate as The Jazz Estate, virtually the whole audience palpably feels it all down to their tapping toes. And if there’s a mouse or two lurking (unlikely), they’re surely hipsters, too. 1

At the heart of any great straight-ahead jazz style, as with Germanson, is the creative space facilitated by continual dynamic accents and deep-in-the-groove currents. Here too, he shines, his playing bejeweled with tough rhythmic finger drumming, incredibly tight sustained octave  tremolos,  or cross-punching tiger-paw attacks, or long, crackling-swift arpeggios.

And yet Germanson seems to know when to pull his own reins in and not seem like a show horse. He often offers such a gambit as a discrete jewel setting, with crisp entrances and segues. He almost floats against a pulsing flow of bassist Peter Dominguez and drummer Pete Zimmer. These two possess the power, precision and elasticity of a great neo-bop rhythm section, such as the 1980s Heath Brothers Band with its bounding harmonies and hop-skip-skittering rhythms. (continue reading below)

peter-dominguez

pete-zimmer

Bassist Peter Dominguez (above) and drummer Pete Zimmer playing with Rick Germanson at the Jazz Estate.

The second set helped affirm the pianist-composer’s evolving originality, as in “Rick’s Blues,” in which to Dominguez displayed his arco chops on a solo with fine, deeply resonating legato and highly evocative effect. This reveals his study with the great Madison bassist Richard Davis, one of the supreme masters of jazz bass bowing. (Germanson and Dominguez also display superb simpatico, taste and imagination on the Dominguez album How About This, a trio recording with former Herbie Hancock drummer Billy Hart.)

“Daytona” took a muscular McCoy Tyner approach and gives it a Latin twist. Even more distinctive was Germanson’s “Theme for Elliott,” written for his son, which “kind of captures his vibe,” he offered. A deceptively simple one-handed melody, like a boy might pick out on a keyboard, develops into a thoughtful but slightly impetuous exposition, tempered by recesses of shyness, a lyrical but probing creation.
Another personal gesture arose in “Susan’s Waltz,” written for his wife, who stood approvingly a few feet away from the keyboard. It seems almost a gently-traced character sketch, folded between deft chords. Here bassist Dominguez remade the melody like a grizzly bear capturing a butterfly in his paw, and slowly and tenderly letting it fly away.

The trio upped the power quotient in the Tyner mode on Germanson’s “Interloper,” conveying an apt sense of intrigue and drama. The three men from the East absolutely burned through this, with the sort of spiritual power akin to Tyner in his prime. Drummer Zimmer bristled with a swift-yet-sharp tempo and bassist Dominguez unleashed a panther-swift fast-walking pulse. Germanson’s solo set off fireworks, riding a powerful left-hand thunder of chords. And yet his ruthlessly rapid right hand didn’t really mimic Tyner, nobody quite can. Plus, his solo delved into complex harmonic underpinnings reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s impressionistic sorties.

It all ended with a brief encore rendering of Miles Davis’s set-closing standard, “The Theme,” which I hardly recognized with the re-harmonizing that Germanson says he drew from the late Cedar Walton’s approach to it.

Yes, Walton is one of this pianist’s touchstone fathers. But Rick “The Brick” has found himself, proving an old adage, that finally the child is the father to the man, his own man.

____________

1. A few more words about the new-and-improved Jazz Estate. It was a great listening space to begin with, but an excellent move was to re-configure the small back room. Instead of a cluster of tiny tables and chairs, the new owner built connected booth seating along the two walls leading to the back exit. This allows for at least several extra seats, and more lounging comfort through the last set. And the restrooms, previously merely functional, like many jazz clubs, now have “expanded fixtures” and very classy furnishings.

 

This is No Cold War Joke. It’s President-select Donald Trump Feeding Russia the Punchlines, One at a Time. Who’s Gonna Bomb First?

trump-putin

Courtesy cdn.images. express. co.uk

“The word mammoth is derived from the Tartar word mamma meaning the earth :”… From this some mistakenly came to believe that the great beast had always lived underground, burrowing like a big mole. And they were sure it died when it came to the surface and breathed fresh air!” – Roy Chapman Andrews from All About Strange Beasts of the Past (An epigraph to Lorrie Moore’s novel Anagrams)

“Whenever I’m serious, the only vocabulary I can come up with our words that have been spoken in the last 30 seconds. My sentences become anagrams sentences before. (That is an argument about intelligence and sexual fidelity in marriage”) – Lorrie Moore, from “The Nun of That,” from Anagrams

Has anyone been feeling furious lately, like right in the middle of the morning, without knowing why until they happen to check the news on their smart phone or turn on the tube?

Well, let’s try to focus that fury a bit into some something concentrated and somewhat analytic.

Let’s pay a little closer attention and start at a microscopic linguistic level. How might Trump morph into an American Putin? Is it any more than a coincidence that their two surnames are very pugnacious utterances when spoken aloud? Then notice how close they are to anagrams of each other. Try some letter juggling with Trump: “Pmurt.” Or “putrm.” Knock the second curve off the m, and you have “putrn.” Chop the curve off the “r” & pin it on top and you have Putin!

(Add the r to “putin” and turn the p upside down & you have “putrid.” How mellifluous.

A bit more seriously in a literary manner.  now certainly have perhaps the two strangest presidents to ever lead the two most openly antagonist superpowers in the globe. Trump and Putrid, I mean, Putin and Stump.

They are both mammoths, whose power is almost totally circular and inward-feeding from the energy and resources of the great nations they seem to be leading as elected presidents.

trump-angry

See The Donald Mammoth roar. Media.salon.com

It’s a bit like a woolly mammoth, say, from rising up from a prehistoric grave like a Neanderthal man wearing a woolly mammoth coat and headdress. Everybody flees in horror and they try to blow down any courageous challengers who might be a lingering. The working class or the lumpen proletariat seem to like some of the outrageous racist utterances from Trump’s mouth: Mexican rapists, radical Islamists (so let’s get rid of all his Islam Americans, even though the vast majority of domestic terrorism in America since the war and terror began has been committed by domestic right-wing offensive proto-Nazi mass killers).

But when people go to his rallies or get all their information from social media things like the truth are easily filtered out and Trump fans love the huff and the puff.

Let’s imagine a little showdown between Trump and Putin in which they’re both stripped-down to shirtless and face off, with Trump’s southward-sloping profile his belly curves tantalizingly close to Putin’s chest, being quite a bit taller and fatter.

putin-horse

Vladimir Putin. courtesy huffingtonpost.com

Although we’ve never seen Putin exhaling a big huff and puff, we’ve just seen the very posed photo op of him topless on a horse. But he seems to be in considerably better shape than Trump.

But the eyebrow-raising “bromance” between the two proceeds apace, to where we can only guess. We know that Trump admires Putin and probably wishes he was that smart and autocratic. Putin is possibly the richest man in the world because he has contrived to funnel a great percentage of his own nations GDP into his own bank account and is worth reportedly $86 billion.

As for Trump’s worth, who knows because he still hides behind a supposed audit to refuse to release his tax returns. We are aware of course that he lost something like $91 million a number of years back which may have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes for 15 years.

The Russian hacking of the U.S. election “was an attack on America, less lethal than a missile but still profoundly damaging to our system. It’s not that Trump and Putin were colluding to steal an election. But if the C.I.A. is right, Russia apparently was trying to elect a president who would be not a puppet exactly but perhaps something of a lap dog — a Russian poodle.”  – Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

Is this a cruel, unfair metaphor? We know that Mr. Kristof, despite his Pulitzer Prizes, is one of those highly specious “liberals.” Consider, as per the Times’ Maureen Dowd, who seems to hate Hillary Clinton more than any other politician if you consider her journalistic track record. So she’s going to give her opponent a fair shake, no?

She wrote of the last debate: “Talking about Putin, Trump once more offered the simple reason he has flipped his party’s wary stance toward the Evil Empire, subjugating his party’s ideology to his own ego: ‘He said nice things about me.’’’

It seems the most disarming thing that any raging mammoth can do to this orange paper sabre-toothed tiger is not to stomp on him like Hillary Clinton did with mighty psychological glee especially in the last presidential debate, in which he finally responded with a devastatingly policy-dismantling riposte: ”Such a nasty woman.”

No, all a smart person like Vladimir has to do is ”say nice things” about him. The Donald seems to have an Pavlovian response to niceness when it is directed at him. This is the height of quasi-erotic banality, something that perhaps the French filmmaker Luis Bunuel might have worked into one of his satires of the empty lives of the bourgeoisie, laced with odd sado-masochism (think of Belle de Jour).

Of course, Trump is the bourgeoisie bloated into the upper 1%, his wealth is the whole buttressing of his self-esteem and ego. He seems to have no firm principles or values other than accumulating money and its attendant shiny object sheen and “prestige.”

So “saying nice things” to him, to disarm him seems a reasonable equivalent to petting a lapdog poodle. The little creature, with the funny red sweep of fur over his brow, and and involuntarily begins to wag his tail. He quivers and emits a tiny shuddering yelp of pleasure.

Is the tail wagging the dog? It certainly seems to be. Let’s remember that Pavlov was a great Russian psychologist and the best leaders of that nation have employed such manipulative powers, including Joseph Stalin. Look at Pavlov.

pavlov-photo

This is a man who knows what he want, and needs to do, to extract the desired effect in his object of experimentation which, by now, is well-accepted scientific psychological truth.

pavlov

Add “NICE POODLE” (in soothing tones with steady strokes), to the left column of this chart. Then another “SALIVATION”.

Because the tail is being orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, like a hypnotist whispering to the alert tail, “You are getting verrry sleepy.” The tail begins following the Russian’s swaying vest clock… The poodle himself is virtually oblivious of this behind-the-butt love waltz.

You might also take one of those cute red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” baseball caps and put it on the head of Putin’s poodle, and his perky ears hold it in place neatly.

Such a “nice” image. Of course, that is nice mainly if we focus on the poodle’s perky, pretty posterior. If we look up front, prettiness, um, needs a napkin, or three.

pavlov-dog

Courtesy inkart.com

Now, this image of a “Pavlov’s dog” is not nearly as pretty as a lap poodle would be. But let’s imagine it starting as a Neanderthal in mighty-woolly-mammoth drag, morphing slowly into a fast-shedding shaggy dog, morphing into finally, a manicured lap poodle.

So  then one of his aides would read the whole column to him. You know what comes next .A detailed policy speech on culture intelligence strategies for responding to Russian hacking? Well, no. Maybe something more like, you know, what all (make America) great presidents do when challenged. He tweets. Eg.:

31 Dec 2016

This nasty blogger and people like Hillary are just jealous because Putin says nice things about me, and not them! Ha Ha!

OK, he’s eloquent. So let’s give our Trumpoodle a break, especially with the “optics.”

Ah, butt Larry King seems to have the right idea here:

larry-king-petting-trump

“Good Trump, good Trump.” celebalite.c

Okay, Okay, Trump fans who have, or are capable of, reading this far. I’ve tried to include lots of pictures. (I wonder, would The Donald read this far? Sure, if he scrolls down and sees his own face. So he’ll probably start reading around here. Sensing this possibility, I am striving for a bit of a Pavlov angle here 🙂

I am certainly willing to wait to see how the “president-select” (see the Electoral College fiasco) Trump “performs” once he puts his paw on the Bible and takes that solemn oath with a few muffled “ruffs”.

However, seriously speaking, what is scaring me is his cabinet appointing. If approved, it will be the most radically right-wing one in American history.

Trump media relations will be based on a propoganda mode; a daily misinformation campaign. Note his recent comment on the Russian hacking of the Democratic party files: “In the computer age, nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

Media critic and professor of journalism Jay Rosen comments: “Journalism that tries to find its public through ‘inside’ coverage of the political class is vulnerable to rejection by portions of the public that are busy rejecting that class.  This is a hard problem, to which “listening” sounds like a soft, warm and fuzzy solution. It isn’t.”

The media needs to find fresh ways of actually listening to the public, especially that which completely distrusts the press, following Trump’ cues fervently.

Rosen extensively quotes Andrew Haeg, CEO of the journalism start-up Groundsource, who has a smart approach in mind.

“Haeg recently tried to sketch what a ‘listening’ model looks like. I found inspiring his imaginary description of a two-person listening team:

Emboldened by election postmortems urging better listening, inspired by (the movie) Spotlight, trained in new tools and techniques, and stoked to pioneer new forms of listening-first investigative journalism, the duo works deep into the night, tipped over Chinese takeout, bleary-eyed, adrenaline-fueled, writing as they go a new playbook comprised of equal parts data journalism, community outreach, crowdsourcing, and investigative journalism.

They print and post handmade signs in grocery stores and truck stops: “What should we know?” with a phone number to text or call. They FOIA 311 data, download 211 data from the United Way, use Splunk and IFTTT and other tools to trigger alerts when key community datasets are updated. They hold town hall forums, set open office hours at local coffee shops and diners, and form key partnerships with community organizations to invite underserved communities into the conversation. They build a community of hundreds who ask questions and vote on which ones get answered, get texts with updates on the newsgathering progress and ongoing opportunities to share their concerns and stories. The community feed that develops is rich, authentic, and often shockingly prescient.

 

A new strategy by the press in the interest of factual truth for every citizen to use, no matter how they voted, is crucial to the new American surreality that Trump toys with daily.  Or is it Putin doing the reality-manipulating daily, via his lap dog, right here in our very own virtual back yard?

Isn’t Trump’s possibly impeachment-worthy complicity with Putin your answer?

Jazz Gallery music and anthology celebration bring it all back home

kev-signing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

manty-at-jg

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

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

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

kevin-signs-1

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

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

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

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

Bossa Not So Nova

Fattening and fifty-seven, Stan Getz

sweats out a melody, red-faced.

The sax sings effortlessly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

no, right from its case like the wind,

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

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

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

The sax singing ever so softly

as in a morning sunrise,

on a tide-swept beach full of guys.

(tenor sax solo to fade-out)

– Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular), 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

manty-ellis-jazz-foundation-fb-shortj

By Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular)

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

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

pauers-w-kaye-1

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

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

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

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

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

milt-at-jazz-gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

sharon-j

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks to Harvey Taylor for alerting me to this video.

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

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

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

________

1

Remembering Sharon Jones: An Unpublished Interview

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

rod-s

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

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

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

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

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

tinker

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

rod-bw-1

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