Here’s a chance to catch up on previously-unposted CC (VS) “best of the year” jazz recordings from 2009


Calling all jazz fans who need a little assist (or excuse) to search out some perhaps-overlooked gems. Also, because among American “vernaculars,” jazz claims such a profusion of accomplished artists — young, mid-career and mature — there’s always quality recordings worth digging (for).  

I came across this list, which has never been published before — my choices for the best jazz recordings of 2009. It was intended for an trans-Atlantic publication which never got off the ground of its Lindbergian aspirations. I did, however, present the list and comments on the air on WORT-FM in Madison, courtesy of one of that excellent community radio station’s jazz hosts, Alexander Wilding-White.

Special thanks to Alexander. Also, because I haven’t posted much lately in an effort to complete my first book, Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy, I am sharing this now.

You will note, at the end of most of the comments, a track number and a time number, like “5:25.” Ignore these, or  investigate further:  These disc jockey cues indicate specific moments on the recordings I considered highlights of the albums for air-play or listening.

Note finally my “Top 12,” and sundry other categorical winners. I think in such lists the round number of “10” is too arbitrary to not include a few worthy more.


  1. Komeda Project: Requiem (WM)  The slow, vamping tempo and the composed sequence of solo instrumental voices suggests a procession of humanity that could go on forever. The late Polish pianist-composer Krzysztof (pronounced Shis-toff) Komeda wrote many evocative and brooding scores for Roman Polanski films including Rosemary’s Baby and was a giant of European jazz. His personal music, like his commissioned scores, always commanded more arresting attention than your standard Hollywood soundtrack. A balance of personal structure, mystery and lyricism, Komeda Project features Milwaukee-based trumpeter Russ Johnson, among others. I chose this as best of the year before I meet Russ. So it reflects an unbiased assessment of a very special work of art. Requiem is a superb, deeply-knowing and inspired tribute band. First 2:50 of “Dirge for Europe.” (Also worthy is Tomasz Stanko’s 1997 album of Komeda compositions, Litania on ECM.)
  2. Vijay Iyer: Historicity (ACT) In a great year for pianists, Vijay Iyer showed astonishing range on Historicity which includes reworkings of pieces by Andrew Hill, the hip-hop group MIA, Leonard Bernstein, Julius Hemphill and Stevie Wonder along with revisited originals In Iyer’s segue from Stevie Wonder’s “Big Brother” to Julius Hemphill’s more ominous “Dogon AD,” notice how the second tune’s intervals suggest an abstraction of Stevie’s melody. But what’s really working overtime is Vijay Iyer’s fearless pianistic and creative intelligence.
  3. Laurence Hobgood: When the Heart Dances (Naim) I once had a conversation with Laurence Hogood, singer Kurt Elling’s longtime pianist and arranger and he proved a man of great creative hunger. He ended up recording a superb duet album When the Heart Dances. The familiar pop song “Que Sera, Sera” was used as a key plot device in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. Hobgood and bassist Charlie Haden transform it into their own philosophic reflection. The album’s heart dances all around que sera, sera. First 2:00
  4. Enrico Pieranunzi-Marc Johnson-Joey Baron: Dream Dance (CAM Jazz) Pianist Enrico Pieruanunzi is another exemplar of the deep maturity and vitality of European jazz. Here with Bill Evans’ last bassist and the American drummer Joey Baron, Pieranunzi shows how far beyond his romantic Evans influence he’s gone, without forsaking it. This powerfully sculpted theme is “No-Nonsense.” 1:30
  5. Amina Figarova: Above the Clouds (Munich) Yet another European, Figerova demonstrates how far women have traveled in jazz. Admittedly influenced by Maria Schneider, she has the arranging skill to actually build on that imposing influence. In this sextet and octet recording “Sailing through Icy Waters” she evokes the questing, treacherous expedition of Henry Hudson in 1609, searching for a passage to China. Hudson ended up discovered the great New York state river which bears his name today. cut 9, 1:39 or so.
  6. Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres (ArtistShare) This meeting of two generations of master guitarists worked so well they recorded a 2-disc set. Here the intrepid Frisell adapts Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” one of the most righteously angry songs ever recorded. Frisell played this song at the Barrymore a few years back and never announcing the title. It was chillingly unforgettable. Overall, though, this recording betrays a profound warmth and musical brotherhood between two generations of guitarists. Cut 8, 1:25
  7. Marcin Wasilewski: January (ECM) I heard this superb Polish trio live in Milwaukee last winter and my late father, who died in November, said it was the best jazz he had heard in years. I’m glad he got that last beautiful dose of modern jazz. These comparatively young musicians possess the the derring-do of the best American improvisors but with a distinctly-seasoned European sensibility, like eroding autumn leaves flirting almost defiantly with January’s harshly capricious winds. This is actually the working trio behind the great trumpeter Thomas Stanko. “Cinema Paradiso” 4:20 to 6:03
  8. Josh Berman, Old Idea (Delmark) Cornetist Berman was a surprise hit of the second Madison Music Collective summer concert put together last Aug. by WORT’s own Joanne Powers, who is also a multi-instrumental reed player. Chicagoan Berman drove up as a last-minute substitute for another musician taken ill, and he instantly began unfurling his intensely nuanced mastery of the cornet, a rarely played horn these days. I bought this album from him before he drove back home and it shows his Ornette Coleman influence in a band without a piano but with a vibist. Cut 4: “Nori” 1:50
  9. D. J. Strickland: In This Day (Strick Musik) What amazed me among other things was this drummer-bandleader’s ability to master and adapt the uncanny drumming style of Elvin Jones. Listen, many hip drummers master Jones’ triplets but Strickland also gets Jones propulsive attack of the drumheads and bright-but-dazzlingly-integrated cymbal playing. Track-after-track, I let Strickland’s rhythmic brilliance wash over me, with ears wide open and loving it. In This Day is a deeply satisfying post-Coltrane album featuring Strickland’s brother Marcus on reeds. Here he’s aided by conga player but the rhythmic effect is breathtaking. Cut 1, first 2:20
  10. Tom Gullion: Carswell (Momentous) This band dazzled the crowd at the Madison Music Collective’s opening concert of its summer series at Art in the Barn in Fitchburg. Their funky backbeats and deep grooves worked more like the contagious complexity of the Dave Holland Quintet, rather than sounding like commercial ploys. Well-known Madison-area trumpeter Dave Cooper calls saxophonist-composer Gullion the best musician he’s ever played with. I believe it. Here Gullion and Cooper play “Mellowing” in a quintet that includes Madison’s own Tim Whalen on keyboard. First 1:10 of “Mellowing.”
  11. Kelsey Jillette: The Water Is Wide (CAP) Jillette was the most refreshing vocalist I heard this year. On her ingenious medley of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” and “What is this thing called Love?” catch her deftly elastic phrasing and warm effervescence. She’s been perfecting her style with a fine band at Greenwich Village’s 55 Bar for two years now. First 1:40 of “Hot House” track 5
  12. Mostly Coltrane, Steve Kuhn (ECM)  The amazingly fecund legacy of John Coltrane, spanning his whole career as a leader, is presented here by an original, harmonically inquisitive pianist. Steve Kuhn played and recorded with Coltrane in 1960, right before McCoy Tyner took over. “Welcome,” with tenorist Joe Lovano, takes a melody that oddly recalls “Happy Birthday” and renders it eloquent, warm and supple, a classic case of a jazzer hipping a square melody. Mostly Coltrane surprises us with all of its late-period Coltrane style and shows how serene balladic ‘Trane could be amid all the free-jazz furor he pioneered and was attacked for. Kuhn reveals how late ‘Trane could be an adventure of deep, chiarscuroed nuance and meditative beauty.

JR Monterose

REISSUE J.R. Monterose: Original Quartet and Quintet: Complete Studio Recordings (Gambit) Detroit tenor man J. R. Monterose was the proverbial musicians musician who spent too much of his career in Europe. Even at a fast tempo his swing snaps, and his ideas are crystal clear and witty. And this tune also includes smart counterpoint with trumpeter Ira Sullivan on a  Monterose original named “Marc V” recorded in Hackensack in 1956.  “Marc V” 2:15.

2. Stan Getz: Apasionado (Verve)

3. Charley Patton: This Is the Blues (Proper)


  • Kelsey Jillette: The Water Is Wide (CAP) Jillette was the most refreshing vocalist I heard this year. On her ingenious medley of Tadd Dameron’s Hot House and what is this thing called love catch her deftly elastic phrasing and warm effervescence. She’s been perfecting her style with a fine band at Greenwich Village’s 55 Bar for two years now. First 1:40 HotHouse track 5


  • E.J. Strickland: In This Day (Strick Musik)


Wayne Wallace: ¡Bien Bien! (Patois)



1 Kuhn played with the first version of Coltrane’s quartet, in the spring of 1960, during a long gig at the Jazz Gallery in the East Village, before McCoy Tyner took over to finish the run. And that was it. Later Mr. Kuhn’s music followed a path very different from Coltrane’s, one of stricter harmony, piano-trio subtlety and endless curiosity about ballad standards.

Photos courtesy

The “sweet rain” of musical riches fell on Earth Day – and on a suspenseful Record Store Day

getz sweet rain

The back cover art of “Sweet Rain,” a 1967 album by Stan Getz.


Record Store Day: Hunt No. 1, Sweet Rain

The sun greeted Earth Day morning 2017 with warm benevolence and I imagined maybe, just maybe, I could “do it all” today, as my dear paraplegic friend Jim Glynn used to say, and amazingly he usually did, despite his disability. My disability is in my upper limbs, so I was up for this.

I wanted to commemorate and honor Earth Day meaningfully and urgently, because of the how the Trump administration now endangers the earth and its inhabitants with their small-minded head-in-the-sand environmental policies. I’d first planned on driving to Madison for the big rally to celebrate The Earth and to decry policies of Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has decimated the Department of Natural Resources.
But my girlfriend Ann Peterson and I had plans to drive to West Bend to see a superb photography retrospective of Tom Bamberger at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in the afternoon.

So I decided to skip Madison and join the Riverkeepers to pick up garbage along the Milwaukee River, a waterway I have grown to love more than any, especially the stretch of it right below Kern Park near where I live in the Riverwest. I had taken a photo of that portion of the river, which tries to capture its beauty, power, and the life within, for the cover of my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.

MKE river w canoe

Not my book cover photo, but canoers on the Milwaukee River, seen on the river path just south of Capitol Drive, from an old photo scan. Photo by Kevin Lynch

What complicated and enriched the day was that April 22 was also Record Store Day, and I’m an old record freak. I had tried to get a jump on that by doing my record store mining the day before, because the crowds on Record Store Day descend on the best independent stores like locusts.
I knew The Exclusive Company, on Brady Street and Farwell Ave., had recently purchased one used CD I had fondled several times recently and left behind – because of my tight budget. It was The Beatles’ White Album, a two-disc CD set for $5.99 with a slightly water-damaged lyric pages liner booklet.
But my first strategic stop the day before Earth Day/Record Store Day was to Bullseye Records, on Irving Street just off of Farwell, also on Milwaukee’s East Side. It’s not nearly as big as Exclusive Company but they’re both great independent record stores. And Bullseye is more lovable, funky but jammed with a high percentage of quality used CDs and LPs and some choice vintage new LPs, including audiophile-quality pressings, classic Blue Notes and choice imports. They also have some dog-eared copies of several classic record guide books, such as the now definitive All Music Guide, sitting in the bin areas, not to mention a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Bull's Eye records

The music-loving locusts descend upon Bullseye Records on Milwaukee’s East Side okon the annual Record Store Day, a celebration of America’s independent record stores. Photo courtesy of Bullseye Records Home Page/Facebook Page at:

I wanted a couple of CDs, a good Stevie Ray Vaughan disc, a gap in my collection heretofore, which I covered with The Definitive Stevie Ray Vaughan, on Sony Legacy, though I suspect I will buy more of Stevie Ray in the future. Also I needed to replace my LP copy of tenor sax great Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris, the superbly ingenious recording he made with Bud Powell, the bebop piano icon. I found those both in Bullseye’s CD bins.
Then I noticed a guy pulling out some pretty cool albums from the jazz LP bins. A lot of the albums had been marked with orange dots signifying they were half-price for Record Store Day weekend. Although I admired his choices, I realized that this hipster was weeding out a lot of the best stuff. So I began browsing the bins a few racks ahead of him. When he went to listen to a few of the LPs on Bullseye’s auditioning turntable I had a chance to go back to the A-through-D’s he’d been first plumbing.

One reason I love Bullseye is because they have a professional-quality turntable and a good receiver with which you can audition used LPs. It’s the only record store in the Upper Midwest I know of that offers that feature (along with a CD auditioning player, both with headphones) which can be an invaluable, especially if you’re on a tight budget like me.

It made me think of my other favorite record store, Strictly Discs in Madison, which has four CD-auditioning players. Strictly Discs is a truly great record store with a lower level filled with used LPs, which seems to be the curiously retro medium of choice for millennials these days. Before I moved back to Milwaukee in 2009, I had sold my LP collection of 4,000 records to Strictly Discs and received a handsome sum in return.

Nevertheless, it was perhaps the most painful and bittersweet day of my life, aside from those in which I’ve lost living people and creatures dear to me, forced partly due to a painful affliction that disables my left hand, making manipulation of LPs on a turntable difficult. I also thought of B-Side Records, the other invaluable music store in Madison, and particularly its owner Steve Manley, now suffering from a life-threatening disease. Besides being a great recorded music expert, Manley had once kindly written a letter to the editor of The Capital Times praising my coverage of the city’s jazz scene for that newspaper.
But I was in Milwaukee today, and, anticipating tomorrow’s Earth Day/art museum trip, I had to get cracking.

Soon enough old LP treasures began surfacing, alphabetically, as I worked through the Bullseye bins. The first was the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Great Black Music: A Jackson in Your House, a reasonably-priced new audiophile quality re-release from the French label, Actuel/BYG Records. This 1969 recording already shows the innovation, imagination, and sometimes madcap wit, and an almost sculptural sense of space this amazing group demonstrated throughout its existence.

Then I found The Bix Beiderbecke Story, both Volume One: Bix and his Gang and Volume 2: Bix and Tram. Cornetist Beiderbecke, of course, was the greatest white New Orleans-style jazz musician in an era of music innovated and dominated by black musicians. It was sweet to find these on LP for very cheap as I had once owned and cherished them.

Next, I found Sweet Rain, a 1967 recording by Stan Getz, the masterful tenor saxophonist at a period when he finally shed the gorgeous wings of the bossa nova craze that made him famous and embraced modern jazz without forsaking his natural lyricism, romanticism and humanity, as evidenced by the back cover photo pictured above. The orange-stickered record, which I nabbed for two bucks this day,  includes piano giant Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter then with the classic 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, and drummer Grady Tate. The album opener, “O Grande Amore,” switches from a rubato to a fast tempo where Getz shows his debt to Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” harmonic virtuosity, the same Coltrane who famously said he’d give his right arm to sound like Getz. Among other highlights, there’s a startlingly thrilling high note from Getz to end “Litha.” Then there’s the surprisingly funky interludes of “Windows.”

And throughout there’s Senor Corea’s sparkling and incisive Latin-inflected piano comping and fills, like a toreador wielding a lance, but never drawing real blood, yet penetrating deeply the spirit of duende, mostly here its angelic side which, one hopes, outlasts the dark blood-haunted side. 1

Then, I found a record I had been looking for many years and never owned in any form. It is titled The Cry!, the 1962 debut album by the West Coast flute player Prince Lasha featuring alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons, as well as bassist Gary Peacock, who would become famous as a member of the Keith Jarrett standards trio.
I really needed The Cry!, partly because of its plangent and surprisingly lyrical quality for an apparently avant-garde record, and because of a chapter in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. The chapter is titled “Hearing the Cry,” and deals with how jazz musicians articulate, in the depths of their tonal utterances, the extreme emotions, especially those that reach back to the field hollers of slaves in Southern cotton fields, before the Civil War. So this album was perfect, both nominally and in its content, especially in the searing playing of alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons.

Other ridiculously inexpensive LP finds at Bullseye were Major Changes by Frank Morgan in the McCoy Tyner Trio. This matched the great bop-era alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, whose tone and style somewhat resembles Stan Getz, and who lived in Milwaukee for much of his life. Here he was matched with the titanic pianist McCoy Tyner who helped to boost Morgan’s lovely style with a bracing and dynamic foundation. The album includes a reading of Jerome Kern’s stone classic “All the Things You Are,” a harmonic jewel which I can listen to endlessly. I love it so much I had quoted it’s Oscar Hammerstein lyrics in the toast I made at my first wedding.

The last one LP I found was the two-CD set on Verve, Masters of the Modern Piano (1955-1966), which includes sterling recordings from Bud Powell; Cecil Taylor with Steve Lacy live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957; The Dizzy Gillespie orchestra featuring pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams performing her great “Zodiac Suite” at the same Newport Festival; the Paul Bley Trio with Jimmy Giuffre and Steve Swallow, The Wynton Kelly Trio; and The Bill Evans Trio, featuring the glorious “My Foolish Heart,” recorded in New York at Town Hall in 1966. As a guy who once played some jazz piano until my left hand was disabled, this was an essential replacement for the LP I sold to Strictly Discs.

I noticed Bullseye was stocked up with store T-Shirts for the crazy weekend, and the older ones were only five bucks. Terry Hackbarth, the store clerk/consultant, said if you wore the T-shirt in the store on Record Store Day you would get five bucks back with a record purchase. I took him up on whole enterprise, if I could come back to buy my records. He willingly held all the CDs and LPs for me and I said, “I’ll be back, tomorrow.”

Now, after I’d left it unbought twice already, would The White Album still be at Exclusive Company, prominently filed for $5.99? Well, record geek suspense was afoot.

I dashed over to the store, and yes! There was The White Album which I knew, at a 25 % discount off of $5.99, would be gone in the first few minutes of Record Store Day tomorrow. So I snagged it, the only recording I actually purchased that day, hoping things would work out tomorrow.

I woke early on Earth  Day and found Riverkeepers website to register for the clean-up, from 9 to noon, which included a free T-Shirt for participants. Then I made it down to Bullseye Records shortly after 10 AM, when it opened. It was filling up fast with record locusts pawing feverishly through the bins. But my stack of LPs and CDs still sat behind the counter, as I proudly wore my new Bullseye T-shirt with a big honkin’ red-white-and-blue target on the chest, which Luke Lavin, the store owner complimented me on. I reminded him that Terry had told me about the five-dollar deal and Luke said, “Oh yeah, it’s not like we force you to wear the T-shirt. It’s not like there’s a target on your back. There’s just a target on your front!”
Luke claimed he just made that up right there, and that he was “in a zone” today, but I doubted that, though it was a great Bullseye line.

Earth Day: Hunt No. 2, As the Hawk Flies


I drove over to Kern Park, parked and arrived at the top of the pathway down the bluff to the river pathway. There stood the Riverkeepers registration stand.  I was too late for a T-shirt but the fact that they were all gone shortly after 10 AM was a good sign. The Riverkeeper captain there said they had more participants show up then she expected.

As I stood there some participants walked up and set a couple of dirty Milwaukee Bucks bobble heads, both which sculpted Anthony Mason, a power forward who played with the Bucks for a short while. They said they had found some syringe needles as well, a sad commentary on the pervasiveness of drug addiction these days.

So I helped myself to a large cup of Starbucks coffee, grabbed a pair of gloves and a big plastic bag and asked the captain where I should go.

“The riverfront actually is pretty well covered but we need help with the bluff.” she said. “If you could just work on the bluff that would be great.” I wouldn’t be close to the wonderful river but working on the bluff appealed to the old mountain climber in me. So I set out due South from that spot and didn’t see too much on the bottom of the bluff. Then I thought that there would probably be plenty of garbage at the top of the bluff, behind the couple of apartment complexes just south of Kern Park. Sure enough, the top of the bluff was full of miscellaneous stuff, such as old plastic bags caught in bushes like bizarre flying machines cruelly grounded.

Other plastic bags peeked from beneath their burial sites and I would pull out most of which was underground. How long does it take for a bluff – ever moving, ever slowly, from the forces of wind, rain and gravity – to bury an errant plastic bag, I wondered. This Earth Day task – far more humble than a big, noisy protest march at the Capitol in Madison – really became sort of fun, something like an Easter egg hunt at a 45° angle.

Then I noticed right at my feet a large bird feather, earth-colored red with white stripes. It was a hawk feather, and considered good luck if you find one. I stuck it in the back of my Nature Conservancy cap, and felt a bit like a Native American, alone in the woods, moving softly in moccasins. I thought about our literal and environmental footprint, and the way litter like this expanded it. I figured, well, if I didn’t get a T-shirt, my labors earned me from providence a feather in my cap, and a pretty cool one at that.

I worked my way back to the stand right around 12 noon, but the Riverkeepers had gone to the afternoon activity which was largely a celebration, in Estabrook Park just north of Kern Park. But I had to get to the photography exhibit in West Bend. So I tied up my bag of junk and left it with other bags, which a young woman assured me would be picked up later. I walked back up the Parkway and started picking up litter that remained, too far away from the Riverkeepers’ realm.

earth day tools

The high-tech tools of the Earth Day clean-up: Garden gloves, big plastic garbage bag, Starbuck’s coffee (not shown). I  was a bit late to the clean-up start to get a Riverkeeper participant’s T-Shirt, so I just wore the Bullseye Records T-shirt I had on, as per the concurrent Record Store Day. I added a hawk feather to my cap when I found the good luck charm amid the bluff below Kern Park. Photo by Kevin Lynch  

The last bit of litter I found was a Life Style brand condom wrapper, 30 feet away from the children’s playground. Actually, it seemed a curious counterpart to the hawk feather I’d found, both endemic to elemental activities of nature, flying and f–king. The feather helps keep the bird safely aloft, the condom keeps a man safely contraceptive. (As I write, The White Album plays): “Take these broken wings and learn to fly/ all your life. You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

And I made it home in plenty of time to have Ann pick me up for our trip to Tom Bamberger’s photography retrospective, which I hope to address in another posting soon. But if you miss that, it’s a rather astounding show, running now through  May 21 at The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Visit the website at


  1. I was fortunate to hear Stan Getz live several times, and to meet him twice. The first time, I drove down in Chicago to interview him in person for preview article for The Milwaukee Journal. He would soon head for Milwaukee for a gig at the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. I met him in his hotel room right on Chicago’s magnificence downtown shoreline and he did a fine, gracious interview in his sun-drenched room.              The second occasion, in its own way, was more memorable. Getz was 57 by then and beginning to really age. I was reviewing him in a concert he did at the Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center for the Arts). After the concert, I went to the small reception room where people meet artists after concerts. I wanted to get a bit of information about a few tune entitled for my review. But Stan was tired and wanted to get to his hotel room as soon as possible. So he invited me along as he walked to the Hyatt Hotel. In fact, he was so beat he asked me to carry his saxophone, in its case.

I was stunned by this request. So, there I found myself, carrying Stan Getz’s saxophone and asking him questions he probably didn’t want to bother with, but again was gracious enough to accommodate. I was so struck by the experience that I wrote this poem about it.

(Warning: I’ve posted “Bossa Not So Nova” before, but it’s one of my best-received poems so indulge me, if you need to):

Bossa Not So Nova

Fattening and 57, Stan Getz

sweats out a melody, red-faced

“Hey thanks for the article. Can you carry my horn?” he croaks.

The sax sings light blue

Small, and tan, and young and handsome, a boy comes walking for an autograph.

Stan stops, signs, walks and goes ”Ahhhh, I’m bee-at. Just go slo-ow.

Hey can you find a doctor?”

They all sleep or smoke butts in cold ward halls.

Stan Getz wonders where Mader’s is.

His round belly rumbles.

The sax sings effortlessly,

“Tall and tan, and young and handsome,”

the boy from Ipa-nema is wheezin’

looking for a doctor or sauerbraten

while a woman somewhere dreams…

to the scratched record,

the sax singing effortlessly.

Kevin Lynch (copyright 2012)

An ambitious redevelopment project embraces the rebirth of America’s Black Holocaust Museum


black holo new

Architectural rending of The Griot and The Historic Garfield apartments with the rebuilding of America’s Black Holocaust Museum in the foreground. Courtesy of Mauer Development Group, LLC and J. Jeffers & Company

MILWAUKEE – Tuesday, April 4, proved a banner day for this city’s deep memory, brave hope and authentic culture. It was the groundbreaking day for The Griot and Historic Garfield Apartments, one of the most historically fraught, and socially and culturally inspired development projects Milwaukee has seen in a long time. The centerpiece of the project will be the reconstruction of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, at the corner of North Avenue and Fourth Street.

It signifies great pride in how the city has embraced and burnished its memory of what is now called Historic Bronzeville, a vibrant cluster of Harlem Renaissance-like inner-city neighborhoods (bounded by N. Holton St., E. Juneau Ave., N. 21st St. and Burleigh St.) in the postwar period, which is working mightily to regain its luster.

More pointedly, it is also a matter of honor that the project will be nobly shadowed by the profound history the museum will reawaken for all visitors. This location is the site of the original museum founded by a remarkable man for anyone who knew him, Dr. James Cameron, the only survivor of a lynching to do full justice to that dark chapter of America history with an autobiography and a museum dedicated to remembrance of great suffering, deliverance and ongoing affirmation of African-Americans from The Middle Passage to The Civil Rights Era and doubtlessly to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

An overcast day drew at least 400 people to a large tent that has been erected as the spring shelter for the construction project, behind the historic Garfield Street Elementary School around which the project will be built.

Besides the projects organizers those in attendance included Mayor Tom Barrett, alderpersons Milele Coggs and Nick Kovac, and other notables. Barrett and Coggs spoke in support of the project. One of the project’s founders, Melissa Goins, of the Maures Development Group LLC,  also spoke and suggested that it would “break the heart” of Museum’s late founder Dr. Cameron if – after all his work, including his remarkable autobiography, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story – the museum had no physical afterlife following its closing in 2006, due to financial difficulties. Dr. Cameron was acknowledged symbolically at the groundbreaking with an empty chair near the podium.

Milele Coggs & Melissa GoinsAlderwoman Milele Coggs (L) and Maures Development Group’s Melissa Goins proudly announced the historic redevelopment project in May 2016.

Spoken word poet Dasha Kelly delivered a lovely and inspiring poem which welcomed the rhythms and passages of the seasons and exhorted the audience with these words “You be the rain. Make the gray clouds move,” which drew a strong applause from the audience in the spirit of the event’s underlying objective: to request the community to move the earth with their finances for what will be a multi-million dollar, multipurpose project.

Following the presentation, a local jazz band, Cigarette Break, performed during a luncheon.

The historic Garfield Elementary School Building will be reborn as The Historic Garfield Apartments with 30 units of high quality apartments. In phase 2, the adjoining vacant properties will be demolished developed as The Griot, a new building with 8,000 ft. of commercial space and 41 residential units. Both buildings will have a combination of one, two and three-bedroom apartments targeting households at 30%, 50%, and 60% of area median income as well as market rate. The Griot will also become home to the new physical building for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM). *


The historic former Garfield Elementary School building (left) will be redeveloped and repurposed for 30 units of high-quality, mixed-income housing. Courtesy of Mauer Development Group, LLC and J. Jeffers & Company

And it appears that this project will be realized primarily by the city’s citizenship, and various corporate funders and benefactors as have other notable cultural entities such as the Milwaukee Art Museum’s internationally-celebrated Calatrava addition.

Speaking of internationally-celebrated cultural institutions, there’s no doubt that the  National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, though wider ranging, which has James Cameron’s museum as a historic model, proved to be an inspiration for this project.

Conceptually the museum will be built on a pillar of four themes: Remembrance, Resistance, Redemption, and Reconciliation, which are expanded upon in the excellent online version of the museum edited by Fran Kaplan PhD. at America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

My own interest in the museum dates back a number of years to when I discovered it accidentally while driving through the Bronzeville neighborhood in hopes of visiting the facility that formerly housed Radio Doctors “Soul Shop,” a music store that I worked at in the 1970s. The space was located a block away from the site of the Holocaust Museum (see photo below). The site of record store, which served Milwaukee’s inner city, was merely an empty lot at the time.



Photo of the original America’s Black Holocaust Museum (in background) from the empty lot on 3rd and North Avenue where once stood Radio Doctor’s “Soul Shop,” a record store  were I once worked. Photo By Kevin Lynch

But I visited the museum and was greatly impressed, which prompted an interview with Dr. Cameron which was originally published in The Capital Times in Madison and later became part of the chapter of my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.
Here is an excerpt from a chapter that deals with the Holocaust Museum and Dr. Cameron.

“The Man Who Survived a Lynching,” from Chapter 11 of Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. Copyright Kevin E. Lynch 2017

One overcast summer day in 1999, I felt that chilled American duality between constitutional guidelines and the individual voice in the wind that swept through the empty lot of my old workplace haunt, Radio Doctors “Soul Shop” in Milwaukee’s inner city. A few foundation bricks still remained among weeds and a crooked dirt path to the back alley where we once unloaded truckloads of records. There I saw a pile of debris that looked like the site of a drug fix, “with needles on the ground,” as The Tedeschi-Trucks Band sings in “Midnight in Harlem.”

And with the watery ghosts dwelling in this book, it’s seems wholly fitting that the setting TTB’s songwriter for this melancholy scene is a river side, (presumably The Hudson River) in what emerges as a potentially redemptive lyric:

I went down to the river
And I took a look around
There were old man’s shoes
There were needles on the ground
No more mysteries, baby
No more secrets, no more clues
The stars are out there
You can almost see the moon
The streets are windy
And the subway’s closing down
Gonna carry this dream
To the other side of town.

Walk that line, torn apart
Spend your whole life trying
Ride that train, free your heart
It’s midnight up in Harlem 1

I almost felt renowned Harlem “survivor” James Baldwin’s large sad eyes casting a glance over my shoulder. But right then, having crossed the Milwaukee River a few blocks back, I was walking over to one of the nation’s most resolute beacons of understanding, America’s Black Holocaust Museum, on 4th and North Avenue, now just a windblown tumble of garbage away from the empty Soul Shop lot.

I’d come to visit with the museum’s founder James Cameron on the occasion of A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, a harrowing exhibit of the most preserved and documented slave trade ship ever found in the Western Hemisphere. I stepped into the exhibit’s shadowy quarters. I touched the limbs of shackled museum dummy figures, heard recorded creaks and moans from the ship’s hull, and the sepulchral voice of an African recollecting the experience.

The small museum, the first of its kind, existed to convey a deep perspective on American racism. Yet he conveyed no animosity towards white people. “This is a museum for African-Americans and for freedom-loving people of all races,” Cameron said emphatically. He appreciates the significance of America’s little-known interracial foundation. Standard history rarely explains how free blacks actively participated in the formation of the thirteen colonies, until commercial dependency on slavery betrayed their place in America.

James Cameron lynching

Dr. James Cameron, founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Courtesy who

Consider what even free blacks had likely endured to reach the colonies. On average, 20 percent of a slave ship’s human cargo died in the six-to-10 month, rat infested trip from Africa to America via the London market. Ships typically stopped at Caribbean ports for slave “seasoning,” to help them regain their health and acclimate to working conditions before they were presented for market.

The 85-year-old Cameron had returned to his hometown of Marion, Indiana the previous weekend to protest a Klan recruitment rally on the steps of City Hall. As he talked, Cameron gazed out the window, into nightmarish memories. In 1930, a Marion lynch mob seized three black teenagers, including Cameron, who had been accused of robbing and murdering a white man and raping a white woman. Confessions were apparently coerced, according to writer David Bradley, author of The Chaneysville Incident, another bleak chapter in race history. 2

Imagine the horror of the 16-year-old Cameron, as the slobbering, sledgehammer-and crow bar-wielding mob apparently smashed the jail bars open wide enough to drag him and his friends out to a nearby poplar tree. Cameron turned back to me and said: “A miracle saved me. They were going to lynch me between my buddies.” The mob of about 5,000 was “hollering for my blood” when an angelic woman’s voice said, ‘Take this boy back.'”

He fell silent. Sometimes the truth comes out in dribs and drabs. In 1994 he had told NPR that the mob grabbed Shipp and Smith first — and then came back for Cameron.

“After 15 or 20 minutes of having their pictures taken and everything, they came back to get me,” Cameron said. “Just then the sheriff came, and he was sweating like somebody had throwed a bucket of water in his face. He told the mob leader: ‘Get the hell out of here, you already hung two of ’em so that ought to satisfy ya.’ Then they began to yell for me like a favorite basketball or football player. They said: ‘We want Cameron, we want Cameron, and we want Cameron.'”  3 Somehow, the mob relented and removed the rope from the boy’s neck. Yet Cameron was forced to stand beneath the hanging bodies of his friends, Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith. Then, he barely survived a brutal beating, he said.

American griots and a photograph of the travesty by Lawrence Beitler helped fix the lynching in American history. The image is believed to have inspired Abe Meeropole to write the lyrics to “Strange Fruit,” which Billie Holiday made into the immortal jazz-protest dirge: blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ black body swinging in the Southern breeze…” The photo became a post-card that sold by the thousands, burnishing local racist pride. Bob Dylan commemorated that ugly image in the first line of “Desolation Row.”: They’re selling post-cards of the hanging… The bizarre, carnivalesque quality of Dylan’s unfolding imagery suggests that this event helped trigger his vision of that metaphoric American place called “Desolation Row,” where young James Cameron once dwelled.

Patrick J. Sims, assistant professor of theatre and drama, rehearses for his one-person play, "Ten Perfect," in Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Jan. 15, 2010. During the play, Sims portrays 18 characters to tell the story of James Cameron, an African-American who survived a lynching as a teenager in Indiana in 1930. Sims' public performance of the play is scheduled for Feb. 5-6, 2010, in Lathrop's Margaret H'Doubler Performance Space. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller Date: 01/10 File#: NIKON D3 digital frame 4272

Patrick J. Sims, assistant professor of theatre and drama, rehearses for his one-person play, “Ten Perfect,” in Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Jan. 15, 2010. During the play, Sims portrays 18 characters to tell the story of James Cameron, an African-American who survived a lynching as a teenager in Indiana in 1930. Sims’ public performance of the play is scheduled for Feb. 5-6, 2010, in Lathrop’s Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space.
©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067
Photo by: Jeff Miller
Date: 01/10 File#: NIKON D3 digital frame 4272

This photograph by Lawrence Beitler in this theatrical backdrop, helped fix the 1930 Marion, Indiana lynching — which 16-year-old James Cameron barely escaped — in the consciousness of America. 

Cameron was moved out of town, convicted as an accessory to the murder and served four years in jail.  But the case was never solved.

“I talk to university professors of history who do not understand this,” said Cameron, who received an honorary doctorate from the UW-Milwaukee for his work as an historian. His understanding of the event is ontological. 4

Cameron struggled for years with the lightness of being – those hovering friends – as a near-victim of a rope’s twist of fate. Finally he mortgaged his house to print and publish his memoir, A Time of Terror. Then, after visiting Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, he knew what he had to do. Moving to Milwaukee, he found an abandoned gym on 4th and North. He bought it from the city for $1 and began piecing together the museum, built around the Beitler photograph and the ripple effect of sea-born echoes. Cameron would found several chapters of the NAACP, and the museum. In 1993, he finally received an official pardon from Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, and one of those oversize “keys to the city” of Marion, perhaps the size of the lynch mob’s sledgehammer. Cameron said he broke down and cried when Gov. Bayh telephoned him. The United States Senate formally apologized in June, 2005, with Cameron present, for its refusal to approve any of the 200 anti-lynching legislation bills introduced during the first half of the 20th century, a failure that led to the deaths of at least several thousand African-Americans.

The following June, in 2006, James Cameron died. The museum closed in 2008, now a sad, shuttered building, like too many in Milwaukee’s inner city.

Life’s unbearable evanescence had swept over history once again. People die and their bones turn to dust. But legacies endure, like remnants of The Henrietta Marie — 300-year-old iron shackles, some small enough to entrap children’s wrists and ankles.

The mind of this haunted American griot worked his way through living hell and then rose slowly, against absurd odds, to the light of such a hard-won legacy. That’s worth lending a close ear, to a murmuring voice in the river, an American witness, survivor, and hero. “To pick up the loose threads of my life, weave them into something beautiful, worthwhile and God-like.” –James Cameron, The final sentence of A Time of Terror. 5


(Scroll to more illustrations and a video, below footnotes)

* Historic Garfield Apartments will begin leasing in July 2017 and construction will be complete in October 2017. The Griot will begin leasing in December 2018 and construction completion is slated for March 2018. Located 1.5 miles from downtown along a major core commercial corridor, the project is aimed at helping catalyze local economy and create jobs and training opportunities. It promises to initiate the rebirth of the envisioned Brownsville Arts and Entertainment district.

1.      Here is The Tedeschi-Trucks Band performing the quietly eloquent “Midnight in Harlem,” written by the band’s back-up singer Mike Mattison, at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Blues Festival at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL. in 2010:

  1. David Bradley, “Anatomy of a Murder,” The Nation, June 12, 2006: 32. Bradley was reviewing a book with an in-depth account of the Marion lynching, Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America by Cynthia Carr


  1. Kevin Lynch “Exhibit Gives Life to Ship of Slaves,” James Cameron interview, The Capital Times, 31 July, 1999 Lifestyle 1D.

5 James Cameron, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story.

 Here’s a link to the impressive online-only version of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, founded by James Cameron: The museum will be restored in a new building on the  site of the original building at fifth Street and North Avenue in Milwaukee. Also, there is the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum in Philadelphia, a small Black Holocaust Museum in Detroit and most importantly the magnificent new Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Fran Kaplan discusses America’s Black Holocaust Museum with Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI 4th District) and the staff of Congressman John Lewis (GA 5th District) in Washington, DC.


Shackles for women and children for the slaveship Henrietta Marie  

slave ship stowage


Illustration Courtesy


Original plans for holding slaves in sardine-like fashion in the ship during the Middle Passage (above and below). 

Here is a compelling video of the Jim Crow Era set to a recording of Billie Holiday’s famous and harrowing anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.”


All photos courtesy of unless otherwise indicated

A Slightly Fractured Cat Fairy Tail

cat tornado pic

Artist rendering of the eye of a tornado. Courtesy

By Kevernacular

There seems no elegant way to begin this little fractured fairy tale, so I’ll get on with it. I was seated on the false throne upon which I debase myself before Mother Nature every morning. Ah, but the Grande Dame had a new experience – and task – in mind for me today, telling this story apparently.

Because, dear reader, fractured as this fable may seem, it is true. I had heard that this sort of phenomenon happens, but only as an old wives’ tale (or an old soldier’s amazing tale of valor, to be more P.C.?)

But there I was, hearing the strangest commotion, a few feet away from me. Deep inside the tall walls of my flat’s old-fashioned claw-footed bathtub, a concentrated cauldron of circular chaos had erupted. This particular concentrated cauldron of circular chaos is named Chloe, so perhaps this was inevitable, you C.

Chloe is my very intelligent but slightly crazy cat. But what the hell was she doing in the tub? The shower curtain was pulled away, behind the free-standing tub, so it wasn’t occupying her, as it sometimes does. Then, her well-rounded, open-air fits and starts all of a sudden fell into place in my still-groggy morning mind.



You probably know how much cats like to get into circles. Now you know how tantalizing Chloe’s white tail is — to that end — sometimes, especially to her.

I think she’s chasing her tail!

She had hopped into the curved end of bathtub which may have sent her mind into a circular tizzy. So I leaned over to get a better view of the action, and sure as heck.

She was not only chasing her tail, she was stalking it, as cats are wont to do. Chloe happens to have a white tip on her darkly mottled Calico tail, which seemingly was now contributing to her self-involved intoxication, this small “I” of a tornado.

So part of her body waved the tail tip tauntingly at her face from below until she could stand the tension no longer in her contorted, curled-up crouch – She had to attack!

But, spinning madly, she failed miserably, of course. Still, she was now hell-bent on capturing the monstrous tail, dead or alive!! Like a manic ghostbuster chasing down the thump of an accursed, beating, disembodied heart!!!

I imagined Edgar Allan Poe nodding in demonic glee from his grave somewhere in New England.

Meanwhile, I also envisioned something else, A Red Badge of Courage, forming mystically upon Chloe’s furry breast.

Again, the tail swayed slowly back and forth, mockingly. Again, she pounced in ferocious, temporary (I hoped) insanity. And again.

I swear, this went on for several minutes and I figure that she traveled several cat lifetimes in pursuit of the white, phantasmagorical mouse she had trapped.

What goes through the mind of a cat in such times, aside from the wind blowing in one ear and out the other, registering a small echo in the empty cavern of her brain that sends her on such wild goose chases?

No wonder, it was a wild goose, or at least a goose poking its head up out of a hole in the ground. Wow, that sounds pretty tantalizing, to even me.

The reporter in me finally kicked in, and I thought, I can maybe capture some of this on video, for proof, if I can only reach my camera.

Done with my duty, I tiptoed into the kitchen, loaded the recharging battery into the camera, and made my way back. Of course, the tiny click and whir of the camera mechanism going on caught her attention, and her interest in the wild goose, or mouse – that, in fact, chases her all day long – suddenly abated, and she hopped out of the top with her little “Geronimo!” meow and was gone.

So now, rather than visual proof, you have merely my words and your own imagination to contemplate this modest wonder of nature. Or the truth of its telling, a tall order in these topsy-turvy political times.

Was this somehow a metaphor for dear, confused America, today? Or was the tail a mere fairy? I guess it’s time for me to get to work, while you contemplate.

If you happen upon any cosmic insights, please leave them here.


Pianist Tim Whalen brings his powerful tribute to Bud Powell to the Jazz Estate


Cover design for Tim Whalen’s “Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell” by Jamie Breiwick for  B-Side Graphics. Courtesy

Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell – Tim Whalen (WayHay Music)

The Tim Whalen Trio will perform on Thursday, April 6 at The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee.

“Oblivion,” the title of a Bud Powell tune, might be the single best word to describe the great pianist’s sad legacy. His name is in need of desperate repair, ravaged by the winds of time and his own peculiar fate. Pianist-composer Tim Whalen has gone a considerable distance in accomplishing that with his album Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell. But we must backtrack a bit to understand the title’s significance.

It remains a matter of bald historical fact that Bud Powell was the mid-and-late 40s bebop era’s most sought-after pianist, yet he remains to this day probably the most underappreciated, given his true stature.

His direct contemporary Thelonious Monk has had his day in the sun, something to be celebrated, thanks significantly  to a composing style apart from, and more easily congenial, than the hard-core bebop that Powell excelled at. And their stories interwtine and lead to perhaps the most fateful day of Powell’s career, which also speaks to present-day concerns about police brutality against unarmed black men.

It’s unfortunate that Robin D.G. Kelly’s largely impeccable and voluminous 2009 biography, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, doesn’t note the cruelty and neurological damage done by a police officer on the night of January 21, 1945 to the man that Kelley calls Thelonious Monk’s best friend.  According to Duck Baker, album annotator of Bud Powell Paris Sessions (Pablo 2002), “Bud was foolish enough to interfere with some Philadelphia flatfeet who were getting rough with his best friend, Thelonious Monk.” The bludgeoning Powell suffered for his loyal courage “changed the course of his life, as Bud was led to a series of mental ‘hospitals’ where he was pumped full of pills and given shock treatments.”

Powell’s life generally spiraled downward after that, though he managed a resurgence in 1946, as evidenced by several recordings and, after being readmitted to a mental institution in 1947, by his celebrated Blue Note recordings (especially 1951’s The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1.) Also excellent are recordings in Europe in the late ’50s and early ’60s, including a late reunion with Dexter Gordon on the saxophonist’s superb Our Man in Paris. His career ended in “scuffling obscurity,” says jazz historian Alyn Shipton, due to his complicated mental problems and issues with drugs, and ironically to his return to New York in 1964. This was a man who, in his early 20s with the Cootie Williams Orchestra, had accompanied stage acts “so brilliantly that he outplayed the dancers he was supposed to be accompanying,” bassist Ray Brown recalls in Shipton’s book.1

Regarding the deleterious effects of shock treatment, I can attest, as it has been still used in recent years in sophisticated hospitals and clinics. I witnessed shock treatments given to my late ex-wife who suffered cognitive damage after undergoing them at the Mayo Clinic and other facilities.

Monk, for one, remained much attuned to Powell’s travails. “Bud was a genius, but you know, he was so sick, and now he’s fragile,” Monk once recalled. Another time, Monk commented, “Bud is beautiful. But he’s not doing so well in America, he’s sleeping in the gutter.” Those are both quotes from Kelly’s copious Monk biography, which amounts to a new sort of definitive history of the bebop era.

Nor have I done Powell justice over the years, having become enamored of the late recordings he did of Monk’s music for Verve Records (and his Portrait of Thelonious on Columbia), to the neglect of Powell’s earlier work. Those Monk recordings somehow managed to be marvelous but were recorded long after he had lost his prime bebop musical facility and suffered from many medical peaks and valleys. 2.


Pianist Tim Whalen at the recording sessions for “Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell.” Courtesy

All of this underscores the importance and value of Whalen’s recording, which he will be playing from when he performs Thursday, April 6 at The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee with bassist Jeff Hamman and drummer Dave Bayles.

Comprising all Powell compositions except one by Whalen, Oblivion opens appropriately enough with “Hallucinations.” It conveys how much Bud possessed a spirit as high as his tragic bop kindred Charlie Parker. Whalen’s solo pushes hard, as if pressing to make a point about the tune’s odd juxtaposition of exuberance and sense of suffering. His heavy percussive attack recalls another bop-era pianist Eddie Costa, although he negotiates the knotty changes with aplomb.

What follows is one of Powell’s dazzling masterpieces, an impressionistic miniature comparable to Duke Ellington’s “Daybreak Express.” After a fine chordal intro, Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” glitters with an ensemble line evoking a bustling street scene, with the band sounding like a crazy chorus-line of dancing cabs in a Folies Bergere fever dream.

Whalen finds fresh inlets of light by carving out spaces and adding garlands, a sort of blending of street smarts with Francophile ornamentation. Tenor saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed is a modern post-Coltrane player with a rich yet grainy texture to his tone that alludes to classic tenor players and adds an offhanded gravitas to his playing. Guitarist Paul Pieper proves a swift co-conspirator in Powell’s most challenging harmonic gauntlets. Drummer Sharif Taher here has a powerful chugging style reminiscent of Tony Williams.

“Kind Bud” is a deeper, darker aspect of Powell’s bebop and for its blues lament, almost intimates a political statement about the tragic fate of such a gifted artist, especially regarding his awareness of his place in society as a black man in a white man’s world.

“Un Poco Loco” is another ironic commentary on his own afflictions and perhaps the album’s hardest swinging tune, especially on Balbed’s surging sax solo. Whalen, by contrast, allows the music to breathe a bit, while never betraying the tune’s structural integrity.

The CD’s ensuing “Blue Pearl” is a rather glimmering beauty with a slight Latin tempo. The comparatively little-known tune has a lapidarian quality, reflecting a craftsman of precise discipline that begets beauty. Here and elsewhere, bassist Eliott Seppa’s harmonizing with the piano-guitar-saxophone frontline recalls the Heath Brothers at their peak.

One would expect the title tune “Oblivion” to sound as abject as say, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” but the band understands it as a “bouncing with Bud” blues that signifies a devil-may-care attitude. That suggests Powell’s peculiar brilliance as searingly self-possessed in the knowledge of how his black genius was betrayed. Yet he’d never let on, never let you see him pitying himself.

Bud photoBud Powell during the years he recorded with Blue Note Records. Courtesy estaticos

Sometimes Powell’s themes and solos can be almost overwhelming, but you get a heaping helping of bop at its most modernistic and visionary and yet with a long shadow cast over it, as the CD cover’s noirish watercolor landscape superbly conveys. So perhaps even now, this music isn’t for everyone, but there’s no doubt it’s a bracing and historic statement of an art form evolving to extraordinary artistic heights.

Whalen offers his own ode to Bud, in “I’ll Keep Loving You,” a brooding ballad that feels like a stealthy suitor stealing into the beloved’s heart even if the lover’s been long gone, off in another world.

Still, Whalen and company assure that Bud Powell has returned, in hallowed honor.

Whalen is a distinctly ambitious musician who has led both a popular R&B/funk jazz ensemble and a nonet, largely of Madison-based musicians, for a number of years. Among numerous accomplishments since moving to Washington DC in 2010, he orchestrated the string arrangement for the Oscar-winning song “El Otro Lado del Rio” by Jorge Drexler from the film The Motorcycle Diaries.


1 Alyn Shipton recounts Powell’s triumphs and tragedy in his A New History of Jazz on pages 491-495.

2. Despite Powell’s apparent loss of top-end technical facility in later years, the musical relationship between him and Monk remained crucial and vital. Some argue that Powell was Monk’s best interpreter. Seminal bebop drummer Kenny Clarke reputedly said, “Monk wrote for Bud. All his music was written for Bud, because he figured but was the only one who could play it.”





New Orleans jazz trio comes to Milwaukee staking its fortunes on the humble swamp rat named Nutria

Nutria jazz

Nutria includes Shawn Myers, drums; Byron Asher tenor sax and clarinet; and Trey Boudreaux, bass. Courtesy 

Nutria, a jazz trio, will play at Company Brewing, 735 E. Center St., in Milwaukee at 10 p.m. on Thursday March 23, on a bill with Mrs. Fun.

Nutria will then perform two sets at 7 p.m. Friday, March 24, at  The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 East Center St.

“Named after the infamous South Louisiana swamp rat, Nutria is an acoustic trio that performs original modern jazz compositions with an emphasis on collective improvisation.  We creatively explore traditional music of the African diaspora & Eastern Europe as well as the avant-garde.” – Byron Asher, Nutria

How can you not be disarmed by a jazz band’s self-description, which begins so unassumingly, that willingly allows the band’s identity to wallow in such dank, swampy realms. Though the nutria may be “infamous,” probably for his cagey and nefarious ways, one can assume that the scuffling rodent does so for the sake of merely scoring a meager meal he might scrounge up from bits of human detritus.

nutria rat

A fanciful illustration of the “notorious” South Louisiana swamp rat called nutria. Courtesy nutria. com, the website of the jazz band named for the critter.

Nutria’s greatest association with fame to date may be a hat made out of the rat’s fur which Elaine Benes uses in a Seinfeld episode. “The Chicken Roaster” affair opens with Cosmo Kramer unwittingly becoming addicted to the roasted chicken of a Kenny Rogers fast-food franchise that beams its sign into his bedroom, disrupting his sleep.

In a subplot, Elaine charges $8,000 to her employer’s account for an extravagant Russian sable hat, for the sake of George Costanza, who covets it. But hapless George leaves it behind at the apartment of the hat sales clerk, in hopes of getting a second date with her, after he typically subterfuges his own first date.

george sable hat

In a scene from the Seinfeld episode “The Chicken Roaster,” George Costanza imperiously flaunts his $8,000 sable hat, charged for him by Elaine Benes to her employer’s expense account. Or is the hat just plain, old, ratty nutria? Courtesy

When confronted about her account charge by the Peterman Corporation, Elaine tries to claim the mangy nutria hat as her actual purchase, but her ruse fails, and her job is on the ropes…The episode also features a scene of Jerry Seinfeld accidentally dropping nutria rat fur all over diners’ chicken in the Kenny Rogers restaurant.1

Given such sorry cultural province, there’s clearly self-effacing humor at work with this jazz trio but also, one discovers, a clear strategic intelligence and inventiveness that cajoles listeners to allow the mangy nominal being its small corner space in our environment. Indeed, is it beneath us to throw him a scrap from a deserted plate of food?

For there’s plenty more that this Nutria has to offer you in return, from the evidence of six original tunes I have recently heard on YouTube videos of the band, which will soon release a new album. And the range of musical influences show a substantial depth of artistic resourcefulness and assimilation in their trio style. Here’s a critical perusal of those tunes. I refrain from generalized comment as this doesn’t add up to a whole album or artistic statement. :

“Ghosts Before Breakfast”: A brooding opening melodic ambiance. Then a tempo arises, an almost tiptoe gait, and the second chorus becomes more syncopated and playful. Then improvisation seems to begin. As with the theme, the solo honors space and grace, while gaining momentum. Byron Asher’s large, generous tenor sax tone and melodic invention recall Sonny Rollins.

“Call to the Air”: The bassist Trey Boudreaux  opens, with Shawn Myers’ simmering drums and Asher again evoking Rollins in the jump down to a low, fat register. De-da-deeee. The bass and drums now fairly dance and the tenor circles languidly around the buoyant tempo. Then Byron inserts more rhythmically sharpened phases until he unleashes more fire while still showing respect for space, in an unhurried manner. As the tempo does pick up he fills that with rich tones and tart phrases. The groove carries on over a supple two-note sax vamp.

“The Hero” (Live at Old Mint, New Orleans): Here you feel the essence of Nutria’s very congenial style. A punchy groove is driven by the bass. At one minute, Asher’s clarinet enters, with a nifty little pirouetting riff theme. His solo characteristically works off his bandmates’ rhythm and this is the most swinging piece so far, with a bluesy ambience, yet the mood is buoyant and frisky. The bass solo is bounding and seems to possess some of the character of a person who asserts a stance in a manner potentially heroic. The clarinet returns with stalking phrases and ends with a witty little conversation with bass Boudreaux. The use of the clarinet reflects the timeless New Orleans tradition but the music is decidedly more contemporary than traditional New Orleans music.

“Trini-Gul” : Here’s the Sonny Rollins calypso approach, the tenor in a gutturally masculine-yet-songful voice sustaining the almost celebratory dance-like melody and feeling. A bass solo follows, then the tenor solo extrapolates on the mood and the tricky but amiable melody.

“Gloomy Pirate Tale”:  A minimal six-note sax riff finally releases and melts into an exposition which, at first, unfolds languidly then becomes increasingly voluble, one of Asher’s most inventive solos, in its scupltural twisting of rhythmic ideas. A unison bass-sax line seems to pose questions about the pirate’s gloomy tale, certainly something worthy of skepticism given the sly and avaricious nature of pirating. Back to the six-note riff, a curious tale indeed. As a postscript, look closer and you might see a water-logged nutria tiptoeing carefully across a hawser of the pirate ship, in search of tasty contraband.

“Knowing” opens with a brief, mournful but expressive bass solo reminiscent of the late Charlie Haden. The sax’s long whole notes slide into a tender theme, then shift to a high register and conveys lyrical insight of a situation or circumstance, all suggesting the nature of this “knowing” is sad, regretful, and only provisionally hopeful. But it’s a lovely piece of music with a strong psychological character and resonance regarding the nature of knowledge and, by extension, truth. This, of course, speaks ironically to out current political miliue of “alternative” facts, compulsive lying, and outright slander.


1 Thanks to Seinfeld aficionado Ann K. Peterson for reminding me of this episode.

In honor of the Irish holiday, the memory of Van Morrison’s great Irish record


Album cover courtesy


Something in the wind from the brooding clouds sent a shiver of melodic memory through me this afternoon. It’s St. Patrick’s Day and the song in the air seemed to nudge me with quiet insistence, as if to say, “How often ’tis, old lad, you’ve let the great Irish holiday slip by with nary a thought nor a hoisted glass of Guinness!”

It seemed to coalesce with the faint memory of this line from the traditional Irish song “Carrickfergus”: “My boyhood friends have all passed on, like the melting snow.” And I sure enough, such thought had finally roused something within when I had dinner a few days ago at the excellent Irish restaurant County Clair with four of my oldest friends, going back to high school and beyond, all of us now graying and slightly fading, compared to our youthful primes.

And further arose within the shadow of perhaps my best friend, an Irishman named Jim Glynn – a paraplegic  Vietnam-era veteran with a great passion for life, women and music – who has indeed passed, and returns only in the spring glisten of thirteen melting snows, since his death in October, 2004.

Kev and Jim wedding

A great friend and a great Irishman, the late Jim Glynn (right) with me on the occasion of him serving as best man at my second wedding.

So, I played the record from whence the song came, Irish Heartbeat by Van “The Man” Morrison and The Chieftains. In 1987, Morrison, our greatest contemporary Irish soul singer-songwriter, was touring through Ireland when he hooked up with Paddy Moloney, the Uillean pipes player of the greatest traditional Irish music band of them all. A chat over beer led to Irish Heartbeat, which gained widespread critical acclaim for its surprising and immensely-affecting twist on record industry norms, coming on the heels of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Morrison’s was a far more natural collaboration, given his affinity of heritage with the fellow Irishmen. But they were two albums of pop artists working with traditional ethnic musicians which helped unlock a great new strain of cultural possibility, and the popular flourishing of so-called “world music.” 

And I was again immersed in Heartbeat‘s winsome beauties, feisty spirit and stunning arc of trans-Atlantic wonders.

The toe-tapping album opener “Star of the County Down” boisterously celebrates the memory of a romantic memory. “There is no maid I’ve seen/ like the brown Colleen/ that I met in the County Down.” The lyrics summoned, for me, the memory of such a lass I’d met and known, a brown-haired Irish lass named Colleen from long ago, and then another, a German blonde Colleen from just a few years bye, and all- too-soon married. Her memory perhaps had been an ancestral response, too, as I’m as German as I’m Irish.

Then, another song fairly ambushed me, “As She Moved Trough the Fair,” which plays usually as a more upbeat song, as a dream of an impending wedding. But what Van and the boys do with it is like a haunting, as Rolling Stone‘s review noted the song, in their hands is “as overcast as an Irish afternoon” and, to me, a bit more like a fog rolling through the stark but sensual Irish hills, like the entourage of a ghost. They make you sense that the story’s really just a dream of love lost, but one that’s too hard to shake.

The Irish Heartbeat song that follows on the YouTube thread is a variation on the lost love theme, “Ragland Road” in a superb live video version with Van singing and playing drums convincingly (he also plays harmonica and saxophone). YouTube follows with the album’s recorded version of the aforementioned “Carrickfegus.”

And so much more, the bruised majesty of “My Lagan Love,” and well…

I could go on, but the Irish sap in me might get lost in mists of memory and melody and end up croaking “Danny Boy,” and the jig would be up for me, and for my poor suffering cat Chloe.

So please, don’t just steal away their artistry by merely listening on YouTube. If you like the music, buy the LP or CD or legal download as it was conceived and created, and give these artists their due.

So I’ll leave further discovery of Irish Heartbeat to you.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and to all, and “may the road rise up to meet  you, may the wind be always at your back, and may the Lord always hold you, in the hollow of His hand.”

Riverwest: a place with its own face, of curious and wondrous facets, and a couple of perfect strangers

I have lived in a number of neighborhoods in my lifetime in Milwaukee and Madison, most of them quite congenial: A south side family bungalow right north of a Mitchell Field take-off strip where giant jets shook my youthful body and imagination with sonic booms. In Madison’s Nakoma neighborhood, a house influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style, and engulfed in tall pines, and a few blocks away from the city’s splendid Arboretum.

But there is only one neighborhood that I have returned to reside in, for a second time by choice, and that is Milwaukee’s Riverwest. I originally moved here when I bought a duplex with my sister Nancy In the 1980s, which she still lives in. It was a period of great cultural and political vitality, and an ideal location, as much of my journalistic work then was covering music at the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, right in the neighborhood, for The Milwaukee Journal.

So, when I moved back to Milwaukee from Madison in 2008, I knew I wanted to return to this unpredictably diverse, slightly funky and always vital region. The following photo essay comprises images compiled on a walk the full-length of Riverwest on the street that I live on, which ended on the North Avenue water reservoir overlooking downtown.
I’m sure any number of other photo portraits could be made by taking different routes around this consistently vibrant neighborhood. But this is mine, from a walk taken the last day of February as the smallest buds began to claim their place and space to grow into.

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This image characterizes the interface of the urban and natural surroundings – an old, weathered Riverwest sidewalk and a crystal-clear puddle, revealing the tree overhead in which you can just sense the tiny buds emerging from its tips, reaching out to the sky’s fleeting blues. I’d also call this a Katrin Talbot photo, because she consistently gets highly observant shots of small or even grand beauties often standing right under our distracted noses, or toeses (Yes, I’m talking to “smart phone”-addled pedestrians.) Katrin is a gifted Madison photographer, poet, and symphony musician whose Facebook page I recommend you check out.

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Here’s a block of houses that perfectly reflects the architectural characterization of Riverwest residences as depicted in the neighborhood  signs recently placed all around our neck of the woods. The sign also suggests the way Riverwest overlooks downtown, especially from its high point, the North Avenue water reservoir.
It’s an absolutely big sky view of downtown, perhaps the best that a pedestrian can find. Though I did walk to the top of the reservoir on this day, I did not include that city skyline view, because the subject here is Riverwest.

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If the iconic image of the new Riverwest signs captures the neighborhood reasonably well, the next two images help dispel some of the stereotypes about who lives here. And I didn’t have to go far to find these – they were actually the first two photographs I took. In this one above, the apparent residence of a United States Marine proudly displays his or her service flag. And yet, this resident resolutely keeps this blue sign out front,  long after the intensely contentious and politically transformative 2011 recall effort to remove Gov. Scott Walker.

The neighbor’s long-standing statement of dissent might not seem typical of a highly disciplined military person, nor such a person’s typical politics. But it reflects a well-trained person who understands the role of a true citizen and patriot. I see it as an excellent example of the independent thinking one finds in this neighborhood, even if a majority of residents probably lean from the center to the left.

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Here’s another charming Riverwest stereotype refutation, and a close neighbor of the Walker-protesting Marine above. Clearly not everyone in the neighborhood is a lefty secular humanist, agnostic or atheist. The number of venerable, still-active churches in the neighborhood testifies to that, even if their attendance tends lower than it was a few decades ago. But these Riverwest neighbors put their love of Jesus Christ’s mother Mary out front for everyone to see, along with the rather mischievous-looking elves scampering around to behind her.

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There is certainly a profusion of artistic types in our neighborhood and here’s a delightful example. This painted metal relief sculpture gives you an idea where this resident might be if not at home – out on the waves amid sun, the clouds, the birds and aquatic sea life. It alludes to how close we are to Lake Michigan, just across the nearby Milwaukee River for which we are named, and yonder, though Shorewood.

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The literacy of Riverwest residents is somewhat of a given, but our valuing of the written word is something we share with our community. On my walk down my neighborhood street alone, I counted four “LittleFreeLibraries” such as this one. There’s some predictable titles, such as one by mega-selling Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown on the left. But also discover, if you look closely, a copy of the last book that the late, great John Cheever wrote, a slim novella titled Oh What a Paradise it Seems, a characteristically bittersweet observation, published shortly before his death of cancer in 1982. Also note, on  the far right, a novel by the great Polish-American novelist Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo and The Secret Agent. This slightly less well-known Conrad novel is Victory published in 1915, a psychological thriller set on an Indonesian island, and which draws from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Tempest.

I stopped by Riverwest’s storefront radio station WXRW-104.1 FM, but it wasn’t on the air and so there was little to see. But it’s a very interesting station you can check out here:

So, I went next door to the Fuel Cafe for a newspaper, and a quintessential Riverwest moment occured. Several people were eating late lunches and, as I walked out, one man stood up with a tray laden with a scattering of tortilla chips. “Hey, anyone want the rest of these chips?” he called out. “Otherwise I’m gonna throw ’em out.”

“I’ll take ’em!” another dude piped up, and the not-so-secret sharer delivered them to him. At what other restaurant would you see such an open act of sharing between perfect strangers, regardless of conventional decorum? That’s Riverwest, for you.

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At the “fork” in one intersection, I took the path more traveled for me, which has often made all the difference. That led me to Woodland Pattern Book Center, on Locust Street, which may be the intellectual and perhaps, despite all the churches, the spiritual heart of neighborhood.

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The long, white facade of the building announces it’s utterly unique nature. The facade changes from time to time, with varying names, quotations and imagery usually signifying human life, intellect and expression in relation to the grand natural environment we share.

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Woodland Pattern specializes in small press publications, and it may be the largest such collection in a bookstore between the coasts. You will especially find a vast array of poetry in full book form, and in numerous chapbooks on the card rack-like display in the photo above on the left, and even more of an eccentric collection of chapbooks in the file cabinets in the foreground.
The center, co-founded by artist Anne Kingsbury, regularly presents a stimulating panoply of cultural events – author readings, regular art exhibits in its far third room, and concerts of exploratory and avant-garde music, often improvisational in nature.
For all of this, Woodland Pattern sustains its highly non-commercial offerings by having established itself as a valuable state cultural resource.

So it gets a fair share of grants and government funding but also relies on the membership of its patrons. I renewed my membership on this visit, and picked up a small book by the great nature writer Barry Lopez called The Rediscovery of North America, which was actually a Thomas D. Clarke lecture Lopez gave in 1990, a sort of meditation on Christopher Columbus and the history of rampant exploitation of The New World’s astonishing natural bounty and indigenous peoples. The Spaniards began the cruel plunder, which continues as a large part of our capitalistic mentality and political culture. But Lopez also posits hope and evidence that we are “rediscovering” our own continent with a newfound caring, partly by listening to what our indigenous peoples and species have to tell us.

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Before leaving Woodland Pattern, it’s worth noting the distinct and timely political consciousness that the store conveys, as evidenced by the sign in the middle of this photograph, taken from outside on the street.

I would’ve like to have stopped into another neighborhood institution, the Falcon Bowl Hall, on the corner of Clarke and Fratney Sts., but they were closed and, as a neighbor told me, they open maybe at five or seven but it’s very unpredictable. The Falcon bar has a bowling alley in his basement, a true working-class, middle-America past time that again goes against the grain of typical perceptions of this neighborhood. It will also host the Riverwest Follies at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25.

Another closed place I bypassed this afternoon was the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts on Center St., which continues the storied tradition of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery in its own way, as a multi-arts center, which I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog.

But another local bar did beckon me, shortly after 3 PM, with open doors, and typically alluring art bar 1rw art bar window

The Art Bar on Burleigh St. is my favorite tavern in Riverwest, and probably in Milwaukee, the city of taverns. That’s mainly because I’m more of an art lover than an alcohol imbiber. Besides the artwork in regular changing exhibits, the place also has a pool table and a dartboard, both which get regular use. Ah, but the art! Look above in another front-window shot, peeping in on the vividly colorful work on display, a  group show of portrait painters.

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Among the current Art Bar exhibitors, Elias Zananiri (top) shows personages with deeply radiant ethnic ornamentation and expressivity.  Les Leffingwell (above) meanwhile provides a personal inlet into the troubled but resilient souls of blues musicians.

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Mike Judy shows that an eccentric and humorous portraiture style can figuratively capture humanity with its pants down while allowing them a measure of personal bar 2

“Everyday Portraits” by Jody Reid includes this affectionate, virtuosic and insightful portrait of a guy named “Brad.” It’s worth zooming in for some of the detail of the oil canvas.

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Further on down the street, I got to Fratney Street School, a highly-regarded bi-lingual elementary school, with some very small kids shooting a multi-colored basketball (top) and a very exclusive conference of two – make that three – young girls on this ingeniously engaging jungle truck

Riverwest also expresses itself in its vehicles. Like an almost-forgotten beauty queen contestant, this bizarre four-wheeled contraption was just waiting for its picture to be taken, and to be discovered.

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We began our little Riverwest tour with a home making a political statement and we end with another home doing the same. Like the die-hard “Recall Walker” dissenter, this ingeniously homemade HIllARY Clinton sign, made out of painted tree branches and wire – which blazes in the night with Christmas tree lights – remains proudly and defiantly up, in this very strange Age of Trump. We all know who the people’s choice was in this election.

T’was a relatively serene midweek afternoon walk, with not a lot of people out, but plenty of life still abounded in our good, old neighborhood.

200 years of Milwaukee’s Musical Memories fill Historical Museum

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Afternoon light floods into the Milwaukee County Historical Museum’s west side, for the current interactive exhibit tracing 200 years of Milwaukee music history. All photos by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise noted.

Light enters the Milwaukee County Historical Society from both the building’s oblong sides and intersects in the atrium with a bow effect of illumination, one side stronger, depending on morning or afternoon. This is due to the building’s narrow shape, almost recalling a flatiron building, and it’s location, standing free from other buildings, on the southeast corner of State Street at 910 N. Old World 3rd St.

Across the street is the closest structure, the low-lying Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel building. On the museum’s east side is Pere Marquette Park, and beyond the Milwaukee River and the courtyard behind the cream-white marble facade of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, which reflects even another subtle layer of light depth.

The natural light washes into the two-story open atrium encompassing a display area and even the museum offices, enclosed by a clear glass wall. And yet regal chandeliers add another luminous dimension. There’s no other public building atmosphere quite like it, that I can think of.  My photos below, all taken without a flash, suggest the warm aura of enlightenment, and the transporting quality that can fuel any visitor’s historical awareness and imagination.


The Milwaukee County Historical Society, from the southeast facade. Courtesy   

The purpose for our visit was the current exhibit, Memories and Melodies: 200 Years of Milwaukee Music. running through April 29. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and admission is $7, and free for members, and children under 12 years.

It isn’t  just pure history, as real and aspiring musicians get chances dream or to recollect, or experiment by trying out – through headphones only – some electric drums, electric bass and a close knock-off of a Gibson Les Paul guitar, which I plucked a bit and heard the classic tonal purity and incision that has driven so many great guitarists to use it, since the mid-1960s. Less furtively, you can also test out a few ukuleles and a violin (for all to hear) and a few other acoustic instruments. In a side room stands on old upright player piano which will play its rippling roll, visible in a small window, if you pump the foot pedals with a touch of deftness.

The interactive displays include several head-phone listening booths in which you can choose touch screens from several different large categories of music, such as classical concert music, jazz, and a lively array of vernacular musics. The individual selection choices are superb examples of recorded music by famous Milwaukee musicians, singers, composers, arrangers, orchestras and bands.

The displays range from Native American music to Florentine Opera founder John-David Anello, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Charles K. Harris and the Milwaukee Police Band, the oldest in the nation. Also find here iconic and revered electric guitar inventor Les Paul, Country Music Hall of Famer Pee Wee King, The Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison, the folk-punk rock trio The Violent Femmes and the Latin roots-rock band The Spanic Boys, among others.

I listened to music by the recently-passed singer Al Jarreau (as noted in a recent Culture Currents post on Al:

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

). I also heard Grammy -winning jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch (no relation to this writer), playing his affectionately heady tune titled “Woody Shaw,” for the trumpet giant who influenced Lynch and many others. I enjoyed a lovely piece by the celebrated and prolific contemporary composer Daron Hagen, “Cradle Song (Intimamente),” the second movement from his Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra. The Milwaukee native gained fame for “Shining Brow,” his luminously-moving Madison Opera-commissioned opera about Frank Lloyd Wright, but has composed and excelled in virtually all forms of the classical music tradition.

In this show, you learn that Sesame Street’s lovably self-glorifying chanteuse Miss Piggy was based on Wisconsinite Hildegarde — in her vibrato-twirling vocals, curl-crazy hairstyle, long gloves and glittery garb, right down to her compulsive flirtatiousness.  She was born as Hildegarde Loretta Sell in Adell, WI, and raised in New Holstein, but the colorful cabaret diva trained at Marquette University’s school of music.


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Hildegarde (upper), courtesy, and Miss Piggy (above), courtesy

In a way, Hildegarde, though straight, was the female role model for another Milwaukee musical legend, Liberace, the profusely flamboyant pianist who was a pioneer of gay performers.

Given that it’s Black History Month it’s good that African American-dominated genres of jazz, R&B and blues stand strongly represented in the informative displays of Milwaukee beacons. Besides the multiple Grammy-winning Jarreau, who effortlessly traversed jazz, R&B and pop, there’s soul stylist Eric Benet as well as The Seven Sounds, led by irrepressible singer Harvey Scales, and a display panel on the highly original jazz saxophonist Bunky Green.

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In the blues category, you’ll find tribute to Short Stuff, the band that defined urban blues style here for decades. I recall, as a concert opener they once unforgettably stole the show from the famous San Francisco band Big Brother and the Holding Company, although this was after Janis Joplin had left the group. Short Stuff featured black singer and keyboardist Junior Brantley, along with firebrand harmonica player Jim Liban.

Also feted here in the blues category, The Stone-Cohen Blues Band lives on today in a different form as Leroy Airmaster, featuring the two nominal leaders of the original band, harmonica virtuoso Steve Cohen and guitarist Bill Stone.

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The exhibit honors Milwaukee jazz/R&B singer Al Jarreau, pictured at left, and local jazz greats including guitairist Manty Ellis and sax and flute player Berkeley Fudge, pictured here in a band with pianist Eddie Baker, bassist Harold (Hal) Miller, and drummer Sam Belton.

African American stalwarts of the Milwaukee jazz scene represented here include the still-active and vital guitarist Manty Ellis, who’s a walking history of Milwaukee jazz himself, and saxophonist-flutist Berkeley Fudge, a dominant figure here for decades, an example of unassuming creative class.

Exhibit curator Ben Barbera admits the exhibit is hardly comprehensive. It’s about artists who came from here. This exhibit does go “beyond genre and performer to explore  music’s role in Milwaukee’s economic, technological, entertainment, and social spheres.” But it doesn’t really cover historical events or performances, per se.

Off the top of my head, I would include as historically important many countless moments at Summerfest: headliners Sly and the Family Stone, The Band, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, and on side stages, Bill Monroe, Dizzy Gillespie, Los Lobos and Lucinda Williams among many others. Great local concert and club venues would need their due, though the show includes posters for the clubs Teddy’s, Cafe Voltaire and the Starship.

Then there was the Midwest Rock Fest at State Fair Park in the summer of 1969, which pre-dated Woodstock by several months, and a line-up nearly comparable, including the short-lived super-group Blind Faith and Led Zeppelin, in its ballsy and bluesy early days.  Virtually all the guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, etc)  were playing the Gibson Les Paul guitar, like it was a new sort of competition for who could wrench the most power and soul out of the new guitar. I was there for the Midwest Rock Fest all three days and life wasn’t the same after that.

The Kool Jazz Festival in Washington Park in 1982 boasted a blinding jazz firmament, including the vocal triumvirate of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae, along with Ornette Coleman, Mel Torme, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie, George Shearing, Spyro Gyra, Chico Freeman, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and The Great Quartet with Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones.

Built in 1935, the historical facility’s relatively modest physical size limits the show’s scope. But bigger ain’t always better. You won’t get museum fatigue here, and perhaps we should be grateful that no one has tried to build a clumsy addition to this superb self-contained work of architecture, in the French Renaissance Beaux Arts style, which might look like a giant tumor more than anything else.

(More photos below)



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The jazz black-rock trio Harriet Tubman gives a gift of, and for, its namesake

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CD cover courtesy

Harriet Tubman Araminta (Sunnyside)

Guitarist Brandon Ross leads his jazz/black-rock trio Harriett Tubman with stylistic bravura and unabashed love of vivid distortion, evoking what Sonny Sharrock might be doing if still alive, but with a more poetic control of sonics.

Ross hasn’t recorded much as a leader but he’s shown great versatility in cutting-edge jazz. I heard him live and on recording accompanying Cassandra Wilson, so he has both the nuance to support and enhance a daring and soulful vocalist. He’s also a singer, though not on this recording. As a rhythm section, Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and Drummer JT Lewis have collaborated with artists as diverse as Living Colour, Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, Henry Threadgill, Sting, Arrested Development, Archie Shepp, David Murray and Me’Shell N’degeocello.

So, on this album Ross’s guitar howls at the moon with beautiful abandon. Yet “Nina Simone” paints a songful and pain-felt portrait of the black singer-songwriter who invoked social justice with unmatched power and poignance. It recalls Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly,” for Duke Ellington. Guest trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith lacerates and burnishes his notes magnificently here, bleeding in the glistening sunlight of truth. Drummer J.T. Lewis punches and slashes like a black man who defiantly matters. Throughout, Smith unfurls deep textures, sustaining eternally spatial and grand pronouncements. 1

It closes gratifyingly with the almost submerged-sounding blues reverie, “Sweet Araminta,” tenderly referencing abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s birth name, without trivializing the grit and gravitas of her achievement.

Harriet Tubman


  1. And Wadada Leo Smith, of course, is among the pre-eminent, most original and  conceptually ambitious brass players in jazz, in music, period. In fact, he’s sort of a jazz version of filmmaker Ken Burns, but in an abstract but wonderfully painterly way, playing that brings to mind both action painter like Jackson  Pollock. But you can also sense abstract color field painters, both big-gesture painters like Robert Motherwell and even sublime Zen meditators, like Mark Rothko.  Smith’s epic four-record set Ten Freedom Summers from 2012, musically re-imagined the black American history and the Civil Rights movement, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The Chicago native has done similar multi-disc takes on The Great Lakes, which evokes and reconsiders those mighty bodies of water that have defined so much of life from the East to the Midwest, since the days of the great pioneers. He’s now based in the New York area, but being from Chicago he understands The Great Lakes. And this year came Smith’s magisterial and mysteriously beautiful double-disc project called America’s National Parks. a comparable musical paean to those great irreplaceable natural resources.

This review was originally published in shorter form in The Shepherd Express