Grammy-winning composer Maria Schneider on nature, and on the best Gil Evans


The Maria Schneider Orchestra’s ravishing new recording, The Thompson Fields, demonstrates her evolving vision for the evocative and deep nuances of sonic beauty that her music now radiates. But there’s a concept at work as well. She’s investigating the hidden realms of life — the flora and fauna, and the ever-evanescent weather dynamics — of her native rural Minnesota.

With Schneider’s extraordinary skills composing for a gifted array of musicians, she makes this almost secret world come alive in the music. And she makes a persuasive case that humans should cultivate a stronger ties to that world. The title refers to the Thompson family, which has kept a native prairie alive for generations.

maria road

The sumptuously packaged CD includes Schneider’s intimate liner notes, color images of birds from the Audubon society collection, and several fold-out photographs including a fairly breathtaking shot of a storm brewing over the Minnesota countryside.

It’s also fascinating to see where such sensitive and sophisticated music came from. That’s why Schneider is the perfect person to provide inquisitive listeners with a guide to the music of her greatest influence, Gil Evans.

gil evans - don hunstein  003

Gil Evans conducting his orchestra during recordings with Miles Davis. photo by Don Hunstein.

Perhaps nobody is more qualified to assess the best of Gil Evans. She served as the great composer and arranger’s musical assistant from 1985 to his death in 1988. We’re fortunate that she put on her critic’s hat for this column enumerating in detail “the dozens,” or the 12 best recorded Gil Evans pieces. I encountered the column, put together by Ted Panken for, on the website of Ryan Truesdell, director of The Gil Evans Project orchestra:

Masterpieces born of rebellion: from Van Gogh to Pollock at the Milwaukee Art Museum

the-liver-is-the-cock-s-comb“The Liver is the Cock’s Comb,” oil on canvas, Arshile Gorky, 1944

Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels – Masterworks from the Albright-Knox Gallery, through September 20. Milwaukee Art Museum

If actor James Dean ever picked up a paintbrush, the result might’ve looked something like a Jackson Pollock, but without the artistic skill for orchestrating controlled abandon. What amounts to an art rebellion? If you can go back to a key moment, a kind of rebellion sometimes occurs when an artist makes an extraordinary, radical move.

Imagine watching Pollock when he “broke the ice” as his contemporary Willem DeKooning said. Pollock broke most of the rules of painting, pacing panther-like around huge canvases stretched out on the floor. His paint dripped, swirled and splattered — and blew the concept of depiction to smithereens.

“Modernism is about rebels who look at convention, and say, ‘I’m gonna stand that on its head,’” says Milwaukee Art Museum chief curator Brady Roberts.

That’s a key aspect of the excitement and resonance of “Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels.” The exhibit of major works from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

Pollock’s engulfing “Convergence” from 1952 will show how differently art could express and, even more radically, do. The so-called “action painting” will also be represented by DeKooning’s tension-filled “Gotham News” from 1955, among others. They’re two prime “rebel” examples from Albright-Knox which has “the best collection of abstract expressionism in the world,” says Roberts.

pollock conv

“Convergence,” oil on canvas, Jackson Pollock, 1952

The mid-20th century movement that made New York the “art world capital” will be offered in its “the historical context” — “post-impressionism, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, surrealism, Joan Miro and more,” Roberts says.

Not all art rebels are “irascibles” as the action painters were once called. The show will include Miro’s “best painting,” the thickly-populated “Carnival of Harlequin,” a major statement of surrealist sensibility at its most playful. Also, there’s Henri Matisse’s gorgeously idiosyncratic sense of line and color in “La Musique,” depicting two seated women, one playing a guitar. Another way of understanding Matisse’s disarming music-lovers as rebellion is to consider it was painted in France in 1939 — with Hitler’s Nazi invasion looming. Such embracing of unfettered beauty becomes an act of joyous defiance, especially as the Nazis would deem most modern art as “degenerate.”

Which brings me back to Pollock. My composer friend Frank Stemper commented on Facebook that Pollock helped inspire his own music-creation because the painter “is so musical.” Then Frank asked, why is this so? My answer:  He’s musical partly because, unlike most painters, Pollock virtually danced while he created his drip paintings, because he used the rhythm and pulse — and the lyrical feel — of that whole bodily gesture, to paint. Or more precisely, to make the paint dance, and fly! Pollock understood the liberating qualities and power of the inner musicality of dance.

Matisse music

“La Musique” oil on canvas, Henri Matisse, 1939

And this also helped Pollock process his demons. Much earlier the anguished genius Vincent Van Gogh found his own way, on the front end of the show’s historical spectrum. Before him, artists rarely attacked the canvas with such raw gusto or expressive directness, so the emotion in the brush gestures communicated as much as the depiction of the scene, as in “The Old Mill” from 1888. “Modernism is also the invention of style as personal expression.” Roberts says.

van gogh

“The Old Mill,” oil on canvas, Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Modernism’s roots rise from 19th century Romanticism, Roberts notes, but it’s also a response to the industrial revolution. An explicit example referencing that revolution in the show will be Robert Delauney’s 1913 “Sun, Tower, Airplane,” a cubist evocation of The Eiffel Tower, a Ferris wheel and an airplane, “three modern inventions that defied gravity,” Roberts explains.

“So, in 1913, there’s a sense of a sort of utopian future, and that artists are leading the way. Kandinsky, who’s is also in the show, was writing about this, saying the best artists, like Picasso, were seers and prophets who understand that the world was going to change, and it’s going to be this glorious new thing.

“Of course, World War I happened, and that ended the utopian euphoria for industrial vanity.”


“Soliel, Tour, Aeroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane),” oil on canvas, Robert” Delauney, 1913 

Nevertheless, modern artists continued as seers and rebels, even against the recent standard of rebellion, as 1960s pop art rejected abstract expressionism.

Among the still-underappreciated great modernists in the show is the Armenian-American Arshile Gorky, a key link from surrealism to abstract expressionism. Visitors will see arguably Gorky’s greatest work, “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb” from 1944 (pictured at top), “a big, luscious, beautiful painting,” Brady says. I can vouch first hand for Brady’s characterization of the Gorky, having seen it in a Gorky retrospective in New York.


Brady also sees striking parallels between the Albright-Knox and MAM – including visionary collectors. The core of Milwaukee’s permanent holdings is the Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley collection. In the early part of the 20th century, Albright-Knox had a trustee named Conger Goodyear who sensed modernism’s growing dynamism and started bullishly collecting. He began by acquiring a “classical” blue-period Picasso, “La Toilette” from 1906. The painting faced controversy upfront from conservative board members for displaying a female nude so forthrightly. Later, the generous donor Seymour Knox would crucially help the gallery gain its world-class modernist heft.

Also, the Buffalo facility is presently, like Milwaukee’s, building a major addition to house and present its expanding collection. The construction shut-down of the Buffalo galleries is why their collection is touring, Roberts says.

The show will also include major works by Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frieda Kahlo, Robert Motherwell, Marko Rothko, Salvador Dali, Richard Deibenkorn, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Alberto Giacometti and others.


All images courtesy The Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

This article was originally published in a slightly shorter version in The Shepherd Express.

Is it Jurassic Jazz, or a new creature with a very big sonic footprint?

ryan truesdell photo by Marc SantosVerona native Ryan Truesdell, who began jazz study at Verona High School, now leads The Gil Evans Project during a recent live recording at The Jazz Standard in New York.

All the brass horns gleam, whisper and shout. Tonal colors multiply, merge and melt, without digital trickery.  Today’s jazz orchestra composer-arranger’s pen conjures sumptuous landscapes for the soloist’s ramble.

Impressive recordings of them proliferate lately, some winning best-of-the-year polls and wide acclaim. But aren’t big bands a creaking dinosaur of the swing era? Something is afoot, a reborn beast with a huge sonic footprint.

The creature may herald a new golden age of the jazz orchestra. Consider, the most expansive jazz form remains historically important and globally influential.

Two of the best last two rock concerts I attended both included a horn section: Greg Allman’s band in Milwaukee, and the 11-piece Tedeschi-Trucks Band in Madison, a jazzy blues-rock group that many critics, including myself, consider the best band in popular music today. Lyle Lovett’s Large Band (essentially a Texas-swing jazz orchestra) has revitalized that country singer-songwriter’s career.

Then pop superstar Lady Gaga recorded with timeless Tony Bennett — their acclaimed, hit album Cheek to Cheek impressed even picky jazz critics with repertoire from the first golden age of big bands. They recorded and are touring with a full jazz orchestra, with two dates at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park Friday and Saturday June 26-27.

In Milwaukee, The All-Star Superband has played weekly almost steadily throughout the 21st century, performing a challenging and diverse repertoire. They will play a benefit concert at 5 p.m. Wednesday (ed.: June 24) at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard at the Zoo Terrace for Easter Seal of Southeastern Wisconsin, preceding the charity’s annual Walk With Me fund-raiser at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Here’s the big band’s website:

Led by bassist Gary Christensen, the orchestra highlights renowned saxophonist-flutist Warren Weigratz, widely-traveled alto saxist-clarinetist Tim Bell, trumpeter Kaye Berigan (whose uncle Bunny starred in the first golden age) and other top-flight area pros who relish the band’s power and palette. The Superband’s cover charge every week goes to charitable benefits. This is high-calorie music played for the love of it, and shouldn’t be missed.

To the west, The Madison Jazz Orchestra, formed in 1986, performs monthly and with comparable ambitious quality to Milwaukee’s big band:

A “battle of the bands” between these Milwaukee and Madison orchestras would be epic.

Also, The Large Unit, an avant-garde nonet of European musicians will perform Wednesday (ed.: June 24) at 8 p.m. in Milwaukee at Sugar Maple, 441 E. Lincoln Ave., as part of the annual Okka Fest.

A critical measure of the golden age of any medium is the level and range of artistry at work among a wide array of serious practitioners, without obvious commercial hooks. Still, I’m defining jazz orchestra broadly (see discography) to include rock- or blues-oriented groups with at least three horn players who improvise, to show the large form’s ongoing influence.

Two auspicious and related examples of full jazz orchestras with brand-new recordings are The Thompson Fields by the Maria Schneider Orchestra and Lines of Color by The Gil Evans Project, formed and led by Verona WI native Ryan Truesdell. Truesdell also produced Sky Blue, Schneider’s previous double-Grammy-nominated orchestra album, and the orchestras share a handful of musicians. Last year’s most conceptually ambitious, if not best, jazz recording was Identities are Changeable by Miguel Zenon and his “Identities” Big Band.

But the Evans influence seems ascendant, in Schneider, Truesdell and the brilliant Canadian composer-orchestra leader Christine Jensen, among others. The primary influence of Schneider, the premiere orchestra leader in jazz today, is Evans, the impressionistic sorcerer who conjured palpably evocative backdrops for Miles Davis’ classic albums, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Schneider served as Evans’ musical assistant for three years before his 1988 death.


“The Thompson Fields” reveals Maria Schneider as an uncommonly gifted composer and arranger whose poetic, nature-evoking Midwestern sensibility radiates though her orchestra. Courtesy

Equally taken by Evans, Truesdell befriended the late bandleader’s family who eventually allowed him to investigate Evans’ unpublished, unrecorded scores. The first result was the sensational Gil Evans Project album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works by Gil Evans, arguably the jazz event of 2012. Now comes Lines of Color, a vibrant, witty, swinging live-at-the-Jazz Standard follow-up.

Here The Gil Evans Project, live at the Jazz Standard, records a portion of Evans’ “The Time of the Barracudas”:

Numerous recent orchestra recordings defy the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, and jazz’s small presence in corporate-controlled, bottom-line radio and music industries. Try maintaining a 16-to-18 musician ensemble that requires extensive rehearsal, a collective response to one leader’s creative whim and will, in an art dominated by the “rugged-individual” instrumentalist.

“Shocking” is what Truesdell calls all the recording and activity (see below and discography). “But people are getting grant money and finding ways,” he said in a phone interview. “And it is so much cheaper to make a recording now. You can you record them on your own. Or they do live recordings which are so much easier to do. There is a cost-effective ways of making a big-band work.

“I don’t know if it’s a new golden age, but people are trying to do something different. Everybody’s got a quartet or trio, so people are searching for something kind of different and some musicians think their voice will be different if they go larger.”

Gil Evans, extending Duke Ellington’s innovations, actually opened the door in the late ‘50s for a modern jazz orchestra concept. That continued in ensembles led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Oliver Nelson, Gary McFarland, Gerald Wilson, Chico O’ Farrell and Toshiko Akiyoshi. Composer-arranger Claus Ogerman’s 1989 collaboration with Miles Davis Aura reimagined the trumpeter’s glory days with Evans. This all persisted despite the peaks and valleys of jazz popularity. However, jazz fusion spawned a period where big bands and brass-heavy rock bands embraced electricity and rock beats, including The Don Ellis Orchestra; The Buddy Rich Big Band; Woody Herman with star blues-rock guitarist Michael Bloomfield; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Bloomfield’s Electric Flag, and the most commercially successful, Chicago.

The hard-swinging and rocking Don Ellis Orchestra with soloist John Klemmer performing “Indian Lady.” from Electric Bath

Nevertheless, today most jazz orchestras use the pure acoustic power, color and range inherent to a sonic palette that Gil Evans expanded by employing all the wind instruments of a classical music orchestra, in ingenious voicings and settings.

“I think it’s a combination of people for whom the jazz orchestra is their voice, and of leaders in small ensembles finding their voices in larger ensembles,” Truesdell says. “And how they’re doing it, I guess they don’t pay people very much, just like everybody else,” he laughs. He adds that all the recording groups aren’t touring nearly as much as big bands did in the swing era.

However both his and Schneider’s orchestra owe much of their financial viability to the highly sophisticated artists-run ArtistShare label, which draws on individual “crowd-funding” sponsors, facilitated by the networking the Internet has provided DIY efforts. Formed in 2003, ArtistShare has produced nine Grammy awards and 18 Grammy nominations with a roster including Pulitzer-prize and Oscar-nominated writers, Guggenheim fellowship recipients and NEA Jazz Masters. 1

Among other important current recorded ensembles are The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, the Vanguard Orchestra, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, The SFJazz Collective, The Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Quiet Pride: Elizabeth Catlett Project led by Rufus Reid, The Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, The Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra, and 2015 Grammy album winners, Arturo O’Farrell and the Latin Jazz Orchestra for The Offense of the Drum and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, for Life in the Bubble.

Composer-arrangers like Quincy Jones — best known for work with Michael Jackson and Miles Davis — and Vince Mendoza freelance with numerous jazz and symphony orchestras. Mendoza’s widest exposure came with his sumptuously simpatico enhancements of Joni Mitchell on her double Grammy-winning “standards” album Both Sides Now, including a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist.

Another excellent recent recording was Fly! By Mitch Shiner and the Blooming Tones Big Band, led by a graduate of Mequon High School. Last winter, Milwaukee saw The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by composer-trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in a superlative holiday concert featuring today’s hottest jazz singer, Cecile McLorin Salvant.

Perhaps the seeds for a new golden age of orchestra were sown in 1997 when Marsalis and his orchestra bested all “legit” composers for the Pulitzer for Best Musical Composition, for the soulfully solemn orchestral oratorio Blood on the Fields. It has spurred other ambitious jazz orchestral inquiries into African-America history.

Schneider strengthened the legitimacy of a new jazz composer era by winning three Grammy awards for classical music in 2014 including best Best Contemporary Composition for her first classical orchestral recording Winter Morning Walks, two song cycles of poetry with soprano Dawn Upshaw and two chamber orchestras.

Many classic big bands from the swing era still remain intact and tour under new leadership. Milwaukee just heard The Woody Herman Orchestra recently at UWM for Jazz Appreciation Month in April. Herman, famous for his always forward-thinking Thundering Herd, was a Milwaukee native.

Another powerful heartland ensemble is the 13-member Chicago Yestet, which injects political awareness into modern big band style with hip-hop, R&B and pop strains. Led by Madison native Joel Adams — a Woody Herman band alumnus — the mini-big band features acclaimed Milwaukee trumpeter Russ Johnson, and Madison rapper/hip-hop historian Rob Dz (CD reviewed here recently. The Chicago Yestet will play at the Brink Lounge in Madison Sept. 5, amid a spate of Chicago and Wisconsin dates:

And speaking of universities, speaking of universities, the persistence of the jazz orchestra goes back to education. Despite the ever-present lure of small-combo guitar rock-pop, countless young musicians dedicate themselves to orchestra instruments and to rigorous, competitive high school and college ensemble programs, as a cursory survey of Down Beat magazine’s large annual education section proves.


The highly accomplished and dynamic All-Star Superband has played weekly for most of the 21 century throughout Milwaukee. All their performances proceeds go to local charities. Courtesy All-Star superband.

“There are 2,318 rehearsal big bands on the planet,” asserts Gary Christensen, leader of the All-Star Big Band. “On YouTube I came across a young people’s big band in Japan really nailing this high-level jazz piece. So it’s like, wow, they really are everywhere!”

The UWM Jazz Ensemble and The Marquette University Jazz Band, of varying sizes, function alongside the school’s traditional classical music instruction. Most jazz orchestras require strong reading ability of sometimes devilishly complex charts, the disciplined ear for harmonizing, counterpoint and tricky time signatures, as well as individual imagination and virtuosity for soloing.

A gifted composer-arranger like Schneider, Marsalis, Argue or Jensen — or the SFJazz Collective’s multiple composer-arrangers, including the brilliant Miguel Zenon — can make musical magic with such forces. And magic, that transports the imagination and spirit, never goes out of style.


See sidebar post on CC for a Selected Discography of the Modern Jazz Orchestra: 

1. Among the notable artists and recordings underscoring the importance of the ArtistShare brand and kick-starter funding concept are Pulitzer-nominated composer Patrick Williams, The Clayton Brothers, Milwaukee-raised trumpeter Brian Lynch for the Grammy-winning large-ensemble Eddie Palmieri Project’s Simpatico, Bob Brookmeyer, Danilo Perez, Jim Hall, SFJazz Collective’s Robin Eubanks, Ingrid Jensen, Donny McCaslin, Jane Ira Bloom, Torben Waldorff, Geoff Keezer and Alex Sipiagin.

Coming soon, a more in-depth interview with Ryan Truesdell, creator and music director of The Gil Evans Project.

This article was originally published in

This article is dedicated to the memory of my father, Norman Lynch, who introduced me at a young age to the power and possibility of the jazz orchestra. He especially loved Stan Kenton and often said, “My dream always was to play trombone in the Kenton Orchestra.”


norm and kev

Norm and Kevin Lynch, beside a Stan Kenton poster, The Jazz Estate, Milwaukee, 1983.

A discography: Exploring the jazz orchestra’s wilds and wonders

During research for my jazz orchestra article, I put together this discography, which attempts to trace the recorded development of modern jazz orchestra in roughly chronological order. It begins at the transition point from bebop, represented by Dizzy Gillespie, who often thought of the bop combo concept in larger terms. The key breakthrough is Birth of the Cool, the album by Miles Davis which introduced most listeners to the arranging talents of Gil Evans, though Stan Kenton more widely turned a new college generation onto the jazz orchestra’s excitement and possibilities. birth-of-cool But Evans had an important developing ground. One can hope that, in the future, appreciable CD recordings emerge by The Claude Thornhill’s orchestra from the 1940s-50s. Evans began his ambitious and fast-forming apprenticeship with the Thornhill orchestra. Those early recordings, not listed here, are contemporary to some of the rough-cut gems of brilliance that Ryan Truesdell has uncovered and polished up for the Gil Evans Project. The reassertion of Evans’ centrality is one of the most significant developments in what may be a new golden age of jazz orchestra.

Here’s a selected discography of the modern jazz orchestra (Roughly in chronological order from first noteworthy recording. Subsequent recordings listed for single bands may be quite a few years later, eg. first Liberation Music Orchestra is 1969 and the third listed, Not in Our Name is 2006, during The Iraq War):

Live at Newport Dizzy Gillespie (with Mary Lou Williams performing from her “Zodiac Suite.”)

Birth of the Cool Miles Davis with Gil Evans

Live at Newport, His Mother Called Him Bill, Far East Suite and Digital Duke Duke Ellington Orchestra

Space is the Place, Live at Montreux   Sun Ra Myth-Science Arkestra sketches Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess, Miles Ahead and Miles Davis/ Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (all with Miles Davis),The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions, Out of the Cool and The Individualism of Gil Evans Gil Evans Orchestra

The Magic Touch Tadd Dameron and his Orchestra Stan_Kenton's_West_Side_Story_CD_coverWest Side Story and Adventures in Jazz Stan Kenton Orchestra

Africa/Brass and Ascension John Coltrane

Thelonious Monk Big Band and Quartet in Concert Thelonious Monk with Oliver Nelson

Continuum and Live at The Village Vanguard  Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra

Big Swing Face, Mercy Mercy and Live at Buddy’s Place ‘76 The Buddy Rich Big Band

Electric flag

A Long Time Comin’  The Electric Flag

Electric Bath Don Ellis Orchestra

Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Dreamkeeper, and Not in Our Name, Liberation Music Orchestra

Brand New  (with Michael Bloomfield), and Giant Steps Woody Herman

Blood, Sweat and Tears  Blood, Sweat and Tears

The Resurrection of Pig Boy Crabshaw and In My Own Dream Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II  Chicago

Walking in Space and Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux Quincy Jones

Escalator Over the Hill Carla Bley Orchestra

Back to Oakland  Tower of Power

Let My Children Hear Music Charles Mingus

Creative Music Orchestra 1976 and Creative Orchestra 1978 (Koln) Anthony Braxton

Mingus Big Band 93: Nostalgia in Times Square and Live in Tokyo at the Blue Note Mingus Big Band


 Tales of a Courtesan, Insights and Carnegie Hall Concert (with Freddie Hubbard a/o) Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band/Orchestra

In Case You Missed It Charli Persip Superband II

Fly with the Wind and Song for My Lady McCoy Tyner

Winged Serpents (Sliding Quadrants) Cecil Taylor Orchestra of Two Continents

David Murray Big Band conducted by Lawrence“Butch”Morris David Murray Big Band

Joe Henderson Big Band Joe Henderson Big Band

With All the Bells and Whistles and Live at Concerts by the Sea Bob Florence Big Band

1997: The new golden age begins?:


Blood on the Fields (Pulitzer Prize winner) and A Love Supreme Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

Monterey Moods Gerald Wilson Orchestra

Overtime Dave Holland Big Band

Time’s Mirror Tom Harrell joni all music Jazz Pana Vince Mendoza w/ Arif Mardin, Epiphany w/ London Symphony Orchestra, and Both Sides Now w/ Joni Mitchell

New Works Celebration and Music for String Quartet and Orchestra Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra

Live at the Miramar Gary Christensen’s All-Star Superband

Habitat and Treelines Christine Jensen Orchestra sky blue Produced by Ryan Truesdell, “Sky Blue” by Maria Schneider was nominated for two 2008 Grammy Awards for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble” and “Best Instrumental Composition” (for ‘Cerulean Skies’).

Concert in the GardenSky Blue and The Thompson Fields Maria Schneider Orchestra

Centennial and Lines of Color:Live at the Jazz Standard Ryan Truesdell presents The Gil Evans Project

Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola  Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra

Infernal Machines, and Brooklyn Babylon Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Revelator, Everybody’s Talkin’ (live) and Made-Up Mind Tedeschi-Trucks Band

Jazz is Politics? and Just Say Yes, Chicago Yestet.


Identities are Changeable Miguel Zenon Quartet and “Identities” Big Band

Fly!  Mitch Shiner and the Blooming Tones Big Band

The L.A. Treasures Project Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project Rufus Reid

Live: I Hear The Sound Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra

The Offense Of The Drum Arturo O’Farrell & The Latin Jazz Orchestra

Overtime: Music of Bob Brookmeyer The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

Imaginary Cities Chris Potter Underground Orchestra

Inside Voices Kenosha Kid

East of the Sun ICP Orchestra

The Blessing, The Eternal Interlude and Songs We Like A Lot (to be released June 23) John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

Author Michael Perry reflects on his friendship with two Wisconsin photographers


Here’s a postlude to the recent Culture Currents review of There’s a Place: Photographs by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann, the marvelous retrospective of the Wisconsin-based photography couple’s work, which recently closed at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.

The newspaper piece linked to below was written for Roughneck Grace, a column in The Wisconsin State Journal by noted Wisconsin author, humorist, musician and intermittent pig farmer Michael Perry, best known for his funny and perceptive books Population 485; Truck: A Love Story; and Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting.  He’s also the leader of Michael Perry and the Long Beds, a quite respectable a roots music group, whose last recording was Tiny Pilot.


Yep, Perry — pictured here with his amigos — is perfect material for Shimon and Lindemann, though this photo, courtesy of Perry, may or may not be by them.


“Self-portrait in the Garden at Dusk, Whitelaw, WI,” 1998, Palladium Print, by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann.

In his column, Perry reflects on the gratitude he feels in his experience of his friendship with John Shimon and Julie Lindemann. I met the couple some years ago while they mounted a photo show, and they struck me as affable, interesting, vital and wholly dedicated to their life, their art and its unusual photographic standards and modus operandi.

Lindemann, as readers may know, suffers from a terminal cancer.

Here is Perry’s column, “Gratitude sometimes paid in tears”:

Thanks to my Madison friends Ann and Richard Meyer for alerting me to Perry’s column, which arrived as a clipping in snail-mail today.


Ornette lives! A brief appreciation of Ornette Coleman and “The Cry” (1930-2015)

Ornette scan0269

“Ornette Coleman,” enamel on panel, by Wayne Deutsch, 1997 

I just wanted to offer a few thoughts on Ornette Coleman. Upon hearing of his death yesterday, I thought of an old friend with the self-dubbed nickname of “Jazz Bob” who  sought out and savored “The Cry” in jazz.

As in, “(Art) Pepper has ‘The Cry.'”

Bob referred to the almost involuntary depth of piercingly ardent expression in the voice of many great jazz musicians, and blues musicians, for that matter.

Bob referred most often to saxophonists, but “The Cry” also emits from other horn players, trumpeters and trombonists. Ornette Coleman’s alto sax almost invariably had “The Cry,” and the sustenance of it had plenty to do with all the intellectual innovation and theory he applied to his music gradually over the years.

He called its approach to music — which became quite ambitious on its own terms — “harmolodics.” I think the idea came down to allowing the voice — and its expressive or creative purpose — of the instrumentalist or singer to thrive, to remain paramount in whatever harmonic or rhythmic context it finds itself in.

As critic/author Howard Mandel explains in the NPR appreciation, this philosophy allowed Ornette to play with an extraordinary array of musicians, because Coleman always sought out the commonality of the human voice in any performer.

He also espoused the famous idea, “Let’s play the melody, not the background.” This liberated him and many others from the strictures of playing somewhat hidebound by chord changes.

Most jazz musicians still work largely within those harmonic guidelines, but Ornette’s concept of “free jazz” liberated the musician’s concept of what music’s possibilities were. Nor was it ever really “free” in the sense of randomness. He invariably had a feel for the blues in his playing. Yes, “The Cry.”
Of course, one of his greatest collaborators and proponents — the late, great bassist Charlie Haden — also died not long ago. Listen to Haden’s recorded comments in Howard’s appreciation. And search out Ornette and Charlie Haden playing together. I suppose I’ll offer a YouTube of the mournfully eloquent Coleman dirge “Lonely Woman” as a funereal appreciation of Ornette. This is Coleman, Don Cherry on trumpet, Haden on bass and Billy Higgins’ ever-dancing drums:

But there is so much more, of course, including one of the most delightfully up-beat, swinging and funky tunes anyone has ever recorded, “Ramblin'” which reveals Ornette’s Texas blues roots.

Aside from any of his groundbreaking and, I think, quite listenable early ’60s recordings with the Ornette Coleman Quartet on Atlantic Records, you might also search out Dancing in your Head, or Virgin Beauty or Sound Grammar which are Ornette engaging with rock rhythms to varying degrees. It ain’t fusion like you know fusion. Then there’s some of his best middle-to-late period acoustic group work on The Complete Science Fiction Sessions, including a couple of stunning vocals by Asha Puthli.

In his 2006 liner notes to Sound Grammar, Coleman writes, “Sound stimulates newborn babies and could cause the infant to cry. Sound itself is used in endless forms of communication.”
So the sound of “The Cry” that Jazz Bob valued in such musicians is primal and likely underlies human celebration, joy, passion as well as pain and sorrow, throughout life. Is not the same true of other creatures?
Finally, I would like to share a marvelous painting (above) by Iowa artist Wayne Deutsch, a portrait of Ornette Coleman, which I think captures his personality, intelligence and spirit beautifully.

Ornette lives!


As I posted already on FB, here is Ornette authority Howard Mandel (author of “Miles Ornette Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz,” a highly recommended book) with his NPR appreciation of Ornette.

Jonathan Klett’s potent video film “Truth, Communion, Immense Possibility, and Art”


Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak) is proud to post this guest blog from the gifted young Milwaukee young video filmmaker, Jonathan Klett. Now based on the east coast, he’s the sort of hell-bent-to-make-a-difference artistic envelope-pusher that needs to be heard.

He will be heard. That’s because I guarantee that he will speak to most of my readers with the rhythmic, melodic, textural and ultimately emotional thunder of his documenting, and his wizardry at amalgamating the potency of his media elements. “I am Trayvon Martin,” one of the petitioning posters declares.

You see this brief film — much of it shot in Baltimore during the recent protests — and you see how the truth bleeds and how it soars. You know that change will come.

Why? Because, as Jonathan allows me to suggest in one segment, art and music generates the power for moral agency and, as one poetic protester asserts to the crowd “The moral universe bends to the arc of justice! Get ready America, we are bending it!”

jon 1

Right on, brothers and sisters! Fight on for truth, justice and peace in our lifetime, and our children’s. Jonathan — the son of two of my oldest friends, John and Mary Klett — makes me believe in our children, in the millennials inheriting the malleable madness, the palpable power, our democracy flirts with daily.

Look, people, listen and arise. Make a difference:


Still shots from short film by Jonathan Klett from “Truth, Communion, Immense Possibility, and Art”

given with full permission – ‘Lost in Decay’ by Drop Electric, a DC band I’ve been filming for two years. Cheers — Jonathan Klett.

Jonathan Klett’s potent video film “Truth, Communion, Immense Possibility, and Art”


Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak) is proud to post this guest blog from the gifted young Milwaukee young video filmmaker, Jonathan Klett. Now based on the east coast, he’s the sort of hell-bent-to-make-a-difference artistic envelope-pusher that needs to be heard.

He will be heard. That’s because I guarantee that he will speak to most of my readers with the rhythmic, melodic, textural and ultimately emotional thunder of his documenting, and his wizardry at amalgamating the potency of his media elements. “I am Trayvon Martin,” one of the petitioning posters declares.

You see this brief film and you see how the truth bleeds and how it soars. You know that change will come.

Why? Because, as Jonathan allows me to suggest in one segment, art and music generates the power for moral agency and, as one poetic protester asserts to the crowd “The moral universe bends to the arc of justice! Get ready America, we are bending it!”

jon 1

Right on, brothers and sisters! Fight on for truth, justice and peace in our lifetime, and our children’s. Jonathan — the son of two of my oldest friends, John and Mary Klett — makes me believe in our children, in the millennials inheriting the malleable madness, the palpable power, our democracy flirts with daily.

Look, people, listen and arise. Make a difference:


Still shots from short film by Jonathan Klett from “Truth, Communion, Immense Possibility, and Art”

given with full permission – ‘Lost in Decay’ by Drop Electric, a DC band I’ve been filming for two years. Cheers — Jonathan Klett.

Wisconsin Proud: Shimon and Lindemann reveal courage, commitment and salt-of-earth soul




Shimon and Lindemann, “Self-portrait at Dusk, Whitelaw, Wisconsin,” 1998. Courtesy

There’s a Place: Photographs by J. Shimon and J. Lindemann, closing Sunday, June 7, The Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend, WI 262-334-9638

John Shimon and Julie Lindemann have delved deeply into the nether reaches of Wisconsin existence for decades as photographic antiquarians.  And matters of complex humanity emerge in the superlative retrospective of their joint artistic career, which closes this weekend at the Museum of Wisconsin Art. What makes it urgent to see are the facts that these are as important as any Wisconsin artists that we have right now, and that this first-ever museum retrospective of their work may be also the last one in the lifetime of this artistic duo, given Julie Lindemann’s declining health. 1

Consequently, There’s a Place has remarkable depth and emotional power, which also originates in the subtle dramatics they achieve in these encounters with their subjects, which convey in a larger sense their profound love for this state, for its people, culture and labors, and for its natural cyclical beauty.

Time after time, in the blow-up, largely black-and-white photographs, we see people — whom most others do not — revealed both because of and despite themselves. That revelation comes largely through the documentary acumen and instincts of the artistic duo. The longtime couple’s commitment to the Wisconsin experience through its people — especially its outsiders, working-class, punks and elderly — has resulted in a remarkable response to this exhibit, which may be the most popular in the museum’s history, according to Greg Cisler, a MOWA security guard and gallery guide.

“This weekend we had free admission and thousands of people came through,” Cisler said Saturday. “And many of them came out visibly affected at an emotional level. This couple has touched many people’s lives.”

Cisler says that Julie Lindemann did not even attend the April opening as she continues her battle with her late-stage metastatic cancer, diagnosed in 2012. It has spread to her hips, making it too uncomfortable for her to sit up straight, according to a recent Milwaukee Magazine interviewer.

And yet the tall, blond Lindemann you see posing in many of the photographs is a striking and almost theatrical visage. She generously displays her statuesque frame in various negligee and lounging attire, conveying strength in an arty-punk style and sexual self-assurance. So knowledge of Julie’s medical condition casts a poignant pall over these images.

That’s the danger in what they’re going through now, Julie told Milwaukee. “We never had pets, never had children…we kept shoveling it all into the art.”

But they do have their many friends, right here and through the state. The photographers got to know many of their subjects quite well. So there’s potency in the couple’s close scrutiny of their subjects combined with the latitude they allow them to just be themselves, but in the most self-possessed manner.

The irony is that the couple’s devotion to old, laborious and elaborate photography techniques, and typically silver gelatin prints, embraces a concept that befits and elevates today’s instantaneous, selfie-buzzed social media, in the sense that everyone involved is putting themselves out in a public, self-conscious manner, putting on for the camera, and yet they cannot truly hide themselves.

So what you begin to see is that the public front people present seems partly a function of managing their existential situation. To this point, perhaps the photograph that most closely ties its subjects to the dichotomies of Julie Lindemann’s collaborative self portraits is the couple “Faye and Ken at Home, Milwaukee.”

shimon faye and ken

Shimon and Lindemann, “Ken and Faye at Home, Milwaukee,” 1994, courtesy

The middle-aged couple is all done up evidently for a formal night out on the town. Faye’s dressed to kill, her shapely figure poured into in a little black leather dress, a punkish hairdo and heavy jewels. She’s also hanging onto the hand of Ken, an utter sad sack, all dressed up with no place he wants to go.

His body seems almost mummified in his all-white tuxedo. His bearded, bespectacled face has collapsed in his hand, his arm resting on a chair. He seems a poster child for clinical depression. Only then might you look back at Kaye’s face and see the stress emanating from it, and a certain tense posture in her rather stiff-backed pose.

So the jig is up rather quickly. You can feel how their effort at putting on a festive front is dissolving from within. That front amounts to kind of survival mode, what so many of us do to get through the day — put on our clothes and make-up, and go out in the suit of armor to face the challenges of work and society and especially the inevitable decay of life itself, the inexorable force of time which we all struggle to resist, even as we “seize the day,” or try to.

In a rather spooky coincidence, Ken seems to have a literal brother, or at least a kindred in affliction and visage, in the show. Jimmy von Milwaukee: Burt Reynolds Pose, 2006, reveals a bearded man strikingly similar to Ken in looks, and with a face haunted with  tenuous yet courageous mortality. Wearing only a zebra-print thong, Jimmy displays his body in a pose reminiscent of one made famous by actor Burt Reynolds in his macho prime. And yet this man’s slender body is laced with lesions that look like AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma, according to a nurse practitioner friend of mine who attended the show.

That’s when you can go back to the photographs of Julie and see, aside from her sinuous sensuality,  the slightly grim determination in her angular facial features and the fixed eyes peering from behind her stylishly retro black glasses.

You see it in a vivid color photo where she invites you into her kitchen with its array of accessories, condiments and decorations, signaling that she’s about to prepare a sumptuous meal of food she and John have probably grown themselves. So we see that fundamental Wisconsin can-do-ism, the pioneer spirit brought to the present and celebrated with a hint of desperation.

There’s a Place is about people revealed in home, neighborhood or work settings, and the relationship of the Wisconsinite to her land is more specifically dramatized in one of their most stunningly and beautifully subtle photographs. Drought (#3) printed on Mulberry paper.


Drought (#3) 2012, Tea-toned Cyanotype on Masa Mulberry Paper. Courtesy

Again, Julie is the subject, but here more a situational actor in another near-life-size, unsettlingly noirish scene. A large watering can hangs from her hand, clearly dry to the last drop. She steps out from behind a screen door on to a terrain which — along with the cracked, disintegrating house paint — is ravaged and dying of thirst. It’s not something we think about as locally threatening in this verdant state. But the current realities of Texas and California should remind us of the environmental catastrophe that mega-industries and profligate corporate irresponsibility have bought us face-to-face with.

Amid the exquisite beauty of its hushed, simmering hues, Drought addresses global warming with as much artistic drama and persuasion as any image I have seen in quite some time.

Despite the brave embracing of realities and the couple’s “beauty is decay”
aesthetic, There’s a Place is hardly a doom-and-gloom exhibit . For many of the portrait poses, including many of Julie’s, you can accept the comparative health that she and their friends have enjoyed and displayed over the decades of this show’s documentation.

For example, Jeri with her 1956 Pink Cadillac: 


Jeri with her 1956 Pink Cadillac, Green Bay, Wisconsin, 2003.

She seems hale and hearty in blue jeans — rolled up bobby-sox style — tattoos and red lipstick, sitting proudly on her vintage stylish Caddy. A portrait of Happy Days-era Wisconsin which, recall, depicted a mythical Milwaukee. That’s probably an abandoned factory behind her, but you sense Jeri’s day-to-day resilience and pluck. Of course, one also senses that Shimon and Lindemann relate as much to Samuel Beckett’s absurdly cheerful Happy Days couple – trapped up to their hips in rocky sand — as with those days ruled by The Fonze.

Yet the couple’s awareness of the slowly engulfing environmental crisis does not keep them from celebrating our state’s still-glorious splendor in imaginative and quiet magnificence. I’m speaking of one of their most recent pieces, a triumph of photographic, sculptural and curatorial imagination called Maple Canopy. Constructed from an armature of an old metal sun canopy, it hovers over the back of the gallery above a plush four-sided seat that — as you gaze at the photo montage overhead — naturally invites you to lay across the seats, to take it all in.


canopy 3

When you do, the canopy’s translucent montage of maple trees — shot from a ground level view through the branches skyward — draws your eyes into a leafy, spatial panorama. The gallery lights radiate through the leaves from above, lending a late-afternoon glow.

You might find yourself catching your breath at this point. It’s a quietly transcendent experience that powerfully reminds us of what we need to take care of — so that the land maintained by people like these dedicated farmer-photographers continues to sustain what we expect of Wisconsin’s great agrarian and conservationist traditions.

canopy 2

Photos of Shimon and Lindemann’s “Maple Canopy” installation, 2015 (here and above) by Kevin Lynch.

Here you sense they’re also well-versed in Aldo Leopold, the great Wisconsin naturalist-writer. As the show title invites, “there’s a place” in these branches and light, of embracing refuge, exploration and growth, both outward-bound and inwardly meditative, a genuine Wisconsin experience. And for that, the installation Canopy is the finest piece of new art by state artists I’ve seen this year, a masterpiece of their oeuvre.

Yes, these are also very much artists of our time, even as we see them in photos, and in a quirky accompanying series of short films, rooting around on their farm, using ancient tractors and farming tools.

In this world, rust never sleeps. Hearts have the power of pistons. Long may their work endure and find new audiences both in Wisconsin and nationally.

“There’s a place, where I can go/ when I feel low, when I feel blue. And it’s my mind, and there’s no time, when I’m alone…In my mind there is no sorrow/ don’t you know that it’s so? There’ll be no sad tomorrow/ don’t you know that it’s so?” — Lennon and McCartney


1. Post-script: Artist Julie Lindemann died of cancer on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, at her home in Appleton. She was 57. In her final years, she and partner John Shimon gained due renown, being named Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Wisconsin artists of the year in 2014, and being honored with the acclaimed and remarkably popular WOMA retrospective. Still, the loss to the state’s art scene —  of a quotidian yet specially-attuned sensibility — remains palpable in the memory of this exhibit.