Talking talk radio without much progress in Milwaukee…ah, but Chicago!


Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman holds a cell phone to her mike for her audience to Allan Nairn speaking to 500 people attending a demonstration for East Timor across from United Nations in New York, in September 2000. The moment illustrates how long Goodman has been on the forefront of progressive journalism. Nairn fell into in military custody in West Timor, after having been arrested in East Timor in 2000 “to prevent the denial of events by the US Mass Media whose owners supply the military and death squads their arms and instruments of mass murder,” according to the website that posted the photo. Goodman’s exposure of Nairn’s predicament helped eventually return him safely to the U.S. when Washington learned from her of the situation. Courtesy:

The Milwaukee Talk Radio Project Community is an organization worth supporting, especially if you are not dead-set on voting for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in Wisconsin’s primary on April 5th.

As they point out fairly, without Milwaukee’s stifling conservative talk radio monopoly we’d have no Gov. Scott Walker. Without Rush Limbaugh’s long, strange trip of a reign on national airwaves — and the recent suicidal contortions of the Republican party — we might not have not have the current preconditions for Donald Trump’s increasingly scary racist, misogynistic,  authoritarian governmental dynamic. Trump recently added nuclear head-tipped saber-rattling against ISIS to his bully pulpit rhetoric. And still, his economically-desperate, lap-it-up faithful somehow believe in this “Superman” confidence man.

Where does that leave Milwaukee in the national political debate? Milwaukee radio does have WNOV’s local urban-orientation talk at 860 AM. Otherwise, Southeastern Wisconsin is lost in an airwaves wilderness where even our unspoiled trees lean right, as if meekly offering their necks up to chopping for a new development or Trump-esque resort. So if you care about fair and balanced discourse on your city’s local radio, do look into The Milwaukee Talk Radio Project Community, an activist support group working to bring progressive talk radio to Milwaukee:

However, you can stream Madison’s prog-talk radio WXXM 92.1 The Mic on you smart phones, tablet and computers. Try it if you haven’t. I have to plug one of that station’s very strong locally- oriented program with a national literary, cultural and musical scope. That is Stuart Levitan’s Books and Beats from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Stu, a free-spirited lawyer-activist and a former labor-relations negotiator, consistently interviews authors of very substantial, interesting and topical books, and interviews many big-time musicians who come to the Madison area, with his vintage baby-boomer Dylan-to-Deadhead tastes on his sleeve. Full disclosure, he’s a former good neighbor of mine, and a cultural journalist colleague, so I’m slightly biased. But he’s also the author of the fascinating and extremely well-received Madison: An Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume I, 1856–1931., So check out The Mic if you  haven’t here:

But I don’t have a smart phone partly due to a manual physical disability, and I love to listen to talk radio while driving my car — then  I switch to a music station during commercials (like WMSE) on my reasonably good car speaker system — like millions still do nationwide. You can allegedly get a stream hook-up to The Mic on WKKV100.7 – HD 3 if you have an HD radio. Well, I have one in my house, and I can’t get it and I miss it, from having lived  in Madison for nearly 20 years. (What am I doing wrong, thoughts?)

Some of my moderate to right-leaning friends say some of my Facebook postings suggest “I lived in Madison for too long.” I’m not sure how different my politics would be had I not moved to Madison from Milwaukee in 1989 (then returning here in 2009). I sure am sympathetic to the plights and challenges of small business people, for sure.

But I’m also a union person, going back at least to my days at The Milwaukee Journal when our then-still fledging Newspaper Guild Local 51 crucially helped me get my part-time staff job back, with full nine-months back pay, after I was improperly dismissed. Well-known liberal Milwaukee columnist and pundit Joel McNally was the bracing steward for our Local 51 chapter at the time. Even though The Journal-Sentinel  in recent years has drastically downsized his staff, as have most newspapers around the country, the Milwaukee paper’s employee union remains, battling gamely for the rights of its members.1

That’s a lot of background throat-clearing to announce that, given Milwaukee’s dearth of balanced talk radio, my new favorite non-musical radio station is Chicago’s Progressive WCPT 820 AM which I just discovered on the dial recently. 820 AM has an huge regional broadcast range from sunrise to sunset. FCC rules require them to drop their range in the evening. Among others, the station features progressive talk-can-be-slightly-madcap Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, the superbly incisive Thom Hartmann, and the award-winning (including The 2012 Gandhi Peace Award) invaluable reporter and author Amy Goodman for Democracy Now! (see photo above) with Juan Gonzales, which airs on over 800 stations nationwide, but not in historically-progressive but purple Wisconsin’s largest city.

I really fell for the Chicago station hard yesterday afternoon when a streaming listener, a middle-aged sounding woman from the state of Washington, called up to remind her fellow state voters that Washington state’s caucus is happening this Saturday and not to miss it! But after a bit of a detour comment which I can’t recall, the woman ended her call by musing this lovable mutt of a political non-sequitur: “You know, I think dogs are really in charge of us. After all, they have us following behind us wherever they go — picking up their poop.” Host Norman Goldman was so thrown — clearly caught without a “doggie bag” —  that he didn’t know how to respond. So the woman added in conclusion. “In my house, my cat is charge.”

As for me, that is pretty much true in my one-cat house with Queen Chloe, and of my girlfirend’s two-cat and two-dog house, until recently when her two geriatric canines sadly died in relatively quick succession. But the balance of political power in her house has evened somewhat, between the two male cats, one an alpha male, the other a classic scardy cat, but capable of guerrilla ambushes of the alpha.  Where my girlfriend stands is, well, kind of like John Kasich. And I suspect the Washington woman was groping for a political analogy herself.

I love that kind of live radio, with the droll real-life observations of what sounded like an ordinary middle-class woman, the kind whom I hope will make a big difference in the national election. She’d probably just come in from out of the cold Northwest rain with her poop-filled bag and her dog probably shook all its wet fur off — all over her legs.

The tone of the Chicago station is unpretentious, interesting and heartening, given that it’s the heart of the Midwest politically, culturally and otherwise. I heard some some pointed critique of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmauel’s very shaky hold on fair, transparent  government and insufficiently diverse administration, and how Republican Illinois governor Bruce Rauner is starving that great blue working-class state with a shoestring budget that would’ve had Oliver Twist pleading for a shoelace for his hole-in-the-sole shoes, along with more food, please. Rauner sounds like one of those hole-in-the-soul GOP politicos, not unlike our own governor.

If my memory serves me from hearing The Mic consistently in the mid 2000s, I’ve sensed a subtle difference of tone and focus between the Chicago and Madison stations. WCPT seems to chew more on the nuts and bolts of “real politics” than The Mic in Madison, though the national commentary is somewhat comparable, especially considering that they share some of the same national talk show hosts as The Chicago station. There is at least a grain of truth to the cliché that Madison is “64 square miles surrounded by reality;” witness the Walker administration.

However, I still love the city, and I just returned to it last week for two wonderful cultural offerings, the very distinctive Harlem Renaissance Museum with Martel Chapman’s arrestingly delightful cubist-jazz portraits and scenes, and a fairly transporting concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, led by John DeMain, with guest pianist Emanuel Ax (see my previous post). The city also has a surprisingly vibrant and well-organized jazz scene.

Sometimes you just need another, perhaps fresh take on “reality” — and artistic culture frequently provides that. Nevertheless, we need more democratic airwaves, which actually belong to the people.

And regardless of the Chicago station’s presence — with somewhat spotty reception in Milwaukee — we still need our own station in Brewtown. We are no political outlier of The Windy City. Plus, they’re probably Cubs and Bears fans.

Milwaukee radio needs more democracy, to help to “Make Donald Drumph Again.”


  1. The Newspaper Guild still has over 34,000 members in the US and Canada. For information on Local 51:



The rain, Harlemesque art, and Mahler



Music director John DeMain conducts the Madison Symphony Orchestra in the stunning setting of Overture Hall in Madison. Courtesy

Rain…Rain…I don’t mind. Shine, the weather’s fine. I can show you that when it starts to rain, everything’s the same, I can show you, I can show you… It’s just a state of mind, can you hear me, can you hear me? — “Rain” by Lennon and McCartney

What a pleasure to be reminded how fortune smiles on Wisconsin with the blessing of two great symphony orchestras. There’s nothing like an orchestra working its big-canvas magic in person. In recent years I’ve reacquainted myself with the glories of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

On a rain-soaked day, sheets of rain, billows of rain, Ann Peterson and I drove to Madison to hear that city’s superb orchestra, but not before what has become a ritual, a stop at the Pine Cone Inn halfway between the cities in Johnsonville, to pick up a gluten-free monster cookie.
With slightly soggy crumbs nestled in laps, we rolled into Mad Town and stopped first at The Harlem Renaissance Museum on East Washington.

This place is  worth your time although, on a Sunday afternoon, also consider that a religious service is held in the back room, which is the way to enter. So if you make your way quietly to the front galley, you now see an exhibit of Cubist jazz art by the museum’s artist-in-residence Martel Chapman. The exhibit also includes a tribute to the great Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer, a Wisconsin resident and one-time faculty member at the UW-Madison. On display were a selection of Toomer’s letters hand-written and typed to various people during important years of his career and they are illuminating and a bit historically transporting, although I wasn’t taking notes (apologies), so I can’t go into detail.

But Chapman’s art is a marvel. He has an uncanny ability to do conventional oil portraiture with great insight and style. But most of the pieces display his own trademark Cubist characterization of jazz and African-American cultural figures. Despite the almost futuristic stylization he’s capable of capturing the deep character of someone as profound as John Coltrane as he does in a portrait titled “Late Coltrane.” I  believe this is actually an interpretation of the famous black-and-white photograph of Coltrane for the album A Love Supreme.


“Late Coltrane,” John Coltrane as interpreted by Madison cubist artist Martel Chapman. Courtesy Martel Chapman

He does the same for white-haired sax icon Sonny Rollins and even superstar Black studies scholar-minister Cornel West. It’s almost as if the artist is torching a living person out of tubes of metal. Chapman’s not going for realism here, rather the essence of the artist, a remarkable achievement somewhat akin to a jazz player’s act of getting to the truth of the matter through a musical stylized abstraction.

Some of Chapman’s pieces comprise complete scenes more akin to Georges Braque’s early, somewhat painterly ” analytic cubism” such as the utterly delightful “Quartet ’58.” This painting interprets the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane performing at The Five Spot Nightclub in New York in 1958. The luxuriously-faceted piece is a virtual whirlygig of animated expression spinning out from the fabulous figure of Monk himself whose splayed arms and legs hover around the keyboard like a hipster Gumby. 1

Monk 58

Martel Chapman’s “Quartet 58,” and interpretation of the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane on saxophone. Courtesy Martel Chapman. 

For all these fine artistic moments, the afternoon’s main event was the Madison Symphony Orchestra. They rolled up their sleeves with a taste-whetting performance of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62.
Then Emanuel Ax ambled on. The veteran, gray-maned and portly pianist has acquired a decidedly avuncular demeanor by now. But he sat down and showed that any uncle who can play a Beethoven concerto (No. 4) like this is worthy of inviting to dinner any old time. His playing absolutely sparkled and finely mirrored the orchestra’s rhythmic dancing through the melodies and sonic gusts rippling through deep meadows of sound.
Ax encored with an unannounced Debussy prelude, I believe, which unwound with strangely complex colors and arabesques.

Soon it was time for the centerpiece of the concert, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony 4 in G Major, one of the majestic pinnacles in the standard repertoire, and of late Romanticism.
I’ve always loved this work, as have many.  But it had been so long since I heard this orchestra after covering it for nearly 20 years. I somewhat forgot how fine and firm a grip DeMain has on such myriad details, dynamics and tempo, etc. and how superbly responsive the orchestra is.

They showed us what a ravishingly immersive creation the Mahler is, once again. It must be a supreme pleasure sit in the middle of that and participating in it. I’m still sappy enough of an Irishman to be moved to tears by it.


Composer Gustav Mahler outside the Grand Hotel Toblach in the Alps. Courtesy

So thank you for moving me, my old friends. It’s in the way that all the strange and wondrous colors and rhythms engulf the listener, like a fully-evoked world or lifetime of memories, and then the finely-wrought melodies and fanfares that swell up like water-drenched sirens. This all leads to that late, luminous cathedral-like chord rising to forever, not long before the soprano enters.

This is DeMain the Grammy-winning, Leonard Bernstein-mentored opera conductor synthesizing those skills into the orchestral domain for a rare sort of larger-than-the-moon musicality. He’s clearly spent all the time necessary for a reach for transcendence, having performed the whole Mahler symphonic cycle during the years pI lived in Madison. I would love to hear this band record a Mahler symphony.

demain conduct

A protege of Leonard Bernstein, DeMain has led the Madison orchestra for 22 years.

And such a celestial song in the finale, though guest soloist Alisa Jordheim, still doesn’t compare to the warm magnificence of Judith Raskin with George Szell and the old Cleveland recording. Ms. Jordheim had confessed to DeMain that she was suffering from a cold, which did not seem to affect her voice’s lovely timbre. But at moments she seemed to strain to project over the orchestra.

Still, it came to a marvelous end, like a winding scenic journey to a high vista.

And finally DeMain nudged the unaccompanied basses along to extend the symphony’s last very note, like an earth-whispering Ommmm.

Sublime. I could go on, but it would be just the German side of me getting a little oom-pah pushy.

So we headed home. And the rains came, again, stronger than ever.


  1. For news on the museum’s first year anniversary and future plans, check out Pat Simm’s Wisconsin State Journal article:


Pianist Mark Davis shows how to make jazz in a new method book

Mark Davis pianist author

Jazz pianist and author Mark Davis practicing at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music where he directs the Jazz Institute. Photo by Kevin Lynch

In person, Mark Davis exudes warm, affable intelligence. At the piano he translates his personality, knowledge and talent into penetrating, fluent and swinging music. He’s the city’s premiere jazz pianist, director of the Wisconsin Conservatory’s Jazz Institute, and pianist with the school’s faculty jazz ensemble We Six, which can be heard on the recording Bird Say. He’s performed with jazz greats Jimmy Heath, Charles McPherson, Slide Hampton, and Frank Morgan, among others.

And now Davis is the author of Jazz Piano Method , published by Hal Leonard , which may become one of the most effective and efficient ways to learn jazz piano, short of taking lessons with a gifted musician and teacher like Davis. The book includes online access to 180 recorded examples of its practice exercises, each introduced and performed by Davis himself.

Mark Davis w book


What’s the genesis and motivation for this book?

I’d thought about this for years working with students of all different backgrounds and levels. There wasn’t  a perfect book to recommend my students that fit my way of teaching. So why not write my own book? In 2008, I began recording for Hal Leonard (the world’s largest music publisher) accompaniment tracks for various books including The Real Book (a primary jazz repertory book) with bassist Jeff Hamman and drummer Dave Bayless. But I really wanted to write the jazz piano method. Everybody teaches jazz differently. From pianist Barry Harris, I learned how interconnected teaching and playing are. I hope the book allows students a method to find their own way.

There is an inherent mystery to jazz in that it seems created out of the ether. But you give each note a purpose and get into why the music sounds and feels this way . For example, you point out that diatonic chords are ones that contain the same notes as other chords– which helps a student move through progressions musically and easily.

Jazz is not easy music play. You can get very comfortable with certain chord progressions and I hope the book gives people the fundamentals to give them a certain kind of freedom, so they can really take off.

Another example of useful theory you address are “shell voicings” and extensions.

My home base as a musician comes from the bebop approach, so shell voicings is a left-hand technique that bop pianist plays. But they also use, say, a tenth  interval (extension) but I show them how to get around that by breaking the chord up, as well as things like rootless voicings. Also, you can’t be jazz musician without understanding what came before. I’m using the bebop era as the starting point, rather than Herbie Hancock or Keith Jarrett.

But this can get them to Hancock or Jarrett. You emphasize learning directly from recordings. Also you address the idea of tension and release in the basic II-V-I chord progression. Doesn’t this help a student make an aesthetic choice, to make these decisions for expressive, dramatic or sonic effect?

Tension and release is an important factor in so much music, or even in movies or drama. If you just give a student a scale to improvise with you can point out the tools to see how tension and release occurs, which is the drama music. Otherwise it’s like going to a movie where nothing really happens.

In Chapter 5, you make a strong point that the rhythmic feel and the blues feel are the most important things, even more than the correct note or chord. Why is that so important?

Learning to play jazz is similar to learning a language. When a baby is learning to speak, before words they get the rhythm of language,  it sounds like talking but you don’t hear the words. Then the meaning starts to be filled in. Same in jazz, the more we learn, the more we can fill in, like language, the specific thoughts or ideas.


At the end, why do you characterize jazz piano as a never-ending journey and a quest?

In his 90s, Hank Jones said, you never fully master it. I find that students with careers outside of music can find a way to escape the day-to-day grind and of our own personal lives — escape inside music to a place where nothing really else matters. Charlie Parker didn’t want to go back to that other place. Maybe that’s why he was such a genius player. It’s the beauty you can find within music.

What I hope is that teachers will use this with students and now have the background using as a guide to teach jazz and they can pick up on these pocket topics and run with it in their own way. For example Brian Lynch is really excited about what his students are doing with it at the Frost School of music in Miami. I want to get this book into schools.

Among other jazz piano books, Davis notes, Jazz Piano by Mark Levine is an excellent book which I recommend. But it’s more of a reference loaded with information, where my book is a method, a pathway hopefully to come away with a much deeper understanding of music and approach for how they can continue to play it.

I don’t want to give them too much information because people can become overwhelmed by this music. I want them to enjoy learning how to play jazz.

Mark Davis and We Six will perform at 7:30 p.m. March 18 with guest artists Brian Lynch, a Grammy-winning trumpeter originally from Milwaukee, and Benny Golson, a renowned jazz saxophonist and composer, at Marquette University’s Weasler Auditorium, 1506 W. Wisconsin Ave.  Over a distinguished career, Golson has worked with, among others, Tadd Dameron, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet. Golson has written a number of jazz standards including “I Remember Clifford,” “Killer Joe” and “Whisper Not.” He’s also composed for TV shows including Ironside, M.A.S.H., and Mission Impossible. For information, visit


Benny Golson. Courtesy


This interview was originally published in The Shepherd Express in a slightly different form.