The Eric Jacobson Quintet warms up a large crowd at Lake Park, before accompanying singer Alyssa Allgood in a Cole Porter repertoire, Monday night. All photos by Kevin Lynch
Like many folks, I’m still catching up with the post-pandemic (?) live music just now sprouting up around Milwaukee. This is the first time I’ve attended this Lake Park concert series and, alas, it was the last of the summer.
The Series, at the Lake Park Summer Stage, is called Musical Mondays and is sponsored by WMSE 91.7 FM and The Lake Park Friends.
The Eric Jacobson Quintet and singer Alyssa Allgood made vintage Cole Porter love (and love “gone-wrong,” or even “for sale”) songs fit right into the fertile, ripe late-summer atmosphere.
A large and diverse crowd seemed to soak up the concert’s slightly ces la vie spirit of passing love and passing summer, even as the sunset melted into nightglow, sustained by self-brought wine and foodstuffs, the deeply verdant setting, and insouciantly swinging music. Yet this was no pure August idyllic — mosquitos hovered in small clouds as did hungry bats and nighthawks, chasing after them.
I don’t consider the images below good photojournalism, as I’m more of a writer than a photographer, plus I’m just getting used to a brand new camera. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share some of these, as these musicians are worth remembering and catching up with, as is the concert series, even if you must remember this (not a Porter allusion) until next summer.My “favorite” photo, such as it is, might be the “happy accident,” which is more background leaves than anything.
I arrived late and, with my photo-taking focus, won’t make a critical assessment of the performance, aside from a general thumbs up to the music, and to the weather gods who finally gave us a cool evening break.
The spirited band was led by trumpeter Eric Jacobson, with saxophonist Jesse Montijo, keyboardist Mike Kubicki, bassist Clay Schaub, and drummer Dave Bayles.
Singer Alyssa Allgood may be less known to Milwaukee audiences. The Chicago-based vocalist has earned consistent critical acclaim for her instrumental approach and accomplished scat and vocalese singing. She has gained attention for “her technical control and [the] creative imagination of her work” by critic Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune.
Allgood was named “Best Jazz Entertainer” in the 2019 Chicago Music Awards and won the first Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition held in Washington D.C. in 2017.
Her performance credits include a residency at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Club in Shanghai, appearances at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, and headlining appearances at the Green Mill, the Jazz Showcase and Winter’s Jazz Club in Chicago. Allgood has also appeared at the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Dakota, the Jazz Estate and Noce Jazz Club.
Allgood’s debut album, Out of the Blue, was released in Fall 2016 to wide critical acclaim. It received a 4 star review from DownBeat Magazine and was named a “Best Release of 2016” by seven different publications including The Huffington Post and All About Jazz and a “Best Debut Release of 2016” by The New York City Jazz Record.
Jack Covert, in 2017, when he retired from his successful career in the book business, after a memorable start as a small Milwaukee record store owner. Courtesy onmilwaukee.com.
Dirty Jack hit the dirt hard, for the last time. It may be the last time, but I don’t know a music fan who dug deeper into music as a record buyer, and into album warehouses and personal collections, as an eager buyer-seller. Dan Burr’s Crumb-esque cartoon strip (below) illustrates that Jack Covert well, (taken from the linked obit by Dave Luhrssen of The Shepherd Express:)
I’m a bit late in acknowledging Jack, but last week I was distracted by writing about the death of Nanci Griffith, another great person who fit into the popular music world in her own slightly square-peg-in-a-round-hole way.
Dirty Jack’s Record Rack, on Farwell and Irving, was my favorite record store in my youth, even though I ended up becoming an album buyer at Radio Doctor’s Soul Shop and Peaches Records. 1
But in the early ‘70s, Jack’s Rack was closer to my Downer Avenue family home during college at UWM, even during my early years working at Radio Doctors. And Jack’s always had plenty of jazz in stock as well as rock, as Jack’s tastes leaned jazz-wise, as did mine. Plus, his hole-in-the-wall shop was THE PLACE for hole-in-the-corner “cut-out” LPs, a dream for a collection builder’s on a budget. 2.
And Jack knew how to buy and sell. I remember Jack several times almost physically escorting me to the cash register with an album I was unsure about. He also wasn’t shy about letting his crankiness show right in the store and, with that Snidely Whiplash mustache, you shoulda been a bit suspicious of this guy (see the snapshot photo in Dave’s obit piece). Yet I almost always was thankful he sold me.
Dan Burr’s affectionate cartoon history of Dirty Jack’s Record Rack. The store staff members in the last panel, below Jack, are (L-R) Ed Heinzelman,* album buyer Terry Wachsmuth, Mark Schneider and Chris Ballone. Courtesy Dan Burr and Shepherd Express.
Take a look at the smile in the photo at top, taken when he retired. Back in the day, Jack would jump on you, then flash that I’m-your-pal-with-three aces smile, whenever he and you needed it.
And how many record stores in the 1970s had custom marketing matches, with the owner’s beaming mug on them, proclaiming it “Cut-Out Capital of the World!” ?
His second-in-command at the Rack was a slightly-built long-hair named Terry, who had a bit of Jack’s crankiness, in a more skittish way. But Terry really knew his stuff, as did Mark Schneider, the friendliest Jack’s employee, in my memory. Mark wore his erudition gracefully. Today the San Francisco-based Schneider — married to my former Milwaukee Journal colleague, rock critic Divina Infusino – comes to mind when I see Steve Earle’s guitarist Chris Masterson, who’s grown into a killer axe wielder since I last heard him live. Masterson, like Mark, has an affable personality and the same sort of long, ultra-blonde hair, and glasses. 1
I digress partly because I know Jack was a smart businessman who really valued and knew how to use his best employees. I think Mark would agree.
I also admit my comparisons of record store personnel to pop music artists may seem a bit over-the-top. But it’s something that I think Rob Fleming might nod his head to. He’s the slightly grandiose fictional owner of the record store in Nick Hornby’s wonderful novel High Fidelity, a comparison to Dirty Jack’s which Dave Luhrssen also makes aptly. I don’t think Jack or any of his guys floated through the sort of confused romanticism as does Rob (played by John Cusack in the hit film version). They knew how to channel their romantic impulses into music passions.
I had moved to Madison by the time Jack was hired at Schwartz Booksellers so I didn’t see him succeed as founder and president of 800-CEO-READ, a company that steered through the challenge from big box bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble and the rise of amazon.com “with ingenuity and a commitment to superior customer service for authors, customers, and the publishing houses themselves,” as the company’s press release on Covert’s death explains.
Jack Covert is also the co-author of 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You (Link). The 100 Best has been translated into over 10 languages and the hardcover sold over 40,000 copies.
I’m still an “any-day-now-it-shall-be-released” author, but maybe Jack and I connected a bit because he also turned out to be something of a journalist. He wrote more than 600 monthly Jack Covert Selects business book recommendations that run in newspapers and business journals across the country, and has been featured on CNN and NPR, in Inc. magazine, Fortune, the Harvard Business Review, Washington Post, New York Post, BusinessWeek, and more.
That’s dealing in the big time. Not everyone in “big” business is a crooked wheeler-dealer. At this point, I’ll make no more personality comparisons to famous people.
Yes, Jack Covert had the smarts and personality, and always knew how to sell his stuff. I’m sure that mustachioed smile and those crafty ways are serving him well with Saint Pete at The Pearly Gates.
Thanks to Dirty Jack’s staffer Ed Heinzelman for background information.
1 Unlike Mark Schneider, Masterson may actually be albino, like his fellow guitar gunslinger Johnny Winter. But Masterson was tearing up “Hey Joe,” with Steve Earle at an even nastier pitch than on a 2017 video available on YouTube. I saw Earle and Masterson do that great murder ballad as an encore recently at Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
2. Cut-outs are out-of-print records, typically with a hole punched in the corner of an LP, or a mark obscuring the normal USBN scan bar. I suspect Jack Covert would later know very well how to find and market out-of-print books in a similar fashion.
Guitarist-singer-composer Don Linke has evolved and expanded considerably since I first knew him, eons ago, in the jazz fusion band Jasmine, in the early 1970s.
But his gritty charm, flair, and derring-do still seem fundamental to who he is. So I’m glad he’s headlining the first jazz concert of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts since the pandemic shut-down of live performance there.
The Jazz Gallery Center for The Arts. Photos courtesy JGCA.
It should be an enjoyable and invigorating evening.
Congratulations, by the way, to the new Executive Director of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, Kai Simone. Having just recently me her, I anticipate good things from her leadership, but must get to know her a bit. I’ll share more with you, when I do.
I strive to be neither an optimist or a pessimist, as Herman Melville, somewhat of a spiritual role-model, described himself. My orientation to Melville distinctly more than to his clearly-optimist contemporary Walt Whitman (as great as lovable as Whitman is!) suggests a personal intellectual bent.
Similarly, I’ve always been fascinated by existentialism, but as a resonant, timely, and influential cultural phenomenon, more than a philosophy I instinctively embrace. Now, alas, the adjective “existential” has been drained into an almost a meaningless quasi-political cliche, as apt as that may be.
On the other hand, many more people now understand the basic concept, if not its philosophic implications.
Nevertheless, if anything, I harbor the arc of history that bends toward justice and hope, and realization for self, community, and nation, though I’m still worried about the latter.
Which brings me to the curiously remarkable Milwaukee musician and composer Mike Neumeyer, who I have critically appraised in this blog previously. 1
Multi-instrumentalist Mike Neumeyer, showing his mallet chops (top), and personality (above).
He’s at it again, a video of his self-styled vocals, accompanying an extremely skillful production of multi-screen instrumental performance.
“Life” allows for a broad philosophical application, but emerges as a combination of feel-good geekiness and sophisticated, hip musicality.
The you-gotta-believe affirmation of his lyric and singing is enhanced by the beaming sophistication of his jazz-improv playing, and its cultural range, as he comingles the traditional African djembe hand drum, along with his two main axes, vibes and marimba, and an atmospheric touch, a synthesized sort of vibes mallet board.
It’s beautifully presented from different angles but without overwhelming the viewer — while infiltrating the open mind/heart with his big-gulp-of-yes vibes message. And what’s delightfully disarming is his self-aware goofiness, here in the form of the various T-shirts and hats he appears in, like an irrepressible Mad Hatter, including a highly caloric ten-gallon cheese-head hat.
Neumeyer has also done plenty of adroit four-mallet “pure” music playing and recording, as well. Those inclined to diss such a talented and likable artist might check in the mirror for Scrooge-like cragginess emerging (say, a crookedly distended eyeball and brow while feeding your default mood).
Plus, it seems we could use all the positive-reinforcement creativity we can get, especially after I just read an unsettling, stare-deep-into-American-apocalypse essay about the growing threat of racist white-supremacist militia groups, in the latest New York Review of Books. It’s right here:
So, I’m hardly just peddling Pollyannaism. I hope Melville would approve, given that the “lone orphan” Ishmael (and that author’s slightly dominant alter-ego) does survive the catastrophe, to tell perhaps the greatest American fair-warning parable epic, Moby-Dick.
I hope we have a Neumeyer-ish Ishmael musician (and author and political type) — A Brave New World Geek Squad — to survive, and keep hope and power alive, through what worst may come.
Meanwhile, thanks, Mr. Neumeyer, for your geeky, vibrational gust – more like an uplifting, meditative breeze – of affirmation.
May the force be with you, and us, and our democracy.
OK, that’s a hoary trope, but right now “the force” seems to have some replenished potency in the face of numbingly countless “existential threats.”
So, onward fellow citizens and creative types, and ride the righteous vibe as far as you can.
Here’s my previous comment on Neumeyer a song., “Living the Dream,” with its political implications:
Though slightly belated, my regard for, and honoring of, the late Nanci Griffith is no less ardent. It was a shock to hear of her passing, August 13 at 68, and only now am I gathering some thoughts and feelings. I was also belated in becoming a true fan of hers and, though I saw her live once, I missed the opportunity to write substantially about her in her lifetime.
She had survived breast cancer and thyroid cancer in the mid-1990s but, by her choice, the cause of death is unreported. But Nanci Griffith was a great talent of contemporary singer-songwriting, or what even became “progressive country,” or, as she preferred, “folkabilly.” She was among the most historically mindful and learned of such artists, living within and extending their own tradition. It was all the more impressive that she was a woman in a genre, like so many, still dominated by men, especially as she was part of the extraordinary generation of Texas singer songwriters that emerge from the so-called “outlaw” era of troubadours.
With her apple-cheeked prettiness and easy smile, she hardly seemed “outlaw,” but Griffith understood well the expanding possibilities of contemporary songwriting that the alt-country outlaw movement provided.
She may have involuntarily related to the outlaw sensibility. Griffith told The Irish Times that her family was “really dysfunctional,” and her song “Bad Seed,” from the 2012 album Intersection, was addressed to her father, and included the lines “Bad seed, there’s a darkness I can’t hide – too much pain to keep inside.”
She learned to play guitar by watching a PBS TV series hosted by Laura Weber and started to write her own songs. At the age of 12, she debuted as a singer-songwriter at The Red Lion club in Austin.
She was inspired by country-music icons like Loretta Lynn. “She was the first singer I ever saw of the female gender who wrote her own dad-gum songs and played her own rhythm guitar,” Griffith said of Lynn in a 1989 Austin City Limits appearance. , and she defined herself by saying: “You take a whole lot of Woody Guthrie and a whole lot of Loretta Lynn, swoosh it around and it comes out as Nanci Griffith,” she told The Irish Times.
The great African-American songwriter Odetta was another key influence, as was the fellow Texan Townes Van Zandt, with his uncanny gift for vivid and moving storytelling songs.
Years later, the book she co-wrote, Nanci Griffith’s Other Voices was subtitled A Personal History of Folk Music, and conveyed the depth of her appreciation of the vistas the art form spanned. Certainly since Bob Dylan, singer-songwriting, as she exemplified, became more skilled, nuanced and literate, and worthy of the mantle of “art,” even though it was nominally a “mere” folk art form.
Impressive and reflective with a certain ambition, the book conveyed her insight and ideals about the long line of folk song-writing tradition. “”Preserving the history of each generation of humankind is like creation to me. There is the urge to continue that. And the way I do it is through music. I certainly try to bring real live people into my music and champion regular people, regular folks.” 1
Author and activist Gloria Steinem commented: “Nanci Griffith Is a poet with a guitar, a creator of both thought and sound, and now she introduces us to the full music that inspired her. This book stands on its own and explains the layers of depth we hear in Nanci’s songs.” 2
The 1998 book took off from her acclaimed 1993 album Other Voices, Other Rooms, which probed the history of folk music with brilliant pinpoints.
That album (which earned her a Grammy) and its sequel, Other Voices, Too (A Trip to Bountiful), provided as deep and concise a sense of historic and contemporary folk and songwriting traditions as anything this side of Smithsonian collections. It honored and and interpreted, among others, the work of Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, Woody Guthrie, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Johnny Cash, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Kate Wolf, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Ian Tyson, and even reaching as far back as Stephen Foster, and a traditional African song.
Nanci Griffith, Jim Rooney, center, and John Prine hug after a performance by Nanci Griffith and John Prine at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Josh Anderson)
Yet there wasn’t a whiff of the academic about this. Aided by her longtime producer Jim Rooney (pictured above with Griffith and John Prine), these albums sounded all very personal for her. She sang all of the songs though sometimes with guest performers. Her starkly testifying interpretation of Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” carried at least as much emotional weight as the songwriter’s own, given that it is the tragic story of a young woman, named Caroline, whose desperate lack of means forces her to sell her body, before fate catches up to her. 3
Part of the song’s genius is Van Zandt’s understated narrative voice. A recent You Tube comment, remembering both artists, cherished the line: “and it seemed to me, the sunshine walked beside her.”
Speaking of the legendary Van Zandt, Griffith was instrumental in producing one of the most memorable live tribute concerts, an Austin City Limits program which gathered, for a round-robin of Townes songs, a splendid lineup that included herself, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Peter Rowan, Jack Clement (Van Zandt’s producer) and John T. Van Zandt (Van Zandt’s son).
Griffith’s voice, a crystalline contralto with clarion projection, sometimes was characterized as girlish, and could convey vulnerability and tenderness, but I never heard easy sentimentality. Her voice was fully capable of a steely strength, a quirky Texas twang, tart irony and even a virtual growl, as the lyric or emotion demanded.
Some observers sniffed at her apparent literary self-consciousness, when she posed on several album covers clutching favorite books, by authors like Larry McMurtry and Truman Capote. But this struck me as heartfelt celebration of literary value, especially as she proved her substantial skill at songwriting and storytelling, and as a luminous melodist, even from some of her earliest recorded efforts. That included songs like “Love at the Five & Dime,” “Ford Econoline,” “Mary and Omie,” “Gulf Coast Highway,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go,” “Once in a Blue Moon,” “Saint Teresa of Avila,” “Bethlehem Steel,” “If I Could Only Fly,” and “Hell No (I’m Not Alright),” among others.
Nanci Griffith on the back cover of “The Last of the True Believers,” from 1986. Courtesy flikr
Her title song from the album Clock Without Hands borrows the title of Carson McCullers’ last novel, and contemplates the metaphor, an awareness poignantly muted and transient:
I’m a clock without hands/ I’m walking through the midnights/ Counting all the moments/ Of the loves I’ve left behind./ Crying on the shoulders of the days/ I’ve forgotten now.
And Griffith selected covers with great acumen. Two of her most popular songs were by others, demonstrating her critical and interpretive range: “From a Distance,” and “Lone Star State of Mind,” not to mention the brooding Sinatra standard “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” or, by contrast, Sonny Curtis’ fiery ode to lost-cause rebellion (with Curtis harmonizing) “I Fought the Law.”
She also had the vision, or chutzpah, to record an album of her work titled Dust Bowl Symphony, with the London Symphony Orchestra, which proved more cinematic than grandiose.
Though she hadn’t released a studio album since 2012’s excellent Intersection, there’s still a sense now of “where do we go from here?” as Nanci Griffith, like the clock without hands, intuitively beat an illumined pulse forward, as much as she did on the present and the past.
1 Nanci Griffith and Joe Jackson, Nanci Griffith’s Other Voices, A Personal History of Folk Music, Three Rivers, 1998, 71
2 Nanci Griffith’s Other Voices, back cover.
3. Here’s Griffith and Van Zandt doing “Tecumseh Valley” together. The pathos seems lightly carried, with the see-saw rhythm. And yet, deferential Griffith has her radiant moment:
It’s more than “mere light” — it’s a luminous light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that we can actually see, hear, and feel. With the Jazz Estate still in a worrisome limbo, the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts will give the Milwaukee jazz and creative music community a gentle jolt — finally offering its first live post-pandemic performance event Saturday.
Mere of Light harpist Elyse Leda Fairyland. Courtesy Bandcamp.com
It’s an experimental, environmentally-oriented multi-media event: a trio called Mere of Light,at 6 p.m. Saturday August 21, at the JGCA, 926 E. Center Street. The slightly outre humility of the group’s name may belie what will unfold, and I can’t attest to much more that this information from the JGCA (I’m working on a couple of other assignments for Shepherd Express.) It’s a recording release event for Mere of Light’s new EP, Fell Tales, which involves “field recordings and poetic lyricism to draw connections between the current world and fantasy realms.” The music and vision arise significantly from the harpist Elyse Leda Fairyland. It sounds a bit enchanting and very JGCA, which thrives creatively on unpredictable arts activity: https://jazzgallerycenterforarts.org/events/2021/8/21/mere-of-light
The event, running from 6 to 10 p.m., also includes Annie Grizzle, a multimedia artist interested in “the nonsensical intersection between the mappable and the abstract.” Annie’s work has been featured in X-Peri, Radioactive Moat, Reality Beach, Metatron, and numerous other publications.
The third performer is C.Vardi, who is working on a “project of processing existential and geological trauma through chiaroscuro drone music.”
(Adios Amigos?: The previously scheduled JGCA event, “Audios Amigos,” with Brooklyn-based composer-performers Lainie Fefferman and Jascha Narveson, has an unfortunately prescient title, given a slight play on words. The performance, slated for Friday August 20, has been cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances.”)
The venue actually got through plague (which is really not over!) on the financial upside, partly due to strong visual arts sales, and a dedicated volunteer board, and strong corporate funding as a non-profit.
Among the venue’s many excellent visual art exhibits are two which will close on Saturday, Aug. 20th: “Nature Neglected — “Are We Loving it to Death?” and “Imagine It!”
An image from the JGCA exhibit “Nature Neglected,” closing Saturday. Photo by Virginia Small.
The first actual jazz event at the storied community-oriented arts venue on Center Street (remember The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery?) will be guitarist-vocalist Don Linke’s Trialog, featuring drummer Victor Campbell and sponsored by the Jazz Foundation of America, at 7 p.m. on Friday Sept 3.
Then follows the jazz duo of Michigan-based, Coltrane-influenced saxophonist Ben Schmidt-Swartz, with ace Milwaukee drummer Devin Drobka at 7 p.m. Thursday Sept 9.
It’s a small, relatively intimate venue, so stay mindful, get COVID vaccines, practice heathy social distancing, and masking, when appropriate.
But believe in our culture, and our nation! Supporting the JGCA is a great way to express your belief.
Ah, bossa nova! If you remember, it’s the sound of a southerly summer. It’s jazz with a deep, dark tan, and warm wind rippling through its hair.
So this post (delayed offline by storm issues for a week) rises from an exchange between myself and WXRW-FM “Artful Lives” radio program Elizabeth Vogt. This prompted me to seach out a video of Astrud Gilberto singing the huge early 1960’s hit “The Girl from Ipanema” with Stan Getz, not included in my previous post about Getz. Here it is.
This is the “single” version of “Girl,” with Getz and his quartet, including a very young Gary Burton on vibes. This version is iconic, the key to a 2 million copy-selling album, the biggest hit album in jazz history at the time.
It’s interesting to note that, despite her vocal skill and charm, Astrud was not a professional singer, and you can see that in how she has no idea what to do with her hands. In fact, the recording of “Girl” was her recording debut. a stroke of producer genius!
Just for fun, here’s a rather sultry cartoon version of the single (sorry about the ad):
Courtesy Walt Disney studios.
However, the greatest version of the song is the full-length original on the album, which opens with Joao Gilberto (Astrud’s husband) singing the first verse in Portuguese, with exquisitely tender poignance, as the boy in Ipanema whom “she just doesn’t see.” Here’s that recording from the extraordinary album Getz/Gilberto.
On the original single heard here, the piano playing, and piquant solo, is by the song’s composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, the greatest Brazilian jazz composer. Vinícius de Moraes.wrote the Portuguese lyrics. English lyrics were written later by Norman Gimbel.
Here’s the fascinating backstory on the song, including the woman who inspired it.
Helô Pinheiro, the woman who inspired the song, is pictured in 2006.
“The Girl from Ipanema” was inspired by Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now known as Helô Pinheiro), a seventeen-year-old girl living on Montenegro Street in Ipanema. Daily, she would stroll past the Veloso bar-café, not just to the beach (“each day when she walks to the sea”), but in the everyday course of her life. She would sometimes enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother and leave to the sound of wolf whistles. In the winter of 1962, the composers saw the girl pass by the bar. Since the song became popular, she has become a celebrity.
In Revelação: a verdadeira Garôta de Ipanema (“Revealed: The Real Girl from Ipanema“) Moraes wrote that she was “the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.” – Wikipedia