Picasso’s “Guernica” speaks to our times with mortal cries


Pable Picasso, “Guernica,” 1937, 3.5 meters (11 feet tall), by 7.5 meters (25.6 feet wide)


There is a signpost up ahead…

No, it’s much bigger than a signpost. It’s Picasso and his “Guernica,” a cry to the heavens for the horror of inhumanity on earth. Back after the world war that his great mural painting signified, they had said “never again!”

Again, decades later, we face bloody war crimes, in Ukraine and perhaps in both Israel and Palestine. These troubled times call for cultural signifiers to spur enlightenment and activism that inflame power and passion towards righteousness. I recently posted a blog about the Door County Candle Company, which has manufactured countless candles with the Ukrainian colors, with all proceeds going toward humane support for Ukraine, administered by Razom for Ukraine, a Ukrainian 501 (c)(3) organization. It’s a way to concretely help the people survive, and to hold a flame of support. To date, the candles have raised over $1 million.

But this blog is about raising consciousness, in my humble way, whenever possible.

History is perpetually our guide; thus, we might best look back to the extraordinary imagery of Picasso’s mural painting “Guernica.” It remains a visual epic about the first time that civilians were ever mass-murdered by air warfare in 1937.

And oh, how our current times echo death cries across ravaged homes and cites, down the desolate hallways of history. For that, Russia’s Vladimir Putin stands facing the wind, and judgement’s coldest eye.

No work of modern art, and perhaps none in history, has conveyed such powerful war experience as has “Guernica,” though Goya’s war paintings come to mind. The current war prompted me to delve back into Picasso’s War: The Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece that Changed the World by Russell Martin.  1 Aside from powerful descriptions of the making of “Guernica,” Martin’s book brilliantly encompasses the cold-blooded shamelessness of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and the Nazi commanders who led the Luftwaffe air forces, and watched, from a safe distance, the destruction of the ancient Basque town.

The book delves into horrifying details of the ruthlessness of Nazi airplane pilots. As one survivor recalls “from the ground I saw a woman I knew, a neighbor, stand up and shout into the sky, ‘You bastards, there are innocent people down here!’ A plane dove toward her, and I could see the pilot, his face. And I’ll never forget his horrible goggles. Tat-tat-tat-tat! He killed her with his machine gun. I made it to the woods, where we waited three and a half hours.”

Later, “when I was brave enough to walk home…Our farm was destroyed. They had bombed our farm, our farm, and we were left with nothing.”

Lord knows, comparable stories have played out recently in Ukraine many times over.

As for the proper role of art, Picasso explored a vast array of visions, techniques and styles over his long, protean career. But when times called for it, he declared:

“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter?…

No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”

Even more famously, he recounted to Newsweek magazine the day when a German army officer had recognized a sketch of “Guernica” pinned to the wall of his studio. The officer had asked him, “Did you do that?”

Picasso coldly had replied, “No, you did.”


1 Russell Martin, Picasso’s War: The Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece that Changed the World, Dutton, 2002, 44

Richard Davis (1930-2023) laid the bass for countless great recordings and live performances over a long, storied career

Richard Davis presiding over a bass camp for young musicians.
As a bassist, Richard Davis was the essence of eloquence. Whether playing pizzicato or arco, few could match his way of choosing just the right notes, of leaving just enough space for a soloist to breathe in, or of pushing the edge of careening freedom with a dramatic sense of momentum, song, and swing.

Richard DAVIS (bass, electric bass) – USA.
Paris IV. Centre Georges Pompidou.

And so, the wide world of jazz, and of classical music, lost a great voice in his passing on September 6, at age 93.
He was an extraordinarily gracious man, yet he had a prodigious strength of backbone and character, which only grew more impressive in advancing years.
His vast experience and wisdom could play a leading role in advancing racial relations.
This doubtlessly drew from the great respect he possessed from musicians of all races.
Yet he knew how difficult and ongoing the struggle for racial equality and justice would be. Perhaps he was a type of shaman in the modern world, as what he was striving for was what he called “racial healing.” which he dedicated his later years to. He formed a Madison branch of the Institute for Racial Healing, a national grassroots organization that deals with race problems through workshops, group support and activism.

At a 2015 panel discussion, he said America needs to focus less on making reparations for racial injustices of the past and focus on atoning for the injustices of the present, in particular the criminal justice system, Rob Thomas reported for The Capital Times.

“Why not start with the new slaves — the prisoners?” Davis asked. “We are guilty of having the most of them. We are the most racist state in the country” in terms of percentage of African-American men who are incarcerated. “Don’t you want to cringe a little bit — that we are the most racist state in the country? On Wisconsin!”

He was an extremely popular professor known for richly anecdotal lectures on music and his experiences working with great jazz musicians, including Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Miles Davis, John Lewis, and Andrew Hill, and classical legends like Leonard Bernstein and Igor Stravinsky.
I heard and cherished his playing on numerous jazz albums, but I must admit he really first caught my attention with his melodious improvising on Van Morrison’s extraordinarily daring and poetic album Astral Weeks, in 1968. That session, which Davis confirmed, provided no charts or musical direction from Morrison, forced the musicians to completely wing it. The session helped earn Davis position number 34 in Rolling Stone’s poll “50 Greatest Bassists of All Time” which, as you’d imagine, is dominated by rock bassists, many of whom can draw no comparison to an artist like Davis. It was about him “conjuring impossibly poignant phrases to complement Morrison’s poetry on tracks like ‘Beside You.’ ” “For me, it was Richard all the way,” Astral Weeks producer Lewis Merenstein said, reflecting on the record 40 years later. “Richard was the soul of the album.”
Bass virtuoso Richard Davis at mid-career. Rolling Stone
You can search out his vast library of recordings but an easier way to hear him is a set of special memorial broadcasts honoring the life of Richard Davis, from WKCR-FM radio. The broadcast will preempt all regularly-scheduled Out to Lunch shows. That’s 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Central time. The closing two episodes are Thursday October 26th and Friday the 27th. WCKR is the Columbia University radio station in New York but it is streamable here: https://www.cc-seas.columbia.edu/wkcr/story/richard-davis-memorial-broadcast-0#
Here’s a brief biography on Davis, courtesy of WKCR:
Davis played a pivotal role as a bassist on iconic Blue Note records with artists like Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, and Eric Dolphy. WKCR honors Davis by preempting all Out to Lunch slots this week, for his collaboration with Eric Dolphy that led to his groundbreaking 1964 album Out to Lunch!
Born in Chicago, Davis hailed from a family with musical roots. His early education in double bass took place during high school, guided by the music educator Walter Dyett. Under Dyett’s mentorship, Davis honed his abilities, traversing the realms of classical compositions and the burgeoning world of jazz improvisation that was taking shape in the late 1940s.
After completing his studies at Chicago’s VanderCook College, Davis set his sights on New York City. In 1954, in his early twenties, he made the pivotal move to the Big Apple, marking the next significant chapter in his musical journey.
During his time in New York, Davis established himself as a highly sought-after double bassist, showcasing his versatility and adaptability as he collaborated with a wide range of musicians and played at renowned jazz clubs across the city. His ability to seamlessly blend his classical training with the evolving improvisational styles of jazz earned him a reputation as a unique and versatile talent in the music world. As the 1950s transitioned into the 1960s, Davis’s contributions to the jazz community continued to evolve, setting the stage for a remarkable career that has left an indelible mark on the world of music.
Here’s a review I wrote for The Capital Times of a masterful later-period Richard Davis album, The Bassist: Homage to Diversity, from 2001.
I also had the honor and pleasure to visit Davis for an interview for The Milwaukee Journal‘s Sunday Wisconsin magazine in 1984. It is memorable, aside from the brilliance Davis brought to the interview, by the uncanny nature of the very day I visited him in his horse farm outside of Barneveld, Wisconsin.
After the interview, I drove through the small town of Barneveld and headed back east. Soon I was engulfed in a very powerful rainstorm and, before long, my tin-can of a car, a Ford Fiesta, broke down on the highway. By then, the storm had become quite violent, and I was lucky to get my car to a garage for repair.
I made it home and it wasn’t until the next morning when I arrived at The Journal newsroom that I saw the headline. A tremendous tornado had devastated the town of Barneveld the night before.
I was able to calculate that I missed the tornado by no more than 20 to 30 minutes. My article incorporates the experience of the tornado, so I will proceed no further. I hope you enjoy this very special moment in time for myself and Richard Davis.

Copper Falls State Park: power and beauty forge nature’s epic poetry

We witnessed The Master Sculptor’s supreme handiwork last week. One of her     masterpieces, Copper Falls State Park, has taken sublime form over centuries, through the heave-ho of groaning glacial motion and the incessant rush of sun-drenched waters, a dance of the elements fed by The Great Lakes. Within the sumptuous folds and rough-hewn caverns lie depths of timeless mystery.

Honestly speaking, Copper Falls is the most fascinating and glorious state park I have ever visited, in Wisconsin or elsewhere. There’s something about the power and unbridled majesty of river waters flying down waterfalls and cascading over rapids that reaches deep into my soul and fills it with wonder. And the forms they abide by give gritty artfulness new splendor.

Copper Falls in The Bad River. Photos by Ann Peterson and Kevin Lynch


A mountain of hot flapjacks and scrambled eggs provided the fuel required to embark on a quest for the hallowed ground of Copper Falls State Park.

One of the longest staircases we’ve ever encountered eventually led us to the base of the observation tower at Copper Fall. I got a sense that it’s one of the highest vantage points in Wisconsin. 

The staircase climb up to the tower got our hearts beating, and we paused only a moment, before climbing the tower. Elevation at the base of the tower is 1,198 feet. 

Here’s a shot of The Cascades, part of the sprawling splendor of Copper Falls, glistening and roaring.

Faithful gal pal Ann Peterson and your blogger took it all in gladly.

This is a northernly extension of the Bad River which runs from Lake Superior. The river actually flows into the Tyler Forks River from opposing directions. The two rivers merge into a lake outlet, not shown here. 

Here Bad River merges with Tyler Forks River and they empty to the right into an outlet.


These four shots of Brownstone Falls, the tallest of the state park’s waterfalls, convey the tremendous power the falls generate. Can you imagine a more water-logged tree than the poor trunk stuck in right in the deluge? (third photo)

Copper Falls State Park is located in northern Wisconsin near the town of Mellen, a short drive south from Ashland. The highlight of the park is a dramatic, two mile-long river gorge where the Tyler Forks River joins the Bad River in a deep and narrow, rocky gorge and plunges over several dramatic waterfalls. The main waterfalls are Copper Falls (29 feet) and Brownstone Falls (30 feet) along with a beautiful rapid called the Cascades.

Other scenic highlights include a large, conglomerate rock formation on the Bad River appropriately named “Devils Gate” and an observation tower with excellent views of the surrounding forest-covered hills and Lake Superior to the north.

Much of the development you see in the park today; wooden footbridges, log fences, and log buildings, were originally constructed in the early 1920’s by returning veterans from World War I. More work was done in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, the original log buildings, bridges, and fencing add a great deal of rustic charm and character to the park.

From: https://wisconsintrailguide.com/hiking/copper-falls.html


We didn’t see many animals as it was a high sunny mid-day when we visited, and the water drama captivated our interest. However, at lunch time at a picnic table, a little red squirrel came right up to say “hi,” as did a big, nosy blue-jay.

However, before we arrived, we saw an amusing sight along the highway: a naughty blackbird chasing a big bald eagle around. Ann says that blackbirds are known to have enough chutzpah to bully bigger creatures.


Animals most commonly seen in the park area include deer, fishers, black bears, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks and red squirrels. Gray squirrels, gray wolves and porcupines also live in the park and may be seen. Fishers have reduced the number of porcupines. Elk were recently reintroduced west of the park.



Birdlife is abundant, with perhaps as many as 200 species living in or passing through the park in a given year. You will often hear the coarse caw of the big northern raven, you may often see a great pileated woodpecker and you will sometimes be scolded by sassy chickadees. There are ruffed grouse, eagles, turkey vultures and loons in the park.


There are five species of snakes, none of them poisonous, wood turtles, many wood frogs and a few other amphibians. Pretty banded purple and tiger swallowtail butterflies are common in June and July.

From: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/copperfalls/nature


I thought it would be apt to close this post with a wise and witty extended quote from Aldo Leopold, the great pioneering Wisconsin conservationist, from his classic book A Sand County Almanac:   

Not intentionally, of course, but one can, to a degree, guess from weather reports when the snow up north will melt, and one can estimate how many days it takes for the flood to run the gauntlet of up-river cities. Thus, comes Sunday evening, one must go back to town and work, but one can’t. How sweetly the spreading waters murmur condolence for the wreckage they have inflicted on Monday morning dates! How deep and chesty the honkings of the geese as they cruise over cornfield after cornfield, each in process of becoming a lake. Every hundred yards some new goose flails the air as he struggles to lead the echelon in its morning survey of this new and watery world.

The enthusiasm of geese for high water is a subtle thing, and might be overlooked by those unfamiliar with goose-gossip, but the enthusiasm of carp is obvious and unmistakable. No sooner has the rising flood wedded the grassroots than here they come, rooting and a wallowing with the prodigious zest of pigs turned out to pasture, flashing red tails and yellow bellies, cruising the wagon tracks and cow paths, and shaking the reeds and bushes in their haste to explore what to them is an expanding universe.”




The traveling Stone Soup Shakespeare Company feeds a vital human need



A scene from Stone Soup’s “Pericles” (clockwise from top) Ashley Leake, Theo Zucker, Lauren Becker, Tera Flores. Courtesy Julia Stemper.   

Stone Soup Shakespeare

Performing Shakespeare free for 13 seasons

This fall concluded with Pericles

Artistic director: Julia Stemper (“Head dreamer and performer”)


The Chicago-based traveling troubadours blessed the Shorewood Public Library with a vibrant performance recently.

Performing Shakespeare for free is like giving open-hearted to humanity to harvest its sunlit poetic genius for all to grow, like oaks. As Harold Bloom, among our most dedicated Shakespeare thinkers, wrote, “The ultimate use of Shakespeare is to let him teach us to think too well, to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing.” Bloom may seem to diminish “feeling” or the heart in this statement. But that’s hardly true of  the great book from which it comes: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, a supreme effort to sum up the world’s greatest poet.

Bloom suggests that Shakespeare’s universality allows us chance to stow the beauty and wisdom that life requires of us.

Beauty is the vibrant color of life, including the rough textures of pain and loss. After all, what do seed and leaf truly feed from? The color of the light.

Wisdom waits, yes, yet abides where we need it.

Thus, the need to heed him endlessly into time. Thank you, Stone Soup, for signifying and abiding him, most obviously in his great humor, as he flourishes.

Pericles cast 2023:

Pericles: Ashley Leake

Heilcanus: Sofia Carvajal

Cerimon: Tera Flores

Thaisa: Dana Macel

Marina: Theo Drucker



Riverwest Jazz Fest postscript: Man, it was a hundred-proof happening!


The Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken, performing in Madison. isthmus.com

It was small and compact, but the first Riverwest Jazz Fest delivered a blow — a wake-up call — that should leave the city’s consciousness slightly dazed, and asking for more, if it has a cultural backbone.

Apologies if that lead exceeds an acceptable testosterone limit, but sometimes such associations seem more apt than others. Of course, it’s really too early to tell what sort of impact this event will have on the neighborhood or city, but you can begin to imagine by realizing that it was planned to be twice as big, and strives to be just that in the future.

As it was, the event, tucked neatly in a slightly two block-plus parameter of Center Street right off of Humboldt Blvd., allowed patrons easy access to all three bubbling venues: The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, Bar Centro, and Company Brewing. Plus, there was at least one band jamming in the storefront studios of Riverwest Radio, located between JGCA and Centro.

Talk about concentrated. Let’s say you couldn’t do much better even if you were a jazz-aholic who needs to down a row of hundred-proof musical shots.

Yes, I know, Wisconsin “has a drinking problem.” Maybe I’m better off retreating into comfy cliché-land for the faint-hearted. This was “the little fest that could.”

Three other venues were all originally solicited to be pioneering fest participants. Each had some reason to decline.

Their loss, of course, but hopefully herein lies a lesson or two about smart marketing, especially in your own neighborhood, the lifeblood of such small venues. Each venue did have to pony up pay for the musicians, as the whole event was free admission, donations and tips aside. But that sort of commitment is the first step in smart collaborative marketing. An organized event like a jazz fest pretty much assures a built-in audience and revenue boost.

Although none of the crowds were literally shoulder-to-shoulder, everywhere on Center, people either milled and chilled in the Harvest Moon nocturne, or strolled to another venue.

Kudos to JGCA president Mark Lawson, reportedly whose brainchild this was. I suspect Lawson might’ve sensed this was an urgent moment to give the neighborhood a cultural jolt, as his space had foundered somewhat in terms of consistent recent musical activity. That’s hardly to diminish the place as a consistently and successfully operated art gallery.

And yet, as is fairly well known, the venue has a tremendous music legacy to maintain, that of the historic Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, whose inspired grotto of a ghost it inhabits.

The venue now has the cultural audacity to be a grants-dependent, community-oriented “arts center.” Though sans the original venue’s bar, it remains the sort of thing this neighborhood should embrace gladly. So, JGCA is an ever-colorful listening space, and still boasts the now-vintage checkerboard stage that hosted many famous jazz names in the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery days, and a respectable Yamaha baby grand house piano, and new sound system. The space’s success as a visual art gallery derives from the owning entity, the Riverwest Artists Association, strongly oriented to visual artists, and its president, Lawson, is a professional gallery curator.

Drummer Victor DeLorenzo, formerly of The Violent Femmes and currently in the chamber rock duo Nineteen Thirteen, guest performs at the long-standing “Seeds Sounds” free jazz series at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. riverwest.org.

His musical tastes lean toward more experimental and offbeat music than straight-ahead jazz, so “ya-never-know-what-you’re-gonna-get,” as a chocolate-loving pop philosopher once declared. Friday night strongly reinforced that reputation. The headline act proved as provocative and engrossing as its name, The Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken (pictured at top) sports one of the most hilariously mock-bildungsroman monikers for a jazz band I’ve encountered.

The trio is led by ace and, yes, adventurous saxophonist Aaron Van Oudenallen (a.k.a. Aaron Gardner), who might be the second coming of electric-saxophone pioneer Eddie Harris; or what we hope Eddie would be doing today, if alive and pushing the hip envelope hard. Their set was a kaleidoscope of electronica, from slyly lyrical big-sky starbursts to Ab-Ex grunge, almost invariably underpinned by powerful currents of funk and driving rhythm. Van Oudenallen often plays with one hand twiddling an electronic effects box — as if an expose’ of the man behind the curtain, The Wizard of Odds.

Fender electric bassist Matt Turner regales the audience with his potent, pulsing virtuosity, and his eccentric affability. Drummer Jeremy Kunziar delivers multidirectional piston-like power.

This electronically deep-diving band has been around for a number of years and evidently has a decent (or indecent, as their name might suggest) following, at least slightly beneath “the lower frequencies,” where they speak to you, to paraphrase the great Invisible Man novelist Ralph Ellison.

The Chicken’s set included a boiling jam with trumpeter Jamie Breiwick sitting in, which climaxed with the band scorching Harris’s masterpiece “Freedom Jazz Dance,” a propulsive, shaman’s-shake of chord changes.

If you’re on Facebook, here’s a clip of The Chicken in full flight at the fest, during “Freedom,” courtesy of Tami Williams: https://www.facebook.com/fiilm/videos/3616003828679078

Meanwhile, over at the street’s straight-ahead jazz refuge, Bar Centro, a surprise waited in unknown-to-me bandleader and tenor saxophonist Tael Estremera, He was possibly the youngest performer in the fest, yet also the most modern trad-oriented, as I heard them covering small masterpieces from John Coltrane’s classic album Giant Steps, including the title tune and the exquisitely modulated “Naima.” The quartet’s guitarist, Ben Dameron, whose own band Heirloom did the opening set, seems to be everywhere these days, and is a flash-firing virtuoso, slightly reminiscent of John McLaughlin. You should him check out ASAP.

The stylishly curvaceous bar at Bar Centro is a strong feature of this fast-rising Riverwest jazz venue. visitmilwaukee.com.

Finally, a happy hubbub brimmed at a nearly packed house at Company Brewing. Trumpeter Eric Jacobson, best known for his bristling hard-bop, was delivering an appealingly relaxed set of modern jazz with a primo quartet of local vets, reflective of his excellent recent album Discover.

Jazz trumpeter Eric Jacobson. foxcitiesmagazine. com

Just about then, the festival’s headliner, double Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch, sauntered into Company and the table was set for the climax of the festival.

Alas, I had to depart just before Lynch’s set, but I have no doubt it was a compelling and bracing topper to an auspiciously-debuted event we hope becomes annual.

As for newborn Riverwest Jazz Fest, here’s a toast:

Let your garden grow,

in our pastures of cultural plenty,

as in, plenty mo’ music,

every which way you go.


1. However, the arts center has consistently hosted a weekly “free jazz” workshop and, more recently, the Milwaukee Jazz Institute’s weekly educational jam sessions, and other community gatherings.

  • who says Riverwesters don’t have a politically incorrect sense of humor? I just took this snapshot of by back-alley Riverwest neighbor’s handsome new wooden security fence with the following sign. (Apologies for my impertinence).