Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts is finally back with live music, this weekend

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.

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Stan Getz, Part Two: Getting closer to “The Girl” who transformed jazz styles, and captivated the whole world

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.

Ipanema is a fashionable neighborhood located in the southern region of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

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.[12] 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.[13] 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

 

 

 

Retrieving Lost Moments in Time with Stan Getz

A portrait of Stan Getz. Courtesy RW Theaters.

Why now? Why Stan Getz now? Because he’s a voice in time and beyond time, a voice within and wherever. Wherever I go, I’ve come to know, I yearn to hear him, and all he has to say.

I understand now, as well as a non-saxophonist can, what John Coltrane meant when he said of Getz, “We’d all sound like that if we could.”  Coltrane was, among other things, a supreme master of balladeering, where many saxophonists make their bid for a sound as beautiful as possible.

My own analogue to Coltrane’s indirect superlative: I would carry Getz’s sound with me further than any other instrument’s, if forced to forsake all but one. Maybe it’s a Sophie’s choice between Getz and Miles Davis.

As a relatively young journalist, I had already reviewed a Getz performance at the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery for The Milwaukee Journal, a highlight among many superb artists I heard and reviewed there. Two years later, I interviewed him in Chicago, then wrote a feature previewing a Getz performance at a Rainbow Summer concert in Milwaukee. There I met him again afterwards and, though brief, the reacquaintance still holds a tight grip on my heart. You see, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, I agreed to accompany him in a walk to his hotel room, but he had one small condition.

Would I please carry his saxophone for him? After the performance, he was fatigued, partly the byproduct of years of abuse of his body with drugs and alcohol.

I accepted the task gladly, and the instant thrill of carrying one of the world’s most revered artistic instruments, beside its owner and artmaker, inspired a short poem, “Bossa Not So Nova.” 1

So, I’ve written about Getz in three modes but, mea culpa, it still doesn’t seem enough.

Lately I’ve revisited him upon buying a used copy of the Getz musical biography Nobody Else But Me, by Dave Gelly. It discourses across the artist’s career with close readings of numerous Getz recordings, his legacy beyond memories, as he died in 1991.

This excellent book prompted me to dig out an array of Getz recordings.

As I write, I’m listening to him essay “Infant Eyes,” an exquisite ballad by another giant of the tenor sax, Wayne Shorter, and each limpid whole note unfurls with delicious tenderness and knowing delicacy.

The album “Moments in Time,” recorded in 1976, was released in 2016. Courtesy Resonance Records.

But he’s much more than a fatherly cradle-rocker.

I couldn’t have responded to this recording much earlier than a few years ago, when I obtained a copy of the Getz album Moments in Time, recorded live by Getz’s Quartet in 1976, but not released until 2016 on Resonance, a label specializing in what I’d call “jazz archeology.” 2

And there’s more affinity between Getz and Shorter than a few of Wayne’s tunes in Getz’s repertoire. The sound of their voices resonates similarly, an exquisitely soft vibration, a singing like a distinctly masculine bird that — warbles and vibratos aside — can hold a note like a distant horizon of destiny. Both saxophonists have lived lives deeply shadowed by tragedy, likely informing their profound sensibilities.

Indeed now, the tune playing is “The Cry of the Wild Goose,” by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and it belies one misplaced reservation I held about Getz in the past.

He disabused me of it when I saw him in 1982 at the Jazz Gallery.

But I’m referring to back in the mid-1960s, when he broke into broad public awareness with his lilting bossa nova luminosities. He could hold and caress a note as if it were palpable and breathing which, with him, it truly was. Such audible tenderness enchanted me as much as any other single jazz artist did with one recording, Getz/Gilberto.

Cover of the famous album “Getz/Gilberto.” Connect Brazil.

And sure enough, right now with Horace Silver’s “Peace” (from Moments in Time), Getz is beguiling yet again. But back during the bossa nova craze, for all my admiration, I doubted whether Getz was capable of anything approaching what I call “The Cry.”

I do hear a cry in the “wild goose cry” tune I’d just heard, but I’m referring to a sound often heard among saxophonists in the 1960s, during the same time Getz lulled and seduced with “The Girl from Ipanema.”

Getz and vocalist Astrud Gilberto who sang the huge international hit, “The Girl from Ipanema.” which propelled the album “Getz/Gilberto” to great sales heights and an “Album of the Year” Grammy.

Getz/Gilberto, created, arranged, and recorded by virtually all Brazilian musicians, racked up unprecedented sales for a jazz recording (2 million copies in 1964) and became the first non-American album to win a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, in 1965.

The notion of “The Cry” is the expressionism that numerous saxophonists especially began manifesting during that period of social upheaval and raised consciousness over racial injustice. It’s a heavily freighted topic and subtext. So perhaps its unsurprising that a naturally lyrical white saxophonist isn’t easily associated with it. Nevertheless, over the years, the true and extraordinary range of Getz’s expressive power expanded, and his own version of “The Cry” arose, as such a vivid contrast to his inherently singing style that it carried the weight of striking effects, like a sculptor’s chisel discharging chards and sparks, to convey how life can force us to extremes of feeling and response.

To me, Getz seemed to be universalizing the plight and poignance conveyed in “The Cry,” most often associated with African-American musicians. This is not to minimize the racial suffering those artists endured and expressed, but to find the shared humanity in it. Getz’s suffering might be arguably his own demons’ making, more than of a cruel society built on systemic racism. He even was capable of violence under the influence, which he always regretted, even serving brief incarceration.

Gelly insightfully notes a great irony, how the drugs and liquor might’ve facilitated an “alpha state” in which, Getz explained, “the less you concentrate the better. The best way to create is to get in the alpha state…what we would call relaxed concentration.”

Such can be the price of art. Does that make it ill-begotten? Illegitimate?

As a Russian Jew, he may have had ancestral instincts of suffering and class oppression hounding his psyche. Accordingly, he seems a different sort of expressive animal — “Nobody Else But Me” as he might say. The simplicity of the declaration also may reflect Getz’s uniqueness, his fingerprint identity, his sonic originality as a pied piper whom, when heard, we still feel compelled to follow, decades after bossa nova first sailed across waves and valleys. Years after his last living breath.

Thank the music gods for his voice, retrieved and captured.

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1 a poem about Stan Getz (written to the cadence of “Girl from Ipanema.”)

2 Moments in Time comprises mainly classic and modern jazz standards with Getz’s working quartet at the time: pianist Joanne Brackeen, bassist Clint Houston and drummer Billy Hart. However, Resonance also released simultaneously a Getz album Getz/Gilberto ’76, highlighting guitarist-singer Joao Gilberto, and Brazilian songs,

pps. I also wrote about Getz when I found a used copy of his album Sweet Rain, as few years ago.

 

3. Here’s a review of a live Getz performance at The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, in 1982:

 

Vibist Mike Neumeyer gives us the sound of changing our lives, of “Living the Dream”

The Rev. Martin Luther King had a dream that “we as a people” would get to. 

We all know plenty of cynics and often might think they’ve got it right, as rotten as the world seems. After all, TV pundits and journalists of all stripes give us the daily double of bleakness and societal tragedy. Yet social and political activism, the fuel of empowerment against daunting forces of darkness, also burns brightly in America today.

Jesse Jackson famously said “keep hope alive,” a descendant of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I have a Dream” speech, and a father to Barack Obama’s profound book, and flagship theme, The Audacity of Hope.

It’s notable that all three great leaders were African Americans, who categorically need and benefit from self-motivational perseverance and pure survival instincts.

Such thoughts arose when I heard vibraphonist-marimbist Mike Neumeyer’s self-described “motivational inspirational music,” specifically a video I came across recently, created in April, titled “Live The Dream.”

After hearing it I thought, Yes, what about “living the dream?” What about “the audacity of hope?”

I was so struck by “Live the Dream” that I had to share it and comment:

I know when you first hear him, the music will seem almost effortlessly uplifting, which many people these days have built-in resistance to. It’s sad that such is the case, because we need the power of music to change people’s spirit and outlook more than ever today.

So I would suggest you simply go with the full-chested lyricism of Neumeyer’s song, which he sings in multiple vocal parts while accompanying himself on vibraphone, “Malletstation” synthesizer, and djembe, a conga-like hand drum. Especially considering Neumeyer isn’t known for singing (but he can sing!) the effect is stunning and, if you allow it to take you, rather exhilarating. The voices almost soar with the vibes-synth boost.

It’s a marvelous example of what one resourceful, positive-thinking musician can do today in his own recording studio with multiple tracking. For some, it might seem a bit slick, if not a bit too “feel good.”

However, I must counter that notion with an anecdote. I met Mike Neumeyer last year, shortly before the pandemic hit, when I sat in on a free-jazz improv workshop at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee.

The premise of this workshop is the polar opposite of musical slickness, rather a striving for the ultimate in improvisational spontaneity and collective possibility. Neumeyer, although a highly accomplished musician, embraced the idea of free improvisation and did an excellent job as the guest workshop leader. His strong musical ideas, engaging style and personality made it all seem like a stimulating good time rather than intellectually challenging  or daunting, which the idea of free musical improvisation can seem.

Now consider his primary tools. On “Live the Dream,” hear his enveloping improvised solo on vibes. This can be an almost magical instrument – percussive yet melodic and harmonically buoyant and resonant, and sometimes quite sensual and sonically intoxicating. And in Neumeyer’s hands, marvelously exuberant in its lyricism, as in this case. As for his secondary instrument , the marimba – the wooden bars, by contrast to the vibraphone’s metal, make it a naturally warmer sound, where sometimes the vibes can sound chilly (The marimba can be heard on the instrumental version of the song 1 ). Neumeyer understands well the assets and limits of each instrument. Here, he rides the proverbial “good vibes” for all they are worth.

“All you have to be is willing to change,” he sings.

The message of the lyric suggests one can change your life in order to start “living the dream.”
Anytime I hear that philosophic proviso, that “you must change your life.” I think of the profound words of Rainer Maria Rilke. The phrase “you must change your life,” is Rilke’s most famous utterance. He is considered by many as Europe’s greatest poet of the modern age. As for me, his luminous beauty and wisdom prompted me and my bride to chose several of his poems in our 1997 marriage ceremony and program.

His quietly direct phrase is best appreciated in the complete poem from which it provides the closing line.

The poem is “The Archaic Torso of Apollo,” in which Rilke meditates on the headless body of the Greek god, as embodied in an ancient sculpture.

:We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life. 2

You might draw enough from the closing two clauses:

“for here there is no place that does not see you. / You must change your life.”

But Rilke Is observing the extraordinary powers of beauty in the statue, the brilliance of the evoked gaze, the dazzling curved breast and the smile that runs through the whole body “where procreation flared.” Indeed, the Apollo figure bursts “like a star.”

Here, the poet gently places his hand on the museum-goer’s receding shoulder. He draws, from this sculpture’s positive potential and creative radiance, the wisdom that the observer must not walk away content with the status quo, that such artistic genius, truth and beauty must show how, almost mystically, right here, there is “no place that does not see you” in your complacency, your wooden-legged stolidity.

And yet, the effect of the sculpture’s presence, mystical or not, is a real sensation, Rilke insists, otherwise the sculpture “would seem defaced” by the decapitation.

Such is the force and inspiration of wondrous art. Apollo was a god, but also a human being, with an inner place where “procreation flared.”

Ergo, the power you sense: You must change your life.

Almost embodying his evocation of Apollo’s missing head, poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s own eyes seem to say he meant it when he wrote, “you must change your life.” Courtesy apieceofmonologue.com

For me, I get something of that feeling listening to Mike Neumeyer, now. Indeed, you don’t need a great poet to draw such a message out of a marble sculpture, you can feel and hear it in this music.

Isn’t it high time to start working towards living your dream, however you envision that? High time, that more people, one by one if needed, start living the dream Martin Luther King had?  He knew, with almost god-like prescience, that “I may not get there with you.”

Aye, the TV tragedy. Guns and senseless violence. And yet, King promised “we as a people, will get to the promised land.” Might we still get there, even today, by changing our lives? That takes “inspiration” and “motivation” which gets us back to Neumeyer’s “Live the Dream.”

We do it one by one, by active heart and mind, until the people, the nation and the system change. One has to think, how else?

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1 Neumeyer has also recorded a instrumental version of “Live the Dream,” which includes marimba, here:

2. From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

 

On interviewing and covering Sun Ra: Part two of the “Artful Lives” radio interview with Culture Currents’ Kevernacular

Sun Ra (top), and his Myth-Science Arkestra (bottom, above). 

The one-of-a-kind Sun Ra rises (or descends from Saturn?) in memories, in conversation. Here’s part two of Riverwest Radio’s Elizabeth Vogt interviewing me about interviewing and covering the sometimes-astonishing, visionary jazz band leader Sun Ra. The occasion of coverage was Ra performing at the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery in 1982.

Artful Lives

Riverwest Radio revisits magical times when Sun Ra dwelt on this planet and visited Milwaukee

 

Sun Ra (center at keyboard) and members of his Arkestra, including (L-R) Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and June Tyson.

“Space is the Place!” Belated thanks to Elizabeth Vogt, the multi-talented and enlightened host of “Artful Lives” airing Mondays at 3 p.m. on WXRW Riverwest Radio. 104.1 FM. She produced, edited and hosted a two-part interview episode with me about the extraordinarily “cosmic” jazz bandleader Sun Ra, based notably on my experiences interviewing and reviewing him in the 1980s, especially for his 1982 appearance at the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, the precursor to the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, for which her program benefits. It was a blast (-off into outer space!). The first episode (linked below) is also available in Elizabeth’s recent WXRW archives. The second episode airs Monday at 3.

Besides the program, the link page includes photos of Sun Ra and his long-time fellow traveler, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who leads the current Sun Ra Arkestra; a scanned review of Sun Ra I wrote from 1982; and links to Sun Ra YouTube videos.

Here’s the link to part 1:

Artful Lives

 

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The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts is seeking an executive director, a paid position

The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in 2020. All photos by Elizabeth Vogt.

The Mark Davis Trio (L-R, Davis, Dave Bayles, Jeff Hamann) at the JGCA Pianofest.

As an arts journalist, I have no formal affiliation with The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. Nevertheless I’m very interested in seeing it not only succeed, but grow and evolve. My motives go back to it’s nominal inspiration, the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery at the same location.

The vibrancy of that community-oriented music venue was a key factor in my early journalistic career when, in 1979, I started covering it and other jazz (and other music and arts) in a surprisingly blossoming local scene for the pre-merger Milwaukee Journal 1

Today’s JGCA is a more formal non-profit arts organization, heretofore mainly run by dedicated volunteers. It has steered through many lean financial years with dogged determination, vision, applied talent and important involvement from Milwaukee’s Riverwest community.

Drummer Paul Westphal, violinist Linda Binder and bass clarinetist Rick Ollman at the JGCA Seeds Sounds concert series.

The JGCA emerges from the pandemic with growing optimism and even a successful visual arts business year, according to organization president Mark Lawson. The venue’s excellent recent group art exhibit, ReBegin, reflecting on the pandemic experience — which I reviewed for The Shepherd Express and this blog — is an example of its current artistic viability, even if they haven’t had live music since the pandemic shutdown. Lawson says he anticipates live performances returning to the center “sometime in July.”

So, the JGCA is ready to hire its first executive director, a paid, part-time position that could evolve into a full-time job. They are advertising for the position on their website, linked here, with details on the job: JGCA executive director job post

Applications are being received through June 25.

If you are a creative, take-charge person dedicated to the performing and visual arts, and have the right stuff to lead a small but serious arts organization, you might be the person for this job. I imagine, especially among the millennial and Gen-X generations (or perhaps even some baby boomers), there are a number of people in this region who could do this job, especially considering the many under-employed but talented, experienced and aspiring professional people with liberal arts orientations. The center’s music side is geared to jazz, free-improv, experimental music, and hip-hop, etc., but the new ED could help shape that direction as well.

The center owns a fine Yamaha baby grand piano and raised funds for significant recent building renovations and upgrades, including a new digital recording-quality sound system.

Bader Philanthropies, The Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and other funding sources, including many individual donations, have greatly aided the center’s viability.

If you read about the position here and apply, let them know (and let me know) you read about it here.

Good luck to all candidates and the JGCA, and more power to the best person who gets the job.

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1 This writer’s work from that period, and that of other journalists, is documented in Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984, an anthology of press coverage and other memorabilia, from founder-owner Chuck LaPaglia’s remarkable grassroots arts venue. The venue gained a strong reputation among many touring jazz musicians. The anthology is available at the JGCA, Boswell Books, Woodland Pattern, and through Amazon.

 

Diana Jones’ masterwork of border-crisis empathy belatedly gets stateside release

 

Cover of Diana Jones album “Song to a Refugee.” Courtesy Proper Records

The exquisite singer-songwriter Diana Jones reached a career peak with the 2020 release of her album Song to a Refugee, which I reviewed when it was released. However, at the time, her British label, Proper Records, only released it in the British Isles and Europe, even though the Greenwich Village-based artist’s inspiration and focus was the U.S. border crisis during the Trump administration’s travesty of policy cruelty.

The issue remains painful as righting the horrible wrongs of that administration will take time. Proper has now released the album stateside, prompting a fine interview feature from The New York Times. (Due to a peculiar Times change in link sharing, Culture Currents, as a Times subscriber, can only share the Diana Jones article link on my (Kevin Lynch) Facebook page post of this blog post).

Diana Jones, photographed for The New York Times

And here is my November review of the album, reposted:

Diana Jones sings a “Song to the Refugee,” as if she’s lived that life

Music is alive (thank the good gods), and now LIVE again, in person, waiting for y’all

Breese Stevens Field in Madison. Courtesy breesestevens.com

Thanks to the swift development, distribution and receiving of Covid vaccines by a majority of adults in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, the dangerous coast is clearing for live music. You remember that — real musicians, breathing and blowing, singing and burning, with inspiration, melody, rhythm and beauty. Audiences responding.

Yes, Summerfest will be back, but not until September. Far before that, one of the most notable big outdoor concert events will be the Madison Jazz Festival, running June 11 to 20, at various locations.

The following link to a festival announcement article provides the details, from Isthmus, the Madison weekly newspaper that hosted and sponsored the event for many years, as the Isthmus Jazz Festival :https://isthmus.com/events/nate-smith-greg-ward/

Madison, however, has a well-organized jazz scene that bucks the tides of pure commercialism to survive and “thrive,” at least by jazz and creative-music terms. The longtime Madison Music Collective remains integral to making this a citywide event, as does a younger organization, the innovative Art + Lit Lab, also hosting and presenting, notably an ongoing Dig Jazz series that, as the pandemic wanes, will go live again. Outdoor concerts will take place in various neighborhoods around Madison.

So your very block, or around the corner, temporarily may become a ‘hood in the best sense — hip, rhythmically alive, and attuned the the lifeblood of urban American musics.

The Madison Jazz Festival’s headline event will feature Grammy-nominated drummer-composer-bandleader Nate Smith + Kin Folk, along with saxophonist Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade, performing at Breese Stevens Field, 917 E. Mifflin Street, on East Washington Avenue, at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 13. Admission to this concert is $30.

Drummer-composer -bandleader Nate Smith + Kin Folk will headline the Madison Jazz Festival on June 13. Courtesy Peter van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty Images

Saxophonist Greg Ward leads his Rogue Parade at Breese Stevens Field on June 13. Courtesy comarcalcv.com

Smith owns an impressive resume, having worked with the Dave Holland Quintet, Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, José James, John Patitucci, Ravi Coltrane, and Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), among many others. As a bandleader, his style is surprisingly lyrical and sometimes contemplative — for a drummer — with alluring vocals by Amma Whatt. It’s a natural bill match for alto saxist Ward, whose outfit is a bit more bracing, with a double-guitar front line, but also quite melodic.

Ward’s album Stomping Off from Greenwood was among this critic’s choices for top ten jazz albums in the 2019 NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Smith’s already twice-Grammy-nominated debut album, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere, should be a poll contender this year.

Other festival performers include the brilliant Chicago trumpeter-composer Marquis Hill, (with The Donna Woodall Group) June 19 at the Wisconsin Union Terrace; vocalist Sarah M. Greer, June 18 in a live-streamed concert at the Stoughton Opera House;  jazz and world-music saxophonist Arun Luthra, June 15 at Robinia Courtyard; and the powerful young Chicago saxophonist-composer Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few, June 12 at Cafe Coda; which will also host the legendary multi-instrumentalist-composer and co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (and former Madison resident), Roscoe Mitchell, on June 20. Also on that bill is the Douglas Ewart Ensemble, like Mitchell a seminal member of Chicago’s internationally-influential AACM. Mitchell is one of the most visionary and innovative musicians of post-1960s creative music.

Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few will play June 12 at Cafe Coda as part of the Madison Jazz Festival

Local favorites will include the Acoplados Latin ProjectMama Digdown’s Brass Band, vocalists Donna Woodall and Gerri DiMaggio, and many more. In addition to concerts, the Festival will feature a public virtual master class by renowned bassist and UW-Madison Jazz Studies Professor Peter Dominguez, a livestreamed presentation by Ricardo Gonzalez and Nick Moran on the Camaguey Jazz project, and more. For more details on the various events, visit this site: https://artlitlab.org/programs/greater-madison-jazz/madison-jazz-festival

***

If you don’t get to Madison for the start of the festival (as I won’t, alas) you can still get a fresh dose of live music this Saturday, June 12 in Milwaukee: the fast-rising jazz-hip-hop-soul band KASE, will perform at 7 p.m. live at Saint Kate Arts Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourne, in downtown Milwaukee. The band — which often features acclaimed Milwaukee singer-songwriter-keyboardist-saxophonist Kellen “Klassik” Abston — has a penchant for building intoxicatingly sinuous grooves (what they call “improvised sonic explorations”) with Klassik riding atop, on any manner of vocals or rap, sometimes evoking classic soul singers like Marvin Gaye, thus his name. Both Klassik and Breiwick are skilled musical conceptualizers, so this daring stylistic synthesis can expand to precipitous boundaries while maintaining atmospheric buoyance, afloat even over the edge.

(However, Klassik is not “officially” scheduled to perform with KASE Saturday.)

Jazz-hip-hop ensemble KASE, was formed by trumpeter Jamie Breiwick (L-R, above) with Madison bassist John Christensen, and DJ/turntablist knowsthetime. The band frequently features singer-rapper Klassik (below). KASE will perform live Saturday at Saint Kate Arts Hotel. Courtesy OnMilwaukee.com Above photo by Brian Mir

Klassik. Courtesy J-S Online

Another Milwaukee option for Saturday (June 12) is The Anthony Deutsch Trio at 8 p.m. at Bar Centro, 804 E. Center St. in Riverwest. 

Deutsch who plays piano and sings, joined by Minneapolis bassist Billy Peterson and the superb percussionist Devin Drobka. Deutsch is a quirkily ingenious pianist with lyrical undertones of Fred Hersch, and a warmly cavernous singing voice on jazz standards and mystical-nature folk-jazz originals.

Both KASE and The Deutsch Trio have also performed at the Madison inDIGenous series, now called DIG JAZZ. 

The Anthony Deutsch Trio. Courtesy badgerherald.com

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Remembering America urban growth and decay, from then until now, Ashcan style

Ashcan Scene: “Sunset West Twenty-Third Street,” By John Sloan. Oil on canvas, 24+ inches by 36+ inches, 1905-1906. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha Nebraska

Searching for something timelessly American and democratic, I found industrialized urban life – architecture and quotidian labors – graced by nature’s fulsome, inevitable beauty. The darker clouds float slowly by, like bloated scavengers, while below, on the roof of a tall tenement building, a woman arrives to take down her hanging laundry, no doubt slightly begrimed by the city’s pollution. This is modern life burdened, but the single soul persistent, the circumstance artistically rendered akin to the blues sensibility.

The Ashcan School of American art has always been one of my favorite art movements. John Sloan is arguably the paramount artist in that group, which toiled around the turn of the 20th century, though Edward Hopper is more famous and it included founder Robert Henri and George Bellows among the artists who formed the movement’s core.

John Sloan “Self-Portrait in Gray Shirt” 1912 artsy.net

They were the first generation of artists to crucially value, capture and critique the urban American experience in all its grimy truth, as bleak as it was a-tree-grows-in-Brooklyn beautiful. Few artists have mustered better the shadow-shrouded atmosphere that would become later known as noir. The quality was probably first identified with the German Expressionists in the period after World War I, but imported to the U.S., where it would flourish in greater freedom than in its native land, from 1940s in film and television, onward to the present. 

The Ashcan School was a concept notably derived from Sloan’s nocturnal grittiness. And inside the modest nominal symbol sat an indelicate joke, a humble yet rugged functionality, capable of both containing and emitting olfactory auras that conveyed the profound decay of the American Dream, amid the vast exploitation of land and people that The Industrial Revolution evolved into.

The painting I chose to represent the movement, Sloan’s “Sunset West Twenty-Third Street,” is the only the second image I have used simultaneously for both my blog theme image and my Facebook page “cover photo.” That says something about how much I value the best and truest qualities of The Ashcan School, including Sloan’s environmental awareness here, and elsewhere. It’s not necessarily the best example, but it struck me as I rediscovered it in the Google search alluded to above. 1

One caveat. I haven’t seem the painting in person. But I would much more trust the more muted reproduction of the painting (above) from the website of the institution that owns it, The Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, than in the Google image I originally posted (see below), especially regarding the painting’s palette colors. I suspect the person who edited the Google image chose to dress it up with much brighter colors than the original. And the difference between those two palette approximations measures the difference between conventional notions of aesthetics and the Ashcan artists’ determined ability to probe and dig beneath the surfaces of urban presence.

Either way, there are other strong aspects countering all the darkness and implicit heaviness – qualities that give Sloan more vibrancy and hope than Hopper, the great poet of solitude. Even with a sole human, Sloan infuses a layered lyricism, in the rhythmic suppleness of the lighter clouds, and the sky’s richness, whether it is bright or muted. And the woman’s figure is burdened, yet maintains a strong, resilient backbone, and the hanging clothes retain a certain playfulness. More, the deep space before her is an interplay of angles and glittering vehicle lights, into a near-imperceptible horizon that still reveals sculptural mutations. Her superbly rendered and located figure suggests her eyeing this alluring beyond with a sense of longing for escape.

Formally speaking, Sloan risks betraying a primary compositional rule here, that is: avoid placing a large object in the center of your composition. He just barely avoids that by locating the stolid building silhouette just left of center. Still, it visually dominates the scene. But the hulking mass (a cast-off from Carl Sandburg’s famous “city of broad shoulders”?) stands there to signify more than lend pure formal beauty. In fact, pushing hard against beauty is virtually its raison d’etre here.

And yet, the long ledge of the foreground roof, with it’s strong leftward hitch, helps pull the compositional tension off center.

So it is work that is more radical than it might seem, given that it’s clearly part of the long tradition of landscape art, as it morphed into cityscape.

It is the humanity that gives the scene its life, through the eye of the artist and, by extension, the woman. That truth is underscored by the reality that this scene is actually Sloan’s own apartment building, and the depicted woman is his own wife.

“These wonderful roofs of New York City bring me all humanity,” Sloan was quoted as saying in 1919. “It is all the world.” 2

“Roofs, Summer Night,”  is a further example of Sloan’s fascination with humanity, in the era of “big shouldered” cities, and is almost voyeuristic but clearly empathetic. I first saw this etching at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison years ago, and it was done the same year as “Sunset.” Today it evokes the situation of immigrants, wherever their harsh limbo may be, floating above reality in their dreams, but only there.

John Sloan, “Roofs, Summer Night,” 1906 https://deepartnature.blogspot.com/

Is there something more in the greatest of Ashcan Art which, humble as it might seem, is clearly an early modern American art of cinematic scope, before color film.

Now, take in an even more famous Sloan cityscape, from 1922, City from Greenwich Village:

John Sloan, “City from Greenwich Village,” National Gallery of Art. Pinterest

In another deeply storytelling perspective, the train helps tie the city’s society and commerce together, but spews its fumes into the most famous urban neighborhood of Manhattan.

I might toss the Ashcan cultural connection forward, a bit like Stanley Kubrick’s ape tosses his jawbone up into time where it descends as a space capsule. No grand scope quite so obvious here, but still these, and other Ashcan cityscapes, do explore human and environmental dualities that Andrew Delbanco recently attributed to Kubrick in his masterpiece film 2001: A Space Odyssey: “a tribute to the collective genius of humanity for having turned this merciless world into a place fit for human habitation. It was also a merciless assault on the delusion that the world is susceptible to human will.” 3

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1 Consider the catalog book John Sloan’s New York, by Heather Campbell Coyle and Joyce K. Schiller, for a Sloan exhibit that originated at the Delaware Art Museum in 2007. Though Sloan’s “The City from Greenwich Village” (above) is the  frontispiece, “Sunset” is the sixth color plate in their text, on page 37. The authors see it as Sloan transferring his “awe” to his wife.

2. The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State organized a major exhibition on John Sloan, “From the Rooftops: John Sloan and the Art of a New Urban Space” in 2019, which also traveled to the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York. https://news.psu.edu/story/553028/2019/01/07/arts-and-entertainment/palmer-museum-art-announces-major-show-ashcan-schoolhttp://

Google reproduction of the Sloan painting:

John French Sloan https://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

3. Andrew Delbanco,

Kubrick’s Human Comedy