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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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.

 

Jazz Gallery show finds creative ways to begin again, emerging from pandemic

Art exhibit review

“Places I’ve been and may never see again,/ I won’t say haunted but I get visited/ and it follows me around wherever I go./ Begin to begin, begin to begin.” — “Begin to Begin”  Field Report

If we’re not haunted by the last dreaded year, it surely still follows us around, at the very least with masks, whether pocketed or making us  strangers to friends. Worst of all is a plague of recollected fright, sickness and loss.

So slowly, we begin to begin, again, the new “old” life.

One of Milwaukee’s lesser-known art galleries reflects back on the pandemic with vivid and resonant forms and imagery. The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E. Center St., is best known as a live music venue, which obscures its distinguished history of well-curated and extremely diverse art exhibits, overseen by the venue’s manager Mark Lawson, who also curates galleries at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. 1

ReBegin: New Works for New Beginnings, a group show of 18 artists running through May 29,  suggests creative-rebirth from pandemic, but also how we may never see the places we’ve been to, in the same way.

Howard Leu’s noirish, black-and-white photo-archival print, “You Don’t Call No More,” conveys social loss, with art loft-like window panes separating the viewer from fog-enshrouded telephone poles.

Howard Leu, “You Don’t Call No More,” photo archival print. All photos of artwork by Amy Schmutte

Roxane Mayer’s gritty, cold-wax encaustic-entombed facades include the year’s other massive human pilgrimage to healing, defiant social activism, with a window-pane poster reading “Hate Has No Home Here.”

Jim Farrell’s two pieces, rich with evocative, story-telling textures, address the mind and psyche — “Ancestral Orbit” in profound quests, and “Logic Perimeter” in a human head’s mathematical cogitations, a fight-or-flight reflex toward cleansing the virus’s impact, a longed-for rebeginning.

Jim Farrell, “Logic Perimeter,” mixed media

Similarly, Karen Williams-Brusubradis’ large acrylic painting “Metamorphosis,” reveals the microscopic workings of an apparent human nervous system in transformation from forces playing, or preying, upon it.

Karen Williams-Brusubradis, “Metamorphosis,” acrylic painting

Among the most optimistic or affirmative pieces is Benny Higgins’ lyrical “Frog Hunter III,” depicting an at-risk boy playing at a riverside, somewhat autobiographical in that Higgins, a former police officer and untrained artist, now counsels “men to be better men” at a women’s shelter, Lawson explains.

Benny Higgins, “Frog Hunter III,” oil 

Amy Schmutte’s virtuosic and innovative color photography seems to depict spring’s inevitable emergence from an atmosphere-immersed haze. In her Lewis Carroll-esque titled “Sproutoutlyng,” a lusciously sinuous flower fights through a sublime shadow of infected memory. Schmutte, who co-curated the show, prints her photos on brushed metal plates “because the way that light plays with that surface adds another layer of beauty” in photography, which she thinks of as “writing with light.”

Well said.

Amy Schmutte, “Sproutoutlyng” photography on brushed metal

Yet for me, the most eloquent and powerful piece in the show is its only sculpture, “Chrysallis,” by Jessica Schubkegel. This is a life-sized figure of a small woman, prone, and apparently afflicted. The piece comprises a model constructed of wire mesh, covered by a skin montage of torn fragments from a medical text. Buoyed in grace with elegant gestures, the form follows one leg raised at the knee, sinuous hip contraposto, and an arm bent to reach gently for the throat. It balances a sense of repose and illness that dwells deep in uncertainty. For all that hard-earned beauty, the closer you look, the more you discover implications of insight in the medical bits of meaning, an immersive, acute sense of possible doom. Still, the title perseveres. This mummy-like presence mirrors nature’s rebirth, and a sense of emergence and deliverance.

Jessica Schubkegel, “Chrysallis,” textbook paper and wire

The show also includes work by Lawson, Gwen Graznow, Tayla Hart, John Kowalczyk, Bruce Knackert, Sharon Mergener, Bob Neuman,  Jeff Redmon, Sarah Risley, Dee Dee Schaefer, and Vesile Yilmaz.

A side gallery includes anime-style cartoons by McKinley Blackwell.

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1 The JGCA art exhibits are often curated by committee, including the organization’s board members or other artists Lawson invites to curate. Despite no live music this last year, the venue has survived the pandemic significantly thanks to a notable increase in sales of artwork, both in the gallery and especially online, Lawson says. Here’s the link to the JGCA’s visual art online: https://jazzgallerycenterforarts.org/art 

 

This review was first published in slightly altered form in Shepherd Express, here.

Jazz Now will celebrate the Milwaukee jazz experience in time, sound and spirit

Jazz Now event poster II

Poster designed by Elizabeth Vogt

Milwaukee ain’t The Big Apple, nor is it The City of Big Shoulders. On its best days, the city shines, like the magnificent Santiago Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. On its worst days, it weeps a river of tears.

This is a struggling rust-belt city with more than its share of social and racial problems. That doesn’t mean it’s not a city of vibrant and meaningful culture, a city that can heal and grow by virtue of its diverse community, perseverance, and vision.
The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, once the home of the storied Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, counts on that progress and is willing to celebrate it right now, with something called Jazz Now. It’s a special event that acknowledges the city’s special genius of jazz and the toil to survive and connect, singing the song of Milwaukee’s surprisingly vaunted musical past, its present and, most importantly, its future.

So I am especially proud of an invitation to be part of this celebration, which will happen on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7).

I will give a reading from my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy, specifically parts of it which highlight the history of jazz here, especially in the halcyon days of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery,  in the 1970s-80s. I will be joined by trumpeter-bandleader-educator and jazz archivist Jamie Breiwick. He will briefly also explore the city’s musical pasts and present, especially as archived and documented in the valuable website Milwaukee Jazz Vision.

Special awards will be given in the name of perhaps the city’s greatest living jazz legend, guitarist Manty Ellis. The Manty Ellis award will honor persons for “exceptional support of jazz in Milwaukee” Ellis has exemplified decades of stellar musicianship and historic commitment to jazz education. He has also organized more recently The Jazz Foundation of Milwaukee. The organization is affiliated with the national Jazz Foundation of America, which will sponsor the event and cover it for their national newsletter.

Awards recipients will be announced at the event.

manty at JG

Manty Ellis (seated at center) will perform with his quartet at Jazz Now at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts on Sunday, August 12. Photo by Elizabeth Vogt.

Ellis and Breiwick will also perform at the event with a quartet and special guest performers.

Another award will be given in the name of Chuck LaPaglia, the founder and owner of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, for persons providing “outstanding promotion of jazz in Milwaukee.”
Without his vision and dogged dedication, Milwaukee would’ve had a far poorer jazz scene and history.
But LaPaglia was there when we needed him, and now we are here in celebration.

chuck at JG

Milwaukee Jazz Gallery founder-owner Chuck LaPaglia back in the day.

One more than one occasion, the center’s current manager Mark Lawson has said to me, “What this place really needs is an angel or two.”

The event will honor one angel who has finally delivered something and several other meaningful supporters of Milwaukee jazz, awards chosen by Manty Ellis.

Nevertheless, the venue could use another benefactor, to sustain general operations, including maintenance, booking and promotion. But that’s one reason to get the word out on this event, where we’ll measure and acknowledge the center’s great value to our city and to the music and the arts.

Come on down and let the good times roll.

 

Jazz Now event poster II