This stunning album amounts to an artist replanting in a profoundly fertile motherlode of his evolution, by reinterpreting the material of his very first album. The harvest is a quantum artistic leap. Chicago-native Hill is already established as one of the most talented and resourceful trumpeter-composers in jazz. Here he assembles a group of band leaders (several Blue Note label artists) and the quality quotient spikes. And it’s virtually all performed live in concert, a testament to the high art of the improviser (A series of studio-recorded a cappella solo pieces allows each of the sextet’s sidemen to to stand up and speak his peace.).
The floating, portentous “Intro” arrests our attention, and the ensuing “Law & Order” unfurls waves a of witness, drama and testament. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III enters a quietly enchanting storyteller but inevitably lifts us to cathartic cries of betrayal of justice, of true law and order. Vibist Joel Ross and pianist James Francies suggest, in their heavily populated lines, the bustle of the hoi polloi, and the pianist especially conveys a boiling tension in his hurtling momentum surges. If you haven’t heard him, Francies is a revelation, perhaps even if you have. To me, his linear speed doesn’t feel gratuitous or showy, rather it is breathtaking – burning with purpose, like a meteor striving for an explosive destiny. At other times, it’s as if his profuse ideas are spilling out over the edges of a sentence. This is music you feel in your bones, your whole being, such is its insinuating power.
Marquis Hill live. Courtesy mobile twitter.com
On “The Believer” everyone steps out hot and gives it up, as believers in, if nothing else, their extraordinary collective power which, by compounding exponentially, suggests a pipeline to some higher power. New Gospel, indeed. The tune exemplifies Hill’s compositional gifts, crafting edge-of-the-precipice pathways for improvs, suspended by oddly beguiling melodies. He won jazz’s greatest performance honor, The Thelonious Monk International Competition in 2014, underscoring his promise, now fully realized. 1
He’s admittedly out of the hard-bop blues tradition of Lee Morgan but deepened by expressive textures suggesting the influence of fellow Chicago brass avant-avatar Wadada Leo Smith, and aspects of many great trumpeters between. One can easily drink deeply from this album purely on the artistic virtuosity – throughout drummer Kendrick Scott bristles and flares like a string of artfully controlled fireworks. Yet there’s a cumulative demonstration of a spiritual mine, which has only strengthened in repose, replenished to fuel the powers of endurance, defiance, and resolution in a world seemingly out to get the already-disenfranchised American everyman, and woman.
Nova Czarnecki, “Return to Me, ” oil painting, $4500
Heretofore, I’ve refrained from reviewing an art show that I am participating in. However, I’ll simply announce, with a bit of comment, this is the last week to see Feather, Fur, Scale and Tail at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E. Center St. Milwaukee. The show runs through Saturday, June 18. This delightful celebration and exploration of animals is ingenious, diverse, colorful and textural, and rich in symbolism and beauty. Yet it is not without acknowledging the darkness that shadows the animal world from within, and from without, the perpetual threat of humans.
It includes one of a series of pastel and ink drawings I have made, inspired by Herman Melville’s epic novel Moby-Dick. The one on exhibit depicts a scene in the first of the novel’s three climactic chapters, “The Chase-The First Day.” The image is titled “Ishmael Intuits the End from the Crows Nest.” The book’s narrator Ishmael is visible in the far background, at the top of the ship, as the whaling boat with Captain Ahab and Ishmael’s friend, first harpoonist Queequeg, approach The White Whale in the foreground.
Kevin Lynch, “Ishmael Intuits the End from the Crow’s Nest.” pastel and ink. Not for Sale
But the show is filled with excellent work: from the lovely gestural simplicity of a blackbird sitting on a branch in Carol Rode-Curley’s watercolor-like pastel, “Resting Raven,” to John-Mark Klapperich’s complex visual jokes — wall assemblages of metal objects transformed into animals. Among the most vivid actual encounters with an animal is “Sweet Pea,” Mary Lee Agnew’s photo capturing the ever-elusive fox, with ears so large you imagine him a winged mythical creature, caught for a fleeting moment, amid wind-blown leaps of prairie grass. (All pictured below)
More myth (as in artful truth-telling) seems to reside in, for me, a true highlight — Nova Czarnecki’s large (48” x 60”) oil painting “Return to Me” (at top). This seems a (self?) portrait of an earth mother dwelling in watery depths and attracting creatures from the air, the land and the very currents wherein she sits with a mystical regality.
“Thar she blows!” the cry comes from high up in the crow’s nest. “Thar she blows, a hump like a snow hill! It is Moby Dick!”
Feminizing all whales is part of the romance of the high seas. This she is really a he, the great White Whale who’s hunted monomaniacally by Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s profoundly precient and symbolically pregnant masterpiece, Moby-Dick or, The Whale.
Those who’ve read this blog over the years may be aware of the precipitous esteem I hold for this extraordinary book. It has inspired me to write a novel about its author, somewhat forestalled by a myriad of circumstances, but forthcoming in due time.
This is a book that an artist of some repute whom I know aptly characterized as “the first postmodern novel” — published in 1851! It might also be the most critically commented-upon work of fiction in modern history, and the most widely referenced in popular culture, certainly among books that are not often actually read.
It has also inspired the visual artist in me.
So I’ve undertaken a series of pastel drawings with Moby Dick as my motif. And one of the perhaps more successful of these will soon be on display in an art exhibit at the Jazz Gallery Center for the arts.
The exhibit is announced in this poster, though one correction the opening reception’s time has een changed to 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday:
The exhibit will include Linocut Print | Sculpture | Comic-Book Illustration | Photography | Assemblage Box-Making | Encaustic | Pastels | Screen Print | Painting | Digital Drawing
This event has brought me to the realization I should have a digital copy of this pastel professionally made. My apologies for the poorly depicted image at top. But you get the idea from my hand-held photo. I hope it strikes your fancy or interest enough to visit the opening or ensuing gallery days of this promising show.
Here’s an image of another artwork in the show, a block print by Jay Arpin.
Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. Photo by Michael Burmesch, courtesy The Shepherd Express.
Since the 1980s, Riverwest has moved like the river it borders—a place of restless culture and commingling social currents. Literary, artsy Woodland Pattern, opened in 1980, remains Riverwest’s signature cultural center, along with Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, a music venue open since 1993, which has especially helped spawn the careers of local singer-songwriters, including Christopher Porterfield and The Record Company’s Chris Vos.
Center Street now has about six music and arts venues, including Company Brewing and The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, which re-imagines the celebrated 1980s Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Neighbors recently bought the historic multi-purpose crossroads Polish Falcon Bowl, a hearty-spirited nexus of community activity for decades, including The Riverwest Follies.
The Riverwest Investment Cooperative recently purchased the Polish Falcon Bowl (above) to keep it viable for the community. Courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
I’ve lived here most of my adult life, with an interval in Madison. In a sense I never left—much of Madison is culturally and politically comparable to Riverwest. In 1973, the Eastside Housing Action Committee joined Madison activists to rent a Locust Street storefront for a Milwaukee chapter of the Wisconsin Alliance, a statewide socialist organization.
This alternative publication’s predecessor, TheBugle American, resided in Riverwest until 1979 and the Crazy Shepherd found its way to the neighborhood 40 years ago. Another primary socio-political entity, Outpost Natural Foods, remains “the real heart of the counterculture west of the river,” Riverwest historian Tom Tolan writes. Now a successful regional chain, Outpost’s membership-and-volunteerism system sparked its growth—once oriented to “revolution,” now towards community and personal health.
Black Husky Brewing. Courtesy blackhuskybrewing.com
Milwaukee-style commercial success stories in Riverwest include Lakefront Brewery and Black Husky Brewing, as well as the restaurants Cafe Corazon, Wonderland, Big Daddy’s Barbeque and Soul Food, the slightly gourmet Nessum Dorma, Riverwest Filling Station, Cafe Centro, Dino’s MKE,and the carry-out food services, Scardina Specialties meats and deli, Shwarma King and Sticky Rice. Among the most colorful Riverwest retailers is Fischberger’s Variety, self-described as “Milwaukee’s punk-rock palace for gifts,” brims with stylish and witty toys, gifts, offbeat greeting cards, and knitting products. And Burke Candy remains, with always-tantalizing retail shop offerings. All these places are worthwhile.
Fischberger’s Variety Store on Holton Street. Courtesy onmilwaukee.com
A mark of the neighborhood’s deep-grained culture is Moberg Piano Sales and Service on Keefe Avenue, plum full of real acoustic pianos of all kinds.
In time, the neighborhood shifted politically, from the radically driven ESHAC to community-growth values, while remaining strongly left-leaning and bohemian. Witness the Peace Action Center, The Riverwest Artists Association, The Riverwest Neighborhood Association, community-oriented radio station WXRW, Riverwest Food Pantry and a vital arm of Milwaukee Riverkeepers environmental activists. The new Daily Bird may not replace the former Fuel Café’s punk-rock vitality. However, two indie recording studios recently opened.
Another Riverwest distinction: It now boasts the first two designated “bicycle boulevards” in Milwaukee: at E. Wright Street and N. Fratney Street (where I live). These streets have speed bumps each block and car traffic is limited. New curb bump-outs limit sharp car turns at intersections, and make pedestrian crossings shorter. A traffic circle was added to the Wright and Fratney Street intersection. Traffic circles are intended to allow traffic to flow through intersections slowly and efficiently, without requiring a full stop on either side. Bikers rejoice and roll, of course. And I now see neighbors walking their dogs right down the middle of Fratney Street.
Riverwest remains arguably the city’s most diverse and alternative-culture neighborhood, defying the city’s notorious segregation. Gentrification never infiltrated, despite condo development on bordering Commerce Street. Mortgages and rents remain moderate and median household income is $44,820, compared to the nation’s average of $62,843. A notably working-class population remains, with 39% holding a high-school degree or less, compared to the nation’s 30 to 35 percent working class. Historical ethnicities are Polish and Puerto Rican—a neighbor’s flagpole flies Puerto Rican and American colors year-round, and up the street is bi-lingual elementary La Escuela Fratney. Riverwest’s racial make-up is 64% white, 20% black, 8% Hispanic, 5% mixed races, and 3 % Asian.
This article was originally published in shorter form in a special neighborhoods history section of the April issue of The Shepherd Express magazine.
Culture Currents Holiday Greetings for 2022! First, a miscellany of memories of 2021, photo-essay style, of this blog’s year, and of friends, especially some dearly departed ones (Don’t worry, there’s a musical New Year’s pay-off below).
Your blogger refurbishes an old sculpture of his titled, “Tricycle Nightmare.” Photo by John Klett
CC’s Kevernacular out for some CC-style skiing, shot from Lincoln Park’s highest point, the windswept tee box of Hole No. 6.
Who can forget The Milwaukee Bucks making history by defeating the Miami Heat, the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns, to win their first NBA championship…in half a century? The crazed crowds at Fiserv’s Forum’s Deer District (above) played their part in the fever that stoked the team.
Don’t forget, in 2020 the Bucks also began a brief strike that led all of professional sports in bringing attention to police violence against unarmed black people and systemic racism in America.
Successful businessman, publisher and business-success author Jack Covert, who passed in 2021, once had a slightly more unseemly identity, as owner of Dirty Jack’s Record Rack, a small mecca for Milwaukee music fans in the 1960s and ’70s.
An NPR “American Masters” poll this fall posed the question “What work of art changed your life?” I could not answer with a simple response. One such transforming event was the exhibit of the late Arshile Gorky’s brilliant blend of surrealism and abstract expressionism, at the Guggenheim Museum, in the early 1980s. Above is Gorky’s “The Plow and the Song” from 1946.
Another life-changing work for me was seeing Picasso’s “Guernica,” though I never saw the whole painting, an odd circumstance described in my NRP poll post, regarding the epic anti-Fascist work(s).
The ultimate life-changing work for me — my first encounter with Melville’s “Moby-Dick” obtaining a copy of the 1930 edition, sumptuously illustrated with woodcuts by Rockwell Kent, including this magnificent rendition of the great white whale.
I also honored a great friend, musician, and culture vulture, Jim Glynn (at right) on the anniversary of his death. Jim also served as the best man at my wedding in 1997 (above).
Some of my happiest reporting of the year was interviewing Kai Simone (above), the first-ever executive director of Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. She signifies a fresh new direction, while extending the tradition of the venue’s namesake, The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, whose heyday in the 1980s contributed greatly to the city’s community and culture.
Speaking of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, my favorite single piece of art this year was in an exibit there. Jessica Schubkegel’s evocative and eloquent sculpture “Chrysallis” (above). made of medical textbook paper and wire, graced a group exhibit, ReBegin: New Works for New Beginnings, in response to the COVID epidemic.
Perhaps my most personally meaningful trip was a visit to Two Rivers, Wisconsin (above), on the shore of Lake Michigan, which included a fine nature-preserve walk and visiting the field where my father, Norm Lynch (with the ball, below) quarterbacked a great high school football team (three straight seasons undefeated) in the 1940s .
That Washington High football field in Two Rivers remains (below), but is now the domain of geese, who keep it well-fertilized with au natural “yard-markers.”
As COVID threats eased, for a while, Kevin and Ann finally dined out, at Tenuta’s Restaurant, in Bay View, a glorious meal gifted by Ann’s colleagues.
Another fine 2021 memory was of my old friend, composer/jazz pianist Frank Stemper (above), here receiving applause in Austria, where his new work, Symphony No. 4 “Protest,” was premiered. While in Europe, Frank and his spouse Nancy visited Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day landing of allied troops who turned the tide of WWII (below).
“Enter” by Marvin Hill
Two linoleum-cut prints (above) by the late artist Marvin Hill, whom I memorialized in 2021 on the anniversary of his passing in 2003.
OK, so much for that little montage of 2021 moments for Kevernacular.
Your reasonably dedicated and unreasonably beleaguered blogger wants to pause at this late point in the day (into evening) to wish all of my Culture Currents readers from 2021, and times fore and aft, a very happy new year (!). If some of the year’s blogs “spoke to you” in any way, it goes to bolster my notion that, indeed, Vernaculars Speak!
I am deeply grateful for your interest in this sometimes waywardly-searching blog. Today I’ve been struggling to meet a deadline for The 14th annual International Critics Poll for El Intruso, a Spanish publication for people interested in creative and experimental music. That’s involved plenty of H-Hour auditioning of review CDs that I purchase or receive.
Believe me, it’s been very pleasurable labor, discovering, savoring — and having my mind slightly bent at times by — the new music that comes my way, as a veterans music and arts journalist.
Throat-clearing aside (no, I don’t have COVID!) I can think of no better way of musically wishing you all a happy new year by sharing two brief but delicious videos by one of my favorite Milwaukee musicians of 2021. I’m talking about vibraphonist and marimba player Mike Neumeyer.
He is one of the most irrepressibly vibrant (please pardon the pun, which simply popped out in my comparative state of mental fatigue) musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (at a free-jazz workshop he led at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, in 2020, shortly before the pandemic struck), and of sharing time with, although ever since it’s been all virtual.
At least we humblyenjoyed ourselves on New Year’s Eve with a bottle of sparkling Proscutto rose, and some scrumptious curry and Nam Khao (deep-fried rice ball, cured pork sausages, peanuts, scallions, cilantro, shredded coconut) from Riverwest’s Sticky Rice Thai Carry Out, on Locust and Weil Streets. Yep, the foodie details are making me hungry too, so I better get to the felicitous point here. 1
I have extolled the talents and spirit of Mike Neumeyer several times this year in this blog (which are obtainable in a simple search with his name at the top of the Culture Currents page, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed).
So I don’t have much energy for further glowing, or even moderately striking, praise for vibist Neumeyer, although I will point out that his positive energy is a great antidote to the stresses and strains of another year of enduring COVID, and much of the madness and travesty that passes for politics in America today. Mike is not above clowning it up a bit but, Lord knows, we need every scrap of comic relief we can get these days.
So, skipping further ado, I will simply direct you to his two versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” One version is short and sweet. The other, also brief, allows for a few grace notes of reflection and perhaps even resolution, for the listener.
Thanks again Mike, for a great year of music and memories And keep up the (ahem)
good vibes. Two (maybe three) increasingly horrid “vibes” puns, and I’m out!
“Auld Lang Syne” played by Mike Neumeyer:
And now, to extend the holiday celebrate a tad more, sample a slightly slower draft of the grand old song, with a little aftertaste of the old year, now bygone forever, save memories:
Surprise! As an extra treat, especially for all you boys and girls who’ve been not too naughty this year, let’s rewind to the spirit of December 25th, and Mike’s rendering of one of the most timeless holiday songs ever born.
1 We also watched a wonderful film on video on New Year’s Eve. It’s the multi-Academy award-nominated The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, and written and directed by Florian Zeller. If you haven’t seen it, The Father is uncannily disarming and disorienting in evoking, for the viewer, the point of view of a family patriarch – played with dazzling power and poignance by Hopkins – whose mental powers and pride are rapidly dissembling amid Alzheimer’s.
In watching it, you might begin to doubt either the movie or yourself, but by the end, in reflection, it all makes brilliant sense, in the saddest and most moving of ways. The full-movie video follows immediately with insightful comments from the principals.
New JGCA executive director Kai Simone on the center’s legendary stage, inherited from the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photos by Kevin Lynch
A new critical biography of the brilliant film director Alfred Hitchcock inevitably examines how he became the first American embodiment of an auteur. 1 The term, originally coined and used by French director-critics, refers to the artist who controls her work’s vision and process, in a group artistic endeavor.
In a significant change, the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts may have found it’s auteur, Kai Simone. The organization’s mission statement strives for “community…strengthened by creativity.” As the Riverwest Artists Association, the center was a dedicated but collective endeavor. Yet one board member characterized board meetings as sometimes “painful” and, despite the center’s considerable accomplishments, president Mark Lawson commented, perhaps only half-jokingly, ”We really didn’t know what we were doing.”
The RAA is visual arts-oriented, but the JGCA is about diversity in the arts and audience.
JGCA Executive Director Kai Simone (left) will bring diverse experience to the venue’s dedicated board of directors, which includes (standing beside Simone) president Mark Lawson and artist Bennie Higgins.
That’s where Simone, the first-ever executive director, steps in. “I have a very special relationship to jazz,” said the former Chicagoan with an abundance of connections to that city’s rich jazz community, as did the founder of center’s nominal inspiration, the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, Chuck LaPaglia. Strong allies of Simone include Heather Ireland Robinson, ED of The Jazz Institute of Chicago, and Emmy Award-winning trumpeter Orbert Davis, artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. A source of inspiration is Ralph Bass, an influential R&B and jazz producer at Chicago’s legendary Chess Records. Such factors should help sustain the jazz/creative music tradition JGCA has provided The Second City’s “second city,” if you will.
The center took a step forward a few years ago with the hiring of Program Manager Amy Schmutte, who leads the successful O.W.L. program, an arts presentations and activities program geared to senior members of the Riverwest community. And as gallery director, Schmutte has dramatically boosted the center’s sales of artwork, especially online sales during the financially tenuous period of the COVID pandemic.
Simone will develop from that success, and look far further afield.
“I also want to build on the legacy of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, develop more educational and historical programs, and scholarships.” Simone’s eyes are firmly fixed on the future — and the venue’s distinctive checkerboard stage. She feels the center needs much more outreach to youth culture, a specialty of hers.
The center showed that potential with a monthly performance series geared to hip-hop culture which — before the pandemic — developed a strong youth following almost on its own self-directed momentum.
Simone is an experienced theater director and herein the auteur analogy strengthens. In an interview, this truly seemed a woman of embracing vision, but also fully capable of handling practical operations of a multi-arts center. “I love mentoring, leading, and teaching.” she says. She’s also a performer, a writer, and a singer-songwriter. She founded the arts-ed Skai Academy, an MPS affiliate until the pandemic led to system fund cuts. That circumstance helped lead her to the center’s new opportunity.
For all her educational bona-fides, Simone values ultimately allowing students liberty to think “outside the box.” She relates how she once hid herself inside a cardboard box onstage before an unsuspecting young audience and, when she finally burst out, she had them “hooked.” Such engaging ingenuity should help strengthen the JGCA. Simone also envisions doing more with the WXRW radio programming already benefitting the center, as well as “virtual reality presentations, even animated films.” 2
She also thinks she can combine the center’s non-profit status with indirect profiting strategies, through partnerships, with MPS and Arts @ Large, among other organizations. “We own the building, so rent helps. So, it’s a business approach. I like problem-solving and talking to people about visions and passions. I want to take it to another level.” Regarding diverse community outreach and audience-building, Milwaukee has, besides African-Americans and Latinx, “a huge Hmong community, as well as Japanese, Burmese, and Ghanaian,” said Simone, whose daughter is half-Ghanaian. “I want to think globally and act locally.”
1 The critical biography is The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense, by Edward White, published in March 2021.
2. Saturdays at 10 a.m., JGCA board member Elizabeth Vogt hosts WXRW 104.1 FM Riverwest Radio’s weekly Artful Lives, an interview and arts profile program, on behalf of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. It’s a low-power station, but all programs are available to stream live — and in the station’s archives. (The archives include several interviews with this blogger, Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch), about famous jazz musicians I interviewed and reviewed at the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery run by Chuck LaPaglia.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Among the most optimistic or affirmative pieces is Bennie 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.
Bennie 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.”
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.
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.