Restlessly seeking enlightened serenity, Jim Glynn carried his gift to humanity far and wide

Jim Glynn served as best man for my second wedding to Beth Bartoszek, in Madison Wisconsin, at the Unitarian Meeting House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by wedding photograper. All other photos by Kevin Lynch 

Without the power of his legs, Jim Glynn often seemed to soar through life on wings of passion, love, charisma, and a gift for serenity. He was perhaps the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known to call a friend.

I’m honoring him on the anniversary of his death, October 18, 2004. Coincidentally, I myself became disabled that same year, but in my upper limbs, with a severe neuropathy that continues today.

So, it wasn’t until the year he died that I could perhaps begin to fully relate to the challenges that he overcame with rare and inspiring grace. But it’s always different when you are no longer ambulatory. Jim never simply fell back on the use of a wheelchair, as he regularly used crutches for decades, bolstered by the strong athletic upper body that he kept in superb shape as a swimmer and arm-powered cyclist. “He was a marathon swimmer,” said Harvey Taylor, the poet and singer-songwriter with a truly amphibious relationship with Jim. They swam in the Racine quarry together hundreds of times. “He was a magnificent athlete.”

I too swam with Jim in that quarry, which he seemed to especially value for the serenity that its glasslike water surface signified. 1 And yet he often also swam across Elkhart Lake, which can get feisty and treacherous.

Jim gets ready to take a swim in the Racine quarry, a favorite refuge of his.

Harvey may have been Jim’s best friend, but I held him as dearly a friend as any person I’ve ever known. He was the best man at my second wedding. Jim and I bonded over our love of music, with tastes that were similarly wide-ranging. I met him when I was working as album buyer at Radio Doctor’s “Soul Shop” at Third and North Avenue, in Milwaukee, back in the mid-1970s. 2

Only the hippest white music lovers frequented the soul shop, in the “downtown” of Milwaukee’s inner city. Jim knew and loved jazz — our greatest shared passion —  as a connoisseur, but without pretension. He also craved classical music, from baroque to contemporary, and had a supremely selective taste for the best of all American vernacular musics, as well as emerging world musics.

An avid fan of many musics, including avant-garde Jazz, Jim Glynn (left) joins a reception at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for the renowned jazz pianist Cecil Taylor (center in sport jacket) along with Cecil’s longtime friend and collaborator Ken Miller, with hand around Taylor.

And despite his apparent physical limits, Jim often seemed capable of morphing into multiples of himself. He showed up at most every notable music event in town. After attending maybe three events in one evening, he’d say, “Well, we did it all, tonight.”

What did I learn from him? One thing is this. More than I, he also gravitated to the sort of musically unadorned kinds of music that emerge from Eastern classical music partly because, perhaps once he became paraplegic, he became a hand drummer like the great Indian tabla players. I’m talking about so-called New Age or what mutual musician friend Mitar Covic called “bliss music.” The harmonic simplicity of “New Age” can be traced somewhat to the modal music of John Coltrane, as well as Eastern classical music. But I felt the new music often insipidly exploited those modalities without their profundities and passion, at best turning potential beauty into prettiness.

Now perhaps I can see more Jim’s perspective, throughout his decades of disabled suffering. He always strove for healing, replenishing and enlightened serenity in life, and that included artistic vibrations. Amid contemporary life’s onslaught of stresses and ugliness, his search for musical beauty and rhythmic vitality, which some of the NA musicians achieve, is something I can still learn and benefit from. It ties in to Zen disciplines and meditational practices, the latter which I have partaken off since college, but with no consistency.

Jim may be imparting a tidbit of wisdom to girlfriend Yovanka Dajkovic in this scene (top photo) from Holy Hill in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine. In the lower photo, the two of them wave picturesquely from below the great cathedral’s tall steeples.

Jim might have been a “guru” of sorts, though I never realized that at the time. But the man’s rare,  aura, his alluring friendliness frequently suggested a tacit invitation to most anyone into his life, to do what he often did with his best friends: Hang, talk, listen and do little jam sessions with a few hand drums and some of his flute playing thrown in. The meditative quality of a Jim Glynn hang-out was often generously enhanced with marijuana. Yet, in later years, he bemoaned the diminishing experience that blended music, camaraderie and marijuana had provided. “I really miss the transcendent experience of a great high,” he said, something that, for whatever reasons, changing times stole from him. Perhaps we had less sense of discovery and revelation after hearing so much music, as well as the oft-discussed damaged idealism and and fading visions of our generation.

The last photo I took of Jim, (playing drums, at far right) at a homecoming party for him after he moved back to Milwaukee from Portland, Oregon. He was already dying from bladder cancer. The other players include (L-R) percussionist Tony Finlayson, pianist Steve Tilton, and harmonica player Steve Cohen (of the blues band Leroy Airmaster). .

But the fact that he could attain such transcendent moments long after he lost the use of his legs speaks volumes for the man’s spiritual capacities. That’s something that people seemed to intuitively sense from him, as he was one of the most effortlessly charismatic people I’ve ever known. It’s as if he made something of his seated posture, implicitly inviting many a stranger into an imaginary crib.  So he befriended people time and again, and quickly called them “brother” or “sister,” often before he really even knew their name.

A good-looking Irishman with a low, naturally-seductive voice, an easy smile and a sly wit, Jim was something of a ladies man. Any number of women over the years eagerly befriended and romanced him, while activating their caretaking instinct. Perhaps his best and most loyal woman friend was Pat Graue, who ended up honoring his wish that his ashes be strewn in Sedona, Arizona — with its mysteriously looming rock formations, like permanent sentinels of ghosts — which he considered the most Nirvana-like place in America.

The other end of Nirvana on earth was the hellish day, during the Vietnam War, when his Army jeep swerved in the French Alps, to avoid a blocking car. Flung from the vehicle, Jim fell hundreds of feet, but somehow survived, though this leg functions did not.

For me, he is now a quietly great figure who built up a strong and loyal following of listeners on his mind-expandingly eclectic music programs on WUWM and WMSE radio. And this greatness he wore with the grace of a bird’s wing. The quote of Harvey Taylor above is from Amy Rabideau Silvers’ superb obituary on Jim in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel upon his death. Reading it again, I’m amazed at the humility of the man, despite all that he added up to, which seems now the essence of cool.  Some of the most remarkable aspects of his life detailed in Silvers obituary were revelations to me, even though I thought I knew Jim intimately for over three decades.

For example, while in the service he worked in Army intelligence, including the Cold War’s most famous espionage event. He tracked U-2 spy plane flights by pilot Francis Gary Powers, including the one in which Powers was shot down and captured by the Soviet Union in 1960.

And despite our shared love of jazz, he never told me that long ago, as a fully functioning drummer before his accident, he had played with Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, and the Everly Brothers when they would visit Wisconsin.

On that October day in 2004, my mother called to tell me Jim was dying. I was living in Madison and jumped on a Badger Bus to meet my folks (also great friends of Jim’s) at the Milwaukee bus station. When I got there, they told me he was gone. Harvey had been there with him. I melted into tears.

Jim bequeathed his huge CD collection to me. I couldn’t practically accept it, as my own collection was nearly as big already. But the gesture deeply moved me. After being cherry-picked by me and a couple friends and WMSE disk jockeys, the recordings were donated to that radio station by his sister .

Something of a philosopher, Jim also helped counsel paraplegic veterans in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Washington D.C. in how to “take a fall and get back up” as his brother Steve Glynn explained to Silvers. That included, “you can still have an active sex life.”

I’m sure he delivered that assurance with an offhanded air akin to Paul Newman’s title character in “Cool Hand Luke,” with “that old Luke smile.” Like Luke, Jim Glynn lived in a sort of prison, but he could break away from that trap with the same kind of uncanny ease.

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1 Our Racine Quarry swimming inspired a poem I wrote in about 1985. I would never had such an experience of nature, and nature interrupted, but for my friendship with Jim Glynn.

2. Jim actually knew two of my six sisters before he met me. He became a great Lynch family friend — my parents were big jazz and classical music fans — and attended a number of our family’s Thanksgiving meals. In the photo below, he’s seen with his girlfriend Pat Graue in the foreground. (Pictured, L-R, Norm Lynch, Nancy Aldrich, Erik Aldrich, The Turkey of Honor, Lauren Aldrich, Jim Glynn, Pat Graue, and Anne Lynch).

(Pat Graue now goes by the name Zoe Daniels)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

 

Maria Schneider strives to slay data dragons and earns two Grammies

Composer-arranger-bandleader Maria Schneider won two Grammy Awards for her album “Data Lords.” Courtesy the artsdesk.com

All praise Maria Schneider and her larger-than-life, intrepid orchestra! She just won two Grammy Awards for best instrumental composition (“Sputnik”) and best large ensemble recording, for Data Lords. Like a goddess sprouting heavy new wings, Schneider brilliantly ventured far beyond her comfort zone of nature-inspired jazz impressionism, in the Gil Evans tradition: Schneider Grammy announcement

Despite her clear and proud roots, Data Lords affirms her genius as a true original and her prominent place in jazz history. I never actually reviewed this album partly because I’ve given her so much blog and newspaper play over the years and I reviewed in-depth a live concert she performed while unveiling some of Data Lords material, before the album’s release.

Data Lords album cover

I chose Data Lords as my No. 2 album of the year in the NPR jazz critics poll largely because, to me, my top choice, Gregg August’s Dialogues on Race, was too urgently relevant in light of last year’s world-wide racial-justice protests. August’s large ensemble album also carried massive musical weight on its own.

But Schneider’s every statement now virtually demands critical attention, not unlike John Coltrane and Miles Davis, avatars of the post-bop era. Data Lords revealed the fire, indignation and backbone of the music’s leading composer-arranger, fully wielding her past mastery of scoring for jazz orchestra, like a woman warrior leading troops. And, yes, Delacroix’s famous romantic painting “Liberty Leading the People,” comes to mind. And no album had more great music in 2020 than hers. As an artist who records on a self-created label (ArtistShare) and distributes independently, 1 she’s not only a self-made artist but extremely attuned to the role of “data lords,” the gigantic online media companies (Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) that play a grossly outsize role in how we pursue and receive information on the Internet, and spend our money on cultural products or activity. In other words, Schneider asserts that they virtually lord over our lives because so many of us are now dominated by our involvement in online media.

The Grammy-winning composition “Sputnik” is part of the “protest” side of this two-CD recording, yet it retains the depth of textured and spiritual beauty that trademark her best work, while evoking a profound sense of angst and desolation. By nominally invoking a famous space travel vehicle, it suggests that we may need to travel to new realms far from “home” to regain truth, self-determination, sanity, freedom and societal-coherence – not overseen by the data lords. Here too, an allusion to the Underground Railroad and slavery hovers in the stratosphere. I suggest this not to equate the two, but to honor the cultural pervasiveness of that darkest chapter in this nation’s history.

Such elevated praise might indicate that this is The Maria Schneider Show with musician munchkins. But she chooses her world-class players with Ellingtonian acumen (here, among others, Donny McCaslin, Rich Perry, Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Ryan Keberle, Gary Versace, Ben Monder, and the late Frank Kimbrough) and gives them many extended spotlights, which helps expand this to two discs, and there’s hardly a moment of seeming filler.

And Schneider rewards listeners for the facing the sometimes-dissonant challenges of the first CD, “The Digital World,” by reminding us of what she is fighting for, in “Our Natural World,” the gloriously beautiful second disc. Another implication, in these juxtaposed titles, is that data lords’ dominance affects our overall priorities and collective consciousness, perhaps to the detriment of addressing climate change, and the perils to the natural world.

Great art like Schneider’s does its extraordinary work on its own terms, while reaching out to us, to some degree. The cultural covenant is completed when we respond as we will, which that art itself is not responsible for, and yet which reflects its sometimes-uncanny powers of evocation, provocation, and communication.

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  1. Thanks to Ann Braithwaite and her staff, of Braithwaite & Katz Communications for their superb, dedicated promotion of Schneider, and many other independent artists and labels over many years.

 

Robert Stone’s Rugged Power and Glory Cast Light on Today

Review: The Eye You See With by Robert Stone (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt)

As he traversed the earth, the sun also rose for the writer Robert Stone, even amid deep spiritual shadows. And the hardness of his courage shone in the glinting light, as many sweated, suffered, and died. As did he, eventually, in 2015.

He was like a carved-granite eagle in flight. He ventured to high vistas of perception, as an intellectual warrior, and dove, as a miner of humbled but ambitious soul, as it arose in the 1960s. He became very close to some iconic figures, including Ken Kesey, the acid- “enlightened” novelist (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and charismatic leader of the hippie rogues, The Merry Pranksters.

But he’s worth revisiting or discovering for many reasons.

Though primarily a novelist, Stone re-emerged recently with a far-ranging posthumous collection of his non-fiction, The Eye You See With. 1 The title gains centrality this way: “The eye you see with is the one that sees you back.” That is Stone’s distillation of a sermon by Meister Eckhardt, and Stone  was “obsessed with the absence of God…everywhere we look there seems evidence of (the divine presence), and it never yields itself to our discovery.” 2

So, some of the most compelling truths remained the most elusive. Ah, but the world and universe the creator wrought were out there waiting, beckoning. Though a tough-minded man and Navy veteran, Stone’s poetic power and his Catholic upbringing braided his consciousness, and his nearly relentless questing for truth.

Stone’s big subject was America, which he said he was striving to define through his work, a measure of his ambition, though he never said he was close to accomplishing that. Yet he kept chiseling away at the stone by taking a global attack, traveling literally, and through his story-telling, to points as far as around-the-world, in the sea-faring novel Outerbridge Reach, and, in others, with intense focus, in Central America, The Caribbean, and the Middle East.

Robert Stone visually evoked, for a novel cover, his admiration of Melville’s genius  by borrowing one of Rockwell Kent’s iconic woodcuts for “Moby-Dick,” 1930 Random House edition. Amazon

And yet, for that ostensibly broad contextualizing perspective, his focus was always very specific in story and characters, whom he often prodded to evaluate America and pose questions about it and, by extension, humanity. 3

He first really caught my attention with his novel A Flag for Sunrise, nominally echoing Hemingway, which set an American anthropologist Frank Holliwell in Central America during the same era the U.S. was politically ensnared in the revolutionary chaos of that region. Local corruption interfaces with the religious, as Holliwell helps protect a Catholic mission from bad federales, he falls in impossible love with a missionary nun. His dilemmas, which include previously having been morally compromised in Vietnam, resound metaphorically with America’s.

Stone’s most ambitious novel, Damascus Gate, mirrors in prose, Melville’s epic storytelling poem Clarel – both describing pilgrimage-like trips to The Holy Land by Americans, among others. That setting allows for powerful moral situations and conundrums, as well as plenty of human drama and suspense, set in the bloody dust of Jerusalem.

“Varieties of religious experience for the millennium,” wrote author Frank Conroy of the novel. “By turns scary, funny, and deeply moving. Prose at such a high pitch it sometimes seems hallucinatory. Stone is a genius.”

Accordingly, in the nonfiction essays of The Eye You See With, Stone addresses, sometimes at a very personal level, the dichotomies and contradictions of patriotism, and of religion, while scoring its relevance. His eyes and mind are flung wide open hearing jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s spiritual fire.

He wrote prophetically in the mid-’80s that we should resist the facile “Great America” rhetoric, which has echoed from Reagan to Trump, because the nation has betrayed its own ideals so often.

Stone the reporter underscores this hypocrisy when he does door-to-door census polling in the slums of New Orleans, in the extravagant shadows of the Superdome, which supplanted an African-American neighborhood. One black family is grappling, it slowly dawns on him, with a dying family member. Yet with a calm grace they allow him in their front door for census questions. This family is about to become less, by one. Stone reflects: “Had this been a white, middle-class household, I would never have been allowed past the door… I would never have dreamed of entering a sick room, approaching a deathbed, asking cold, irrelevant questions of people who had come  to mourn and pray. What has happened here is entirely determined by the politics of race and class – how blinding it can be, how dehumanizing, how denying of basic human dignity.” 4

In “A Higher Horror of Whiteness,” an essay originally published in Harper’s, Stone also hitches up to Melville’s uncannily “prophetic” insights from the mid-19th century, on the mysterious qualities of “whiteness.”

Stone’s chapter, from 1986, draws deeply from Melville’s famous “Whiteness of the Whale” chapter in Moby-Dick, in contemplating the insidious powers and qualities of cocaine, not just it’s inherent whiteness but a “metaphysical whiteness” akin to that which Melville patiently draws out the horrors of. Early in his meditation, the elder author even acknowledges, amid an extraordinarily-suspended sequence of dependent clauses, the role the “colorless color” plays in “the white man’s ideal mastership over every dusky tribe.” Yet that notion slowly dissolves in irony under the ensuing complexity of associative, cultural and instinctive forces, the haunting horrors within whiteness, which Melville expands on. Stone follows Melville quite a ways in this chapter.

So Stone and Melville resonate to the moment, in which the instinct of possessing  whiteness in oneself seems a perceptual pitfall, “so that all Deified nature absolutely paints like the harlot,” as Melville asserts, near his conclusion. This delusory effect manifest itself as an anarchist, racist, and deadly mob attack January 6 on the U.S. Capitol, led by white supremacists and Neo-Nazi Trump-followers.

Stone quotes Melville: “but not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul… And yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind…a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows – a colorless, all color of atheism from which we shrink.” 5

Updating the profoundly agnostic Melville’s context of the word “atheism,” the term takes various forms today. But the message here is the lack of faith – in pluralistic American values and democracy – which obscures those blinded by their whiteness and radicalized away from their own interests, in thrall of the demagoguery of a cult-like leader vying for totalitarian power. Or blinded, as Stone might say, by the white-bound limits of “the eye you see with.”

Many, including President Biden, have commented on the easily breached resistance to the mob by the undermanned (by Trump) Capitol police – compared to previous violent police crack-downs on peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters – as a prime example of “white privilege.” Melville, of course, created the archetypal American demagogue with Captain Ahab, who nevertheless plays out as a tortured, bedeviled hero, pursuing the truth behind “the pasteboard mask.” By comparison, Trump, and his lying and poisonous rhetoric, play out as something quite below, perhaps clinging barnacle-like under the nation’s hull, hidden in the whiteness of the prow’s surf.

In many ways, Stone addresses American experience in these essays, which often read as travelogues, making them extremely palatable when they venture into political and philosophical discussion.

He bravely called out the military kingpins for their corrupt power warfare:

“On one (Vietnamese) hill they lost 56 men, and a general explained that Hill ‘had no military value whatsoever.’ There seemed to be a contradiction.” 6.

Nor does he slink from revisiting questionable in-country strategic calls:

“General Westmoreland was not a sophisticated man, and he appears not to have realized how gravely the cards were stacked against him. His declared tactics of search and destroy – finding and eliminating the enemy’s main force – turned to rubble in his hands.” 7

The more you read, the more you begin to understand the stony toughness of this writer, akin to, at least, the mythical Hemingway.

And Stone’s embracing of the relevance of religion reveals him unafraid to acknowledge a dark vision of God.

Cover of a book series edition Robert Stone contributed to. Amazon

The author comments:

“Because God welcomes all who give up their lives in his name. Because he will not be mocked. He wants his friends to kill his enemies. His beloved go forth to battle and leave heaps of slain.” 8

For all that, he’s also bracingly insightful about the faults of writers he admired, even with grave reservations:

Graham Greene “was tortured almost to a suicide by a grammar school mate.” This might explain Greene’s seemingly misanthropic spiritual malaise, his grieving, as a devout Catholic, of declining moral standards.

I allude to other iconic writers because Stone strikes me as a rare contemporary of our times who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them, in ambition and talent, as if they’re aligned on a schooner ship that lists and tilts our perspective on them. Stone’s meaty topics and settings are engagingly rendered, and resonant — they grab the high winds, even if they be treacherous. He pulls you in with a pop-culture subject like Hollywood, then turns it inside-out to expose a rotting underbelly, the business that eats actors alive, but also the dazzle and beauty of the art remaining, damaged and infected, spotlighting the poignance of faded artistic power and grace. The drug and psychosis-effected narcissists in his novel Children of Light seem like names on a theater marque barely visible in a misty haze of dark impressionism, weak stand-ins for themselves — and agonizingly for one actor, Lu Anne Bourgeois, who feels deeply kindred to Rosalind in As You Like It, perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest female character, whom she’s played triumphantly in the past.

Shakespearean overtones, no less.  As Melville once proclaimed, praising Hawthorne, “Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio.”  Why not? Where does artistic rarity reside? Yes, Stone not infrequently achieves a resonance in time, a spiritual aroma that lingers like a haunting. That’s partly why he is always worth pursuing again, down the road. It’s why we’re thankful for novelist Madison Smart Bell for assembling and curating this collection. 9

Stone fearlessly casts a view ahead, and reports from the portal of the mortal or moral “heart of the matter,” to evoke Greene’s metaphorical courage and ambition.

But Stone was his own man, resembling, in words at least, the beautiful and sui generis human form the genius sculptor untombs with his chisel.

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1. Also worth reading is previous non-fiction by Stone, the memoir, Prime Green, Remembering the ’60s, P.S. Paperbacks

2. Madison Smart Bell, Introduction to The Eye You See With by Robert Stone. HMH, xxi

3. Stone’s National Book Award-winning novel Dog Soldiers takes aim at America’s greatest foreign policy folly to date, The Vietnam War, and was adapted into a 1978 film, Who’ll Stop the Rain, starring Nick Nolte. 

4. Stone, “Keeping the Future at Bay,” The Eye You See With,  179

5.. Stone, “A Higher Horror of Whiteness,” The Eye, 209

6. Stone “A Mistake Ten Thousand Miles Long,” The Eye, 41-42

7. Stone, “Out of a Clear Blue Sky,” The Eye, 104

8. Stone, Images of War (The Vietnam Experience), 104

9. Bell is also the author of Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone, Doubleday 2020.

 

McCoy Tyner, another jazz giant passes, flying with the wind

McCoy Tyner (1938-2020) Photo by Marc Norberg DownBeat

McCoy Tyner’s Quartet performs an extended piece first documented on the live recording “Enlightenment,” with Tyner on piano, Azar Lawrence on saxophone, Juney Booth on bass and Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Courtesy the Jazz Video Guy.

Autumn comes sooner every year, and old man winter howls right ’round the corner. But no, I’m talking now more about the chill down my back and the shudder of a kind of love lost. I’m talking about feeling distraught because I’ve lost more than just a kind of friend. We also lost a god. As well as I knew this artist, I could never touch him, even if I once shook his hand. I’m talking about the titantic pianist McCoy Tyner, who passed away Friday, March 6 at the age of 81.

On the other hand, I recall vividly being a Chicago nightclub, where he kindly autographed an album of mine, Sahara, one of the very few times in my journalistic career when I succumbed to the need for some idolizing. I also recall him letting the Milwaukee guitarist Jack Grassel sit in with his band at another Chicago club, from his generous sense that earnest Jack could really play, which he really could, even if McCoy had never heard him.

I call him a friend not because it was mutual, only because I knew him like the back of my hand.

I call him a god because I dearly recall him playing the piano with his uncanny authority and beauty. I always return to one night, when I first heard McCoy break through nocturne into thundering infinity.

I was in college, still living at home, and cocooned in my third-floor bedroom, listening to “The Dark Side,” the all-night radio program of legendary Milwaukee jazz disk jockey Ron Cuzner. Laying on my bed, I felt something in my chest and heart, a swelling that felt the closest I knew to levitation. My small table radio seemed magnified as well. The music was Tyner’s “Ebony Queen,” from his extraordinary new 1972 album Sahara. A stirring, declamatory rhythmic melody rang forth from his piano, and explosive chords erupted from the depths, as his right hand showered sinuous lines of cascading energy, urgency and passion. Soprano saxophonist Sonny Fortune echoed it and added his own bracing solo.

I had never heard anything like this from a piano, such vaulting power and sternly gorgeous soaring, the stuff of eagles on the high seas of atmosphere. Drummer Alphonze Mouzon drove a highly athletic style that fit perfectly, as did bassist Calvin Hill.

McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane Facebook.com

And I was all the more astonished because I knew Tyner well, from his years with the classic John Coltrane Quartet. He’d been brilliant before, but not dueling with titans on their own turf. Of course, Coltrane was a titan but you always knew he was The One. Now his intensely humble pianist was, as well. He had also been an innovator in his adoption of the eastern modal style but also built on his use of the interval of  fourth, all of which set him apart, and had pianists copping him like mad.

“A Prayer for My Family” revealed his long affinity for majestic lyricism. And “Valley of Life” showed him an Eastern searcher, by playing the koto, a Japanese folk string instrument, along with Fortune’s lovely flute.

Sahara‘s centerpiece is the 23-minute title tune — more expansive, eloquent and dynamically ranging, with more head-spinning piano pyrotechnics, a monstrously thunderous left hand, a broad impression of the vast African desert, a world unto itself. Not only had Tyner clearly wood-shedded like a fiend, he now seem endowed with near superhuman powers, extending to his compositions.

When I bought Sahara, my respect for Tyner increased further, because of the understated beauty of the cover. He sat on a wooden box in the middle of a junkyard with an overcast cityscape, holding the Japanese koto in his lap.

Critical praise followed, a Grammy nomination and five stars from Down Beat magazine. There, Michael Bourne raved, “An awesome and visionary artist…’Sahara’ is brilliant… (and Tyner is) one of the most-deserving-to-be-experienced creators in America.”

Yes he’d changed the cultural landscape, and many triumphs would follow, the similar glories of Sama Layuca, and Song for My Lady, the jazz orchestra album Song for the New World, and the muscular exhilaration of the double album Enlightenment, which captured a live quartet concert with imposing power.

He even managed commercial success with the title tune of an album with sap-free string arrangements, Fly with the Wind. Big band and Latin albums would follow and impressive small-combo albums, like the 2-CD all-star Supertrios, and a variety of bands with many artists where he often demonstrated his ability to swing like a mother.

Tyner’s “with-strings” album “Fly With the Wind,” a commercial success. Courtesy dusty groove.

I saw Tyner variously, the early Chicago nightclub dates, and at The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, where I was so impressed I penned these words in my introduction to the anthology of press coverage for that important Midwestern jazz venue:

“It felt like an intelligent life-force carrying meaningful form, beauty, drama, wit, and mystery. At times the effect challenged my mind and emotions; other times the music exhilarated me.”

I also added that, in a June 1981 interview before his first Milwaukee club date since the 1960s, he told me, “It’s a good feeling to know you contributed something to the world. I’ve had guys back from Vietnam come up to me and say, ‘you helped me through the war.’ Others say,’ you helped me make it through college.’ ” That had to do with the musical and spiritual power of McCoy’s music, and of many who played at the Gallery.

I’ll also cherish a quintet concert in Madison, and a memorable Tyner big band concert at the Chicago Jazz Festival. Here I had a chance to photograph him, and captured visually some of his passion and quiet geniality, (see accompanying photos)

McCoy Tyner at the 2003 Chicago Jazz Festival, leading and conducting his big band which included, in the bottom photo, lead tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, (far left). All fest photos by Kevin Lynch

It was a great period for modern, straight-head jazz, even though the art form struggled during the disco era and always with the commercial dominance of rock. But it retains its artistic power and cultural authenticity with artists like Tyner, and deeply influenced many musical forms, including rock, and became more than ever an international world music.

Yet we also witnessed Tyner’s inevitable physical decline, which revealed his humanity all the more.

So this news was hardly a shock, though powerfully saddening. Of course, we’ll always have the music. What a blessing and inspiration.

It’s also a splendid feeling, how much easier it is to imagine McCoy Tyner flying with the wind.

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Joe Henderson’s brilliant album “In ‘N Out” will come alive at the Jazz Estate Saturday

Album cover image courtesy of copertinedvd.org

Anybody who loves, or wants to hear more of, the music that Blue Note records presented through the mid-1960s – as bold extensions of hard bop and more avant-garde freedoms – should pay heed of an event happening at 8 p.m. this Saturday at The Jazz Estate on Murray Avenue in Milwaukee ($13 cover).
A strong and fearless quintet will perform live music from one of saxophonist-composer Joe Henderson’s greatest albums, In N’ Out, recorded on April 10, 1964. 

The Jazz Estate’s curator/booker, trumpeter Eric Jacobson, will lead the band. He’s among the region’s two or three best trumpeters, and is chair of brass and woodwinds department in The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s jazz studies program. Jacobson has curated Record Session, which has presented live an impressive list of music from classic recordings, by ensembles he puts together for several years at The Estate. It’s a fascinating project for any jazz fan who came of age in the 1960s, or has since discovered the decade’s music, a period rich in classic jazz modernism and innovation.

Trumpeter Eric Jacobson, who organizes the Record Session series at the Jazz Estate, will lead a quintet Saturday performing compositions from Joe Henderson’s 1964 album  “In ‘N Out” and other classic albums of his. Courtesy Eric Jacobson facebook page.

The band also includes saxophonist Jason Goldsmith, pianist Mike Kubicki, bassist Jeff Hamann, and drummer Todd Howell. Goldsmith has a big task obviously, but is a highly accomplished musician who teaches saxophone at the West End Conservatory, and has performed with leading jazz musicians, including Ernie Watts, Ed Shaughnessy, James Moody and Slide Hampton.

Jacobson has not revealed the exact playlist but indicated that material from In ‘N Out will be a jumping-off point for a survey of Henderson compositions from various other albums, including Page One, Mode for Joe, Inner Urge and Power to the People. Those were all Blue Note albums. except for the last one, recorded on Milestone as the 1960s cultural Revolution gained power. 1

Here’s a brief Facebook teaser video for the event from Jacobson:

A ghost will shadow the bandstand. Henderson actually performed at The Jazz Estate some years ago, when I was not living in Milwaukee, unfortunately. Although he could play with startling and moving passion, his intelligence always guided his horn’s voice, even at quicksilver tempos. You could really hear the man thinking when he improvised, as logical as it was sometimes startling, ear grabbing and, not infrequently, beautiful.

Joe Henderson, in 1996, as a mature master of modern saxophone and jazz composition. Courtesy janperssoncollection.dk

As In ‘N Out is at the nominal inspiration for this project, I’d like to give you my take on it, as a Blue Note and Joe Henderson classic.

First, as a visual artist, I must note the album cover itself (see top), one of the best examples of Blue Note’s striking, even arresting, trademark graphic art style. Here we see Henderson’s head comprising the dot of the “i” in the title. And the graphic merges the idea of “in” and “out” with a brilliant downward sweep of the second letter of “in”. It conveys superbly, with the arrows, the churning, forward-pushing energy and sharp intellect of this music. As a total image, the album cover title asserts its own sort of muscular beauty. (Graphic artist Reid Miles knew this was a winner, as he signed the design. Look closely for it.) 2

But before a comment on the music specifically, I’ll say that it’s generally understood that the title referred to the musicians striving for a blend of both “inside” playing, which largely adheres to a tune’s chord changes, and playing “outside,” or in a manner free from characteristic bop type changes. The latter realm is something that pianist McCoy Tyner especially facilitates, along with the extraordinarily gifted bassist Richard Davis. Tyner by then had mastered the modal style of jazz that is regular bandleader John Coltrane played.

Modal jazz is influenced by Indian classical music and Coltrane especially used it to flying free of sometimes-constricting complexities of modern jazz changes, which he himself exemplified in his classic tune “Giant Steps.” This recording’s drummer Elvin Jones, also an innovative bandmate of Coltrane’s, frees up the music rhythmically, with his uncanny polyrhythmic style, while still maintaining powerful and swinging tempos.

Now, as for that extraordinary title tune which begins in the album. The head of “In ‘N Out” starts with an off-kilter but captivating phrase, almost as if Henderson is hovering at the fork in the road between going in or out. It then bursts (out/into) a very fast bebopish line that has the intervallic and harmonic nuances that were distinctive and peculiar to Joe Henderson.

The ensuing soloists absolutely burn – Henderson on tenor, pianist McCoy Tyner at the peak of his powers with a cascading solo rippling with his own harmonic innovation of fourth intervals. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham, a naturally lyrical player, slows the tempo for a few moments, then jumps into the speeding vehicle himself, and finally Henderson returns for a very witty closing solo. The tune is breathtaking and whizzes by at 10 minutes and 22 seconds.

It is as if the whole band has taken both forks in the road, in and out, touching down on each and yet flying over them with ever-expanding wings.

I won’t really review the whole album as such, but I will say concisely that the ensuing “Punjab” is also an intriguing tune, but a more spacious and lyrical side of Joe Henderson, which continues on the third tune, “Serenity.” The album shifts to a few hard bop-ish pieces, “Short Story” and “Brown’s Town” both ingenious in her own ways and composed by the date’s trumpeter Kenny Dorham, a greatly under-appreciated musician of the post-bop/hard bop era. “Short Story” is a descending line with a few stately extensions and twists, just like a good short story. And Dorham himself proceeds with an extremely musical and compelling solo.

I’ll conclude by noting that, in ways, this remains an underappreciated album. A few years ago, I chose the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco as a destination for a desire to take a westward road trip. Specifically we made the big drive to hear the SFJAZZ Collective perform a couple of concerts which would become a recording of Joe Henderson compositions (and originals). Curiously, this world-class ensemble did not perform oe record any of this album’s tunes, though I didn’t hear their third evening of Henderson music, and he was a fairly prolific composer.

Late in his career, Henderson recorded several magisterial albums for Verve records which gained him great popularity and acclaim, as arguably our greatest living tenor saxophonist. He died at 64 on June 30th of 2001 in San Francisco, his home during most of his career, of heart failure, after a long battle with emphysema.

So for me, and I hope many others, Saturday will be a rare opportunity to hear superb Joe Henderson music live, pretty close to the way he recorded it.

The ghost will be listening too, and hopefully nodding with a smile of approval.

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  1. Eric Jacobson, a highly accomplished but honest musician, says that the band will do all the compositions from In ‘N Out, except the title tune which, he says, they didn’t have time enough to rehearse. As my description of the tune might suggest, it is a technical as well as artistic challenge to master. “But there’s so many great tunes of Joe’s that I want to play, so it’ll be a fun night,” Jacobson says.
  2. The album cover design compromises function for form in one respect. Pianist McCoy Tyner’s name is reduced to an “etc.” because Reid Miles didn’t have enough room in this layout for his name. Great as he was already, Tyner still had the smallest reputation amongst these musicians. His breakout Blue Note album as a leader, The Real McCoy – with Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones as sidemen – wouldn’t be released until April, 1967, three years later.