Neal Chandek is gone. May his trumpet bellow from the heavens, and shake our souls with his power.


May be an image of 1 person, beard, eyeglasses and indoor

J6anuar0Syn968 29 5soiat 1l51dg77:432 AMl

Shared with Facebook Public

Public
January 29, 2022, 11:45 a.m.
Had a marvelous, stimulating nearly 3-hour visit yesterday with my old friend (and former upstairs duplex neighbor), jazz musician Neal Chandek, who is in St. Mary’s hospital with a bad respiratory condition. He’s one of the most vibrant, knowledgeable and intelligent persons I know, and was in top form yesterday, aside from still being very dependent on induced oxygen, which he’ll need to continue with when he leaves. Thankfully now, he can periodically remove the full face mask to visit with friends (see photo). So please do so, he craves company.
***
“Descanse en Paz Amigo RIP” — guitarist Javier Mendez, in a farewell message to Neal Chandek
This death is devastating for me, the first personal friend of mine to die of complications of Covid. But I can only imagine what it means for the fellow musicians who were closest to him, and to family members.
Neal Chandek once dwelled near the heart of a booming Milwaukee jazz subculture, then for too long, in the shadows of even modest personal success – ever vital, yet a poor man in earthly goods. I suspect he even went hungry too often  And yet, what comes to mind is a quote from a film he might’ve “died for,” Babette’s Feast – “An artist is never poor.”
The notion serves up as mostly cold comfort to me today and yet, deep down, in the vast and sprawling feast-and-famine of life, I feel the warmth of this man’s heart, and the radiant energy of his creative intellect, and hunger for knowledge, beauty, and truth.
Yes, my still-warm and even pulsing memories of him center upon that wonderful afternoon in late January. This deeply-stricken keyboardist and somewhat-forgotten trumpeter had asked me to visit him, and to lend him a book, a biography or autobiography, he said, to immerse himself in, I think. to assuage, and perhaps find meaning for, his suffering.
So, I lent him my copy of Miles Davis, a biography by Ian Carr, a noted British jazz writer and trumpeter. Yet, when I spoke to him for the last time, by phone a few days later, sadly, this voracious reader and maven of jazz and history, could only tell me to come retrieve the book. He feared it might get lost when he is soon transferred. I never made it back in time.
I think he was also pondering a lifetime, his own, and perhaps how it might take the form of a biography, even if it is never quite written. But I hope it is inscribed somehow, on the stone beneath which he might lie, or in the wind of his ashes, even if only a musical sequence of dark marks dancing in the currents that eventually carry him to a higher ground.
My mind traces him with such a notion because, among the remarkable things we touched upon in that deeply-gratifying last conversation – mostly driven by his own desperate need to seize the day, a rare heathy one – was of a higher power.
As we talked, he delved into a profound justification for such a truth, by deftly exposing what he saw as the castle-on-a-cloud constructions of certain neo-atheist theorists, like Richard Dawkins.
I can’t do justice to how surgically he stitched together the underlying truth, as so much is implicitly understood, even hermetically sealed, yet so righteous, a perfectly resolved harmony of the spheres. His thoughts aligned beautifully with that which I carry within me, as a sort of spiritual ballast. I explained to him, I’m an agnostic who spends an inordinate amount of time searching, believing in something, even in the unprovable, which often seems to me so manifest that even The Greatest Silence resounds wordless in The Song of the Wind.
This admission of mine came as a great relief to him as, for some reason, he assumed I was an atheist. I now hang onto this harmonized exchange as a small reward of solace we shared, for him most preciously – for most persons encounter fears of the empirically unknown, while beginning to face mortality’s cruel countdown.
He also urged me to read the great lay theologian C.S. Lewis, who seemed a touchsone for Neal, and I plan on it, probably his Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain, for starters, as I’ve read more about Lewis than his actual work, except as a adolescent, the children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I also will follow his urging to see the apparently extraordinary Nazi-era film Mephisto, an adaptation of the story of Doctor Faustus. And if I feel up to it, a book called Military Justice is to Justice what Military Music is to Music, a book by Robert Sherrill, with a title employing a Groucho Marx quote.
In those final 40-plus hospital-imprisoned days, the two-headed monster of COVID-19 and COPD pneumonia seared and ravaged his lungs. His pain and angst grew, until finally he could only reach out through social media with beckoning for prayers, the most genuine anyone could muster:
Neal Chandek Facebook Feb. 10, 11:52 a.m.
“Well, here I sit/lay. 34th day at St.Mary’s Hospital. Covid has scarred my lungs so badly that my body won’t absorb any oxygen. They’re not optimistic. I need your prayers. REAL PRAYERS!
READ MATTHEW 6/5 and you’ll know what I mean.”
Here’s Matthew 6/5 and 6/6, from The King James version:
6:5 And when thou prayest though shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
May be an image of hospital
You, Jill Jensen, Kaye Berigan and 197 others
210 Comments
1 Share
Care
Doubters, especially now, may reasonably question whether those “secret prayers” were “rewarded.” For sure, Neal clearly loved and cherished life, as a song in the wind he needed to draw from as long as possible. Might some measure of faith allow us to surmise that, by invoking the sacred Biblical wisdoms, Neal began gulping in a long breath of grace? Something to bellow his spirit upwards, and beyond?
The bellow would be the baying of his own trumpet, too-long forsaken, but essential to the musician he was.
Neal Chandek (right, on trumpet) with Bembe Orchestra, at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Rainbow Summer, 1994. Pictured also, Alan Johnson, (left, on trumpet), Carlos Eguis Aguila, (center, on Bata drum – Okonkolo). Photo by Pat A Robinson.
I am deeply grateful that many friends have already honored him with spiritual salutations of many sorts on his Facebook page. In his last days, he surely had joyous memories of his 60th birthday celebration at Transfer Pizzeria Cafe, where a fulsome variety of friends, fans and well-wishers gathered that evening to hear him play with the Transfer Pizzeria Band, which he led there for more than a decade.
My oldest memories of Neal are of far-more-distant happy days in Milwaukee, when he lived upstairs from me on Astor Street, with fellow musician John Foshager. This was the mid-1980s, when I was covering jazz for The Milwaukee Journal, and he was playing piano and trumpet with La Chazz. That was a marvelous Latin-jazz group led by guitarist Toty Ramos. So Neal and I hit it off, with common interests extending even beyond the grand cavalcade of music of The African Diaspora.
I find it significant that, in the photo below of La Chazz, the band is gathered around a grand piano. That’s the instrument that Neal (second from left, in the photo) played and, as his very first Facebook honorific writer, Michael Reyes, recalls, Neil the pianist “could play a solid montuno, (and) he would often double on trumpet in the same ensemble.”
Image of La Chazz Courtesy of Cecil Negron Sr.
I’ll continue with a copy of Michael’s excellent memorial tribute to Neal:
Michael Reyes 
Facebook 
Tuesday, February 15, 5:42 p.m. 
A monumental figure in the history of Milwaukee’s jazz scene has left us today at age 66. Neal Chandek was a trumpeter, pianist, arranger, educator, historian and provocative devotee of jazz, blues, latin jazz, salsa, son, rumba and beyond. Neal’s work with the groundbreaking Wisconsin-based supergroup “La Chazz” was nothing short of inspirational. A pianist, who could play a solid montuno, he would often double on trumpet in the same ensemble.
He dedicated his life to the music he loved. An alumnus of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Neal was part of a contemporary group of virtuoso musicians that included Jeff Pietrangelo (trumpet legend), Brian Lynch, David Hazeltine, Jeff Chambers, Carl Allen, Toty Ramos, Cecil Negron, Walter “Wally” Robles, Albert Rivera, Jerry Grillo, Dennis Fermenich, Bill Martin and many others.
Neal’s commitment to music was 24/7. He would practice, teach, study, perform, rehearse and then read and reflect and meditate on music as much as his mind and body would physically allow him. He loved music of the African Diaspora as well as European Classical Music.
During the late ’70’s through the ‘80’s , Neal would often invite musicians to his home for after-hours listening parties (and jam sessions) that would extend past sunrise. Neal’s former room-mate, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch, composed and recorded a song entitled “Chandek’s Den” in 1989 memorializing those moments on his album “Backroom Blues” (Criss Cross Jazz 1042CD). Legendary Drummer Art Blakey also included “Chandek’s Den” in his final album “Chippin In” (Timeless) in 1990.
After a period of wide ranging musical freelancing, he started to give lessons on a larger scale. Thanks to musician and business owner Russell Rossetto, Neal began to enjoy the blessing of a steady weekly gig as leader of the Neal Chandek Trio at Milwaukee’s Transfer Pizzeria.
There he would hold court before excited audiences who often were treated to special musical guests who would sit in. Some of those guests included members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as well as local, regional and national musicians who would stop by to say hi. Neal also invited young students to sit in to get experience.
Condolences to Neal’s sister Jane Prentice and her family. Sympathies go out to all of Neal’s friends, family, students, bandmates and loved ones.
Farewell Big Brother Neal Chandek RIP (b. 6-30-1955 d. 2-15-2022)
Neal Chandek. Photo by Leiko Napoli
I’ll conclude with a few final thoughts on Neal the man, the artist, and the jazz communitarian, partly inspired by this delightful photo (above) of Neal by noted Milwaukee jazz photographer Leiko Napoli. I think she captures the mature Neal Chandek’s personality as well as any photo that I’ve seen.
The man had a huge heart and a huge mind. The heart I hope to characterize by one more anecdote of my last visit with him on January 29. He was talking very hopefully and boldly as we were discussing common interests. He discovered that I, like him, am a golfer, and we compared notes on local golf courses and agreed that we should play a round as soon as the weather permitted. How much of this was wishful thinking, I wondered, given his state of possibly a chronic deficiency of oxygen, if somehow his lungs could recover. I had heard he was even a candidate for a lung transplant.
Another subject he brought up was gospel music, and he asked if I would be interested in going to a church service with a powerful gospel choir. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I enthusiastically said yes. As it is, perhaps I will hear a gospel choir some time which will bring me a little closer to Neal, and what I fancy to be his archangel’s trumpet.
And then, as we were talking about gospel singing he let loose with a few bars of resounding gospel-like soul singing of his own. I’ve heard a recording of him singing “Georgia on My Mind.” So I knew what he could do with his voice, but I was stunned that he could even belt out a few bars in his oxygen-compromised condition.
Yes, he was a little larger-than-life nearing death, on that afternoon. As the photo above suggests, he had an impish wit and intellect.
He could discourse on any number of subjects of historical or cultural significance. Sometimes, when he was really cooking, his flow of ideas and opinions could get a bit overbearing. But I think he was conscious of that, and during our conversation he frequently pulled himself back, to hear my response. I, of course, wanted to feed him all the intellectual oxygen he could ingest, to transform into golden moments of give-and-take.
I have one last anecdote about Neal, the jazz-jam maestro, which is part of my forthcoming (I swear!) book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy. I will save it for the publication of the book. Neal knows the story very well, and it demonstrates how his ability to connect with, and gather, musicians extended to some of the most celebrated jazz players who ever visited Milwaukee in the 1980s and early-1990s, a heyday of jazz in this city.
Descanse en Paz Amigo RIP.
____________

With your blogger’s Hornet as “local color,” “The Blues Brothers” is named to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Jake Blues ( Dan Aykroyd) and Elwood Blues (John Belushi) with their now-iconic Bluesmobile in thew promotional poster the movie “The Blues Brothers.” Courtesy hourz.com

History rewind to early 1980:

I was driving east on Milwaukee I-94, heading home after my slightly nerve-wracking part-time job as a school bus driver (a job to augment free-lancing for The Milwaukee Journal). It was always stressful, yet gratifying, having other people’s precious children in your hands, to deliver them safely to school, or home (even the obligatory brat-distraction every few rides).

My nose had just rid itself of the funky Red Star Yeast smell ever-permeating the 16th street overpass (back then). So, as I now enjoyed the sunny afternoon and approaching lakefront, I noticed a car, with smoke billowing from its hood, speeding down the still-under-construction Lakefront Freeway, which had gone so long uncompleted, it was dubbed “the freeway to nowhere.”  Another car followed in hot pursuit.

My God, I thought instantly, two cars headed for the end of the unfinished freeway segment which leads to pure, thin air, high above the lakefront !

In the next moment, I noticed a mobile film camera unit following the cars. Crazy, man!

Then I recalled the news that director John Landis had brought the production company, for his forthcoming big-budget comedy The Blues Brothers, up to Milwaukee from Chicago, where all of the film is ostensibly set, and shot. However, for a climactic chase scene, Landis needed an elevated freeway that ended in pure nothingness, and Milwaukee had it.

Having by chance seen this bit of filming in person, I looked forward to the movie, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which turned out to be one of the zaniest and most brilliant car-chase comedies since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Plus, it was a hip sort of roots musical, with one of the greatest arrays of musical talent ever performing in a scripted film.

And now, The Blues Brothers has received one of the ultimate formal recognitions, having been inducted into the 2021 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (I didn’t know about this until my sister Sheila Lynch emailed me yesterday with the news.).

There’s no question it’s a great comedy (at times over the top, of car after crashing car) worthy of the registry, and absolutely bursting with stirring blues, soul and gospel music by such legendary onscreen performers, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Chaka Kahn, and the Blues Brothers’ (Belushi and Aykroyd) own rhythm section, comprising the great studio musicians best known collectively as the MGs, as in Booker T and the MGs. The movie’s soundtrack is a classic of that those genres of recorded music.

Here’s a video clip from Aretha’s knock-out performance of “Think” in the film, where she plays an under-appreciated, overworked waitress at a cafe the boys stop at for lunch.

The bros also commiserate with one of the mightiest of soul brothers, Ray Charles (That’s what I said!). Courtesy IMDb

Jake and Elwood Blues do a rave-up with, among others, legendary R&B guitarist Steve Cropper (white long-sleeve shirt, in background) Courtesy https://oneroomwithaview.wordpress.com 1

And it’s got a very redeeming storyline (with a script co-written by Akyroyd and Landis)  in which paroled convict Jake and his blood brother Elwood, set out on “a mission from God” to save from foreclosure the Roman Catholic orphanage in which they were raised. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band— all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.

During the high-speed chase from a battalion of cop cars, on Wacker Drive with its numerous buttress I-beams under the Chicago “L,” with the Bluesmobile surging up to 120 mph (according to their speedometer), the brothers still find a moment of cultural acknowledgement.

“Up ahead is the Honorable Richard G. Daley Plaza,” driver Jake announces.

“Isn’t that Picasso there?” Elwood asks (referencing Picasso’s untitled monumental sculpture, known as “Chicago Picasso”) .

“Yep.”

Here’s the Library of Congress announcement of the 25 new films inducted for 2021: https://blogs.loc.gov/now-see-hear/2020/12/library-of-congresses-announced-25-new-films-for-the-national-film-registry/

The brothers journey actually begins the night before — or in the wee hours of the morning (the film’s timeline isn’t exactly bulletproof) somewhere in Northern Illinois, where Jake and Elwood begin their quest to transport the money they’ve raised to save their childhood orphanage to Chicago City Hall in their decommissioned cop car with the famous line: “There’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

When I saw the film in the movie theater, I enjoyed it immensely and near the end, came the final freeway chase scene between The Blues Brothers and another even more nefarious foe, Neo-Nazis, led by the comic actor Henry Gibson. Then, in an editing flash, I recognized the Milwaukee interchange and skyline, as the chase’s backdrop.

In this stunt scene from “The Blues Brothers,” the Bluesmobile flies over another car in a scene, I believe, from the segment filmed in in Milwaukee. Courtesy Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock. 

Sure enough, they’d used that segment in the film. Then, in one scene of the chase I noticed, in the background, a small white car following slowly behind, off to the right. I squinted, blinked my eyes, and then exclaimed right in the theater, “That’s my car!”

Several annoyed moviegoers turned to glare at me. But sure enough, it was me driving my white AMC Hornet with its bent-up front bumper (from an accident shortly after I bought it from Big Bills used car lot on Center and Fond du Lac Avenue). I’d never dreamed my car would be in a scene.

So, The Hornet and I had become “local color” in The Blues Brothers, even if only mainly white, with some rust highlights and a crooked chrome bumper.

In this clip (below) from that final scene, my Hornet is clearly visible for several seconds at the 1:20 mark, puttering along on the other side of traffic cones, as the Blues Brothers’ stolen cop car continues its epic flight scene from the Neo-Nazis.

The scene, by the way, has a priceless throwaway line – from one Nazi to the other –  that seems like an oblique homage to Joe E. Brown’s classic closing line from another great comedy, Some Like it Hot.

 If you freeze the frame at 1:24, and look closely, you might even make out my smashed-in front bumper (with the chrome bumper pushed up above the white body frame on the left side, as the photo of my car below shows)

The Blues Brothers vehicle, the so-called Bluesmobile, is seen in the movie poster photo at top with Jake and Elwood. The stolen cop car, a souped-up 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan, was chosen as one of the most iconic cars in movie history by GQ magazine.  2

So, in my small world, my little old AMC Hornet has become just a wee bit iconic, I daresay. The jalopy was a 3-speed stick shift on the column, and fun to drive. Here’s a photo of my “famous”‘ rust-bucket shortly before I traded it in for another used car, which would have another historic story attached to it, a tale for another time.

Kevin with his (iconic? or I comic?) AMC Hornet on the day he traded it in for a little red tin can called a Ford Fiesta. 

_______

1 This is actually a shot of the Blues Brothers performing on Saturday Night Live, the “brothers” genesis as well-known co-comedians. Most of the performance stills of the band from the movie are from the other side of a chain-link fence and poorly discernible. The fence was erected because the band was playing a warm-up gig in a country music bar, with a really tough crowd, before their successful big fundraising concert.

2 GQ commented, “The Bluesmobile makes the (most iconic movie cars) list not just because it was a cool car driven by cool dudes doing cool stunts, but because of the chaos left in its wake. The cars were so battered by all the stunts and crashes that there was a 24-hour body shop on set. By the end of the filming, 103 cars had been trashed, a record for any film, right up until a total of 104 was reached… by the sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.”

 

 

Marvin Hill toiled artfully through life, with visionary wit, and knowledge of darkness, on a path to the other side

Wendy and Marvin Hill. Courtesy Wendy Carroll Hill

He’s been gone since 2003, but Marvin Hill is hardly forgotten. My home brims with his wondrous and witty linoleum-block prints. And just as his memorial postcard (see below) was graced with his self-description as “a very lucky man,” I feel blessed as well, with his art and for having known him. I don’t know when exactly Marvin made that self-portrait, but I suspect it was near the end of his life. He seemed like the sort who appreciated his time on this planet, and knew that he had left a rich legacy, filled with hundreds of pathways into his imagination, each adventure returned as a sharply-honed visual story of wonder, humor and mystery.

He died on this day, December Second, in 2003, of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at 51. His widow, Wendy Hill, who did most of the hand-coloring for his prints, sent out the above postcard in June of 2005, to announce a Marvin Hill booth at Art Fair On the Square. As if nothing had changed, except that angelic tribute to Marvin’s life, talent and spirit. .

He was a sweet, but droll man, with a vibrant creative fire. I once visited his rural studio, slightly pungent with the smell of printer’s ink, and it seemed alive with a slightly cock-eyed aura of artistic affirmation. His artwork was popular, yet idiosyncratic and personal, never pandering. He was always one of the most interesting artists at any art fair he exhibited at, and he was duly feted when chosen as The Featured Artist, for the 1999 Art Fair on the Square in Madison. He designed the official T-shirt for that year’s fair, which he autographed for me and I still have it. Hill exhibited widely at fairs and galleries, and won national awards for his work. 1

Though he once lived on the same street in Milwaukee I now live on, he and Wendy ended up in Johnson Creek, halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, and Madison seemed his strongest market.

I wrote an appreciation of him when he died, for The Capital Times in Madison, and I’ll share some of my thoughts from that time:
“Marvin Hill pulled you into his world with art that could be otherworldly, or as comfortable as a pair of old slippers. The pair you slip on after an especially vivid dream, or to sit down with the book that has you under its spell. Books and dreams were Marvin’s milieu.

Or he got you with his warm, twinkling smile, and his passion for art, stories and life –  in a dimension behind the door unlocked with ‘the key of imagination.’ His art was “The Twilight Zone” captured in a frame. Marvin lived the life of the mind, expanded, printed and hand colored.

His art could challenge you but it was hard to resist. He made inexpensive linoleum block prints, one of the most unpretentious of art forms. Yet Marvin took quantum leaps with this medium….

“Marvin’s style blended noir-ish German Expressionism with an utterly American sense of possibility. Space, time and gravity expanded and contracted. He sensed the chaos theory hidden just beneath the dusty surface of ordinary life.”

“‘He was fully formed intellectually when I met him when he was 21’, says Madison artist and cartoonist P.S. Mueller, who says he and Hill ‘starved together’ as street people in Carbondale, Illinois.

.” ‘But he never used drugs, ever. He always said, ‘I don’t use drugs, they interfere with my hallucinations.’ ” 2

That’s how funny and delightfully outre the guy could be.

Now, I will share some images of Marvin Hill art, with commentary.

He only made one print of my personal favorite among those I own (see his edition designation, “1/1” or “one of one” beside the title). This (and three Hill “artist’s proofs” I own — a test print marked “A/P” he sold inexpensively and may or may not have run an edition of) also confirmed to me a closeness in our aesthetic and literary sensibilities.  They were sort of personal favorites that he made for himself, yet still offered to for sale. So they the A/P’s too might be one-of-a-kind Marvin Hills.

My favorite among these is also the smallest single image I ever saw him produce. It is titled  “Fritz Lang walks His Dog” and I post an enlarged version for you to appreciate. Now, shrink it in your mind: The actual image is only 3/4 of an inch by 2 and 2/5th inches!

The enlargement allows you to see the image, but remember, enlarging also roughens its craftmanship. Hill wasn’t obsessive about razor-sharp technique, but his chops constantly served his quirky genius in perfect simpatico, perhaps like the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, at times a bit scraggly, but that enhanced the art’s peculiar, funky beauty.

The squinty size of “Fritz Lang” is a “big” part of the piece’s brilliance. It’s like a secret portal into his imaginative world, and into how his conception and style manifested themselves. The idea of movie director Lang and his dog recalls an Alfred Hitchcock movie cameo, though this is more sly, as we see only only the projected shadows of Lang and his dog. It also carries an ominousness, as Lang’s most seminal film is M with Peter Lorre as a serial killer preying on children in Berlin in London. The 1931 film, part of the German Expressionist art movement, is pretty much the prototype for all film noir. 3.  Hitchcock arguably predates M with his 1926 fog-bound silent film The Lodger, about a London serial killer, both films likely inspired by Jack The Ripper’s legend.

But Peter Lorre’s creepy breakout performance, enhanced by his weird nasal-breathing speaking style and demonic laugh, helped give Lang’s “talkie” greater notoriety, for its shock value and aura of paranoia — and stylistically, with his more incisive cinematographic intersecting of light and shadow. Knowing all that, Marvin Hill uses his noir-ish wit to humanize the German director, while maintaining his mystique.

Another noir-ish Hill piece which was an “artist’s proof” shows how subtle his craft can be. It’s titled “Enter” (below).

“Enter,” Marvin Hill. Hand-colored linoleum block print (artist’s proof)

The figure entering the dark room is engulfed in a sort of ectoplasmic atmosphere, an effect unusual for knife-executed block-cut prints. It’s unclear whether the figure is the vulnerable one, entering the dark enclosure, or the threatening one, entrapping a frightened person hiding within. The psychological ambiguity intensifies its power. I have positioned it as as a sort of “welcome” for guests to my home, or now, to my office.

A brighter, rather comical Hill print nevertheless retains his surrealistic weirdness. Some have characterized it as “a bit goofy,” true enough, but it held a place of honor in my divorcee bachelor-flat kitchen for many years.

Marvin Hill, “Man Attacked by Green Beans,” hand-colored linoleum block print (artist’s proof). 

I love the animation of “Man Attacked by Green Beans,”  everything is flying askew (not unlike

Marvin could also celebrate serenity and domesticity, as in this elegantly framed (but still inexpensive) print, below, simply titled “e.”, as in the name of the sleeping feline in portrait.

Marvin Hill, “e.”, hand-colored linoleum block print.

Next, the Deco-styed print (below) takes us into Hill’s dream realm, and suggests his striving to connect or follow nature, to transcend the limits of gravity-bound humanity. It feels like a late-period Hill, though I think it may be the first of his I purchased, before Wendy began hand-coloring his images. His sense of time was elastic, reaching into the fates of futurity as well as backward, with symbolic ease, and wonder.

Marvin Hill, “Dream Suite # 3,” linoleum block print.

Photo of Kevin Lynch at Marvin Hill art booth at Art Fair on the Square, in Madison, by Beth Bartoszek Lynch. 

This photo (above) was taken in summer of 2005, at the first posthumous booth of Marvin Hill art at Art Fair on the Square, maintained by his widow, Wendy Carroll Hill. It shows some of his small work and some of the more ambitious work he achieved late in his life, like the stunning, large mandala-like three-dimensional print, to the right of your blogger, in this photo. The several evident circular images, to me, suggest Marvin’s expression of a holistic experience of the world, his coming to grips with where his journey beyond might take him, not into nothingness, really, but to part of a circle (reincarnation?) that will be unbroken, bye and bye, one can hope.

Yet another marvelous Hill image, which my ex-wife and I bought together, and which she now possesses, depicts a shaman in a small shack high in the mountains. It might allude to the end of his life, or beyond. His corporeal end, to any outside observer, and to Wendy, was impossibly sad. He he lost the use of his hands and arms — an artist still at the peak of his powers, which at times seemed visionary, in his humble way. There are more sad details I won’t get into here. I will recount some of Wendy’s narrative, from my 2003 Capital Times obit appreciation:

“He couldn’t take care of himself, he couldn’t walk, but he was still so positive. One day, he looked out the window and said, ‘It’s all good.’

“I said, ‘It’s all good? It sucks! ‘

” He said, ‘No, I want to know what’s going to happen, what’s on the other side.’ ” 4

Fortunately for Wendy, Hill’s work has steadily sold online in recent years, and a goodly but diminishing amount remains available online, including more ambitious works. 5 One uses the above bird-seeking “Dream Suite” image as one of multiple motifs, each dominated by a blackbird in the dazzling 3-D montage titled “Jack’s Message Dream Suite.”

Another, “Lao Tzu and Rene Descartes Engage in a Philosophical Battle,” articulates his self-expressed intellectual hunger and spiritual curiosity (image below).  It’s telling that Hill positions the ancient Chinese philosopher in the dominant dueling position. Descartes, riding a mechanical dragon, uses a book “shield” and wields a giant pointed circumference compass; while Lao, atop a “real” dragon, counters with a traditional saber and a walking stick. Mathematician, metaphysician, and philosopher Descartes is, of course, best known as the Western paragon of rationalist philosophy as a demarcation of reality. Though his historicity as a real person is debated, Lao is credited as the founder of Taoism and reputed author of the philosophical text Tao Te Ching.

By contrast to Western rationalism’s prioritizing the brain’s reasoning powers, Taoism embraces an inquiry into primary sources, the un-apprehended aspects, or vast realms of existence, that may help form our cosmos, our world and affect our lives. Accordingly Tao signifies “the source and ideal of all existence: it is unseen, but not transcendent, immensely powerful yet supremely humble, being the root of all things. People have desires and free will (and thus are able to alter their own nature). Many act ‘unnaturally’ upsetting the natural balance of the Tao. The Tao Te Ching intends to lead students to a ‘return’ to their natural state, in harmony with Tao.] Language and conventional wisdom are critically assessed. Taoism views them as inherently biased and artificial, widely using paradoxes to sharpen the point. ” 6

Marvin Hill, “Lao Tzu and Rene Descartes Engage in a Philosophical Battle.” Linoleum-cut block print. Courtesy www.marvinhill.com

Surveying Hill’s oeuvre, one senses his Taoistic leanings, an intense awareness of forces beyond the empirical. Another ambitious print, is even more surreal than “Man Attacked by Green Beans.” Titled “Nonattachment,” wherein gravity has evidently abandoned a man in his home, and he and his possessions all float freely. Is this evoking a strange scientific phenomenon, or an underlying truth of contingency regarding reason, and even ownership? Were Marvin’s humble and drug-free “hallucinations” also possibly insights? Given his ever-leavening humor, he was a serious reader, and a pan-cultural, pluralistic thinker, clearly interested in the dialectical (and in paradox), and beyond.

I think Marvin Hill’s equilibrium helped focus his insights. He seemed to know how far to go with his dreams. As D.H. Lawrence wrote: “The Holy Ghost (the winged soul within us) bid us never be too deadly in our earnestness, always to laugh in time, at ourselves and everything, Particularly our sublimities. Everything has its hour of ridicule – everything.”  6 Marvin could always laughed in time, like, say, pianist Victor Borge, a musical comedian with exquisite timing. A prime Hill illustration of perfect comic timing is the piece titled “Does Awakening Come All at Once?” The image is of a bespectacled man (le artiste?) getting a blueberry pie splat in the face. Or, there’s the tart irreverence of “Thoreau is Driven from the Garden by Unruly Nature,” the ironic title delivering plenty.

And then, the affliction arose and eroded him. Sorrow welled, though not Marvin’s, until his knife and wit lay still, for the last time, December 2, 2003.

Finally, another Hill “artist’s proof” (below) would become a posthumous gift from him to me (actually sent to me by Wendy, in gratitude for my patronage and coverage of Marvin) – a portrait of the great American poet Walt Whitman, clearly in the autumn of his life. Marvin knew just how to visually honor the mighty, innovative, and quintessentially American poet, also known for his massive capacity for compassion, as a dedicated Civil War nurse. Hill depicts Whitman’s head, well, as if upon a hill. Whitman here seems like granite, or one more great face, to be carved into Mount Rushmore, alongside other American giants, including his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, whom Whitman honored in magnificent verse, better than any other poet.

I didn’t consciously intend this, but “Walt Whitman” sits in my office, atop a bookshelf, the highest location of any artwork I own.

_______________

1 Art Fair on the Square, held each Independence Day Weekend, is sponsored by The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and is one of the state’s most rigorously-juried outdoor art fairs, along with Milwaukee’s Lakefront Festival of the Arts.

2. Even given Mueller’s story about he and Hill as classic “starving artists,” Hill had earned an MFA in printmaking from Drake University.

3. Among other many great Fritz Lang (primarily) films noirs: include: “Metropolis (silent),” “You Only Live Once,” “Ministry of Fear,” “Scarlet Street,” “Clash By Night,” “The Big Heat,” “and “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”

4. Here’s a scan of my 2003 newspaper appreciation of Marvin Hill. You might save or download it to a picture file to magnify and read it better.

5. The Marvin Hill website: http://www.marvinhill.com

6.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi

7. D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, Penguin, 1923,1977, 79

 

The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts finds its “Auteur”

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.”

________

This article was originally published in slightly shorter form in the Neighborhoods section of The Shepherd Express https://shepherdexpress.com/neighborhoods/riverwest/jazz-gallery-center-for-the-arts-finds-its-auteur/

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.)

Regarding the self-caricature as my latest blog cover image

I explained the genesis and story of this drawing in a recent blog but I decided to make it my current blog header image because the Facebook posting of it was well-received. Plus, it may be the only depiction of me as a writer in action, aside from the shot of me interviewing singer Asha Puthli, from a few years later (below).

The drawing caricatures me in the 1980s when I was writing for The Milwaukee Journal (and freelancing for Down Beat, the occasion of the photo with Asha) but looking for a full-time newspaper staff position, thus I created this drawing as a catchy job-pitch stationary header.

As I remain an arts & entertainment writer, the 1980s images remain apt, if graced — more than baggaged — I hope, by time.

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

 

__________

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

Special jazz show and book-signing for the newly revised Milwaukee Jazz Gallery Anthology

manty-ellis-jazz-foundation-fb-shortj

By Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular)

Milwaukee’s jazz history and jazz present converge on Friday night, Dec. 2, at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E.Center St. Milwaukee. The featured band, Manty Ellis and the Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, includes two musicians – esteemed guitarist Ellis and bassist Billy Johnson – who were among the many local, regional and national musicians who made the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery one of the nation’s great jazz venues from 1978 to 1984.

The current center for the arts, in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, occupies a modified version of the same space occupied by the original Jazz Gallery.

pauers-w-kaye-1

The Mike Pauers Quartet with trumpeter Kaye Berigan performed recently at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, which is the site of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photo by Elizabeth Vogt.

Ellis is a Milwaukee legend and mentor to many great players. He co-founded the jazz program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music that gained national recognition during the era of the original jazz Gallery where it’s most luminous students developed into striking young stars, including Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch; pianists David Hazeltine and Lynn Arriale; bassists Johnson, Gerald Cannon, and Jeff Chambers; and drummers Carl Allen, and Johnson’s brother Mark Johnson. Manty Ellis, to this day, is an earthy and dynamic player,  an original stylist influenced by Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane.

A Milwaukee native, bassist Johnson is now based in New Jersey, and has played with numerous nationally-known artists. The band, performing from 7 to 10 p.m., also includes the superb drummer Victor Campbell and Eric Schoor, faculty saxophonist for the Jazz Institute at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and a member of the Conservatory’s faculty jazz ensemble, We Six.

This is also a great opportunity to gain historical insight on the jazz gallery’s great legacy from primary-source journalistic sources. That’s because the event will celebrate the publication of the second edition of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery Anthology, which includes most of the actual journalistic coverage of the club during its hey-day.

Among the national jazz and blues performers whose Milwaukee performances are reviewed in the book are Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Art Pepper, Betty Carter, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Koko Tayor, Sunnyland Slim, Max Roach, Jimmy Smith, Jack DeJohnette, Milt Jackson, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers with the Marsalis brothers, among others.

milt-at-jazz-gallery

Jazz vibes giant Milt Jackson performing at the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photo by Tom Kaveny

Organized chronologically, the 244-page, 8.5 x 11-inch anthology also includes musician interviews, news and features, as well as many of the venue’s monthly event calendars, which tell its story in a different way. The book was assembled by Milwaukee Jazz Gallery original owner Chuck LaPaglia. Now based in Oakland, LaPaglia can’t make the event.

However, this writer will be on hand to sign copies of the anthology. I wrote an introduction to the new edition, and much of the journalistic coverage reproduced in the book is my own, primarily from when I was writing for The Milwaukee Journal. The anthology also includes Jazz Gallery coverage by noted jazz critic and author Bill Milkowski (Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius), and current Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel book editor and feature writer Jim Higgins, among others.

chuck-at-jgChuck LaPaglia, the founder and owner of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, in his club during its run as a major jazz venue from 1978 to 1984, documented in a newly revised anthology of the club’s extensive press coverage. Courtesy Milwaukee Jazz Vision

Those years were extraordinary, exciting and unforgettable times, and Friday’s live music and this revised and improved anthology help to bring it all back into sharp focus. Back then you could hear and feel – in the intimate, pulsing confines of the Gallery – the fire in the belly of these great players, the passions borne of modern jazz and the struggles for civil rights and social justice, as well as the pure joy of such creative music-making. Some of those historic names are gone, or remain somewhat underheard, what I call “voices in the river” in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.

That book is about jazz, creative writing and the democratic process, and includes several memoir sections of my recollections of life and covering the Milwaukee jazz scene during the years of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery.

The Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, formed by Manty Ellis, is an organization sponsored by by The Jazz Foundation of America, to aid and support jazz musicians in the Milwaukee area.

Proceeds for sales of The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984, will go to the Riverwest Artists Association, the nonprofit organization which runs the current Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and which published the anthology.