Art & Music

I see that artist Paul Harryn has commented his thank yous on the post below (click here to read) and I note that in doing so he did not foist upon us a link to his work. I use the word “foist” rather tongue-in-cheek because it is perfectly acceptable these days (perhaps even advisble) to take full advantage of any and all networking opportunities, especially on the Internet. Anyway, his omission fueled my curiosity and I turned to Google where I found a link to Monsoon Galleries and quickly fell in love with a number of works, none of which I can afford at this time. Take a look at Sounds of Sevilla, a pastel on paper that he did in 1993 and the three-foot square acrylic-on-wood from 1999 titled Paris Paintings: Passages.

He’s no stranger to jazz (the 1991 and 1998 Newport Jazz Festival posters are his), but he’s no Johnny-One-Note. His works vary in mood, and as I read more about him, his thoughts and approach, his words clearly expressed the empathy between the arts. He writes of his “interest in contour line drawing and being able to capture the essential gesture of a figure or event and the ambiance and mood of the environment…[and] in having my work express an idea and communicate with the audience.”

And to me, this next pararaph might well apply to my work as a biographer:

Since my work is informed by a diverse number of sources, I’m often presented with the challenge of merging these ideas and techniques into a decipherable and homogeneous format. As a result my paintings are multi-layered, sometimes consisting of as many as fifty paintings and/or events on one painting. Through each layer or sub-painting I decide what is most pertinent, interesting, and innovative. I apply a resist to those areas to ‘save’ them while I apply yet another layer or sub-painting; remove the resist and continue this process fifty or sixty times. Sometimes what I saved previously does not make it to the final edit. It’s a very fluid and Darwinian process resulting in paintings that come to conclusion when they achieve an innate balance between past and present.

While I’m on the subject of visual arts and jazz, you should also check out the wonderful video report by Nate Chinen at The New York Times. It’s about a seven-movement suite called “Portrait In Seven Shades” composed by saxman Ted Nash on commision for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Jazz & Art” concert. The report beautifully integrates the images Nash chose for inspiration with some rehearsal clips and interview in which Nash talks about his process. The suite will debut this weekend, Thursday, February 22nd through Saturday the 24th at Rose Hall where, according to NY1, the images of the artworks will be projected on stage during the performances.

Open Ears

A year or so ago drummer Michael Stephans (then my neighbor down the street, since moved East) offered to play for me his latest recording, OM/ShalOM, which had not yet released. Now Michael is a first-class drummer, and, as his bio tells you, not only do his compatriots include Bob Brookmeyer, Pharoah Sanders, the late Charlie Byrd, Don Menza, Buddy Colette, Alan Broadbent, Bob Florence, Mike Melvoin, Lynn Arriale, Bud Shank, … but he has also played with personalities as wildly diverse as The Rolling Stones, Cher, David Bowie, Shirley MacLaine, and Natalie Cole. Still I was hesitant because I knew this was an unusual recording, a fusion of well-known Hebrew liturgical songs and Yiddish-based melodies with modern improvisational music. Michael is a deep guy (he’s got a PhD, two Masters degrees and he’s a poet too), and I was afaid that this music would be over my head, too ‘out there.’ Forgive me here, but I thought, “Oy vey. What will I say?”

OMSHALOMCover.jpgAlmost immediately I was sucked into this vortex of sound, much of it feeling very primal. Five musicians (Michael, David Liebman, Bennie Maupin, Scott Colley, and Munyungo Jackson), each a major player in his own right, charted deep waters but always came safely back to shore. Part of what drew me in was the familiarity of the melodies – Let My People Go, Shalom Alechim, and Hava Nagilah to name a few – but I think it was the timber of the horns, the undulating steadiness of the beat, and the intensity of emotion that kept me afloat and attentive throughout. The CD, with a beautiful cover by Paul Harryn, includes a few of Michael’s originals including the title track, Kaddish for Elvin, and Moon Over Miami that is a poem set to music.

Now I am pleased to share with you the news that OM/ShalOM will celebrate its New York premiere and CD release on Monday evening, February 26th, 2007 at the Blue Note in New York City. And for those of you in the vicinity of the Poconos, you can hear a preview on Sunday, February 25th at the Deerhead Inn.

Grammys Not In The News

Nancy Wilson won a Grammy last night, not that anyone would know from the media coverage. Had you been in the audience yesterday, during the pre-telecast awards when 96 Grammys were bestowed, you would know that only two of those winners garnered standing ovations: Tony Bennett and Nancy Wilson. No Standing O for Peter Frampton or Bon Jovi or Ludacris, just for Nancy and Tony.I have to believe that means something. The mainstream media has decided that jazz is irrelevant and/or of no interest to it’s readers/viewers. This decision is based, of course, not on any journalistic standards but solely on commercial concerns and advertisers allocations. Tony Bennett, having allied himself with pop, rock, and country performers, has broken through the barrier, and Michael Brecker’s win was mentioned in some reports because his death from a dreadful disease was recent news. Please don’t misunderstand my rant, Michael was most deserving, but I suspect that had he been alive and well his Grammy win would not have been mentioned outside the inner jazz circles. And that is a shame to be sure.

In their quest for young audiences, the gatekeepers have determined that older artists are not of interest, but they are wrong. If I had a dime for every fan letter and email that Nancy receives from fans under the age of 30, I would soon retire. It reminds me too of another recent experience with The Los Angeles Times. My father was making a rare Los Angeles appearance, he hadn’t performed here for a few years, he had recently been named an NEA Jazz Master, composed and performed an orchestral work with the Baltimore Symphony, in short there was lots of unusual and interersting news. The writer we pitched wanted to do an article but the newspaper editor said ‘no,’ the combination of his age and his music, jazz, added up to “no interest.” I wish that editor had been at the concert to the see the room full of high school and college kids.

Its a sad world where the majority doesn’t stand up to the media…and the government. If we don’t voice our demands then maybe we deserve what we get.

Thoughts upon awaking this morning

Did I choose the wrong metier? — I am a writer and as such my medium is the printed word. I am a biographer, charged with bringing people to life on the printed page. But even as I am in the midst of researching the Luther Henderson biography and writing People On The Page, a book about the process and nature of writing biographies, I have become mesmerized by multimedia, intrigued by video podcasts. Indeed I am becoming jealous of those whose have what I perceive to be the luxury of using audio and visual components in crafting their pieces.

Yesterday I watched online a new podcast created by Bret Primack for Sonny Rollins’ website. Bret does not have to struggle to find the words with which to describe Sonny’s intensity, or his warmth, or his prowess, when you can see and hear and feel it for yourself. Now don’t get me wrong — I know that what Bret does is not easy. Scripting, shooting, directing, producing films of any length is its own art form with it’s own dilemmas and challenges…I wish I knew how to do what he does so well! I remember too my reaction to the NPR radio piece that Sara Fishko did about John in January of last year — it was so good that it brought tears to my eyes and I told Sara then that I was in awe of her ability to distill someone’s very essence into the space of only several minutes. Her audio-only segment had, in my opinion, more emotional depth than the NEA’s very excellent biographical video clip about John, so clearly it’s not the added media component alone that makes the difference.

I am what I am, and will comfort myself with the thought that perhaps, on occasion, one of my finely-crafted sentences will evoke the envy of a videographer…the grass IS always greener, isn’t it?

I also awoke thinking about ways in which I can explore and incorporate the parallels between the work of a psychotherapist and that of a biographer — not only the reconstruction of a life, but also the nature of the relationship between biographer and subjects/sources and the complexities of transference and counter-transference. While in NY earlier this month I was telling a psychoanalyst friend about People On The Page and she said “hmmm, that’s a lot like the work that I do.” Then a few nights ago I had a conversation with a writer friend who is also a therapist and he agreed that there were similarities between the work of therapist and biographer. Okay, this is not a giant revelation; apparently it was not even a new thought to me, but one that had slipped my mind. So, just to be sure I was paying attention, the universe sent me another reminder message yesterday. While reviewing my note files, I came across an excerpted quote taken from an August 2000 newspaper article, “Writing from the Heart but Drawing on the Mind,” about novelist Amy Bloom. She said, “Some of the traits that led me to be a psychotherapist are the ones I find in myself as a writer. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people, and I’m endlessly intrigued by relationships, particularly the gap between what people say and what they truly feel, and the gap between what they do and what they really want.” One might be able to ignore a one-two punch, but this thought has now come up three times in ten days, so I had best pay attention.

Another related thought has also reached my consciousness — with my mother being an analyst and my father a jazz musician, I am following in my parents’ footsteps as a biographer of jazz artists. Hmmmm….

Through Their Eyes

A few years ago, while in Washington, DC, I met a young photographer named Shawn Davis at a showing of some of his work shot in Cuba. It was the first time I ever bought a work of art directly from the artist, and, I believe, the first time I ever bought a photographic work of art (posters and museum prints in my younger days don’t count). Periodically I receive an email from Shawn and I am pleased to share with you news of his latest project — Visual Griots of Mali: African Children Tell Their Stories with Cameras. I have seen some of the childrens’ work online and I also bought the Spring 2006 issue of African Arts (published by The James S. Coleman African Studies Center, UCLA International Institute) that has a feature story about the project with wonderful accompanying photos, but this is an exhibit that I wish I could see in person.

(Actually, to be perfectly honest, this is the sort of project with which I wish I could be personally involved. To empower young people to share their stories and viewpoints — well, you can easily see that it’s an ideal quite compatible with my penchant for biography, especially those of the “less than famous.”)

Visual Griots of Mali
is the result of a project in which U.S. and Malian photographers helped the youth of the country create their own photographic documents of their lives. If you are in DC on Saturday, February 24 do yourself a favor and join Shawn at the National Museum of Natural History (Baird Auditorium) where at 12:00 noon he will not only introduce this landmark exhibition, but also screen the short film Malick Sidibé: Portrait of the Artist as a Portraitist (2006, 8 minutes). Here’s an excerpt from Shawn’s email:

This event, free and open to the public, is an opportunity to celebrate the enormous success of the 22 young students in Mali, West Africa …This will be a great chance to hear updates on how the photographs were received in Mali, what the local communities have to say about the project, how local DC area youth have been involved in the project, and what the President of Mali had to say about it all!! I’ll be giving a lecture that I promise will be full of fun photos and video footage. We hope to see you there. Please share this with your friends, family, and colleagues. The lecture hall is right next to the exhibit, so if you haven’t seen the show yet you can do both in one shot.

And if you can’t make the opening event, you have until April 27th to view the exhibit at the Smithsonian — then it’s on to Kansas City.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Academy for Educational Development and NMNH Office of Visitor and School Services.

So Sorry

I was missing in action…again. Just returned from 10 days in New York (cold, yes, but got out just before it turned really ugly-frigid) where I spent much time back at the Schomburg going through more of Luther Henderson’s files. I also spent some time with Mrs. H. and shot some very brief video snippets at their home for my People On The Page project. Now I’m back, warmed up so to speak, and playing catch-up with messages and mail.  In addition to the three books in progress (don’t forget John’s At the Feet of a Jazz Master), I’ve got a file folder full of notes to myself about blog topics so I had best get to work.