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Sunday night MJF: Miles by Blanchard; Sonny Rollins, the Spirit

Sunday night was my night for listening, not thinking about what I was hearing or writing so I’d remember… so this way I heard the most exquisite performance of the music arising from the collaboration of Miles Davis and Gil Evans as an all-star (really!) orchestra played music from Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. Breathtaking. Vince Mendoza led the orchestra like summoning up spirits, Terence Blanchard taking the horn and channeling. Gil Evans son Miles Evans stepped in to perform “Miles Ahead” written by his father and Davis.

It was thrilling. Then it was Blanchard and “Sketches of Spain.”  Goosebumps. He followed the master so close, we all know the piece by heart, so when he chose to bend an extra note or two, we knew, we knew he was putting his mark on it just so’s we’d know. And we did.  I remember Terence Blanchard as a little bookwormy-looking boy. Now the master of his oeuvre, with his distinctive clarity and connectivity with his thinking.

That’s something I noticed in Sketches this time around, after listening to it for decades, a passage—I forget the name of the movement—after an introspective, melancholy passage, when it begins to swing unexpectedly, as if the composer or performer just caught themselves and think better of thinking so deeply…

For the “Carnival in Naranjes” movement the audience was delighted to have a cadre of young trumpeters from the Next Generation orchestra march into position behind the orchestra onstage to play the familiar fanfare passage, a real crowd-pleaser. But when it all came down to it, Blanchard had balls to perform that piece in that context to a jazz audience. It brought down the house.

After this ecstatic experience I ran to catch the Robert Glasper Experiment with rapper/spoken word artist Bilal because I wanted to hear the new thing.

Glasper was the only artist in the festival I heard complain or fuss, start late and drone on. But when they got moving it was cool and I loved his frontman’s colorful “do” and Bilal’s poetry. But I left them to pay my respects to Sonny Rollins.

Rollins hobbled onto the Arena Stage in a blazing scarlet silk shirt, dark glasses and an aura of silver ‘fro and beard, maybe the coolest guy in the festival. He began blowing that great big tenor sax and kept up a striding pace. He jammed with the congas, he jammed with the guitar, they mustered a carribean rhythm, he took it all outside, he wept in his beer, he shouted with triumph, he powered it on for a full hour and never stopped, feet planted like a bull ready to charge. Rollins at 81.

2011 Monterey Jazz Festival, the music lives.

Strollin’ MJF Sunday Afternoon

The dappled light spilling through the trees just seemed the perfect filter for a hazy start to the last day of the festival. People seem lazier and laid back, everything slower and a bit less frenetic than Saturday’s jollity. No slowing down the music, though.  Listening to KUSP while driving to Monterey, a colossus of sound propelled me down Highway 1 as I listened to the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra directed by the ever-inspiring Paul Contos, with such lights as Joshua Redman in front. The orchestration was so tight I could have bounced on it down the road, but just listened with awe, not just to Redman—who gave every ounce again just as he had the night before with his own James Farm on the Jimmy Lyons Arena Stage—gave it all this time to the ensemble of the best and brightest young musicians from high schools all over the country.

Arriving to that aforementioned mellow dappled place I headed right away to hear India Arie and Idan Raichel on that Arena stage in honor of the young woman, Symphony, whom I interviewed yesterday. According to Symphony’s mother who should know, she is a fabulous singer who did get into the Next Generation Jazz Camp and is headed to a career in music. Symphony said India inspired her and she was thinking this was the kind of music that will bring more young people to jazz.

So thinking of this young woman and others of her age I witnessed India create a sacred space of the huge arena with “We Are Immortal” reaching down into the deep resonant place where her voice came from and into the heights. I can see how young singers love her, the stylings of pop, the One World message, the constant motion that seems redolent of Sufi dances and yoga, she was beautiful.

Standing in line to get into the Nightclub I spoke with Anna from Los Angeles who was just coming to hear “the young folks” play and hadn’t realized we were about to hear the Hamilton High School Academy of Music Combo perform. Ana was thrilled, “they’re from my neighborhood, I can’t believe it.” Synchronicity seems to rule this event.

The first place winners of the NexGen High School competition, the combo of sax, guitar, piano base and drums began with a hardbop “Yes and No.”

Finding the audience suitably blown away, they moved into “Swell” an original bossa nova composition by their pianist, Anthony Luca. A fine piece and a great combo, they took the energy of the bossanova and pushed it into abstract realms before bringing it back to a satisfying melodic resolution.

In the Garden Stage I ate my late lunch of catfish and potato salad (we are walking it off, you see) and joined the Garden Stage in full and absolutely gleeful swing with Cow Bop fronted by Bruce Forman on Guitar, Alan King on bass, Jake Reed on Drums and Pamela Forman vocals. It was a fine surprise to see the great Phil Salazar of Ventura on fiddle, I’ve followed him for years.  

What a joy they were, funny, nevermissabeat masterful and danceable music of the Cow Cow Boogie variety, a tight and lovable ensemble.  Salazar can do symphonic, he can do Hot Club, but what he does so memorably is tie those notes up into twisty cowtails and send them home laughing. One MJF moment…just after Forman finished flogging their Cow Bop Party Pack (a flashdrive with bottle opener handle and coasters, just add beer) when overhead some jets roared by…Salazar played the notes of the jet.

So that was a full afternoon of musical fun. Now for a warm jacket and a night of it.


Night of the Piano

When night falls at the Festival, the mood changes, the lights of the booths and venues bring everyone into sharper focus while the fog softly hugs the grounds.  A good weather day and a not too chilly night blessed this Saturday event and prepared the way for the more cerebral straightahead piano trio of Geri Allen. 

The set in the Lyons Arena Stage began with Allen in a slightly somber and thoughtful solo.  As the sounds of her music seeped over the grounds, the chatty bonhomie of the Festivalgoers seemed to quieten some, perhaps the conversations deepened. 

As the set began, the arena audience was thinner than in the balmy afternoon, but as the sound of her piano filled the grounds, slowly slowly the seats filled. Allen’s base player, Kenny Davis and drummer Kassa Overall took their places and played masterfully all night. As an homage to Sammy Davis Jr., dancer Maurice Chestnut provided another instrument, the percussion of his tap shoes, in an original composition commissioned by the 2011 MJF called “The Dazzler.” 

The pieces including “Lover Man” performed with tap as part of the instrumentation were as exhilarating to watch as to hear.

Allen is one of the steadiest of jazz artists, consistently creating intelligent and accessible music, capable of torrents of technical brilliance, she tends to be spare, leaving a lot of room for the notes to ring and influence each other, an artist whose work never gets stale.

Joshua Redman’s group James Farm followed Allen  and I listened to them streaming live into the KUSP van as I wrote my afternoon blog posts for KUSP’s prodigious live coverage of the event. Then it was Herbie Hancock.

The piano on the Lyons Stage will never be the same.

Afternoon highlights Berklee Flamenco Ensemble

Saturday afternoon was packed with opportunities to hear great music up really really close and to nibble at performances in a half dozen venues, sipping on smoothies or adult beverages or aromatic caffeine drinks while meandering.  So I enjoyed Huey Lewis and The News, demonstrating even to the purists that jazz pumps through the heart of rockn’roll. Then I checked in with a fine big band behind a powerful straightahead Chika Singer from Japan, belting out standards with infectious energy.

The the peak of the afternoon’s music for me was also the most hopeful view of the future of this ever-evolving artform.

Indeed, jazz seems secure in the hands of the Berklee College of Music whose Berklee Flamenco ensemble soared in a modern fusion approach to that music that is already a blend of influences from the journey of the Romani people from ancient India to Africa, the middle east and the Balkans and eventually throughout the world.  

The instrumentation was fascinating, the percussionist Sergio Martinez played conga, tabla and cajon…already three continents represented, sometimes switching from hand-playing to sticks in dazzling succession.  Ali Amr from Palestine played on an Egyptian version of the zither, a quanun, adding a fascinating and unmistakably Middle Eastern harmonic overtones and microtones, resonating and ornamenting under the whole sound; Enrique “Kalani” Trinidad from Chile performed with a soaring intensity on flute providing a crisp melodic pathway; Noam Wiesenberg on bass kept it all grounded and Ariadna Castellanos Rivas played a lyrical and inventive piano. Together their sound had the duende of flamenco, with its abstracted passages, complex rhythms and passionate intensity.  The qanun and flute player also performed palmas to others’ solos. The thrilling weave of instrumentation and the sheer talent of the young performers brought the audience to its feet throughout.

As jazz, the interplay of artists, the daring rhythmic explorations and the challenging melodic structures made it one of the most thrilling  performances of the day.

Joining a party in progress: Saturday at Monterey Jazz Festival

I arrived Saturday to a party in progress.  The strains from the Arena Stage were almost irresistible but first—the atmosphere and a little walk. Delicious people of all races and ages, about 50% over 50 I’d bet, speaking lots of languages, dressed in a smile-inducing panoply of costume, from hipster to resort wear, from ethnic to sportif, from black churchwear to Sierra hiking…and everyone looked fabulous together, like a party that said “come as you are—as you REALLY are.” 

The aromatic food just pulled me to the picnic area—it was all I remembered and more…more expensive, but also more varied and very very good with my favorite New Orleans jambalaya and catfish source as well as Ethiopian, Mexican, Thai, vegan, funnel cake (!) and myriad other cuisines and treats. A stride piano was playing for the crowd. The picnic tables were bulging with people making new friends and/or meeting up—some for the 50th year. The cheerful gathering looked like a town picnic in a movie musical set in an American past for which nostalgia isn’t necessary, it seems, as the spirit of art can join people together in such harmony.  

 With a “story in every direction” and my jambalaya in hand, I paused at the Garden Stage where Mitch Wood and His Rocket 88’s were singing a common song.  “We’re broke” Mitch said, “How about you?”  When the audience answered “Broke, broke, ain’t got no dough…” in an unconvincing murmer, “hey,” Wood exhorted,“even people from Carmel can sing along!” He got ‘em. “It’s no capital crime, when you don’t have a dime!” And the audience was feeling it,  “Broke, broke,” they shouted cheerfully.  A master at working his audience, Woods worked them with his gravelly-voiced swinging storytelling and the Rocket 88’s ripping the ridges with a 40’s style eight-to-the-bar boogie. 

By nowThe Musical Majesty of New Orleans with Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and a slew of special guests were drumming up an irresistible vortex over the Jimmy Lyons Arena Stage— a parade waiting to happen!   The small army of musicians looked right down from the big box stage looming over a football field size crowd looking right back up at them and, as I joined the throng it looked like musicians, instruments and their whole huge infectious sound were all just about to march down the stairs in a high brass drumline right into the welcoming arms of their audience. 

Two trombones, two trumpets…and Terence Blanchard’s trumpet, a force of its own…two drumsets and another drummer sprouting a snare on his waist, hanging on straps from his shoulders,  a percussionist…just in case the ensemble lost the beat…a tuba and two guitars all careened through some janglin’ tunes together, playing hallelujia gospel with a mountain twang and an African rhythm with that flatulent tuba underneath it all, came together in that irrepressible and unmistakable New Orleans sound. After igniting the crowd, guest MC Wendell Pierce from HBO’s Treme invited the arena crowd to come back and play it all again…in his city, in his neighborhood, in New Orleans.  Rollicking and irresistible, the party was over too soon.



Hairspray Teases a Smile from a Stone

Oh stop, Cabrillo Stage, you’re hurting my smile muscles, and you’ve done it before! Now, with a great-looking, full-tilt production of Hairspray, Cabrillo dances, sings and storytells its way right Over-The-Top to the intersection of crooning Elvis and the dazzling Supremes, with a fable of teen love, teen rebellion and teen triumph set in the Snazzy Sixties whose civil rights turmoil is translated into the language of musical theater and dresses real cool. Sounds like fun, eh?  

Prepared for the possibility of cringe-inducing Pony-dancing pop protestors shimmying their way through “Oh gosh why don’t we all get along” solutions to segregation, it was quickly clear that Hairspray just defies all resistance and carries the audience along with torrential energy to the inevitable happy ending—you just have to give up and love it. Like Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar before it, Hairspray’s exciting production numbers, colorful sets and costumes, fast-moving choreography and hummable tunes is as good a way to get a message across as from a pulpit or a schoolroom.  Hairspray won the Tony for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score and five other Tony’s in 2002.  This musical, in other words, was like a big box of chocolates for Cabrillo Stage, and they bit them all open, enjoyed them with gusto and now let the audiences in on the feast.

The story revolves around zaftig Tracy Turnblad (Monica Turner whose singing and dancing is blazingly good), the bouffantest girl in school who wants to dance in the Corny Collins Show on television, hoping to win the heart of dreamboat Link Larkin (Blake Collins, another triple-threat singer-dancer-actor whose Elvis moment was perfect) but she just isn’t Corny Collins material, according to the producer, Velma Von Tussle (a deliciously dreadful Kate McCormick). The irrepressible Tracy wins over Corny Collins (Bobby Marhessault, perfect for the belting singer-salesman role) with the “Negro dancing” she learned in Detention with Seaweed J. Stubbs (Corey Liggins, a fine voice and presence) and his friends (all guilty of Attending High School While Black). Tracy becomes convinced that integrating the Corny Collins Show will make a difference. Joining her in her efforts, her mother Edna Turnblad (Tony Panighetti in impeccable drag) and father Wilbur (Doug Baird) form an unlikely alliance with MotorMouth Mayelle (Jennifer Taylor Daniels, an extraordinary gospel singer and redeeming presence onstage), organizer of the Negro dances.  

Large colorfully-patterned cartoony cutouts serve as much of the set by Skipp Epperson, brilliantly locating an era and an upbeat atmosphere, adding light and information—not least through the terrific device of large wavery cartoon-shaped black-and-white television screens above the heads of the teen dancers. 

Working every inch out of her Big Blonde and Beautiful role , Jennifer Taylor Daniels brought the soul of soul to the stage in her jawdroppingly soaring gospel rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been,” one of the few moments when the breathless momentum of the singing dancing mugging stopped and the audience and the show can find a real beating heart.

I really looked forward to seeing Tony Panighetti in his Edna role, as he was spectacular in the Cabrillo Stage production of Scrooge.  In this show, his performance added a thread of poignancy to the otherwise relentlessly cheerful production.  Tenderly in love with husband Wilbur, stay-at-home Edna is the only person in the show who doubts him/herself, not just because of her size (rubber tires round the middle girth) but her status as stay-at-home housewife.  The “You’re Timeless to Me” duet between Baird and Panighetti was so touchingly funny because, like the best of the rest in this show, the emotions—though exaggerated, ring true. Panighetti in appropriate moments allows the veil of his character to shift open a crack, and the actor transforming himself shows through—fascinatingly.

Hairspray continues at Cabrillo Stage through August 14.

CAPTION:    Tony Panighetti as Edna, Monica Turner as Tracy and Bobby Marchessault as Corny Cornwell.



Museum of Art & History Gets All Fired up about Clay

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center spilled from its lobby into outdoor patios and Abbott Square to “Experience Clay” last weekend. Congratulations to the museum and especially to organizer Susana Arias for such a successful program. Ceramic artists we know and love were there to demonstrate and teach eager participants, and the crowd was enthusiastic.  Here’s a little smattering of images from the event.

Susana and Cynthia Siegel’s other goddess.

Families came to see artists in action, like Richard Bennett sculpting from a lovely model.

Laurie Hennig got her ears on!

Allan Wilks gets a hand from a young apprentice.

Way to grow an audience!



Krapp’s Last Tape: Jewel Theatre and Whitworth Exhale

   A cheap overhead lamp pours merciless lumens over every moth-eaten feature, every brow-furrow and sag of eyebags, illuminates every yellowed-gray frizz of hair and shirtstain of the old man sitting at the table, center stage.  Thinking….thinking…too busy thinking to arrange his features inside this intensely affectless stillness, he—the entire cast of the one-person play—gazes silent and unseeing into the audience. Is he indeed thinking?

We in the dark settled down nicely as soon as the house lights faded to black. Trained perhaps by John Cage in his time at UCSC, or by early performance artists who required mindful observation of apparent inaction for unreasonably extended periods, audiences shifting from bun to bun in a struggle between boredom and expectation, waiting for the point, or indeed waiting, sometimes, for anything, anything…But tonight there’s nary a squeak nor rustle from the full house at the Jewel Theatre Company’s presentation of Krapp’s Last Tape at the Center Stage in Santa Cruz.

It’s Beckett we’re waiting for, and Paul Whitworth—proving that audiences will pay to watch this actor think. Clever audiences, Whitworth always pays off.  And over the years, Jewel Theatre Company has become a safe bet, a company whose artistic risk-taking is as consistent as its theatrical memory-making.

Samuel Beckett’s is a tight 43 minutes: The long stillness and silence at the start contribute much, upon reflection. We the audience get a good long curious uninterrupted look at this disintegration of a man before us—his eyebrow could twitch (they don’t)—and we’d wonder about the meaning, so creating an acute level of audience attention. Every detail—absent movement—is inspected for weight and depth and narrative possibilities. 

Such audience conditioning is important, because we find quite soon that we won’t be carried along in the action; the plot does not move forward, no-one is transformed and what does, in fact, evolve through the course of the play is not Krapp but the audience. In this sucking vortex of a character Whitworth leads us through a minimalist tale that totters just on-the-edge between poetry or statistics, and the rants of those souls on the street who’ve been alone way too long and spent too much time thinking the same thoughts. With such intensity of embodiment, with the precision of a mime, Whitworth spits out Krapp’s thoughts, flays that pale skin to take us inside Krapp seeing, hearing, thinking, and, this night, remembering himself as he was, listening to the recording of a birthday tape of 30 years ago at the age of 69.

There we are, then. Nothing happens.

Or rather, everything happens as Whitworth is Krapp and Krapp is immersed in his earlier self. But Whitworth gives us Krapp without judgement. Is he pathetic? No, he’s defiant. In showing us this crusty, cynical, isolated mess of a man observing an annual ritual with what is no doubt his only dependable companion—himself in time— his words stab insouciantly at his youthful illusions and applaud his own clever escapes from the snares of society. Whitworth reels us into this character he and Beckett have created, and lays him bare, grazes the skin of our common foolish aspirations so that, as unattractive as he may be, we see ourselves.

Krapps Last Tape was performed May-June 2011, at Jewel Theater, Center Stage, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz.



San Francisco art Mecca Weekend—THERE’s STILL TIME!

Briefly from this internet cafe, lots to report from a packed, exhilarating and exhausting three days swept up in SF and Oakland arts, yes it’s true, I am mentally ill: after two fantastic opening events Thursday night, a morning of deadlines in Santa Cruz and then arriving in SF in time for another look at FineArtFair in Fort Mason (again, more exciting than I expected, after the flight of some of the most interesting San Francisco galleries, establishing ArtMRKT) but time for a longer chat with gallerists and deeper look at works from all over the country—no time for details now, then an evening of a reception for Arts for Healing and Visual Aid (more on these causes later) and a late night vigil at ArtPad waiting with Santa Cruz-area friends to see Diana Hobson's video projected on a building across the street…it's all in her series of moth works, stunning..) then Saturday was PACKED with fun.  Beginning with ArtPad panel about Street Art featuring EINE from London, Blek le Rat from Paris and San Francisco’s own APEX in a panel moderated by Justin Giarla of the White Walls gallery in SF and by Alan Bamberger of Art…illuminating! 

Then I went to ArtMRKT for the first time. But since I was parking close at hand, I ran into SOMARTS, a favorite destination in SF, where the Asian American Women Artists Association was showing A Place of Her Own which was fascinating—Lucien Kubo of Santa Cruz is a member and recommended it.  Then to ArtMRKT.  OK. 

ArtMRKT is hands down the most exciting of these three exciting fairs this weekend.  I cant gush about it sufficiently in this internet cafe.  I WANT TO GO BACK!!!  The blue chip galleries that broke away from SFArtFair this year have created what I think is a world class event.  Galleries and dealers from London, New York, Chicago, Boston etc. etc…the BEST!  Paule Anglim (SF) and Barry Friedman (NY) were posted at either side of the massive entrance with works of museum quality.  I can’t enumerate here, but the whole condourse was FILLED with work that belonged in museums.  How many times can you poke your nose a few inches away from such work.  To begin a list would be stupid…please go, not just for the artists you know, but ESPECIALLY for those you dont!

I have to go back because I left at 6pm to go to an opening in the Meridian Gallery, another favorite, with the Great Tortilla Conspiracy making art tortillas while social commentary prints filled the three floors, all curated (and cooked) by Art Hazelwood, an artist I have followed closely in a gallery I respect lots.  THEN a journey over the bridge to Oakland (yes, I know, it’s crazy) to the MURMURAMA, an Arts Murmur-type of event in honor of the aret fairs.  It was my first experience of several Oakland galleries I’ll be returning to often, because it’s a terrific scene there (I’m told I was happier NOT to have made it for an ArtMurmur which is a packed party scene (Q. since when is that a bad thing?) (A.l can’t see the art) but it was scene enough for me.

Well, the message is go if you can, especially to ARtMRKT.  More later…I’m off to take my own advice.



San Francisco’s Fine Art Fairs a welcome art overload!

A quick note on Thursday’s previews of the extraordinary trio of San Francisco’s art fairs:  Go!   We visited two last night and were not efficient art consumers in that we never made it to the third but saw it as it closed, packed as the others were—what a dazzling triad!  SF Fine Art Fair in its second year at Fort Mason was exciting and successful, in spite of the breakaway of some of SF’s most significant galleries to crate ArtMRKT San Francisco, now at the concourse at 7th and Brannan in SOMA, and of the surprising genesis of ArtPad at the Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin.

Me and Manuel, BFF

The Fine Art Fair succeeded in attracting important galleries from the US and a small international contingent which, if this year’s event is successful, will undoubtedly magnetize and even larger showing from abroad in future years.  The buzz was exhilarating from the delightful “Maypole” at the entry, vivid scarlet ropes lit to enchant; to the network of 70 exhibitors showing works in all media, with live painting and performances serving as the punctuation.  We intended to stay for an hour and move on but alas lost track of time among new works from Brazil, giant ceramics from Russia, African art, New York galleries showing rarely seen Stanton M. Wright and Marsden Harley; Guy Dill sculptures dotted about like jewels. Local artists were represented—-the ones I noticed in this fast visit were the unmistakable Stan Welsh heads surrounded the seating area, Jack Zajac bronzes prominently displayed, a wall of Sara Friedlander multimedia works and another of Ursula O’Farrell’s paintings.   It’s a feast!

       Stan Welsh head overlooking the proceedings: Why the long face?

Expecting it to be the smallest of the events, we went next to the Tenderloin hotel, Phoenix in the edgy part of Eddy St.  What a lark!  What a concept!  The 30 mostly up-and-coming US galleries here show the hipper younger cooler edge of the artworld in two stories of hotel rooms surrounding the huge swimming pool area, all fed by a hopping restaurant bar and club lounge, DJ music swimming through the atmosphere while videos projected from the Phoenix appeared gigantically on the side of a tall building across the street.  The preview event was a fundraiser for the Black Rock Arts Foundation; the audience wore some enchanting Burning Man regalia and young woman and men in tall platform shoes and taller headgear tilted across the landscaped pool area, tripping on the inset grass strips.

Black Rock in the Tenderloin 

Tonight (Friday) at 8pm a peculiar international contingent from the Monterey Bay will be meeting at the ArtPad to see videos by Diana Hobson and Cheryl Calieri projected to building size.  Join us!

We only had time to see the ArtMRKT in its closing moments—it’ll be my first destination today. 

Besides the fun, the images, the extraordinary contrast in venues within a short SF distance from each other (a distance closed by shuttle services between the fairs), the fun indistinctions between the poseurs and truly posh, this is such an opportunity to see a hugely diverse representation of mostly contemporary art from around the world…honestly, you just can’t not go!