V2N8: October 1996 Edition
Table of Contents
There are many cool artists in Austin. I admire many of those I've met these past two years regardless of whether or not their work appeals to me personally. Every once in a while, however, someone really sticks out in my mind.
Don't worry, this article will contain very few words in Spanish. Let me begin by saying that there is no such thing as "Latin Music."
The folks at ACoT want you and theatre to start a life-long relationship: one with passion, fire, and the dreaded "C" word: commitment, coupled with the dreaded "P" word: patronage.
Without the generosity of Joseph Wooten -- who donated office space to us for almost three years -- the whole DiverseArts concept might never have gotten off the ground. It was there that much conjuring and planning and working went on. It was there that this little magazine was born, it was there that our long-term plans were first fleshed-out.
Where do flowers get their names? From a man who died long ago, who you'll never meet and never be like; from a man all white and beige and bearded who died clutching his discoveries to his chest with hands like a plant press squashing the life out of them till they were flat as paper and dry enough to label in Latin.
There is some factual basis to the concern that has become the motivation behind the Women in Jazz Concert Series, which is that new and talented jazz vocalists are becoming a rare breed.
Renaissance Woman: A Conversation with Kerthy Fix by Sandra Beckmeier
One of the best things about being a journalist has been the opportunities I get by virtue of what I do. I meet some cool, talented, and interesting people. Everyone has affected me in a unique way because of who they are. Sometimes it's profound. I'm plunging off the diving board into art. I've come to the realization that, although I really like it, I'm too dramatic for journalism. You can learn a great deal from people if you're willing to listen, to really listen and understand what they have to say. Because people are almost always there to help out other people. We all want a connection.
There are many cool artists in Austin. I admire many of those I've met these past two years regardless of whether or not their work appeals to me personally. Every once in a while, however, someone really sticks out in my mind.
I met Kerthy Fix in January, and interviewed her for a story I got sidetracked from completing. Luckily, I got to interview her again as she was someone I wanted to profile in this our "Estrogen" issue. She has been letting many of her outlets of expression sit on the palette of her mouth for a while, valuing each experience while deciding which are most fulfilling for her as an artist. Definitively female, a free-spirited renaissance artist, Fix is aware of the value of release and is actively involved in three outlets, which include the Performance Art Church, the punk band "Olive," and the production company known as "The Administration" who have shot music videos for the likes of Ed Hall, Sincola, and Sons of Hercules.
Kerthy is a graduate of UT with a degree in film, and, more importantly, a student of life, and this interview with Kerthy speaks for itself. I just wish we could all be so frank and intimate in our daily conversations.
ADA: Since this is the "Estrogen" issue, I'll start with a question I'm exploring for myself. What does it mean to you to be a woman?
FIX: Well, I love women and female energy, and I hate how women have been ignored. A lot of what I was doing with the "G-Spot" (a radio program formerly on KO-OP), even though I wasn't rhetorical on the air, had a lot of politics behind it. I wanted to play music, really great music that I love made by women or bands that women are in. So it just came out of my basic interest. I pay more attention. I'm curious, and I wanted to create an atmosphere on the air of a party. Like this is our club and we don't want to exclude you -- you're welcome to eavesdrop but this is about us and we're cool and hip and we don't care what you think. A lot of discrimination has gone underground but it still exists and it's kind of nastier because people aren't as direct. It's like there are five bands playing at a club because the club's overbooked and four of those bands are made up of all men and one band is made up of women - who is asked to drop out? It's well meaning. It's like people who aren't even intentionally...
FIX: Yeah. Because it's like, oh wow, who are we gonna ask? Well, women will be nice about it, but a guy would be like, well, I'm probably not going to be nice about it. It's also how you're treated in equipment stores. The guitar player in "Olive", Laura (Creedle) talks about going into music stores with her husband and the salespeople are like "can I help you sir?" And it's like he doesn't even play a fucking instrument. She's a guitar goddess. So I think that I personally am more interested in art and music made by women. I feel that being a woman -- just like being a gay person or someone in a minority -- it gives you a special insight. You've been fucked with a little more in your life because people have judged you based on something you can't help and not what you are. You tend to analyze the value system that is judging you more than someone who is perfectly comfortable within those value systems. And that is why white boys get so much shit. The world is made for white boys. Which isn't to say that white boys don't have a hard time too, I mean everybody is having a hard time these days. In Corporate America it's getting harder and harder to live. All creative people or artists or people who just want to live in a way that's not work driven, wage-slavery driven. So I think a lot of what I do as a creative person has to do with the feeling that you're more effective getting through to people if you don't knock them over the head. Just by being forceful you can change people's opinions in that you offer an exception. It's not as obvious in our little progressive community of Austin maybe, but you know, every time you look at a newspaper some guy has kidnapped and raped a woman. There's so much violence.
ADA: I read not long ago a story in the paper about a woman who had been raped while she was in a coma in a nursing home. The woman was impregnated, and her family decided that the decent thing was for her to carry the baby to term. As a woman I'm well acquainted with the feeling of fear. Sometimes I really resent the fact that I can't sleep with all of my windows open because I don't want to risk someone breaking into my apartment while I'm sleeping. It's easily my biggest fear, and I have no control. I can't imagine how a person would cope if you woke up from a coma to find out that not only had you been raped, but you gave birth without your consent to the child of the man who raped you. Obviously not in this case, because the guy walked -- but when you got to court it's how the woman was dressed, her behavior, these kinds of things would be presented maybe not in direct terminology, but theoretically.
FIX: You know the whole issue of woman as vessel -- it's like, I'm not a fucking cow in your farm. I know why, in a Darwinian sense, we think like that family did as human beings. But I mean it's such an outdated way of thinking. We're overpopulated. We don't need every child. It's a strange thing to bear a child for the "great gift." That's probably one of the most profound human experiences, and yet some of us just don't want to do it.
ADA: Especially when you think about how society treats children. There are the essentials that are neglected and nobody gives a shit. Children aren't getting educated. Especially children who are considered minorities. They're not being fed. They aren't taught their cultural history so they have no pride.
FIX: Just walking down the street is dangerous. I mean, we used to live in the days where a child knew almost everyone around it, and that's not the case anymore. It's a sickness. Yeah, it's like I really want to be close to my nieces. They're here, they exist. But I myself don't want to bring children into the world. I'm glad for my friends who have and do because I want to be around children. Children are just so wonderful, but I don't know how they have the faith to do it, ya know? I just don't know how you do it right and not lose yourself, especially for women in particular.
ADA: There are so many people who have babies and then resent their children, and they don't even realize it. The idea of having children because you have a uterus and not because you simply have the desire to do it is a heavy thing to question. I've really embraced the fact that I live in the generation that I do where there are so many choices. Because it hasn't been that way for very long in this society, and if people don't vote it could easily change.
FIX: Sometimes it just breaks my heart to think of all of the women in the world whose talents and brilliance are submerged. I just read "The Hite Report on Women and Love" and it's so fascinating that you can't put it down. It's just story after story about all of these women who after 25 years of marriage finally leave. According to the statistics in the book, which are from the late 80s, women initiate most divorces because they just can't live in these separate-bedroom-living-death marriages anymore. All of these brilliant women who stayed in these marriages forever who were unhappy, and they got out of it and they were like, "oh my God I'm so happy I'm finally free!" And a lot of them stay in it because of economics. I mean you look at the sex industry, women are so...
ADA: Well, look at how long prostitution has been around. That's the only way some women find that they can be totally independent.
FIX: There would be a lot less women who would choose it if all things were equal. I mean we know that. Women still don't get paid equally for the same work [as a man]. I mean it just makes me laugh sometimes when you hear women say, "I'm not a feminist. I've never experienced discrimination." It's just like you don't even know it. You just need to open your eyes because you can't even walk down the street and not experience it without being categorized because of what you're in. That was like a really shocking thing to me in my early 20s. It was like here I am this woman. And what I'm dealing with is this combination of sexual violence, and I'm the object of this through no fault of my own. I have a pair of tits. I wasn't doing anything to display them at the time. I was in a relationship with a woman, and I had all my hair cut off. I wasn't advertising myself as available to men which I think we do when we're available, display ourselves in a certain way. And knowing this I just thought "this is not fair, I'm just this dork walking around in this body." What the fuck, it's like I've got a camera and you want to steal it but it's not a camera that I can hide or put down -- it's me in my body being a woman. There's so much violence and you read about all the women, and all the fucked up stuff that men do to women. I went on a trip. I travelled by myself biking and hitch-hiking in Europe.
ADA: Did you go to Poland? You made a film in Poland right?
FIX: This was the first time I went. I went from Germany to Prague. It was still Czechoslovakia then. Then I hitch-hiked into Poland and it was such a realization, it was like, yes, I am a target but I also have a lot of power. Now I think in America the images we receive are much more effective at scaring little girls out of their power. Terrifying us into not wanting to use our power. "Don't be abrasive or display yourself sexually for men's pleasure." These images we get contain it, but we've got the power. That's why there is all of this violence against women. It's because men are powerless. I mean everyone is on a spectrum right? It's not like no man possesses psychological or sexual power.
ADA: Look at Elvis, James Brown.
FIX: Exactly. But if you're gonna generalize and say that female energy is about sexual and psychological power, then we have to be brave and own up to our power. It frightens me so much sometimes when I'm just going about my day, and I realize that without really thinking about it I'm sending out intense signals and someone can be sending me these really intense psychic waves and I don't have to be afraid of that. I can use that, and that's a good thing. It's a healing thing.
Kerthy Fix and the Performance Art Church will be performing November 7th, at the Electric Lounge. Yours truly is hopping on the train. Come, check it out, it'll be fun.
Musica Latina: Uno Perspectivo by Luis Guerra
Don't worry, this article will contain very few words in Spanish. You probably (hopefully) can deduce the title for yourself. Let me begin by saying that there is no such thing as "Latin Music." That is an extremely broad term that encompasses many styles of music ranging from the Tangos of Argentina to Samba Brasileira in the Southern Hemisphere to the plethora of Caribbean and Central American forms. They are all American in the sense of the Americas.
Instead of discussing the historical processes which brought about the origins of Latin music, I merely want to share a few ideas and opinions on the subject that seem more accommodating for the purpose of an article such as this one. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an ethnomusicologist; therefore, when asked to write an article on Musica Latina, I can only do so from the perspective of a 21-year-old who explores Latin music as an acceptance of my heritage, and as a part of my profession which requires an understanding of diverse styles of music. I view this music with awe; there's an overwhelming number of genres within genres than can be discussed. Right now, I know very little about Latin music compared to someone who has grown up in a place like Nicaragua. For this person, the music traces its roots to a repressive environment for the majority of inhabitants in the New World.
I would like to begin by making a few points regarding the foundations of Musica Latina. These are conclusions I have drawn from playing and exploring Latin American music. When has there not been conflict in Latin America? From the beginning of post-Colombian history, the indigenous inhabitants and the slaves stolen from Africa have suffered oppressive environments largely maintained by European and American (meaning the U.S.A.) powers. Therefore, most styles within the vast domain of Latin music are responses to circumstances and issues of the time. The voice that is heard often cries for change or revolution. That is not to say all Latin music deals with these issues. Entire repertoires of musica romantica and musica para disfrutar can also be attributed to Latin Music.
Secondly, a connection to African traditions exists in musica de America. Exemplifying this relation are the African-derived rhythms used. In African tradition, drumming often accompanies ceremonies of spirituality. Latin music incorporates the spirituality of African music intermingled with elements of native and Indo-European religions. Eduardo Galeano writes, "An earthquake of drums disturbs Rio de Jainero's sleep. From the backwoods, Eku [god of the poor] mocks the rich, sending against them his deadly curses."
I see Latin music becoming musica universal. Unfortunately, Latinos seem eager to hold onto a part of their culture that is uniquely theirs. However, people from all parts of the world presently embrace the music. Accompanying this love is a desire to perform all the given styles. Bands from Japan, France, Australia and other non-Latin countries are playing Salsa, Conjuto and Mariachi -- and why shouldn't they? I believe this is musica para el mundo (world). People from any country are feeling the same things Latinos sing about.
Finally, I want to make the point that people from any place in the world should be able to play and participate in music of other parts of the world without the criticisms and snootiness that seems to be prevalent. Latin music, like all music, will continue to evolve. I could be wrong, but I do think other cultures will begin incorporating elements of Latin music which will only promote further development. I see this as only positive and meaningful as the world's inhabitants attempt to solve some of the social problems currently strangling the planet.
[In keeping with our effort to provide a forum for opinions and expression, Austin Downtown Arts Magazine welcomes your voice. Please let us know what you think about this and any other article in the magazine. Editor]
Another Saturday night and you ain't got nobody. You got some money 'cuz you just got paid... What to do? Well, were it up to Ann Ciccolella along with her crew at the Austin Circle of Theatres, you would partake in the one of the 150 to 200 theatre productions that mount and dismount each year in Austin. Truly, and were it up to folks at ACoT, your partakage would be not a once in a while, outta the blue, I - don't - have - anything - to - do and isn't - it - about - time - I - started - to - doing - adult - things like going - to - the - theatah kinda thing. The folks at ACoT want you and theatre to start a life-long relationship: one with passion, fire, and the dreaded "C" word: commitment, coupled with the dreaded "P" word: patronage. They themselves have all these fine qualities, along with guts and ambition, both have which have moved ACoT from a sleepy little organization to one of the most dynamic non-profits in Austin. Here's how they did it.
Believe it or not, ACoT started 22 years ago as a way for actors, directors, and designers to legitimize their ongoing Sunday brunch outings into something more codified (or, at least, that involved fewer mimosas). In addition, the founders of ACoT were keen on tipping their hat to the many fine performers in and around Austin. Hence, the B. Iden Payne awards, which celebrated the wellspring of talent in Austin. Thus was the "smallest arts service organization of its kind in America" born, under the stars of simplicity and good faith.
After its inception, ACoT swam along in a free flow state for several years: a brunch here, an awards dinner there. Then, about 15 years ago, the City of Austin said that it would be willing to grant funding to small theatre organizations provided that they have a minimal amount of structure. ACoT responded by getting an office, a part-time executive director, and a plan to service these organizations. They did just fine, but, like many arts organizations trying to stay afloat in rough Reagan seas of the mid-eighties, ACoT suffered several years of economic drudgery, putting the organization at risk of closing its doors forever.
When Ann Ciccolella came on board as ACoT's Executive Director in 1991, however, ACoT had stabilized, was solvent (with some savings, even!), and poised to move forward. Ciccolella brought a wealth of experience with her. Born a Yankee, she was a Dramatic Literature major at NYU and worked for several years with some fascinating dramatic companies, including Shakespeare on Wheels, which brings the Bard to you. She is also a writer/director in her own right, most recently directing Hedda Gabler for Critical Mass Productions. She will also direct A Streetcar Named Desire for Critical Mass, which will run starting March of next year. She started with ACoT as a volunteer and dazzled folks with her no nonsense working abilities. When the then ED decided to leave to pursue school full-time, Ciccolella jumped in, hit the ground running, and has been going ever since. She is a dynamic communicator, whose focus and clarity leave most of us looking like an unmade bed. These traits have also earned her a reputation for being, um, well, blunt. To this, Ms. C would probably say, "Hey, I've got a job to do." True enough. Her job description reads like the Mission Impossible To Do List: to simultaneously serve the membership and to promote theatre-going, "which indirectly serves the membership," says Ciccolella.
But Ciccolella doesn't do it alone. Mary-Alice Carnes, is a different side to the ACoT coin. She, too, has a performance background, majoring in voice. She has been in productions in and around Austin, and is the co-founder, along with her husband, Freddie, of the Children of Light Players. She has worked at ACoT since 1993, starting first as an assistant and now as the Associate Executive Director. She is a master at both coordinating events, as well as dealing directly with members and volunteers. No matter what's going on in that crazy place, Carnes is mostly smiling, together, and just seems damn happy to be alive and working in Austin theatre.
The dynamic duo of Ciccolella and Carnes, along with a dedicated volunteer force and a strong board of directors, has helped move ACoT from a mixed start to a fully empowered arts services organization. Namely, with growth in membership, which has doubled in the past five years, and community clout, ACoT has recently moved to it right-in-the-center-of-the-universe location downtown. How did the ACoT folks manage to get this prime real estate? According to Ciccolella, the "how" was forged not by endless hours of begging and playing the non-profit martyr role. More adroitly, the new address became a reality by using a Business 101 rule: building relationships. This Ciccolella did with Tom Stacy, of Omni Realty at 823 Congress. She and Stacy worked together on the Downtown Arts Alliance, and Ciccolella asked Stacy to check around for affordable downtown space. He happened to have some "right under the waterfall" at 823 Congress. Stacy and Ciccolella both agreed that Austin needed an arts organization serving as an anchor downtown. The Museum of Fine Arts was already there, so why not make it a team? That's just what they did. ACoT moved to its new location earlier this year and stands ready for even further growth, now having five times the space than its old location. The new space has allowed ACoT to increase its services, which now include a bona fide reading library where members can check out scripts in advance and actually read them on the premises.
How is this growth potential manifesting itself? To start, ACoT is expanding its membership to include Austin's prolific music scene. This now includes nine members and counting. "We are also just starting to reach out to local business, such as Tivoli, and Sicola Martin. What we've done is to use the Internet to spread the word about Austin theatre. We've offered discounts and giveaways and brought business people to the theatre." But Austin's premiere service organization for theatre is not stopping there: it is also moving readily into film. It will be present to represent ACoT members at this year's Heart of Texas Screenwriter's Conference, a conference that will play host to a deluge of writers, directors, and actors.
Future plans include further outreach into Austin's burgeoning hi-tech community, as well more activities and community presence, presence, presence, which, according to Ciccolella, is the mother of all expansion.
If ACoT keeps this rate up, it may not have the title of the smallest arts service organization in the country much longer.
About three years ago, I came up with this idea to organize a multidisciplinary arts organization/production group/coop. This general idea had been in my head for some time. The thing that made it seem like the right time to do this was the fact that I had landed office space downtown in my friend's 100-year-old building/old house. After several years of producing the Clarksville Jazz Fest,Blues Family Tree Project and other such programs, I finally was able to get my office out of my house. The promise of being in that lovely old building -- the Wooten Building, one of Austin's first medical facilities -- on East 10th Street also made it possible to advance my plans to establish a downtown arts cooperative/cultural center. The plan was for DiverseArts to be the facility manager for the Wooten Cultural Center. I tell you, that whole concept looked really good on paper, sounded really good coming out of my mouth, seemed like a really innovative cooperative venture for the Wooten Building and DiverseArts.
Well, as things turned out, the cultural center idea went through a lot of thought and conversation, but could not work at the Wooten Building. We were booted out of there last December when the building was leased and scheduled for renovation. The important thing, however, is that without the generosity of Joseph Wooten -- who donated office space to us for almost three years -- the whole DiverseArts concept might never have gotten off the ground. It was there that much conjuring and planning and working went on. It was there that this little magazine was born, it was there that our long-term plans were first fleshed-out.
From December to mid-April, the office lived with me in a two-bedroom apartment in South Austin. Chaos abundant. In mid-April, right in the heat of Jazz Fest pre-production-chaos abundant times two, DiverseArts was fortunate enough to once again make the move out of my house and into yet another beautiful, stately 100 year old building/house. Our new digs is called the East 13th Street Heritage House. Sitting atop a hill, overlooking I-35 with a view of the Capitol Dome, this old house predates the completion of the State Capitol Building. Over the years, Heritage House has been home to a number of folks and families; at one time it was the Sam Huston College President's Residence (by the way, Sam Huston College, present day Huston-Tillotson, predates the University of Texas by a few years, too).
As we begin our 1996-97 season we are happy to announce that DiverseArts at Heritage House is back on track in our effort to establish a location, a home-base for our multidisciplinary arts activities. Our partnership with the Quincy Corporation (owners of Heritage House) ensures that our goal of establishing a Downtown/East of Congress cultural center will now proceed with cooperation and commitment. What follows in the next few paragraphs will give you some idea of what to expect from DiverseArts as we conjure new programming and services for our new home. Read on, please.
Community Arts School
Beginning in November, DiverseArts launches the first stage of our Community Arts School project. Our mission is to offer a wide variety of multidisciplinary classes, private lessons, master classes, workshops and seminars. We begin this fall by offering mostly music, dance, production/promotion classes and internships, and guerrilla independent film workshops. This project is experimental and will evolve over time. The major component that will remain constant is our desire to offer artistic educational opportunities to the community, while providing artists with support to pursue their teaching aspirations. The result should be that all parties become partners in learning.
Little Gallery Series
This fall DiverseArts will once again present our Little Gallery Series, a showcase for local visual artists to exhibit and sell their work. The primary location for this season's series is Heritage House. The exhibition space is indeed little, so these shows are mostly reserved for one-person exhibitions. The first exhibition is set to open in mid-November, hanging until early January. Artist interested in submitting slides for the series should contact (512) 477-9438 for details.
Front Porch Concerts (fair weather) and House Concerts (cold weather)
Taking advantage of Heritage House's beautiful porches and Austin's mild fall climate, DiverseArts this fall introduces a new performance series for small (mostly acoustic) ensembles and soloists. These shows are essentially aimed at recreating the feeling of intimate house and garden parties that feature front porch jamming. As part of our effort to help support the up-keep of Heritage House, the financial health of our organization, and relaxed arts networking, these performances are planned as informal fund-raiser/community building activities for DiverseArts.
The East Side Circuit
East Side Circuit is a new initiative for DiverseArts programming debuting this fall. Partially funded by the Texas Commission on the Arts, East Side Circuit is an innovative attempt to promote East Austin (cultural) economic development, while providing opportunities for multi-cultural artistic collaborations. Exhibiting our dedication to the cultural and economic well being of East Austin, DiverseArts East Side Circuit programming activities for 1996-97 include performances, workshops, and discussion groups aimed at forging partnerships between artists and businesses, with the common goal of enriching the cultural life of East Austin. At a minimum, East Side Circuit will involve collaborations between artists and DiverseArts, Heritage House, Victory Grill, Manor Road Coffeehouse, Cafe Armageddon and others.
Now, something completely different: Rules of Survival
Rule number one: We are a non-profit cultural arts organization, not a mainstream commercial publishing company. So, some other rules just don't apply to us.
Rule number two: If we don't have a viable advertising base, we, just like a commercial publishing company would, will have to cease publishing this magazine.
Although it is not always obvious, this little mag is, among other things, one of the tools in the DiverseArts publicity and promotion toolbox. No bones about it, no conflict of interest: Austin Downtown Arts is the official mouthpiece for our organization. We spend most of our time, however, writing about individual artists and other arts organizations because that fits our overriding mission. We want to serve the arts community in this way because there is the need, because there is not another publication that specifically addresses this need, and because we initially felt that the local arts and business community would embrace our effort and help support ($upport=paid advertising) us in this endeavor.
Some of these notions remain true and clear. The jury is still out on that last one. We persevere. We still put it out there. We still provide the service (monthly we get press releases and requests for features from arts organizations great and small). We still depend on the faithful few who support us month after month, hanging in there with us because they too see that we've got a great idea here, a vehicle that really can, in the long run, promote the cultural life of Austin. But without that ad base, it really makes it very difficult for us to move to the next level. We know our production values can and will improve. We know that our writing and writers will improve. We know that our ability to cover the scene, in ways that the mainstream commercial media will not/cannot, will improve. We know that our ability to give space to those arts folks not in the mainstream, those non-profit arts organizations without deep pockets, and to those communities that just don't get noticed in the daily (or the weekly alternative press either, for that matter) will only increase as time goes by.
What we don't know is how long it will take the folks -- who consistently send us press, compliment us on what we are trying to do, wonder why our distribution is occasionally little late, and still spend all of their advertising dollars with the mainstream media -- who support our vision, to actually think of us when they spend their advertising dollars.
Believe me, folks who are Money-$pending, music-listening, theater-going, book-reading, college-educated, art-making, coffee-drinking, dance-appreciating, painting-loving, culture-conscious, artist-supporting, restaurant-eating, gallery-going, hotel-staying patrons of the arts and enlightened businesses are the very same folks who now look for this little mag, find it, and read it every month. Aren't you?
Yes, point number one is pretty clear. We need your help here. Not so we can keep our own publicity machine alive, but we need your help so we may get better at serving the entirety of Austin's under-served (and after all, that includes most of us) cultural arts community. There is absolutely no grant or cultural contract money paying for this non-profit arts publication. If you appreciate what it is we are trying to do here, and can help, please do. So......wanna buy an ad contract for, say, 12 months? We got great deals just for you!
Thank you, thank you, thank you to those folks who are in our corner already. We ask you to take note of their ads (tell them you saw it here) and support their art and businesses. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks.
In plants, the course of individual development is greatly influenced by signals received from the external environment, mediated by hormones...
Primary plant body: includes the young, soft shoots and roots...
"Where do flowers get their names?" the smallest girl asked me, and I saw curiosity rise and bloom in her eyes. "How fast does a flower grow?" As fast as your mind unfolds its questions, child, like petals new and wet. I don't tell her the answers I have found, because I don't want to snuff out that spark so soon. Where do flowers get their names? From a man, little girl, who died long ago, who you'll never meet and never be like; from a man all white and beige and bearded who died clutching his discoveries to his chest with hands like a plant press squashing the life out of them till they were flat as paper and dry enough to label in Latin. And how fast does a flower grow? As fast as your questions will die, kiddo, falling fallow to the ground like unfertilized seeds, because no one bothered to notice your soft petal awakening.
Root: anchors the plant and serves as the major point of entry for water and minerals...
I think about that girl sometimes, and wonder what her chances are -- whether there is someone in her life (a teacher, a woman, a girl) who will nurture her inquisitiveness. I try to remember where my own love for growing things began, and I think of my first friend, Sarah, who had the ability to recreate reality to better suit two city girls in love with nature. We would traipse down 8th St. in sunbonnets, convinced that we lived on a prairie, instead of 17 stories above an urban jungle. But no matter how we tried to fly above those New York rooftops, we remained rooted in concrete.
That's how we grew, like the trees that lined the sidewalk, slow and skinny out of our own square inch -- two pale little girls with ashy gray knees and the taste of asphalt in our mouths. Sarah was always taller than me; maybe that's why I was constantly looking up to her. Or maybe it was the way her birthday always came along teetering on the edge of February like a balancing act, just about to fall into leap year where little girls only had a birthday every four years. By the time my birthday came around, Sarah had already been that age for six months, so that the number was stale as the August air we breathed. I didn't mind, though -- it was just a given; Sarah was there and I was always right there next to her.
Even the first day of kindergarten, staring at each other over a frozen juice can wrapped in black construction paper and containing new crayons, every color pointing awkwardly out of the can like stork legs, presenting infinite possibilities. Playing at orphan, playing at doctor, making medicine cabinet potions filled with the forbidden. Summers of 5 & 10 stores where our first purchases of frosted lipstick were made, as washed out and lavender as that wilted city sky...
And then there was a space around high school when we each spurted up jagged as bread knives, and, fitting each other awkwardly, we parted to struggle through our separate puberties. But we made it back to each other years later in a new and grown up way, surprised at how much we shared in our views, as though we hadn't been shaped by the same city streets. And now that we have branched out beyond our own sidewalk, now that I've so proudly watched her bear leaves and fruit, flowering up and out each year, I look back down at my own two feet and I see that we never quite got away after all. Two skinny trees growing tall above the rooftops, higher than even the pigeons, one next to the other with our feet planted firmly beneath the cement of Bleecker St.
Secondary growth: Involves the activity of lateral meristems; the continued division of their cells results primarily in a thickening of the plant body.
My worry for that girl mounts when I think of her going through puberty. I don't know how I made it through adolescence intact. I try to remember exactly when that happened, when growing became painful. It was in junior high, which I survived solely because of my friend Jessie. I just hope that little kid has a best friend - it's the only armor I know of for combating an adolescence of the "Welcome to the Dollhouse" variety.
But it wasn't always a battle; I distinctly remember a brief time when Jessie and I were all-powerful, smarter than grown-ups and freer than children, when being 13 was the coolest thing around. Back when our hair was long and stringy, running down our backs like tendrils of some unstoppable vine, in the days of braces tight enough to make us grimace in pain -- that American girl's rite of passage into beauty, our smiles bound and hobbling along helpless in their metal cages. Which didn't stop us from smiling -- we were all grins and giddiness, in a time that was so fragile and we didn't even know it -- moments before we would bite down, aching jaws and all, on that mealy apple of consciousness that for 13 year old girls in our society simply meant self-consciousness. Years of sucking in your stomach and your pride in who you were and how you could make people laugh...that confidence was felled easily like a sapling that never stood a chance, like an unstoppable vine with new tendrils curling about subway poles and books and the moorings along the Hudson River -- severed in one snip. And it all just fell away like hair cut short.
Did you know, Jessie, even then? You always were more aware of the world around us. Did you know how fragile those last moments were, those glass eyelashes growing out of the sleeping eye of childhood, that blinking feather of a moment when the eye opens and sees but has not yet been told how to look.
That was the strongest I've ever been. Just before the glass shattered and struck me blind to the beauty in me, that blink before consciousness became self-consciousness and I began the journey of forgetting who I was and becoming who I was supposed to be. It's funny, I've been making my way back ever since.
There's reason for concern. There really is no call for full-blown worry or all-out panic, but it is something to think about. The trend is there and the selection is a bit thinner than it ought to be, so there is some factual basis to the concern that has become the motivation behind the Women in Jazz Concert Series, which is that new and talented jazz vocalists are becoming a rare breed. The problem will be addressed in Austin on October 11th and 12th at the Live Oak Theater (at the State theater on Congress).
The program, which began in '89 as "Black Women in Jazz" under the Black Arts Alliance, declares as its main objective encouraging singers to take on jazz as their preferred vocal style and to foster the growth of jazz appreciation in people not familiar with the American tradition. A more immediate goal is to provide a venue to a talented group of female jazz vocalists who are otherwise not regularly featured in Austin. This year's show will not only showcase some of Austin's premier jazz singers, but will bring back Carmen Bradford, a former Austin resident and artist who left town thirteen years ago to travel as singer with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Pam Hart, the producer of the series as well as one of the performers, recognizes the fact that the majority of young female singers choose R&B, pop, rock, rap, and other more lucrative and visible musical genres as their field, their style. It is for this reason that she started the Women in Jazz series. "Jazz is harder to sing because of the freedom of phrasing and the improvisation that goes into it," Hart says, "so the number of singers is going to be smaller than in other forms. Younger people are interested in contemporary sounds, and right now that's R&B and rap. Mr. James Polk has said that jazz is a cyclical music, it comes back about every nine years." So the concern is only a temporary one. She adds with a laugh, "Betty Carter said that singers choose R&B to make fast money." Hart is quick to point out, though, that she does appreciate that style, even to the length of promoting it. The second night in this year's program will feature a variety of styles including R&B.
But the first night is reserved for jazz. "Friday night we're going to stick to the traditional, the standards," Hart says. And it is on Friday night that Carmen Bradford will take the stage. A review of her latest album, With Respect, states that Bradford "has a wise emotional maturity that extends well beyond her thirty-four years." Citing influences like Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, Tony Bennett, and of course, Ella Fitzgerald, Bradford's ability and taste cover a broad spectrum. After touring with Count Basie for nine years and recording three albums with him (as well as with the likes of Herbie Hancock and George Benson), she began her solo career in 1991 with Finally Yours. Critics moaned that she had abandoned the big band sound of Basie's orchestra for a mix of blues, R&B, and funk, and that's OK with Bradford, who claims her true love is R&B.
This will not, however, keep her from sliding through classic jazz numbers with the James Polk Quartet (including Polk, John Mills on sax, A.D. Manion on drums, and Edwin Livingston on bass). Also performing Friday night will be LaMonica Lewis, who is new to the series this year, Tina Marsh of CO2, Mady Kaye, and Hope Morgan, who has been singing with Women in Jazz since it was founded. Saturday's lineup includes Hart, Julie Burrell, Karen Chavis, Connie Kirk, Willie Nicholson, and Sheila Sanders, who is also new to the series. These women will be performing jazz as well as blues and R&B with the Elias Haslanger Band, including the returning rhythm section of Manion and Livingston playing behind Elias' sax and Fredrick Sanders on piano.
A first reaction to this list may be to notice the lack of female musicians. There are a couple reasons for this. One, the focus of the shows is the singer, the individual jazz stylings of these female performers, and the important thing about the band is that they can play to each of them. Second, and closer to the unfortunate truth, is that there just aren't that many female jazz musicians available.
"The bands now are playing because they're good," Hart said. "We have to get a mix that works for all of the singers. These are the bands that the singers are most comfortable with, and we can't afford to have everyone bring their own bands. For the April show (the spring presentation of Women in Jazz on April 18th and 19th, also at Live Oak) we're putting together a female band. Heather Bennett will be playing the piano and Audra Menconi will play the drums, but we're still looking for a bass player."
An all-female house band would add a whole new dimension to the concept behind Women in Jazz, but for now, the focus is on the singer. To intensify this focus, a workshop will be offered Sunday, October 12th, from 9:30-3:00 at the Live Oak. The first half, which will concentrate on performance style, will be run by Mady Kaye and cover such topics as stage fright, communication with musicians, and vocal hygiene. At 1:00, Carmen Bradford will take the instructor's podium to share her knowledge of how to make it in the music business. She will address issues including management and talent agents, musician selection, commercial music, and will relate her experience of touring with Count Basie. The workshop is open to any singer who is serious about her vocation, or serious about making music her vocation, and is free of charge. For information contact Pam Hart at (512) 258-3414.