V4N5: June 1998
Volume 4 Number 5
Table of Contents
World-renowned trumpeter Bobby Bradford will return to Austin for his first concert here since 1963.
I feel very strongly that if we are going to survive as people, not just as people of color, it's going to take a universal effort. That's why it's important to me that the work have a universal message.
-- Sharon Bridgforth
The Clarksville Jazz Festival has been around and accomplishing straightforward goals for almost 10 years.
It is time for Austinites to come to the aid of American Art Music.
Any upset in the balance of the "way things ought to be" can have an immediate impact, and can shake what you thought was a steady foundation, sending misplaced notions knick-knacks crashing to the floor without warning.
...And All Points In Between: Jazz Fest Headliners Range from Young to Legendary, New Orleans to New York, Latin Jazz to Traditional by Paul Klemperer
Mark Whitfield's playing credentials span contemporary and classic jazz. He has recorded and performed with such contemporaries as Branford Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Kenny Kirkland and Christian McBride, as well as legendary elder statesmen like Tommy Flanagan, Al Foster, Ray Brown, Jimmy Smith, Betty Carter and Carmen McRae, to name just a few.
Whitfield developed his jazz chops on bass in his teens, but later switched to guitar and received a scholarship from Boston's Berklee School of Music in 1983. From there he moved to New York, developing a close relationship with guitar great George Benson. He recorded three albums with Warner Brothers, The Marksman, Patrice, and Mark Whitfield before signing with Verve Records in 1994.
While Whitfield's first two Verve releases (True Blue and 7th Avenue Stroll) are stylistically situated within the classic "jazz renaissance" of the 1980s and '90s, his most recent release, Forever Love, explores other textures, including solo acoustic guitar and ballad work backed by a 21-piece string orchestra. His purpose for this album was "to take classic love songs that had been recorded by great singers." These simple, beautiful pieces "require a lot of emotion, so I had to reach down deep to come up with the right mood." Whitfield's addition to the Austin Jazz Fest lineup should be an exciting mix of sterling technique and emotional intensity. His music will appeal equally to modernists and lovers of classic jazz.
John Adams teaches jazz bass at the University of North Texas in Denton, the institution where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. But he is much more than a rigorous academician. He has toured with the Woody Herman Band, Sal Nistico and Zoot Sims, and backed classic vocalists Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney, as well as modern players like Randy Brecker and Dave Liebman.
A veteran of UNT's acclaimed One O'Clock Lab Band, Adams formed his quartet, one of the best-known in the region, in 1990 with fellow UNT grad Ed Soph on drums. Soph has toured with Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie among others, and is featured on Adams' 1996 release Jump Shot. Fellow former One O'Clock Bandmates Marvin Stamm (trumpet) and Chris Seiter (trombone) joined in this recording, as well as Warren Bernhardt, music director and keyboardist for Steely Dan.
Adams' music is lyrical yet soulful. The song selections on Jump Shot range from straight-ahead jazz and timeless ballads, to Pachelbel's "Canon in D," to "Kyrie," a 1st century Gregorian chant. On these two tracks the interplay between the musicians is reminiscent of the Modern Jazz Quartet. One is struck particularly by the lush tone Adams' achieves on the bass, as well as his virtuosic phrasing. His show is sure to be a high point of the Festival.
Bearing a famous name can be a burden, especially for the youngest member of the family. But by all accounts drummer Jason Marsalis is living up to the high musical standards set by his older relations. "Look out for Jason," says brother Branford. "He's gonna be a monster."
From an early age the young drummer was surrounded by music. He played with trombonist brother Delfeayo at the World's Fair in 1984, when he was just seven years old, and has often backed up his father Ellis Marsalis over the years. Already he has amassed an impressive list of recording credits, including (besides the immediate family) Marcus Roberts, Marcus Printup and New Orleans patriarch Harold Battiste.
One might expect Jason to be imitative of his family's musical ideas, but what has struck listeners is the maturity and distinctiveness of his playing. "If there was one thing that was stressed in my family," he explains, "it was individuality. And it was stressed to the point where each of us have different personalities."
The youngest Marsalis has drawn from a number of influences. One of his earliest inspirations was Lenny White's drumming with Return To Forever. The complexities of the rhythms opened Marsalis' ears to so-called "fusion" music. "Finally it dawned on me that the stuff I had thought was fusion was from the '80s. I hadn't heard any of the '70s music." This prompted him to study earlier Chick Corea recordings, taking him ultimately back to Miles Davis. "What I'm doing with fusion now is listening to certain rhythms and concepts and trying to apply those things to my own writing...to take different grooves, melodies and themes from fusion and use them so it sounds like jazz."
Marsalis has also studied the masters, drummers like Max Roach, Alan Dawson and Elvin Jones, and influential New Orleans natives James Black and Ed Blackwell. The sheer variety of influences and Jason Marsalis' rising recognition as a creative and adaptive innovator are good signs that we're in for a memorable performance.
The appearance of Ray Barretto at the Austin Jazz & Arts Festival is a major coup for Austin. The legendary percussionist embodies the heart of both modern salsa and Latin jazz. His performance and recording credits (over 1,000 studio dates!) read as a Who's Who in modern jazz.
Born in Brooklyn, Barretto grew up in Harlem and the Bronx, becoming steeped in the big band and bebop styles. After a stint in the army, Barretto became a regular player in New York nightclubs, sitting in with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Charlie Parker and others. "That kind of schooling was essential for where I am today," he explains.
In 1957 Barretto replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente's big band. In following years he became the percussionist of choice for jazz artists like Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Jack McDuff, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Kenny Burrell and Lou Donaldson. He formed the Ray Barretto Orchestra in 1962, moving gradually from strict Latin dance music to more experimental Latin jazz, finally forming his current group New World Spirit in 1992.
Barretto's 1998 release Contact! has achieved both critical and popular support in the United States, Europe, and in Puerto Rico, where he was honored at the 1997 Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fesitival. "They felt strongly about doing something for someone who has roots there," Barretto recalls.
In his own words, Barretto's purpose is to bring Latin and jazz influences together in a sound that "represents jazz at the highest level possible." The music will be an intense blending of great jazz improvisation and Afro-Latin rhythms. In his life and music Ray Barretto exemplifies the strength and diversity of American culture, both North and South. His message is in his music, and on June 14 he'll be bringing it to Austin. Don't miss it!
Bobby Bradford Homecoming by Paul Klemperer
At this year's Austin Jazz & Arts Fest, world-renowned trumpeter Bobby Bradford will return to Austin for his first concert here since 1963. He stopped at the capital city once in 1978 on his way to Paris, Texas ("I just got off the freeway for sentimental reasons"), but this year marks his official return after some 35 years. In the interim, he has produced an extensive and influential body of musical work. He has been a witness and contributor to almost five decades of jazz, but some of the most formative of those years were spent right here in Austin.
Bradford was born in Cleveland, Miss., but like many black families during World War II, his family moved out of the south to Los Angeles in 1943, then to Detroit, before Bradford finally settled in Dallas. He recalls that his high school there was "a real hotbed for aspiring young jazz musicians," including pianist Cedar Walton and saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman. He also was exposed to jazz at home. His father was a Baptist minister, but played the clarinet and piano and liked to listen to big band jazz on the radio.
Jazz became his obsession in high school:
I had already started listening to Miles, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Stitt...All those guys were meaningful to me, so in the 9th grade I was already "hip." I was listening to all the modernists, because there was a serious population of jazz musicians in Dallas, Texas. Some retired professionals even. Couple of guys who had been with Duke Ellington.
Bradford attended Austin's Sam Houston College (before it became the combined Houston-Tillotson College) in 1952. Band director and music teacher Bert Adams arranged a scholarship for him. Bradford remembers:
He was one of my serious teachers and came to Dallas recruiting students, and afforded me an opportunity. Without him I don't think I would have been able come to college. And of course coming to Sam Houston at that time, you had to play in the concert band, the football pep band, the jazz band, and whatever else they needed you to do...I knew nothing about Austin before I got there. When I got there at like three or four o'clock in the morning with my big steamer trunk, I had no idea what to expect. But I was determined to go to college.
Austin at that time, like other parts of Texas, had a well-developed jazz scene. "Of course you took music classes, but as far as playing jazz every weekend, oh man, there was all kinds of little beer joints on [11th Street]," he said. Bradford found other kindred souls at Sam Houston. Alto sax player Leo Wright was there; he went on to play with Dizzy Gillespie. They played together in the 18-piece college jazz band:
We played two or three times a month around town. Usually at places like the University of Texas or the country clubs around town. It was a big dance band, kind of a Count Basie type of dance band, and an awfully good band. I mean not just some little wimpy band, I'm talking about a really good band. In fact that was my introduction, through Bert Adams, to what it meant to be a professional musician, what it took to sit there and be able to play a part and play it dependably so people could count on you...and to play the music with precision. I was introduced to that at Sam Houston College under the tutorship of Bert Adams, who himself played the trombone and was an arranger.
During this time Bradford also got to hear visiting artists:
Lionel Hampton would come to town sometimes, playing with his big band, maybe in San Antonio, and his musicians, sometimes in smaller groups, might appear in Austin. And a lot of rhythm & blues bands would come through there, really good ones, you know. The first time I ever saw Ike & Tina [Turner] was in Austin, when they were both obviously very, very young....You know the saxophone player who was with Sun Ra for years, John Gilmore. At the time I was a freshman at Sam Houston, John Gilmore was stationed just outside Austin at Bergstrom Air Force Base. And John Gilmore used to come in on weekends and hang around the college with the musicians and work in the clubs and jam with these guys.
It was also at this time that Bradford met Ornette Coleman. Coleman's friend Charles Moffett was getting married and Coleman came to Austin to be best man at the wedding. Moffett was a senior at Sam Houston at the time:
In fact, if my memory serves me, they had the wedding reception at the Victory Grill. Isn't that amazing? After the wedding they went there and had a buffet and then the guys had a big jam session. Ornette played and so did Leo Wright and John Gilmore and some of the others. When [Ornette] started to play we all perked up, hearing a guy who was playing in the Charlie Parker mold, but was already showing signs now of his own creativity, above and beyond what he'd learned from Charlie Parker. We were all dumbfounded once we heard this guy play.
In 1953, Bradford dropped out of school "and went on the road with a lot of rhythm & blues bands." He ended up in Los Angeles, ran into Ornette Coleman there, and began playing with him. Don Cherry was also playing with Ornette at the time:
I didn't know Don that well then. I would see him at the various jam sessions around town though...I got drafted and went into the military in the fall of 1954, so when Ornette got ready to put a band together and go to New York, Don was obviously the guy who was going to play trumpet with him. 'Cause there were only two of us around town who were willing and able to play with him. He was doing a lot of stuff that a lot of people found too radical for their ears, or their appetites. But I loved what he was doing.
Bradford found more kindred souls in the Air Force. He played in military bands for four years. He was in the same band with drummer Grady Tate and "sometimes, when I was travelling around with other bands, there was [trumpeter] Donald Byrd, who was in the Air Force during that period."
In 1956 Bradford returned to Austin and entered the recently desegregated University of Texas. He studied there for several years until the "money ran out," then joined up with Ornette Coleman again in 1961. The new "free jazz" sound met a lot of resistance from those who felt Coleman was straying too far from tradition. Bradford sees a lesson in the struggle he shared with Coleman, which is as important for jazz players now as it was then:
On a certain level you have to have some understanding and appreciation for the tradition, but you're not supposed to look at that as some sort of safety valve for you, where you're afraid to try to be who you are in your music. Who you are means who you are in time and space, who you are right now on the planet. So obviously, especially if you're a young player right now, how could you not...be prepared or willing or inclined to respond to the world that you are living in, in your own music. 'Cause it's such a different world than Charlie Parker was living in. So when people tend to go this conservative route they stifle the young people...about being adventurous enough to go out there. Because that's what jazz has always been about, isn't it? Go out there. Go out there on the edge. Right? And sometimes without a parachute. That's what makes the music what it is.
Bradford met clarinetist John Carter, a Fort Worth native, in 1965 and together they formed the New Art Jazz Ensemble. Their association lasted 25 years, much of it spent in Europe where their experimental music was generally better received than in the U.S. Bradford also continued his association with Ornette Coleman, collaborating on the 1971 recording Science Fiction.
Through the years, Bradford has found great satisfaction in teaching music, which he continues to do in Los Angeles. Bradford encourages younger musicians to make their playing an expression of their daily experiences: "Try to say something about the space and time that you live in, rather than going back and warming up old meatloaf." He acknowledges that being a musical experimentalist may be less lucrative, but it nonetheless has its rewards:
I didn't go into music business, or become a trumpet player with the idea that someday I'll be rich and famous. What I wanted to do was to have some command of this instrument and be a part of that big body of music that we're talking about. I wanted to be a member of that group and to be able to create something suitable for the level that the other people were doing. As Duke Ellington said, I wanted to be able to prepare something "suitable for the plateau." If I made money and became famous, wonderful; if I did not I was still going to do what I did. If I had to go back now and do it all over, I'd do the same thing again, without change.
[This article was supplemented with material from a radio interview by KOOP-FM DJ Torrance Gettrell.]
Rising and Defining: Bridgforth's Work Explores "Herstory" by Sandra Beckmeier
Contemporary women playwrights remain on the edge, shifting the margins of today's mainstream theater. If silence equals death, many theater groups popping up around town are redefining the heyday of heroism in Austin's theater palate.
Sharon Bridgforth has been creating cultural silhouettes for several years. Formerly a self-professed "closeted" writer, she brought her performance pieces and poetry to the stage with her first production, Sonata Blue, in 1993. Premiering at the Vortex, Bridgforth's company, Root Wy'mn, was born.
Bridgforth's work is unrecognizable, at least to me. It carries the voice of an artist progressing, unfolding "herstory" for those who don't know, uncovering spirituality, and offerings through characters I sometimes tend to believe are really re-born deities, including Bridgforth's child of soulful diligence, BullJean.
The great cultural divides make us shift our feet, lose days and hours of sleep, moving from survival mode toward growth, artists have to examine the relationship within our communities, old and new. Her latest piece, Blood Pudding took her on a pilgrimage to the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians of Algiers, where her father was raised.
Receiving a new form initiative grant (regional NEA), Bridgforth's idea began to crystallize as she researched. "As time passed I became more clear about the mixing of blood and the ways that we survive," she said. "I was very careful about where I was getting my information. I wanted to be as much as possible, talking with people-of-color-historians, people with lineage from that area; if it was oral tradition I would gather it. It started becoming about the history of New Guinea, about the cultures and the ways people survived."
Described as a "bluesical," Blood Pudding brings a lot of discoveries and subtly challenges the audience to the stage, lifting another veil and adding "many creative layers," including collaborating with the hailed yet unfamed Laurie Carlos, who came to Frontera on a grant to work with playwrights and performers. For Bridgforth, collaboration with Carlos meant the opportunity to layer the work with an artist accustomed to working with non-traditional playforms and spiritually based work. Carlos is a legend of performance art, an original cast member of For Colored Girls...
The lights dim in Hyde Park Theater, and I sit quietly next to Bridgforth and my date, all three of us listening to each other's responses to the soul food delivered from the root. Suddenly the lady is on the stage -- BullJean, a young revolutionary child-woman whose voice becomes stronger as the storytelling engages the audience beyond where we think we're being led.
Although Blood Pudding was produced by Frontera, Root Wy'mn Theatre Company came from a script and an experience Bridgforth had recalling an elder sharing the process of preparing and cooking greens, and the strength that comes from women sharing their stories while cooking in the kitchen. Bridgforth began exploring the idea of survival in a woman's way, and began her journey by telling the stories of African American women -- staying in tune to issues concerning elders, homosexuals, and Native Americans. The result has been a unique method of storytelling as a means to make the message universal.
"Sometimes what I say or the way I say it, people may not agree with, and that pushes buttons. But that's okay because at least it makes people think," Bridgforth said. "I feel very strongly that if we are going to survive as people, not just as people of color, it's going to take a universal effort. That's why it's important to me that the work have a universal message. Blood Pudding addresses people who were indigenous to that area and were slaughtered. Looking at indigenous people, and recalling what happened when the French came, some were killed off. A lot of people ended up having to fight -- sometimes each other -- to survive capitalism-driven people who were coming in and taking over."
Bridgforth says of her writing process, "the hardest thing for me is always getting started. This piece was really hard for me to write. It took me a while to get to the point of starting and the more research I did I knew I wanted to honor the fact that within the culture of these indigenous people they don't tell their whole story to people who are not a part of it. I think it's partially because our stories are not often told," Bridgforth clarified. "I think part of it too is that what they do is spiritually based. Once I got going it became more about the magic and beauty of the stories they told and the history of New Guinea cultures and the ways people survived. It became compulsive, like fitting pieces together."
1998 is a banner year for Bridgforth, not only considering the success the play had with Frontera, but also celebrating being published after years of rejection -- a sign of the times. Bridgforth found a home for a collection of short stories, The BullJean Stories, with RedBone Press in September of 1998. After submitting some of her writing to the activism-rooted publisher for an anthology of African American lesbian coming out stories, Does Your Momma Know?, and corresponding for several years, one of her pieces was selected for the book. Bridgforth began what will ultimately lead to a trend of dashing into bookstores and reading last time with other contributors from the collection, and addressing the publishing questions that had lingered on for too long.
"There's nothing like letting things happen like they're supposed to," Bridgforth said. "The pieces I write are for the body, the ear, therefore performance, but I still wanted to see them in print. Last year I ended up contributing to three anthologies, but for years it was frustrating for me because I would be out in cities touring with the company and people would ask me for a book and although I had self-published some of my work, it just became too expensive.
"I can't even find words to express how it feels so I'm looking forward to wearing this hat. Does Your Momma Know? has won several awards, and is being used as a textbook in some places. Lisa Moore is someone who is committed to creating history, but you know herstory is a better term. So on top of this excitement of seeing this stuff in print it just feels special, very special."
Bridgforth and co-director Laurie Carlos successfully brought Blood Pudding to life at Hyde Park Theater this spring, which featured Stacy Robinson, Djola Branner, Zel Miller III, Renita Martin and Florinda Bryant. "Hyde Park has the energy, resources and deep caring about the work to see that it goes out into the world, connecting communities which is what so much of Blood Pudding is about, layering," Bridgforth explained. "In the end when it comes down you have to be realistic about resources and I've found out how much energy I have and where I can put it or else I'll be crazy and won't have anything.
"This was the first time I shared directorship, and the first time another company has produced my work," she said. "This has been very special to me and I'm really excited about other companies producing my work and simply getting to wear the hat of writer. Laurie Carlos is so special, not only as an individual, but in the history of performance art. She is one of the foremothers, and if not for her work I would not be able to work and get paid. If she hadn't already paid her dues and opened doors who knows?"
Luckily, it's only history.
A Sweet Baby Thing Called Jazz by Sandra Beckmeier
The Clarksville Jazz Festival has been around and accomplishing straightforward goals for almost 10 years. The 1989 season set the festival in motion. Since them, various styles of jazz and jazz players have popped up all around the city. Performers who are closer to the form's traditional and authentic roots are getting gigs where before there were closed doors. Non-traditional and avant groups are too finding more stage time in the Austin scene. And the scene is no longer limited to just one club.
But has Austin jazz found unity and purpose, a shared community? That is the question that DiverseArts director and Jazz Fest producer Harold McMillan seems to be grappling with.
This year, as Clarksville enters a new decade, polishes up a new name for the festival, and checks the evolved climate for jazz in Austin, there are lots of reasons to celebrate the arrival of the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival. The history of Clarksville, the life of the freedomtown connected to downtown, still offers a good parallel for considering the survival of jazz in Austin. But the jazz festival now moves east, to downtown.
Harold McMillan has given a lot more than a few nights without sleep to the community, not only as the administrator and cultural guide for DiverseArts, but also as a social worker. After several years of "reformist social work," the move to cultural work was a natural progression for this self-taught bass player. Austin is far from a metropolis, and McMillan is "just a country boy from Emory, Texas." But he has visions of a very cosmopolitan, urbane downtown Austin. He also wonders if Austinites are truly interested in the work that seems so important to him.
For the time being, McMillan stands firm with the goals of his projects. But time spent "working for the community" begs for validation and McMillan now seems to be considering the limits -- of his dedication and of the scene itself.
Beyond all of his social virtues, McMillan recently celebrated the arrival of his baby boy, Hayes Michael. Fatherhood suits this old man with a flair for laughing in French.
McMillan: We started the festival as the Clarksville Jazz Festival 10 years ago. In its first season it was in my head. Then there were a couple of projects I wanted to do about as early as the '80s, and Blues Family Tree's first season was 1990, but both projects had their genesis at about the same time.
ADA: Were your plans with the Jazz Festival a reaction to the music community?
McMillan: Initially. I had done a lot of work with music and musicians prior to that. It was really frustrating because it was a closed market, a lot more so than it is now. I felt the reasons were issues of race and ownership of the music, and that kind of stuff. In the late '70s and into the early and mid-80s, you were hard-pressed to find black folks playing jazz and blues in the clubs around town, which seemed really strange to me. It seemed problematic. I had seen a lot of musicians, especially the older players who basically gave up on the hustle. I decided that one way to meet the mission of trying to encourage parity would be to start producing larger shows myself, and giving playing spots to people who I felt weren't getting a stage around town. Clarksville happened to be the neighborhood where I was living at the time. The story of the community has an interesting parallel to the history of jazz, in general, and to jazz in Austin. It's like this thing of freedom and struggle, evolving more, and then figuring out a way to survive that tries to maintain some integrity, but also acknowledges that things are very different than the way they started out.
ADA: This year the festival has a new name.
McMillan: I assumed it would ultimately move on to being called the Jazz Festival or the Austin Jazz Festival. I just felt there would be some kind of natural thing which would happen to let me know when it was time for the name to change. Our programming has expanded, not to just being two days at the park but to a general week of programming in places all around town. Although we started out very small on a parking lot, it's now the biggest block of jazz programming that happens in Austin during the year. So as not to confuse people not from Austin to explain where Clarksville is, we decided to change the name to the Austin Jazz Festival this year. We're also moving the location to Waterloo Park which seems more appropriate with the name change, and a real big booster of the city center. I think that makes sense. I think it's logical.
ADA: How difficult has all of this struggling with education been for you?
McMillan: It's been real, and incorporated into my life. After the first couple of years it became something I worked on at some level all year long -- and somehow the project crossed my mind every day whether that was in August or December. I assumed, which turned out not to be a good assumption, that I would be able to produce the festival for two or three years and people would get behind this and support it. So I assumed if I personally sacrificed and struggled for two or three years I would get my message out and we would be embraced. I thought that we would be able to get corporate underwriting, but what I found out was that trying to market cultural programs based in African American culture -- something that is not commercial music -- ends up being a hard sell for a small city like Austin. The non-profit arts organizations and commercial festivals that get a lot of support, well, very few of those are based in African American culture. Very few of those are paying attention to forms like jazz, blues, conjunto -- those kinds of things. A lot of people have asked me why I'm a promoter, and after 10 years I still haven't made it to this place where I think of myself as a promoter. I run an arts organization. I do educational programs. I do the same kind of work in arts and culture as I used to do directly for people when I was a very politically motivated social worker. I am trying to effect positive change in this community, and rather than making strong arguments about housing and welfare rights, which I used to do as a social worker, I think that kind of advocacy is just as important when you're dealing with art and culture.
ADA: Right, because you're dealing with the same kind of issues. Do you think that the festival will lose some of its identity because it's becoming mainstream?
McMillan: I don't see it as becoming commercial. The identity that separates it from the Clarksville neighborhood will be a change, in that our mission to educate folks about the history and value of the culture that was in Clarksville will change. My cultural education shift right now is doing what I can to educate folks that it's okay that jazz doesn't have the audience of Top 40 radio. It's very different, presenting this kind of music and expressive culture, very much like presenting the Lyric Opera or symphonic music, art music as it were. Austin is not New Orleans or some East Coast city. This community has got to step up to the plate and acknowledge the importance of this music and in the same ways that the symphony finds support. The new push is to find kindred souls -- and educate folks in Austin that there are kindred souls here that are world-class players. The jazz community will be enriched if we are able to continue to bring important voices from the outside to interact with this community to help to promote cultural exchange. There's gonna have to be subsidy at some level. One of my new clichés is European classical music doesn't sell a lot of records either, you know, but that music finds support in this community and in most other cities that consider themselves cosmopolitan cities, find support to make sure that programming happens and it's not tied to records sales and it's not tied to the 14-25 year old demographic that normally buys alternative rock and hip-hop. It's an important thing for the cultural life of the city. So while I am beating the drum, what I'm hoping to do is to help galvanize the jazz community so that the Creative Opportunity Orchestra finds support, so the fall jazz festival that happens in Zilker finds support. If the Performing Arts Center is bringing Wynton Marsalis through town, I want to see that the jazz community gets excited, and gets up for that and goes to see those shows. That is what is necessary for this project to sustain itself. So we have lots of advancement and growth and all of those things. But it's still a struggle.
ADA: The bottom line is you need financial support from the community to keep it going, and that means everything and nothing.
McMillan: And I don't know how much longer, you know, how long ol' Harold can keep on. I got mouths to feed. Things have changed.
ADA: When did you start the double-staged programming? And where did you get the idea to bring more diversity to the project?
McMillan: We started that about four years ago. I go around to other festivals and see what is happening, and one of the things that was very influential was the New Orleans Festival. They have eight to 10 stages and tents with all this kind of activity going on that is different. But within this whole multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary arts angle, I wanted to have a main stage that had this kind of straight ahead jazz and blues and then another stage that focused on the various kinds of world music that might be connected to jazz, or influenced by jazz. So that was the idea in the first couple of years.
ADA: There's not a world music festival here is there?
McMillan: Smaller ones, but nothing not like an annual celebration. So it's a jazz festival but our programming encompasses jazz, blues R&B, gospel and world music.
ADA: How has it come to pass that so many members of the Marsalis family have come through the festival and where have did you meet them?
McMillan: The year that I decided I wanted Ellis Marsalis to play was about five years ago. I had telephone conversations with people around him, but I never got to speak with him in person. I sent him faxes, and made him an offer by fax, then I went to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, looked him up, got a backstage pass, and waited for him to come off stage to talk to him. I gave him one of the program books, and said I want you to look at this -- this is what I'm doing. I want you to come to Austin. I said it wasn't a big festival, and that I wasn't a big promoter. Later when I called him up he was cool and said he'd do it. He was there at the very beginning of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and was very familiar with this process that I'm going through so he's turned out to be someone good to know. I've also met a couple of his sons and this year I'm bringing his youngest, Jason. Ellis is a great guy, smart, really into passing on culture, really into educating. Makes a point of being accessible. The Austin scene needs somebody like him. We don't have somebody like him, which is too bad.
ADA: Who are the most talented players here in your opinion?
McMillan: There's a circle of young guys, some of them came through UT undergraduate school, and then went to graduate school at Southwest Texas. Some of them went through Southwest Texas and studied down there with Keith Winking, and James Polk. The cats though, the cats that I have the most interest in because of their potential for doing things that will get attention and notice outside of Austin are people like Fred Sanders, Elias Haslanger, Brannen Temple, J.J. [Johnson], Edwin [Livingston], and Freddie Mendoza. A bunch of these guys are under 35, many of them under 30. But they're energetic and really doing good stuff. But that is not to say Tomás Ramirez, for instance, is not a talented player and composer, and musician and all of those things. He's been active in the scene here for like 20 years, but I'm more encouraged by these younger guys doing things. One of the things that has been a worry for me at least about the scene in Austin has been who the next generation is going to be, what they're going to look like, and how they're going to play. Where they are going to come from...and I kind of decided that it wasn't going to happen, so I am a bit more optimistic lately because these guys have been surfacing and doing really good things, like making records. Another thing that makes me feel better is that there are young players, many of them black, who are active in the scene. And in the recent past, there weren't a lot of black players in the Austin jazz and blues scene. This makes me think that maybe there is hope for a next generation of the Austin jazz scene.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
It is time for Austinites to come to the aid of American Art Music.
Given all of the recent coverage given efforts to convert Palmer Auditorium into a "state of the art" performing arts complex, you might get the impression that Austin's support for American Art Music is strong and broad-based. The Palmer debate, gentle and respectful yet emotionally charged, is a great example of how disparate forces come together to show financial, civic, and political support for the benefit of cultural aims. It is a noble cause with folks from a wide variety of Austin communities weighing in with opinions, ideas, solutions, and arguments for the proposed retrofit.
For those of us who support the notion that Palmer just might be the city's best bet for getting the needed performance space at the lowest possible price, the answer is clear: convert Palmer and make it affordably available for, among other performance activities, showcasing America's art music. Not that "American Art Music" should be the only music activity there, but since the building will continue to be a publicly-owned municipal facility, first priority should go to projects and programs which address civic and cultural needs of the city rather than programming that is strictly commercial in nature.
If you've followed the public debate, you know the Palmer Retrofit idea has supporters offering millions of cash dollars, has all kinds of monied socialites showing up for City Council meetings, has support from political heavy-hitters, has support of local banks (and officers) and architectual firms, multi-million dollar high-tech firms, and a number of well placed non-profit cultural institutions. If you look closer, and have been looking for a couple of years now, you also know that Austin's major classical performing arts organzations and audiences are really the movers and shakers behind this effort. And they ought to be.
With PAC scheduling busting at the seams, the Austin Symphony, Austin Lyric Orchestra, and Ballet Austin are in need of a home to call their own. The Palmer Retrofit is probably the answer to this need. The Opera now has the building right across the street from Palmer. The Symphony is marshalling their well-placed financial and political troops to make the Palmer retrofit a reality. What could be more perfect? Austin needs a first-rate, quality performance space to take us into the 21st Century, one we can be proud of. Austin's classical and non-commerical performance, and/or arts organizations, deserve a well-equipped, multi-purpose space to showcase the work of Austin's best and the world's finest practitioners of traditional and cutting-edge cultural performance forms. And because this is the reality of the situation, the troops are indeed in place.
Millions of dollars are already pledged. High-level political favors are being called in. Architects are dedicating hundreds of hours of pro-bono retrofit work, political consultants are offering advice, fairly specific ways to spend millions of dollars of public bond moneys are being proposed. The Austin art music and performance community (and others) are united and ready to work to address (their version of) the cultural needs of this community. And, at a fairly detached distance, I support their efforts.
I speak of all of this for one very specific reason. These folks, these folks who are be-damned and determined to make sure that European Art Music and dance are preserved, practiced, and promoted in the heartland of Central Texas offer a useful model for those of us who are concerned with, for example, the past, present and future of America's Art Music, Jazz. I support the notion that Austin's Symphony, Lyric Opera, and Ballet need the support of the the civic, business, political, and governmental communities of the region. But what do we do to show our support of American Art Music? What do we do to show our support of the indigenous culture of Northern Mexico, whose land we occupy?
Just as the example of Austin's European classical community is clear, so too is the answer to my questions. My message here is not really to debate the need or want for a Palmer retrofit. I personally think the retrofit would be a good thing for Austin. But I also think that those who champion the cause of European classical forms (and their relationship to others in this community of cultures) might also take a closer look at the value of artistic and cultural traditions that more accurately reflect the cultural reality in which we find ourselves, here in Central Texas -- and not just with a side-long glance, but with a deep look at cultural chauvinism and what that says "politically" about power and influence in our Capital City.
Palmer retrofit or no, Mozart's music will survive in Austin. Believe me, Bach will be ok. What I wonder is when Austin's jazz community is gonna wakeup and realize that we have the power and obligation to claim that same kind of support base. Commercial radio, cigar-puffin' nightclubs, bottomline-driven promoters and booking agents are not obliged to support the preservation nor growth of Austin's jazz community. Those of us who truly do care about diverse cultural expression -- and the value of making connection to like-minded old and new Austinites -- must come forward now. Those of us who are determined to keep jazz, the real stuff, alive in Austin must now begin to show our muscle. We must.
The classical music community lives in East, North, West and South Austin. They are students and poor. They work for small businesses, are owners, manage projects for multi-million-dollar/ multi-national corporations, sit in board rooms and have meetings at downtown banks, and vote Republican, Democrat, Other. They are normal Austinites.
The thing that Austin jazz heads must acknowledge is: so are we. If non-commercial jazz is to find support, a friendly home in Austin, jazz heads now need to come out of the closet, the boardroom, the Council Chamber and identify themselves. In order to continue their (read: our) work, the non-commercial, non-profit jazz-presenting groups who have been sweating blood to bring you the real stuff, are now tired and broke, and very much in need of a show of community.
Supporters of European classical forms offer us our best models of just what it takes to make sure that non-commercial American Art Music survives and thrives in Austin, Texas. Without financial and political support -- a supportive audience -- similar to that of the opera and symphony, real jazz in Austin will inevitably fade away.
Real jazz is not, nor will it be, a commercial cash-cow. That's not the point. It's not about record sales, radio airplay, and commercial sucess. Jazz, as THE fundamental American Art Music, requires subsidy, support, sponsorship, preservation, and respect to survive and florish. That's true in New York City, Paris, France, and Austin, Texas. I think the difference is, we Austinites (who are in the best positions to support this notion) have not figured this one out. Those of us who do truly care about the future of the jazz tradition in Austin must come together, much like a Symphony Society, to make sure that the power, influence, and importance of our collective consumer, political, culutral, and civic voices are heard.
Perhaps the time for the Jazz Society in Austin has finally arrived.
Verities by Christopher Hess
When you've dug yourself into a comfortable little hole, adjusted your surroundings until they meet the exact specifications required for a peaceable existence, hung your pictures on the walls and laid the mat outside the front door, any slight disturbance can feel like an earthquake. Any upset in the balance of the "way things ought to be" can have an immediate impact, and can shake what you thought was a steady foundation, sending misplaced notions knick-knacks crashing to the floor without warning.
When I found out Fred Sanders was leaving town, I was shocked. Not shocked, really, but dismayed to say the least. I mean, when you look at a talent like Sanders has, the completely natural ease with which he attends to any musical piece he undertakes in any combo he's in, you expectthat talent to continue to seek new inspiration and grow. Growth requires space, though, and for many the ceiling here is somewhat low. As it applies to jazz specifically, that ceiling is made up of the number of people who play here on a regular, rotational basis, as well as the distance from any major metropolis where the huge touring acts pass through. Dallas gets 'em, sure, but not all of them, not all the time.
It's not as if you need to be surrounded by masters in anything to be able to do it well, but doing it well is not the point. As Elias Haslanger told me, "You need people from all over the world bringing new ideas to the table all the time, and we don't have that here." To be world-class, you have to know what's going on out there, to know what you're up against. Haslanger will, in time, move as well. New York, New Orleans, somewhere in the jazz-fanatical cities of Europe, who knows.
So, these walls that are crumbling are of a little local jazz world that I've built around myself over the past few years. After seeing the same people appearing in the combos that I saw the most, and after identifying styles and sounds as they apply to individuals and how they mesh with those of others, I thought I had an idea of what the state of Austin jazz was. The ground beneath this order has shifted, and will soon enough shift again.
The fleeting nature of everything (no nihilism, I swear) leads one to look for solid ground, and I think that, for this month at least, solid ground can be found. Look East. As you will read elsewhere in this mag, June is Jazz in Austin, largely because of the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival. Over the past nine years this annual event has been called the Clarksville/West End Jazz Festival, and while Pease Park is a very nice spot and the participating venues were always gracious enough, it just didn't seem to make as much sense as this new setup. Localization, centralization, and a definitive move eastward have all entered into the equation, and the effects will surely be a more cohesive feel to the full week-long festival. All but one of the evening shows will be at the Victory Grill this year. In the past they've alternated venues, and while variation is nice, it can also be confusing and can dilute a passive spectator's sense of the festival.
And also, the daytime/weekend segment of the festival, on June 13th and 14th, will be held at Waterloo Park. The number of musical and festival events being held at this park has been increasing over the past couple years, and with good reason. The park is downtown, facilities are easily imported and exported, parking is easier than in Clarksville, and it's a more enclosed setting.
The Austin Jazz and Arts Festival is carving out a new niche for itself, since the home of its first nine years has become an impossibility. An earthquake, sure, but the relocation may be what spurs the fest into unprecedented growth. This festival should be the time when the world class players come through town; when amazing new ideas and insights are brought to the table until it flows; when those who have moved on come back to visit; when artists from all over can get together and benefit from each others' experiences and styles.
Ray Barretto and New World Spirit will bring world-class Latin flavor, Jason Marsalis brings his family's New Orleans tradition; guitarist Mark Whitfield comes from the jazz capital New York; and Bobby Bradford and his trumpet will make-up the show he missed a few months ago. And with local talent like Haslanger, Sanders, Martin Banks, and much more, it's gonna be a hell of a week.