V8N6: October 2002
Volume 8 Number 6
Table of Contents
Begun in 1989 as the Clarksville Jazz Festival, the 2002 Festival continues DiverseArts' tradition of producing Austin's oldest jazz music event.
"When my gig is over everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling and telling me how good they feel."
"I see more and more talented women on every instrument in countries all over. But I think it will be great when the question becomes obsolete, when I can talk about the music without being a 'female guitarist.'"
It's the document of a community's collective decision to transgress for one day, to be agitated sweetly by the stark testimonials of Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Anita O' Day, Mahalia Jackson, and others.
Let me tell you a little more about my friend Marc, and why his sponsorship of this year's festival is more than an isolated act of generosity from a successful business and its owner.
Much of the thrill of hearing an Art Tatum comes from the provocative truth that it shouldn't be happening, that at any point, the odds are ever against an Imani Evans finding his way through the morass of the postmodern everyday and making contact with an Art Tatum and the artistic and cultural heritage he represents.
This summer I spent most of August and part of September in Turkey, meeting and playing with a variety of musicians, as well as gaping at the products of a culture over 3000 years old.
It's like, Jazzville, man!
Diverse Arts Production Group and Katz's Deli are proud to present the 14th Annual Austin Jazz and Arts Festival. Begun in 1989 as the Clarksville Jazz Festival, the 2002 Festival continues DiverseArts' tradition of producing Austin's oldest jazz music event. Each year's event carries out our mission to present multidisciplinary, family-oriented programs that stress artistic quality, education and cultural appreciation.
On October 20 at Symphony Square, the Jazz Fest will showcase a variety of well-crafted programming of jazz music as an art form. The day will begin with a Jazz Brunch and family events at 11am. Matinee performances include local presenters and musicians. The Great Guitars Concert that evening will feature a wide range of guitar styles such as straight-ahead bebop, R&B, down-home Austin blues, and more unconventional songwriting. Part of this one-of-a-kind performance includes Mimi Fox and Leni Stern, two of the world's most accomplished women jazz guitarists. Following are guitar virtuoso Cornell Dupree and Austin's "Godfather of the Blues," W.C. Clark.
Educational, nonprofit, arts and crafts booths, and children's programming will round out the day's activities. Combined with the cooler October weather, this year's Jazz Fest will be the perfect way to spend a relaxing Sunday.
The 2002 event is a collaboration of many local nonprofit arts organizations including Epistrophy Arts, Women in Jazz, the Creative Opportunity Orchestra and Pro-Arts Collective. These organizations' mutual support fulfills the vision of the founder and executive director of DiverseArts, Harold McMillan, for a greater jazz future in Austin.
Griot Circle lets kids join in the music with percussion and instrumental fun. Grupo Fantasma blends funk, merengue, cumbia, and jazz. Their booty-shaking sound packs houses wherever they play in Austin. Fantasma's double rhythm section and three piece horn brigade consists of a versatile and talented cast of players who have performed with the Blue Noise Band, the Blimp, Golden Arm Trio, and Ta Mere among others.
Pamela Hart is Austin's best-loved female jazz singer, known for her rich and sultry vocals. She and her husband Kevin Hart founded Women In Jazz to promote the involvement of and provide performance opportunities for women in the local jazz scene. May I Come in? is Pamela's solo album.
Epistrophy Arts is Austin's leading presenter of experimental and improvisational jazz. Alex Coke, Alvin Fielder, Dennis Gonzalez, and Dave Dove will make up the Spiritual Unity Quartet.
Tina Marsh is artistic director and vocalist for Austin's Creative Opportunity Orchestra, an innovative group dedicated to composing and improvising progressive jazz music. Tina combines an eclectic mix of theatrical elements, spoken word, video, and avant-garde in her performances. Creative Opportunity Orchestra has made several albums including Benediction, RADIOactive, Transformation, and The Heaven Line, and an album of spirituals and lullabies.
Leni Stern was born in Munich, Germany, and started playing piano at the age of six and guitar at eleven. At seventeen, she formed her own acting company. Her radical productions sold out houses across Europe and attracted press and TV coverage. In 1977, she turned her attention to music and left for the United States to study film scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Film scoring gave way to her love for guitar and in 1981, Leni moved to New York City to play in a variety of rock and jazz bands. In 1983, she formed a group of her own with Paul Motion on drums and Bill Frisell on guitar. Leni's 1985 Clairvoyant was her first solo instrumental recording. Eight albums and 12 years later, in 1997, she released Black Guitar, her first vocal full-length release. Finally the Rain has Come, Leni's most recent album, came out earlier this year.
Mimi Fox grew up in New York City, started playing drums at nine, and guitar at age ten. She was inspired by the wide variety of music enjoyed by her family -- show tunes, classical, Dixieland, Motown -- and her own youthful inclination toward pop, folk, and R&B. When she was fourteen, she bought her first jazz album "because it was on sale." She had no jazz recordings and the one she chose had no guitarist, but she was "blown away" by it. That album, John Coltrane's classic Giant Steps, changed the course of her musical life. Fox began touring right out of high school. She moved to San Francisco in 1979, where she became a much sought-after musician. She is on the faculty of the innovative jazz school in Berkeley, California, and has appeared as guest clinician at the University of Connecticut, University of Oregon, the Britt Music Festival, and others. She has received numerous awards for her original scores for dance theatre and film. Her recording Standards (Origin Records) is a solo guitar tour de force, says Cadence Magazine. Throughout her career she has played with the likes of Charlie Byrd, Charlie Hunter, and the Turtle Island String Quartet, among others. Mimi Fox, fleet-fingered on both steel string acoustic and hollow body jazz guitars, is a compelling musician, prolific composer, talented arranger, inspired teacher, and dynamic leader of her own band.
Cornell Dupree fuses the glowing Texas R&B funk and New York City jazz. The guitarist started his career at sixteen in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, but was soon called to New York to play with King Curtis -- and for a while shared the guitar spot with some other newcomer called James Hendrix. Dupree's has combined his talents with many distinguished representatives of modern American music, including Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Miles Davis, Joe Cocker, The Temptations and more. In 1988 his Coast to Coast solo album was nominated for a Grammy award. Cornell Dupree's sensitive and suggestive guitar work has been praised for its ability to build an almost complete musical universe by using a few tones and phrasings that move just around the edge of the tune.
W.C. Clark, "The Godfather of Austin Blues," has been playing in Austin and around the world for more than forty years. Blues stars such as Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, and Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughn have all perfected their craft under Clark's tutelage. Clark was long-called "Austin's Best-Kept Secret" by the local press until he began releasing solo albums in 1986. His latest release, From Austin with Soul, has taken his soul-drenched blues to new heights. The rest of the world is now in on what the city of Austin has known for decades: W.C. Clark is an innovative and creative artist whose soulful singing and tasty guitar playing reach out from Austin, with soul to all corners of the music-loving world.
Look for W.C. Clark's new album From Austin With Soul in the blues section, but expect much, much more. Though Clark can trade licks with the most blazing guitar heroes around, his new recording on Alligator Records showcases not only a blues guitarist, but a songwriter, lyricist, and excited musical adventurer. Drawing from gospel, funk, soul, country, and more, Clark's Texas-honed sound is unmistakable; from the funky New Orleans second-line groove of "Bitchy Men" to the gritty Texas shuffle of "Let It Rain," it's the flawless and heartfelt vocals (which draw as much or more from Memphis soul singers than Chicago bluesmen) that thread a common theme through the album. Performing original music as well as classics by Clarence Carter, Oliver Sain, and more, and backed by some of the hometown's finest, From Austin With Soul is a fine document from a Texas music legend.
A true native son of Austin, W.C. Clark was born and raised in the same city he now calls home. Courtesy of his guitar-playing father as well as mother and grandmother, singers in the Baptist church, Clark grew up surrounded by music; though, as he explains, his formative musical years were not with the blues. "My roots are in gospel music, but while I was learning gospel there was hillbilly music going on. I was learning Hank Williams songs and things like that before I was learning the blues because I wasn't allowed to listen to the blues in the house. My mother was from the old gospel altar and that obviously had an impact, but you could get hillbilly music on the radio, which was always blasting. My interest in music at the time was so alive."
Clark's first show, at age 16, was at the Victory Grill, the historic blues and R&B venue which still stands and operates on east 11th street. There he met T.D. Bell, who hired Clark to play bass in his band. For more than a decade he worked with Bell, Joe Tex, Blues Boy Hubbard, and others, playing Austin clubs and touring the southern blues and soul circuits. The break from the road and extensive performing that followed did not last long. A whole new generation of young white musicians were eagerly learning the blues and soon enough, Clark had been recruited into the Triple Threat Revue by a young Stevie Ray Vaughan. The two played together for much of the 1970s before Clark left to finally step out in front of his own group, the W.C. Clark Blues Revue. The Blues Revue provided a forum for Clark not simply to play the blues, but to integrate all of the musical influences he had collected over the decades. The Texas breed of blues that resulted received great critical and popular response.
"You have country swing and big band meeting the blues and what you get is that the Texas shuffle swings more. The backbeat is more obvious than in Chicago or somewhere like that. The swing and the shuffle are really close together already and when that meets what the words are saying, it works," Clark explains.
Now a Texas star, Clark's first incident of serious national exposure came in 1989 when he celebrated his 50th birthday with an episode of Austin City Limits. Appearing by his side were Lou Ann Barton, the Vaughan brothers, Will Sexton, and many other Texas musicians to whom Clark was colleague, mentor, and friend. America took notice and since then Clark has steadily toured and recorded, winning the prestigious W.C. Handy Blues Award twice, for Texas Soul and Lover's Plea. Continuing to cross the country, playing clubs and festivals to enthusiastic audiences, he sums up the appeal of his music simply.
"When my gig is over everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling and telling me how good they feel. Some people think the blues makes you sad or that it brings you down. The blues picks you up. A person brings their own self down.
If the blues shouldn't make a person sad, it at least has a reputation as a forum for dealing with sadness. But Clark explains that "If the blues is played right, it makes your soul clean. It tells you things you already know but you don't want to admit to yourself. Or something you want to say but you didn't. For instance..." And then he sings, sweetly: "Oh baby, you don't have to go."
An Interview with Mimi Fox by Meredith Wende
4:35 p.m. This is not a good day for the bus to be late I mutter as I lug my bag off the UT shuttle. At five I have an interview with "fast fingers" Mimi Fox, a headliner for the Austin Jazz Festival renowned for her dazzling technique and originality.
At 5:01 my laptop is set up and I am carefully dialing the number her manager gave me. A woman answers.
"Hi, this is Meredith Wende with Austin Downtown Arts magazine..."
"Wow. You're right on time. Are you sure you work for a newspaper? That's amazing." The voice is easy-going and friendly. "You've got my full attention. Let's get started."
ADA: Can you talk a little about how you got started? Did you have a "starving artist" phase?
MF: I don't think there is any artist who hasn't. I've done a lot of grassroots work, a lot of touring and festivals. I went between a couple record labels for awhile until I signed a contract with Monarch records. That really turned things around for me and established me nationally and internationally. Around that time also I met my manager and booking agent, Ed Dunsavage. My second album with Monarch was very successful, and I've gotten to play with some very well-known musicians, but most of it has just been being out there and doing it.
ADA: Why did you pick guitar?
MF: This is going to sound cliché, but it picked me. I started playing drums when I was nine, and picked up the guitar when I was 10. My entire family was musical, so I not only had their influences of Dixieland jazz but also the modern influences of the Beatles, the Monkees, etc. By the time I was 14 or 15 I started listening to jazz, then got into jazz guitar in my early 20s.
ADA: All the critics rave about your ability to blend musical sensitivity with an extraordinary technical skill. Can you trace this to a particular influence or was it just your own work?
MF: I think it's a combination of factors. Of course I practice a lot, 3-6 hours a day, but for fifteen years I practiced a strict 6 hours a day. That's where I got the technical ability from, but the technical aspects are just tools to express oneself. That's really what I'm trying to do: make beautiful music. Nobody cares how fast you can type as long as you can write a nice letter.
ADA: Who would name as your main influences?
MF: Very eclectic when I was a kid. I listened to pop stars like Stevie Wonder and James Taylor (both of whom revered jazz). As far as jazz influences went, probably the Coltrain quartet was the biggest.
ADA: Does the fact that you are one of the only established female jazz guitarists factor into your thinking at all? How do you feel about the "torchbearer" title?
MF: It's mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's great to be paving that trail, but on the other it's sad that there aren't more women out here. That is definitely changing, though: I see more and more talented women on every instrument in countries all over. But I think it will be great when the question becomes obsolete, when I can talk about the music without being a "female guitarist."
ADA: It seems to me that there are more professional female classical musicians than jazz, though I don't know why.
MF: I do. Classical music is still more stereotypically feminine. Jazz requires stepping out on a limb; it's like walking a tightrope with no rope underneath. It takes courage for anyone to express themselves in that way, but especially women. When I was in school I got a lot of slack for being a woman on drums or on guitar. Men go through pressures too, but it's because it's a competitive world, not because they're men. After a while, it doesn't matter how much encouragement you get if your self-esteem is already eroded by sexist comments or jokes. You just have to learn not to personalize it.
ADA: Back to the music, you cover a pretty wide range of styles. Do you have a favorite?
MF: Part of the reason I was drawn to jazz is because it can accommodate many different styles and still be jazz. Of course performers still have to uphold certain technical styles, but as long as you hold to the tradition, you can play a lot of different things and still have it be jazz. I studied classical guitar when I was younger, and loved it, but it didn't allow me the kind of freedom of expression I was looking for.
ADA: Do you have a favorite style to compose in?
MF: I compose across the spectrum. My next album is a Latin jazz influence, so it's got all kinds of stuff in it. As a composer I'm free to draw from many different influences.
ADA: Do you see yourself as following in any particular jazz tradition or just kind of making your own?
MF: I know I've had a lot of different influences, but I think I'm just kind of doing my own thing. I played drums, and I think that gives my guitar playing certain intensity and rhythmical feel. Basically, I try to make a fresh statement, maybe put old music into a new groove. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it new.
ADA: What do you think of the current jazz scene?
MF: There's a nucleus of players in most major cities around the world, even in Europe and Asia. I would still say that New York is the center, but there are great scenes everywhere, and each scene has its own sound. There are young players coming up who are devoted to the music, and the internet is helping to get the music out too. The jazz scene is definitely alive and vibrant.
Jazz on a Summer's Day by Imani Evans
As Jazz on a Summer's Day begins, the first thing one sees are the boats in the water. It takes but a few of these shots to establish, beyond all doubt, what can be interpreted as director Bert Stern's insistent striving for various ways of suggesting space to the viewer. This is, after all, not simply a film about jazz but also a study in the ways in which jazz both interacts with and is bounded by a very specific setting: Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1958. The film which results is, in large part, about the miracle of jazz ever finding its way into a place where the folks are well-fed, well-housed, stylishly clothed and boats on the water are an everyday occurrence.
Jazz on a Summer's Day is director Bert Stern's one and only foray into feature filmmaking, and it's quite a sterling first effort. Among other things, it's the document of a community's collective decision to transgress for one day, to be agitated sweetly by the stark testimonials of Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Anita O' Day, Mahalia Jackson, and others.
A celebrated photographer, Stern was inspired by a friend to "take some pictures" of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. At some point he decided to produce a full-fledged motion picture. The result, in this reviewer's opinion, is a quite beautiful pronouncement on the ability of jazz to infiltrate the unlikeliest of spaces, transfiguring them from within. It's the sort of collusion that, were it much more frequent, we might take as the sine qua non of an America without hierarchy, as a monumental example of the unbounded, movement-permitting landscape that a great many of us yearn for.
But if our actual America isn't quite such an emancipated place, no matter: the Newport Jazz Festival documented in the film will do sufficiently as a stand-alone phenomenon, showing us what such an America might look like. And so, well before sundown, there's Thelonious Monk, causing his own special kind of trouble in broad daylight. The announcer builds him up nicely, even repeating all of the familiar truisms about the Monk aesthetic: his use of quarter tones, i.e. those implied notes which "lie between" the piano keys, his use of dissonance, his angular sensibility, and his utter lack of concern with critical categories. But look at what's happening (as he plays "Blue Monk" we are made to witness a most alluring incongruity: jazz being juxtaposed with bright, open spaces (the water, the sky), as opposed to the dark, cloistered spaces (bars, smoky clubs) that we typically associate with it. It is by this and other cinematic effects that a genteel, seaside community is given a syncopated lilt: so we have the sailboats on the water, gliding across the ocean blue in all of their stately splendor but with the off-kilter shuffle of "Blue Monk" as a musical backdrop. It's an example of the daring juxtapositions that, all together, constitute the film's one true artistic statement.
At a certain point I'm stopped short by a jarring shot of Eric Dolphy, rehearsing with what appears to be an avant-garde group of some kind. Ah, foreshadowing: we find out later that it's the Chico Hamilton Quintet, with none other than Dolphy himself on flute. The crowd is attentive during Eric's solo, but doesn't know quite what to make of it. Once Eric finishes his solo it becomes a scintillating duet between Hamilton(percussion), and his white guitarist, not the first time that the film makes use of such a racial contrast. It's especially apropos for this performance, as one noteworthy thing about the group's playing is that it sounds as if African rhythms (or the suggestion of such) are being overlayed with Latin harmonies.
1958 is right in the middle of jazz's high modernist period. Even within such a setting, however, Louis Armstrong manages to be completely himself and fit in like butter in a churn. He has the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout -- it starts with a somewhat schmaltzy pop tune, but segues abruptly into some good old, uptempo New Orleans-style jamming. Cool shots of audience members bobbing their heads to the music. The performance slows down again, this time we're treated to a Satch/Jack Teagarden vocal duet. They seem to be ad-libbing all the way, only singing the main chorus when they have to. We wind up the set with a jamming rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Troublemaker that I am, I like to think that we are witnessing the re-radicalization of Satch, or at least an example of what could happen when the master trumpeter was freed from the encrustations of his years of being co-opted by the mainstream.
Jazz on a Summer's Day is a masterpiece of a documentary. But more than that, it's also, by my way of reading, a daring piece of cultural critique. It would be praiseworthy if all it did was destabilize our shopworn notions of what jazz is and where it is worthy of being, as well as who the "beautiful people" are and what can be allowed in their sonic surroundings. But when you add the fact that it's also a fine example of cinematic craft, the result is a delectable dish indeed, satisfying to all levels of sense.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
Marc Katz is a long time friend of mine. We don't hang out and drink whiskey together. We don't live in the same part of town. We are happy to see each other when we meet, and we talk openly and honestly with each other about most things that come up. This is true now and has been true for the last fifteen or more years.
Mr. Katz happens to own Katz's Deli. And, yes, I am a patron. I like a good ruben now and then. I like a shot of Irish whiskey now and then, too. I keep going back. Most of my "Up All Night" columns get written while drinking Katz's koffee. But, before you assume too much about our relationship, let me tell you a little more about my friend Marc, and why his sponsorship of this year's festival is more than an isolated act of generosity from a successful business and its owner.
First of all, know the space I have this issue is not enough to tell the full story. I will condense details, make generalizations. But I want you to get this. In fact, "getting it, understanding it, appreciating the importance of relationships, understanding how commerce and culture support each other" is really the major point I somehow hope to arrive at before I complete this ramble. Marc Katz gets it.
In the mid-eighties I had a regular gig downstairs at Katz's. I played bass for my pianist friend Ernest Needom. We played late night, sometimes into the early morning. It was a fun gig. More than that, it was Marc providing work for my friend Ernest. It was Marc carving out a place in the middle of his busy deli/bar, giving up space, so his friend Ernest could have a gig. It was about Ernest, I was just the added bass player. A lot of local folks, touring players, symphony players came in after their gigs to sit with us. Very casual, very laid back, as was Ernest and his style of playing.
One Christmas season, Ernest went home to Detroit to visit his folks, we were to have a couple of weeks off from the gig. Ernest didn't come back at the appointed time. He stayed in Detroit for some mysterious reason. Marc held his gig for him, no question.
Ernest finally, after a few weeks, told us what was up. He had cancer and was going into the hospital. Ernest kept telling us he should be getting out of the hospital and heading back to Austin. Truth is Ernest was gravely ill. He was my friend and bandmate. He had no insurance, so I put together a couple of benefits to send Ernest money to help out. A lot of mutual friends and musicians pulled together and did shows to benefit Ernest. Marc was the largest contributor. I think Marc's individual contribution was more than the money collected at the shows from cover charges and donations.
Earnest's time in the hospital, his time in Detroit extended long past several weeks. Marc held his gig for him, kept in touch with him, kept telling him to get well and come back. Ernest never returned to Austin. He died at the young age of 45.
That was a couple of years before the opening of Top of the Marc and the first Clarksville Jazz Festival. I like to think that I actually, albeit indirectly, gave Marc the idea of opening a jazz room above his Deli. Marc and I have a mutual friend, a lawyer guy. One late night Gary, the lawyer guy, and I were talking and I passed on my concept for a jazz bar above Katz's. A year later Top of the Marc opened. Gary swears it's all coincidence. The point of telling the story is, although Marc too found that selling jazz in Austin requires more than a notion, he recognized in 1989 that Austin needed a nice listening room for local and touring jazz shows. He tried to provide a venue to fit that notion. That same year I began the Clarksville Jazz Fest. Marc opened his club with the Basie Band (or was it the Ellington band...no fact checking here, just poor memory). That led to Frank Lacy, regular gigs by Kyle Turner, a residency for Elias Haslanger, gigs for Pam Hart, the introduction of Juliana Sheffield, a night with Cedar Walton. Heart in the right place, Marc experienced how Austin can be such a hard market for a genre that thrives in his native New York City.
That first year, and each year hence, Marc Katz has supported the Clarksville -- and subsequently -- the Austin Jazz Fest. Top of the Marc hosted the first several kickoff events for the annual Clarksville Fests. Katz's Deli always, always sponsored advertising in our program books. Katz' Deli helped cater artists' receptions and such. Marc, I think, was always intrigued with my continued to work to keep a Jazz Fest alive in Austin. We speak honestly, so he knew I wasn't doing it for the money. He experienced with his commercial jazz venture how fickle Austin jazz supporters are. He knew the Jazz Fest was not about making money for me or the organization. But being the successful businessman and involved community leader, he also understood that without support local businesses such non-commercial ventures are doomed to perpetual struggle. He wanted to help.
Understanding the need for diversity in the local arts/music scene? I gotta tell ya, Marc gets it. He recently made the joke, regarding the whole cultural diversity issue and Austin's progress in that direction, " Our partnership on this thing is all about diversity. It's in the name of your organization, Diverse...Arts,. And look at us, I'm a New York Jew running a kosher deli in Austin, Texas. You are a Black man running a jazz fest in a country and western town. How much more diverse can you get?" Marc has a sense of humor, but there is more to his understanding of these issues than his comedic statement.
So, over the years we have continued to have this ongoing conversation about support of the arts and charities. Over the years I have gained some insight and learned a few things from Marc. I think he too has learned some from me in this relationship. Perhaps the most important thing that Marc has learned about me is that I am hard working, consistent, persistent, and passionate about the work (and that I have a hard time with the traditional profit motive for doing business). The biggest lesson I've gotten from Marc -- not just from Marc really, experience mostly -- is that it takes more than heart to make a business work. This is true about selling bagels or jazz shows. Marc is passionate about his bagels. He is passionate about his causes. He is passionate about making money.
But here's the kicker, Marc is also passionate about civic responsibility, his ability to show support and share resources. Like anyone, he has his biases. He supports those causes with which he can personally relate. Does it matter that I spend money fairly regularly at his Deli? Probably. But that is part of the understanding thing that I mentioned earlier. Katz's has been one of our supporters for the past 14 years. Why wouldn't I want to also support his business? It makes sense, it's a choice I gladly make. I get it, too.
The point to "get" is that there should be a symbiotic relationship between successful businesses in our community and the non-commercial world of charities and public art and culture projects and organizations in Austin. Those are the organizations that make Austin the place it is, provide added value, quality of life.
Businesses are only successful when they have the support of their communities. Once they are successful, really, the right thing for those business to do is re-invest that success back into the communities that provided the support in the first place.
Get this. In many communities there are thriving jazz programs, festivals, and educational programs that count on, and benefit from, that same model for support: it's called underwriting. Doesn't Austin also deserve a well supported group of presenters who keep America's homegrown art music alive? I happen to think the work we attempt here is important, no less important than the work of the European classical organizations. I likewise think that Austin would not be nearly as cool a place to live if we didn't have the work of our collaborators Epistrophy Arts, Women In Jazz, ProArts and the Creative Opportunity Orchestra. This is not about commercial radio play and presenting rock and roll stars. This ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. That's not how we approach this work.
Thank you, Marc, for showing some leadership here. And, he's not the only one. Many of the other names you see associated here have been there for us for years. They too get it. Please support these businesses. Every ad you see in this issue, all of the sponsor logos indicate, every volunteer, musician, and underpaid crew and intern working this festival also points to this belief. We're just trying again and some more to spread the word.
Verities by Imani Evans
As I write this, I am listening to an Art Tatum CD. Listening to this underscores something about culture in our time that I've been trying to convey for the longest, to the interested, the indifferent, and the downright hostile. Indeed, it can be said that the story of Imani Evans since 1995 has been the story of his search for a captive audience to hear him testify on matters of this kind. Imani Evans listening to Art Tatum in this place, and at this precise moment, is nothing short of a miracle. I know only the smallest amount about Tatum, but that is still more than would be predicted by any examination of my life at any given point.
A pianist of freakish talents, Tatum had achieved that rare distinction of having his virtuosity arouse an ironic sort of suspicion in some: he was accused of having a showy technique, of using more notes than necessary ‹ the sort of nattering which harkens back to those who charged Van Gogh's canvasses with being "too full of paint." Much of the thrill of hearing an Art Tatum comes from the provocative truth that it shouldn't be happening, that at any point, the odds are ever against an Imani Evans finding his way through the morass of the postmodern everyday and making contact with an Art Tatum and the artistic and cultural heritage he represents. This is the one thing, above all others, that I would be almost too ecstatic in getting across to my captive audience: that jazz is in some ways for me, but in so many others way not.
What this means is that for me to have been a "jazz aficionado" since 1994 has demanded on my part a willingness to reach, even with some pugnacity, across myself at inconceivable angles in order to pluck whatever can be apprehended of this special art form. The few times that I have tried to write or speak about jazz bear this out: it is one of the few things in my life that I can count on to agitate me into being my most profound, as opposed to the rather clichéd thing that I am normally. That must be it: an Art Tatum provides me with a delectable opportunity to joyously struggle against my own personal cliches3Ž4that of young person, that of young black person, that of young black person in 21st century "postmodern" America.
It might have been the first time I heard "Giant Steps" that I first experienced the agitative properties of jazz. The song was on a "Best of John Coltrane" cassette tape that I purchased at a local music store. At this point I didn't know that much about Coltrane, and had almost no context for this particular tune. What I heard was just so much sonic hieroglyphics ‹ mysterious, yet Coltrane's sublimated fury as he tore through those chord changes came across without any need for translation. The aesthetic sensibility was remote, yet somehow not completely unreachable from the place I was at. I apprehended just enough, and by some miracle managed to revisit the strange world of Coltrane as many times as it took to create a comfortable abode there.
What this proves: that if I know anything at all, it is only by way of struggle, and an exhausting swimming upstream against my easier nature.
Listening to jazz provides me with an opportunity to exercise those subtle parts of my being that lay dormant most of the time. It is really hard to give a sense of the wonderful raptures and auguries that become possible only when my attention is brought to a fine focus, as when I'm listening to jazz, or writing poetry, or doing some serious thinking. Jazz will always be special to me because it is a ready source of that ineffable anti-experience which allows even a diffuse knucklehead like myself to penetrate to the marrow of things.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
This summer I spent most of August and part of September in Turkey, meeting and playing with a variety of musicians, as well as gaping at the products of a culture over 3000 years old. I tried to bone up on my history (Hittites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Seljuks, Ottomans) but finally left the history books in my bag under my dirty clothes and just wandered around. I met so many people and experienced such a variety of new things that of course it is difficult to sum up the adventure, but one thing struck me as it relates to music, which I will try to convey here.
Contemporary Turkish musicians are exploring and defining new musical directions. This is both objectively true in the music they create, and subjectively true in their self-conscious desire to break out of old definitions. Talking with some of these players, I was immediately struck by how much American musicians are grappling with the same artistic and cultural issues. Here's a sampling of the issues we discussed:
How do you create your own sound while being faithful to the musical traditions you grew up in?
How do you explore new ideas without watering down established ways of playing?
For an American musician this might mean taking elements of jazz into your playing, and blending them with other ideas. The risk is that the result will not gel, and that the "jazzy" elements will sound lame and artificial (like a rock drummer trying to play bebop). For a Turkish musician this might mean using traditional scales (such as lydian or phrygian) over a contemporary pop song chord structure. The risk is that the result will be creatively limited and less melodically expressive than traditional Turkish music, which doesn't use chord progressions. For both the American and Turkish musician in these examples there is no set answer: You just experiment and learn from the result.
How do you develop your own sound in a musical marketplace dominated on the one hand by traditional genres with strict stylistic criteria and on the other hand contemporary genres dominated by generic pop criteria?
How can you have artistic freedom and still make a living?
While it is historically true that European and Turkish audiences tend to be more musically educated and more open to experimental ideas than American audiences, the musicians I talked to over there were struggling with a shrinking marketplace for creative music. Most of the gigs are either for traditional types of music, supported by tourists and/or traditional demographic groups, or youth-oriented dance venues. Over here an American musician might have to make his nut (the minimum necessary for survival) playing country or top-40 gigs. Over there a Turkish musician might have to make his nut playing loud behind a whirling dervish at a tourist restaurant, or guitar behind a Whitney Houston knock-off. The similarities are clear.
There are also some positive similarities. American creative musicians draw strength and inspiration from America's heritage of ethnic diversity. Some of the most exciting musical groups today freely explore jazz, rock, rap, Latin, klezmer and bluegrass, just to name a few common musical genres. Anyone who has seen Brave Combo can appreciate what homegrown Texas weirdos can accomplish. Similarly, in Turkey there are many groups combining elements of rap, trance, jazz, rock, Latin, and traditional Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish, even Afghani music. On a rhythmic level alone, the experimental blending of Latin and Middle Eastern rhythmic patterns has created some great music.
The similarities in creative attitude between American and Turkish musicians is, I think, twofold: Faced with a global music marketplace, musicians are trying to create experimental hybrids as a way of bringing people together, honoring their various traditions, and all that good philosophical stuff. It's easy to rip off someone's musical culture, sample a shakuhachi or a ney to get that mystical, ethereal flute sound and then just slap it on top of a hiphop beat. Then wait for the mailbox money to trickle in. But there are a lot of Americans and Turks trying to rise above that, which leads to the other similarity: the colonial heritage.
Both the U.S. and Turkey have complicated colonial legacies. Of course Turkey's stretches further back, but the point is that each country represents a land mass that includes a variety of colonized peoples, with different ethnic and cultural traditions. In each country there are still political, economic and historical issues of colonialism that haven't been fully resolved. The musical traditions of each country reflect this colonial heritage. Thus, American musicians inherit issues pertaining to racism, slavery, and cultural misunderstanding embedded in musical styles like jazz, blues, salsa and tejano. Turkish musicians face similar issues, complicated by the fact that Turkey is the bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
I could go on, especially with the prospect of an American war with Iraq hanging over our heads (Turkish musicians are very nervous; they would rather play beautiful songs than have a ringside seat for WW III). But I'll stop with an optimistic thought. There are a lot of creative musicians in Turkey, and they are very curious about what like-minded musicians are doing over here. They want to share their music, and use it as a tool for cultural understanding, education, and development, and they appreciate the fact that there are artists over here on the same wavelength. So let's jam.