Jazz Under New York

Music to Commute By by Jon Pareles, February 26, 1990

Jazz repertory met mass transit when the MUNY - for Music Under New York - Big Band played Cal Massey's "Liberation Suite" on Friday afternoon in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal. The 10-piece group was led by the tenor saxophonist Zane Massey, the late Cal Massey's son, 18 years and a day after the piece had its premiere in Brooklyn. The group also played another Cal Massey tune, "Assunta."

The "Liberation Suite" is steeped in the 1960's, with sections dedicated to Malcolm X, John Coltrane and two Black Panthers, Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. The music draws on North African-influenced vamps, as did Coltrane, and on elements Charles Mingus used in the 1950's and 60's - blues, be-bop and Ellingtonian ballads. Its seven movements progress from a somber "Prayer" to a bustling, cacophonous finale, "Babylon," and most of them revolve around easy-swinging modal vamps that sometimes flower into lush chromatic harmony.

The MUNY Big Band, whose members often play in smaller groups at various subway stations, was under-rehearsed but spirited. When it settled into Mr. Massey's vamps, the soloists were sure footed and cogent, especially the two trumpeters - Roy Campbell, who stair-stepped into a dramatic high register, and David Gordon, less flamboyant but equally penetrating. Takeshi Yamaguchi on guitar, Steve Swallow on trombone, Mike Marcus on baritone saxophone and Adam Alter on alto saxophone and clarinet also held their own, and Mr. Massey brought the music a burnished glow. The rhythm section included Carlos Alvarez on drums and the bassists Akira Ando and Heiji Takanaka; only the basses were amplified.

Read at New York Times »

Planet Duplex

Some Postcards From Planet Duplex by ANN POWERS Published: March 05, 1993

"When he was a boy, the Conceptual artist David Greenberger started filling a notebook with rescued comments, small things people said that nobody else would have remembered. "I was interested in the way overheard things took on a particular poignancy and power," he said.

Back then, word-scavenging was just one aspect of Mr. Greenberger's creative vision. Little did he know that after art school the preservation of the quotidian would become a central activity in his life. But then, he hadn't expected to meet the folks at the Duplex.

The Duplex was a nursing home in suburban Boston where Mr. Greenberger worked as activities director from the late 1970's until the mid-80's. Not convinced that the typical recreational routine offered by many nursing homes provided any real stimulation, he began a newsletter, called the Duplex Planet, filled with residents' responses to his own sometimes outrageous, sometimes mundane, questions.

"Their answers eventually became the basis for a series of artistic endeavors beyond the Duplex Planet: several records, monologues and even a comic book, all of which Mr. Greenberger oversees. He and the pianist and composer Terry Adams will bring one such offshoot, "The Duplex Planet Hour," to the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights in a performance on Sunday afternoon."

Although residents occasionally responded to Mr. Greenberger's questions with reminiscences, he was determined not to gather oral history. He preferred to stimulate his subjects' imaginations, not leave them in the past.

"Old age is too often viewed as the time when you sit back and relive your glory years," said Mr. Greenberger, who is 39. "Old people get viewed as repositories of oral history. But if that's the only way in which you view them, you're cutting short your own ability to age in a healthy way."Looking for the Whimsical"

Instead of talking to his subjects about what they once were and did, Mr. Greenberger concentrated on uncovering who they were in the moment, to show that these older people still possessed inquisitive and sometimes whimsical personalities.

"I'm sketching in these characters for an audience who normally is not in touch with them,"" he said. ""You get to know a person through his or her sense of humor, pathos, outrage and surprise; those qualities, not historical facts, establish an emotional range."

Mr. Greenberger soon discovered that his artist friends were much more interested in the Duplex Planet than were the Duplex residents themselves, who usually threw it away after a brief glance. He began to take subscriptions, and after 13 years and 125 issues, Duplex Planet still arrives at the homes of about 500 readers. The skewed poetry of one Duplex resident, Ernest Noyes Brookings, who began writing at Mr. Greenberger's instigation, has received musical settings by XTC, Fred Frith, Yo La Tengo, Hal Willner, and the Young Fresh Fellows, on what will eventually be a five-CD series.

Duplex Planet Illustrated, a comic-book series recently begun by Fantagraphics Press, in Seattle, features illustrations by noted artists like Dan Clowes, Terry LaBan and Roberta Gregory. And Mr. Greenberger himself has collaborated on an album, soon to be released on the ESD label, featuring music by Mr. Adams, who plays keyboard, the former Lovin' Spoonful leader John Sebastian (who plays banjo) and the Sun Ra Arkestra horn players David Gordon and Tyrone Hill. Mr. Greenberger and Mr. Adams (whose main affiliation is with the much-loved rock band N.R.B.Q.) will bring music from this album to St. Ann's on Sunday.

"The music sustains the mood; it lets the stories sink in,"" Mr. Greenberger said. ""The structure doesn't resemble anything else I know. Sometimes there'll just be a chord or a glissando, and then a story; sometimes there'll be a whole little piece of music in between monologues."" Great Thematic Freedom"

"Mr. Adams said the unusual construction of ""The Duplex Planet Hour"" allowed its creators to transcend the narrow thematic range that often plagues pairings of pop music and spoken word. ""We wanted to avoid the poetry and jazz things we've heard in the past, in which the musicians are often insensitive to what the speakers are saying,"" he said. ""There's so many moods within David's material, and those jazz projects just seemed to capture one mood. This is more severe. It doesn't just chug along. "Mr. Greenberger and Mr. Adams are longtime friends, and the Duplex scribe has illustrated several of NRBQ's album covers. After seeing a theatrical version of Mr. Greenberger's material in Chicago, Mr. Adams was eager to write music to match the verbal and imaginative acrobatics of the nursing home residents. "It was quadraphonic technicolor, just wonderful,"" Mr. Adams said. ""It's like writing music for life. It just covers everything."

"The tales of the Duplex, and those Mr. Greenberger has continued to gather at what he calls ""elderly meal sites"" since the home's closure in 1987, are modern-day versions of Chaucer's reports from the road to Canterbury; they can seem nonsensical, but sometimes resonate with a wry humor and startling insight. ""If you are an old man and you go into a bar in pajamas, people will buy you drinks,"" a Duplex resident, Francis McElroy, once told Mr. Greenberger, and his simple sentiment, pulled out of context, offers a glimpse inside the world of a clever man whose age makes everyone suspect him of infirmity. Mental Vitality, Physical Decline"

Read at the New York Times »

Rocking the Planet

Rocking the Planet by Geoffrey Himes, Apr 23, 1990

Geoffrey Himes reviews the Earth Day concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Washington DC on Apr 21, 1990. The concert featured Ziggy Marley, Billy Bragg, R. E. M. and 10,000 Maniacs, and many others.

Scheduling a six-hour outdoor concert for an April night in Maryland shows a certain lack of respect for the environment, and Thursday’s Earth Day concert at Merriweather Post Paviliion could have used some global warming. The crowd was givien plenty of reason, however, to stand up and stomp by seven acts who played with lots of engergy and, for the most part, good taste as well. The show was evenly split between musicians who preached too much and those who didn’t preach enough. Michelle Shocked complained about politicians who preach but then gave her own meandering sermons. when she stopped talking and started strumming her guitar though, “Come a Long Way” and “Over the Waterfall” proved just how far she has come as a singer and song writer. Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett was uncertain whether to praise the Clinton administration for it’s progressive rhetoric or condemn the Democrats for their lack of action. When Garret and his Australian band performed songs for their new album, the appropriately titled “Earth, Sun, and Moon,” they sounded like nothing so mauch as late peiord Who, a hard hitting band with good songs and an annoyingly operatic singer.

The two best musical acts of the evening were NRBQ and the Robert Cray Band. But neither made any connection to the concert’s raison d’etre. Bluesman Cray sand and played the guitar beautifully as ever, even if he hasn’t found a way to vary his sound. NRBQ previewed two delightful songs, “Girl Scout Cookies” and “Over your Head,” from its next album, due out this fall from Rhino. NRBQ also brought out two players from the Sun Ra Arkestra and transcended the concert’s planetary limitations with a musical journey aboard Sun Ra’s Rocket Number Nine (Take Off to the Planet Venus)” that ended in the kind of cacophonous jam induced by the Venusian atmosphere.

Read at the Washington Post »

Critic's Notebook

There are three bands in regular rotation now that exclusively play the music and style of deceased band leaders: ghost bands as they're called.

The Mingus Big Band, a success from its six years of weekly appearances at the Fez in the East Village, is perhaps the best embodiment of a band flourishing on the existing pool of talent in New York. Its players frequently tour and follow other commitments, but Sue Mingus, the widow of the composer and bassist Charles Mingus, has assembled a pool of substitute players large enough to make eight big bands. She has also organized several recordings; the most recent is ''Que Viva Mingus'' (Dreyfus).

The group has been an important force in New York's jazz scene during this decade; some of the younger musicians who have gotten a boost out of playing with the band include the star saxophonists James Carter, Mark Shim and Chris Potter.

Also at the Fez, on many Sunday nights, is the 18-piece Sun Ra Arkestra. (Its next appearance is set for Feb. 1.) Sun Ra died in 1993, and the band, once a Philadelphia-based collective, is now mostly New Yorkers. But it's run by the Arkestra's long-standing alto saxophonist, Marshall Allen, whose Johnny Hodges-like smeared glissandos embody the eccentric dreaminess that the band is all about. The 90-tune repertory is full of the band's old numbers like "Interstellar Low Ways," as well as untraditional (for a jazz group) choices of standards like "Ol' Man River" and "Over the Rainbow."

Much else is untraditional about the band: there are three percussionists and two baritone saxophonists. On a recent Sunday, Art Jenkins sat in the trumpet section, but had only a megaphone in his hands, through which he howled his parts. And at one point, he transformed himself into a baritone crooner, belting out "When You Wish Upon a Star."

A benign raggedness is the band's latter-day trademark, though not an indispensable element of the music; I hope some better-known New Yorkers might drift into its ranks, a la Mingus band, and change the formula a little. It's easy to imagine, for instance, the saxophonist James Carter and the pianist Rodney Kendrick bolstering its wild sound, although Mr. Allen apparently has no desire to have another pianist replace the departed leader.

Read at the New York Times »

EGOS & IDS Take the A Train

EGOS & IDs—Take the A Train by Degan Pener, Dec 27, 1992

Amy Sheldon regularly hits both the top and the bottom of the scales.

As a sometime vocalist for the Peter Duchin Orchestras, Ms. Sheldon can often be found doing her favorite jazz numbers at upper-crust parties. But in between she's likely to be found on a subway platform, singing for passers-by.

"I still do it because I try out a lot of material down in the subways," Ms. Sheldon explained. "It also gives me a chance to give out my card to people. Sometimes I put down a hat. Sometimes I don't. It depends on my financial status."

Last Sunday, Ms. Sheldon, along with the Dave Gordon Duet and the Zane Massey Group, performed at Emporio Armani, Fifth Avenue and 16th Street, as part of the store's Christmas music series.

"The Emporio Armani collection often takes its inspiration from the streets," said Linda Gaunt, an Armani spokeswoman, "so we went back to the streets to find all the singers and musicians for the program."

Ms. Sheldon's final number, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," was greeted with enthusiastic applause, a response more familiar in the subways than anywhere else, she said, adding, "They sometimes listen more down there than at some of the affairs where people are eating and drinking."

Read at the New York Times »

Barbecue with Bobby Seale

Imagine a cooking show like Emeril Live with its high production values: a great set, a live studio audience, and a lively band to play in and out of show segments. But instead of Emeril, the host is Bobby Seale, founding chairman and national organizer of the Black Panther Party; the studio audience is a diverse crowd of Philadelphians; and the band is Deep Space Posse led by Tyrone Hill of Sun Ra Arkestra. Engaging, eloquent and funny, Seale, the author of Bar-b-que’n with Bobby, weaves socio-political and historical commentary throughout this half-hour, down-home cooking show which premiered as part of WYBE Public TV's Philadelphia Tuesday July 15.

Tyrone Hill and Dave Gordon on Barbecue with Bobby Seale show

Barbeque with Bobby Seale was taped in front of a live audience. In addition to the hosts Bobby and Leslie Seale, there is a live studio band under the direction of Sun Ra Arkestra member, Trombonist, Tyrone Hill. Tyrone leads his ensemble, the Deep Space Posse, in and out of show segments as they play his Barbeque with Bobby Seale Theme.

"Historical photos are provided by late Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones. This San Fransico husband and wife team were the foremost photographic chroniclers of the Black Panthers. Their work ""The Black Panthers 1968: photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones"" is currently on exhibit at University of California, Berkeley Art Museum (see NYTimes Sunday May 25, 2003,)" As mainstream media covered the sensational aspects of the Black Panther Party in the 60’s and 70’s, many are not aware of the Panthers’ history of social support in urban communities. WhileBarbeque with Bobby Seale is a cooking show that demonstrates culinary arts and entertains, it also imparts some of the Black Panthers’ rich history.

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