“Fighting’s not smart…It’s human but it’s not smart”
—From Russ Myer’s Mudhoney
“Everyone dies of heart failure.”
—Bill Zavatsky’s mother
I knew SoHo was changing when, early one pristine summer evening in the mid-’80s, while I was out selling LPs in front of the Elise Meyer Gallery on West Broadway and Spring, a cute young woman walked by with her cute little designer dog. The dog promptly lifted its leg and relieved itself on my records. After I “politely” pointed this out to her—”Hey, lady, your dog is pissing on my records”—she, without even looking down at me, replied, “He belongs here. You don’t.” The gallery became an Armani store, and the ledge I sat on was removed to prevent anyone else from sitting there. What does this have to do with anything I am about to postulate? Absolutely nothing.
Speaking of the ’80s early on a pristine summer evening: At this year’s Charlie Parker Festival in Tompkins Square Park, octogenarians Sheila Jordan and Lee Konitz performed back-to-back. Both were fresh, alive, witty, cool, hip, and soulful. Both improvised off standards. Both exemplified wisdom, dignity, and taste.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Thomas Buckner’s Interpretations series, which has a new home at Roulette. This year’s lineup includes Muhal Richard Abrams, James Ilgenfritz performing the music of Anthony Braxton (check out his solo CD of Braxton’s music for bass), Buckner, Joan La Barbara, and Ned Rothenberg. This also marks the 10th anniversary of Issue Project Room. Since its inception, the I.P.R. has survived four locations. Its founder, Suzanne Fiol, who passed away far too young, always presented art on the edge, and the anniversary lineup is no exception, as current director Lawrence Kumpf carries on the tradition with performers such as Joe McPhee, Charlemagne Palestine, the No Neck Blues Band, Ken Vandermark, Pauline Oliveros, Charles Curtis, Tony Conrad, Yasunao Tone, Talibam!, Marc Ribot, Oren Ambarchi, Loren Connors, and more. [See part two of Marshall Yarbrough’s interview with Kumpf and C. Spencer Yeh elsewhere in this issue.]
The Festival of New Trumpet (F.O.N.T.) continues this year with a tribute to Marcus Belgrave at the Jazz Standard with Geri Allen. Other features include Hugh Ragin with David Amram. The festival kicked off with two wonderful shows at Roulette: an unlikely double-bill of commissioned pieces by Christian Wolf and Roy Campbell, followed the next night by a new brass piece by John Zorn, a large ensemble in a conduction tribute to the late Butch Morris, and a piece for fifty-two trumpets and percussion by composer William Brandt.
Speaking of Zorn, his 60th birthday celebration continued with some exemplary gigs. The Masada Marathon at the Skirball Center featured a host of diverse and incredible musicians lending their unique voices to Zorn’s unlimited, and deceptively simple, klez-melodic catalogue. The festivities continued with an all day music program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring everyone from Milford Graves to Bill Frisell, many classical concerts at the Miller Theater, and finally two concerts at (Le) Poisson Rouge consisting of the Song Project and Moonchild, with folks like John Medeski, Mike Patton, Marc Ribot, and Joey Baron.
Poetry maven and activist Bob Holman has been a stalwart mover and shaker on the poetry scene for decades. His generosity and devotion to poetry know no bounds, stretching from the halls of academia to the streets of Harlem and including such projects as the PBS series The United States of Poetry and a new project for PBS concerning endangered languages. He has been involved with such venues as the Poetry Project, the Nuyorican Poet’s Café, and his own Bowery Poetry Club (now back up and running on a biweekly schedule), and has collaborated with musicians inluding Billy Bang, Butch Morris, Vito Ricci, and Papa Susso. His new Coffee House Press book, Sing This One Back to Me, highlights three of his great loves: poems for his now-deceased wife, the painter Elizabeth Murray, ekphrastic (for the layman these are poems about paintings/sculpture, something that Bob has been doing for years but that is now a new academic trend), and a section on music that consists of Griot poems Papa Susso sang to Bob and helped him translate. The book is rich with beauty (“Clouds—You must close your eyes / to listen / Your skin tells / everything”), humor, pathos, and, like Bob himself, humanity and generosity. Bob asks Elizabeth, “How did we end up in this place…In this sky, in this tomb / In this shoe…I don’t care it’s everywhere being here with you.” And reading his poems we are taken everywhere, for Bob’s story begins “long…long…ago.” So long ago that it “is a place and not a time.”
Musical highlight in a film: the French street chanteuse singing in the streets and rooms of Paris in Julien Duvivier’s 1933 film A Man’s Neck adapted from a novel by Georges Simenon.
Bird took one of his most significant solos on “KoKo,” at the end of a five song set with Dizzy at Carnegie Hall on September 29, 1947, my first birthday. He went straight to the point. One obvious reason for this was that he had a point to make. But many folks have no point, so they learn the (stylistic) language well and easily fool themselves and others. Since Bird, with a few rare exceptions before and after, what we’ve been listening to are mostly mockingbirds.
Since the ’80s, what we’ve been experiencing in all five boroughs and practically everywhere else on earth is a steady increase in gentrification and sadly less and less ability to stop it. Yet as multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter put it, “the movement for the liberation of humanity is not stopping.” But whose humanity, and at what cost?
I dedicate this to those suffering in Syria and other countries of the world due to greedy power-hungry maniacs, both here and abroad, and to the victims of stop and frisk. Absurd to think that one is arrested after a cop unlawfully pulls a speck of weed out of one’s pocket. Though not a smoker, I say, in the words of the honorable Peter Tosh, “Legalize it and I will advertise it.”