Thursday, November 27, 2008
Nation Beat, who also performed at the 2008 Cityfolk Festival, recently had the honor of performing at Farm Aid with Willie Nelson. You can see two of the songs they performed together, "Cheguei Meu Povo" (below) and "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain." Their performance was reviewed by Afropop Worldwide.
In 2002, NPR partnered with the Yiddish Radio Project to present a series of Yiddish recordings from the 1930s and '40s that were saved from dumpsters and dusty storeroom shelves by musician and historian Henry Sapoznik. Listen to the 10-part series that was broadcast on NPR, a 26-part series of Gems from the Archive on the Yiddish Radio Project website. The site comes complete with a 'Yid-O-Matic' translator to help all of us non-Yiddish speakers understand it all.
A more recent project tracks Jewish history through vinyl albums collected by Roger Bennett and Josh Kun, who wrote And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl, which details Jewish vinyl album covers they have collected over the years. Jewish, in these terms, includes everything from the prolific cantor Sol Zim to the Temptations' Fiddler on the Roof medley. Hear a recent NPR interview with the authors.
World Cafe introduces us to Esau Mwamwaya who plays reggae-pop From Malawi. This recent immigrant from Africa to London isn't well known yet, but his star is rising! (pictured here)
Gary Walker of WBGO lists his pick for the top 10 Jazz CDs released in 2008.
Monday, November 24, 2008
The day started with a jitterbug workshop from Ron Buchanan. His enthusiasm and knowledge were clear as he started with the basics and 'barged right ahead' to more challenging moves, making sure that every dancer there had something new to take home. He kept us laughing as we switched partners and tested our new-found skills with everyone there. (My grin started here).
From there, Darlene Underwood led us in some contra dances with no walk-through. She'd tell us the first move, then Dr. Grangelove launched into a tune and Darlene called the rest of the pattern as we went along. A very literal version of thinking on your feet, and a simple way to add extra challenge to contra dancing.
Then Ron was back with some quirky square dances. These were NOT the square dances you did in fourth grade gym class! They were full of unusual moves and fun combinations that left us laughing at our mistakes and feeling real accomplishment when it all gelled!
After so many hours together, switching partners and sharing new things, the sense of community in the room was warm and palpable. That feeling grew during the potluck, as we chatted over delicious food, exchanged recipes and rested for the night ahead.
As the evening dance drew near, our numbers doubled. For the next four hours, Dr. Grangelove pumped out more fantastic rhythms (let me tell you, that is a band that knows how to lift a dancer's feet!). The dancers on the floor were a fairly experienced bunch, which inspired Ron and Darlene to call more challenging dances. I assure you, I was not the only one grinning on the dance floor!
By the end of the night, we were basking in the glow that comes from spending the day doing something we love, with a group of good people we'd grown closer to throughout the day. What a way to warm a winter's day!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The audience watching 86 year old Frank Wess moving to the mic at the outset of Saturday's concert at the Dayton Art Institute had good reason to wonder what kind of energy to expect. But from the instant his quintet launched into Clifford Brown's Sandu there was no doubt Wess was more than capable of delivering the goods. Full bodied and brimming with fire, Wess set a match to soulful originals such as You Made A Good Move and Sara's Song while gently sculpting Johnny Mandel's A Time For Love with the kind of time-tested tenderness only a musician of his deep experience can muster.
Without a piano, the band's high energy locomotion was provided by guitarist Ilya Lushtak and drummer Winard Harper as bass virtuoso Rufus Reid provided a comfortable cushion for the band to ride on. Trumpeter Terell Stafford continued to reveal himself as perhaps the most complete trumpeter in jazz. His ravishing second set feature on The Nearness of You was one of the evening's true highlights. And when Stafford and the leader dusted off his Count Basie flute showcase The Midgets, the older master and his younger counterpart were in perfect, high-speed, lockstep. When the crowd demanded an encore, the band came back out and revved up Kenny Dorham's hard-bop classic Lotus Blossom, full on.
What does it mean when history comes alive like it did Saturday with Frank Wess? That jazz can be inspirational, in more ways than one.
Here's Frank Wess and Joe Newman from 1959, performing The Midgets in the Count Basie Orchestra.
Monday, November 17, 2008
The group immediately went into their program, “African Spirit,” which at first included a number of traditional African hymns. Each hymn was sung in either Zulu or Sotho, but it was clear to me that many of these hymns were similar to more familiar “western” hymns in their simple melodies and beautiful harmonies. Each hymn highlighted a different section of the Choir, including a female septet and a male-led hymn with an energetic African dance. The colorful costumes added to the brilliant presentation, with a mix of bright greens, yellows, oranges, blues, fushias, and turquoises adding to the total sensual presentation of the Soweto Gospel Choir.
The next section of the program focused on the Choir’s interpretation of songs from Western artists, including Bob Marley’s “One Love,” Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Remember You,” and the traditional gospel children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine,” one of my highlights of the evening’s performance. In addition to the interpretations of western songs during this portion of “African Spirit,” another of my highlights of the evening was a high-energy performance of an African hymn entitled, “Ahuna Ya Tswanang Le Jesu/Kammatla.” This hymn included, among other things, a call and response between the male and female choir sections, another section of strong dance moves, and even a hint of African “hip-hop” complete with bucket hats and African rapping!
After intermission, the Choir reconfigured for another set of traditional African hymns, sung again in their native Sotho and Zulu after a fun “Dance” and “Canteen” segment which once again highlighted the physical abilities of the Choir. Traditional western hymns including “Amazing Grace,” and another night’s highlight, “Swing Down,” led to the conclusion of the evening’s performance with a joyous version of the popular “World in Union,” to capture the spirit of international friendship brought to the Victoria Theatre by the Soweto Gospel Choir. Not one, but two standing ovations followed, which was a rousing conclusion to the evening’s performance. Concert patron Matt Dunn summed up the evening best on his way out from the performance by stating, “The music was uplifting. It celebrated the human soul. It offered praise to the God who made us. It celebrated life. And it celebrated humanity regardless what side of the globe we're from.” Amen to that and thanks to the Soweto Gospel Choir for an inspirational, entertaining, and enjoyable evening!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
- Cleveland Elementary School; YMCA of Greater Dayton
- Edison Elementary School; Dayton Urban League
- Fairview Elementary School; Unified Health Solutions
- Kiser Elementary School; Salvation Army of the Greater Dayton Area
- Ruskin Elementary School; East End Community Services Corporation
Monday, November 10, 2008
Stephen Colbert, host of television’s slash and burn satire show The Colbert Report, has made sport of skewering the annual winners of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowships, sending up avant jazzers Ornette Coleman and John Zorn with particular relish. While Colbert covets a piece of MacArthur hardware as a complement to his mantle full of Peabody and Emmy Awards, recipients receive half a million dollars over four years. The “genius” handle of the MacArthur fellowships generates renewed discussion each year but the awards are not just about the money. Unlike many prizes that focus on lifetime achievement and past reputation, many MacArthur fellows create and innovate in smaller markets. Dayton Contemporary Dance Company founder/choreographer Jeraldyne Blunden received a fellowship in 1994. Often the focus is on younger practitioners whose future impact looks particularly promising. According to the Foundation website, "the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential.”
One of this year’s recently announced fellows is saxophonist/composer Miguel Zenon. Two years back, Cityfolk introduced Zenon to the Miami Valley region, when he performed a concert with his quartet and conducted workshops with local students in tandem with his pianist Luis Perdomo.
This 32 year old native of Puerto Rico is a big-brained improviser/composer who has been showcased prominently in the SF Jazz Collective and with his own groups. Zenon has done the near impossible in contemporary jazz- managed to stand out and make his mark in a field crowded with gifted, virtuoso players. In Dayton he also proved to be an effective workshopper-effectively communicating with students at both Lincoln (now Cleveland) and Stivers School for the Arts. In a rapidly changing music market of which jazz is a shrinking piece, the art form could use a breakthrough jolt of creativity. With the wind of a MacArthur fellowship at his back, it will be interesting to see and hear where Zenon’s enormous promise leads him.
The MacArthur Fellows Program or MacArthur Fellowship (sometimes nicknamed the "genius grant") is an award given by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation each year to typically 20 to 40 citizens or residents of the U.S., of any age and working in any field, who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work." " The current amount of the award is $500,000, paid in quarterly installments over five years. As of 2007, there have been 756 recipients who have received a total of more than $350 million.
The Fellowship has no application. People are nominated anonymously, by a body of nominators who submit recommendations to a small selection committee of about a dozen people, also anonymous. The committee then reviews every nominee and passes along their recommendations to the President and the board of directors. The entire process is anonymous and confidential. Most new MacArthur Fellows first learn that they have even been considered when they receive the congratulatory phone call. A New York Times Op-Ed by MacArthur fellow Jim Collins describes the experience.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
It was like nothing we'd done before. Sure, many of the moves are the same ones you do it square dancing--promenades, do-si-do, allemandes--but what little square dancing we'd done was stiff and formal compared to this. There was a live band, a lot of young faces, and a ton of fun being had. As the caller led us through the sequence of moves, the experienced dancers were patient with us newbies, making it clear that that point is to have a good time more than to get every step right. We grinned our faces off, falling in love with this upbeat blend of old-timey music and social dancing.
A little while later, I learned that my then-boss, Cityfolk founder Phyllis Brzozowska, loved contra dancing too. There hadn't been a regular contra dance in Dayton in years, and Phyllis thought it was time to start one back up. It is a great way for anyone to join in a traditional art, rather than just watching as we do in a concert setting. (Contra dance started in New England, evolving from French contredanses. Like square dancing, neighbors gathered in someone's kitchen or barn to celebrate another hard week of work in the fields.) With the help of a committee of dancers, callers and musicians, the next season the Contra Dance Parties were born.
The first several years we danced at the Kennedy Union Ballroom on UD's campus. All the student events made booking dates hard to find, so when a regular Friday night opened up at Michael Solomon Pavilion in Kettering, we jumped at the chance. The Pavilion is booked by social dancers nearly every night of the year because the sprung wood floor is a dream to dance on. Each dance starts with an hour of open waltzing followed by an instruction period for new dancers and three hours of progressively harder dances.
After a decade of well-attended dances, local dancers started asking for more. Other well-established dances in the region had dance weekends, with classes in music, dancing and calling through the day and long dances at night. At the Pigtown Fling in Cincinnati and Winter Warm-Up in Columbus I've danced with hundreds of others at once. All those swirling skirts, stomping feet and smiling faces combined with first-rate calling and killer rhythms create a tidal wave of energy and goodwill that is unlike anything else I've tried.
We decided to take it easy on ourselves, and start with one day of classes and dancing. Last year's first Flight of Fancy featured waltzing and contra dance classes, followed by a potluck and hours of dance grooves at night. It was a hit! This year's Flight of Fancy Dance Day will take place on Saturday, November 22, and will feature jitterbug and contra dancing. New and experienced dancers can learn moves during the afternoon classes, or just come at night to lift their heels. Come give it a try, and feel the fun that got me hooked!
Monday, November 3, 2008
Please look for us at all of our shows this season, the next opportunity will be before the Soweto Gospel Choir concert on November 13 in the second floor reception room of the Victoria Theatre. Just look for the large Cityfolk and Boston Stoker sign by our "Member Room" for that evening. If you're not a member of Cityfolk, this is just one of the new benefits this year. We'd love to have you join us, either on-line, by mail, or in person!