Archive for January, 2011

Sonny Clark in the Paris Review Daily

Today is the anniversary of Sonny Clark’s death in 1963.  Here is the new piece with a photo of Sonny by Charles “Teenie” Harris in Pittsburgh in 1946.  Many thanks to Louise “Lulu” Lippincott, Curator of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMA), for finding this photograph for me two weeks ago, and thanks to her colleagues Kerin Shellenbarger and Laurel Mitchell.

The retrospective of Teenie Harris’ career that Lulu is working on for CMA will be, I believe, the most important photography event of 2011.  His work thwarts most of the standard liberal and conservative narratives of 20th century American history and makes everything a lot more human and complex like creators of timeless literature.  The show will open at the CMA on October 28, 2011.  Lulu is preparing to make ambitious use of projections in the exhibition, a technique I believe will have a profound effect.  As Gene Smith once said, “I can’t stand these damn shows on museum walls with neat little frames…”  Smith loved projections and if he had today’s projection technology he’d have liked them even more.

-S.S.

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JLP Makes VSL (sort of)

Go HERE to see this on VSL’s site (Thanks, Emily).

JANUARY 12, 2011

Hiding in plain sight

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PHOTOGRAPHY
Vivian Maier’s street photographs


Three years ago in Chicago, a twentysomething real-estate agent named John Maloof stumbled upon a hidden treasure: tens of thousands of negatives that had once belonged to one of our best, and least-known, street photographers.

Vivian Maier spoke with a European accent, worked as a live-in nanny, and seems to have taken most of her photographs on her days off; that and the fact that she died in 2009, at the age of 83, are pretty much all we know about her. (“I didn’t know what ‘street photography’ was when I purchased them,” Maloof said of the negatives.) But Maier’s photos—which are currently on display at the Chicago Cultural Center and are also available online—have their own stories to tell, and it’s great to see them getting the recognition that Maier seems never to have sought for herself.

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The Man Who Recorded the World

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Here is an interesting review of John Szwed’s new biography of Alan Lomax in today’s Guardian by Richard Williams.  Two quotes from Lomax jump out:

“I have to learn diplomacy, how to collect, how to handle a servant, how to beat the tambour, how to dance, how to bargain, how to lie, how to run the new recorder, how to take notes, how to budget and keep accounts, all on top of my personal problems, which have formerly kept me completely occupied. And, God, this world is beautiful, beautiful and strange.” – from a letter to his father in 1936.

“Folklore may prove to be, not a romantic and colourful ragbag of the discarded and outworn ideas of humanity, but one of the great wellsprings of the democratic attitudes that have in the past two centuries begun to make for a more equitable life for all mankind upon this planet.” – from Lomax’s 1946 Guggenheim application.

Richard Williams, by the way, wrote a great piece on his search for the obscure jazz trumpeter Dupree Bolton a few years ago, originally published in Granta and collected in Williams’ book, Long Distance Call.

- Sam Stephenson

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Recently Found

Lou Tannen's Magic Store Catalog No. 12

Lou Tannen's Magic Store Catalog No. 12

The Jazz Loft Project continues to catalog audio. Recently, I heard the following items on W. Eugene Smith’s reel to reel recordings.   ~Dan Partridge

  • Smith asking Carole Thomas to pick up a can of ammonia capsules from the drugstore: “…like they use on airplanes. They also snap me awake if I get very sleepy. And also, if we get airsick….” Presumably, Smith wanted these as pick-me-ups for his long sessions in the darkroom.
  • A radio discussion with seven psychiatrists, shortly after they attended the Congress on Mental Health Conference in Montreal. One of the experts was Smith’s doctor Nathan Kline.
  • Smith talking to “Tommy Johns” (Janda) about loft denizens, including Ronnie Free. He tells Johns that Free has moved to North Carolina, when actually Free was in Charleston, South Carolina at that  time. Free’s current trio played as part of the JLP presentation in Winston-Salem yesterday (Thursday) so Smith was actually accurate at the time I was hearing this recording.
  • Comments on the radio from Elia Kazan from a show hosted by the National Theater Academy.
  • Peter Lawford reading from Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums on WNYC’s “Spoken Words.”
  • Long John Nebel’s late night radio show featuring James “The Amazing” Randi. One of the recent Long John Nebel Show episodes featured a short debate about how many total satellites was too many at that time. The numbers were in the single digits. A recent web search suggests close to a thousand satellites orbiting the earth today. The segment featuring James Randi was a prerecorded interview with Long John Nebel which allowed the live guests to bolster themselves with coffee and to take a dinner break provided by show sponsor Carnegie Delicatessen. Both Long John and The Amazing Randi worked as magicians. During this prerecorded coffee break segment, Randi surprises Nebel by telling him of the weekly gathering of 30-40 New York magicians in a cafeteria in close proximity to  Lou Tannen’s famous magic shop on 42nd Street (120 W 42nd Street on the 12 floor, at that time). This important community gathering occurred on Saturdays at 3:30. It should be noted that Randi and Nebel were both friends of Smith. When I corresponded with Randi in 2005, he told me he helped Smith install a security system in the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue. If anybody remembers this Saturday gathering of magicians or Louis Tannen’s shop, please share your stories with us.

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JLP Event in Winston-Salem Tonight, near Coltrane Turf

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HERE is a link to the Winston-Salem Journal story with information on the event.  The Ron Free Trio will play an initial set and the second set opens into a jam session.  Could be hot.  There are a lot of good players in the Triad (Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point for those non-locals).  Hopefully they’ll come out tonight.  It’s at the Community Arts Cafe.

I’m impressed and inspired by the passion and diligence exhibited by Monica Melton of the Piedmont Jazz Alliance and her associates in the lead-up to this event.

It’s poignant to have this event 15 miles from where John Coltrane grew up and graduated from high school.  Here’s a post I wrote about tracing Coltrane’s footsteps there recently

-Sam Stephenson

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Manny Duran

Some of our Jazz Loft Project subjects are on record countless times over many years – Roy Haynes, Phil Woods, Sonny Rollins, Bill Crow, Steve Reich, and Robert Frank, to name a few.  A larger number aren’t part of many, if any official annals.  The frame of this loft building encouraged us to seek everybody.

New Mexico-born trumpeter Manny Duran was one of these latter figures.  I interviewed him twice on tape.  The first time was mid-afternoon on a cold winter day in 2000.  I met him at the St. Mark’s restaurant, Jules, where he led a band of much younger musicians on a brunch-time gig.  He was shiny bald and seemed very fit.  He could have passed for somebody fifteen years younger than the 74 or 75 he was at the time.  After his gig, we sat down on a bench outside the restaurant and I turned on the recorder and held up a microphone.  The first thing Manny said was, “I want to tell you, first of all, that I’m not really a very nice guy.”  He went on to describe, in fairly detailed terms, his “underground” mid-century career – minor drug dealing, minor pimp work, and playing trumpet as often as he could.  He had the natural, sly charisma of a hustler and the infectious dedication of a trainer of prize fighters.  Sometimes you couldn’t tell if his stories were about himself or somebody else, or if he was making them up on the spot.  It didn’t matter to me.  You couldn’t help but like him.  Manny also played a pretty good trumpet.  Over several decades he led a series of after-hours jam sessions at places around NYC like Cleopatra’s Needle; not the kind of gigs that get written up very often but which leave an important wake, especially among young musicians who seemed to enjoy and respect him deeply.

A few years later, in 2006, I asked Manny if I could interview him again, this time on video tape.  He seemed enthused.  Dan Partridge and I showed up one evening at Manny’s place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – Dan with the video camera, me with the DAT audio recorder – and we were prepared to stay all night.  We were fed and watered and ready to go the distance, ready to listen to Manny talk as long as he wanted to talk.  He’d shown comfort with the raw, gritty, seamy stories that many musicians would rather not talk about.  But it was a different Manny this time.  He was dressed in a fine suite and looked great, still youthful, but his manner was more formal, strained.  No matter how I framed the questions he wouldn’t tell the same character-rich stories he told the first time.  He wouldn’t touch the drug stories.  One of my goals had been to get the name of his drug connection on the Manhattan docks that he’d told me about the first time.  But this time he wouldn’t acknowledge knowing much about it.  After about ninety minutes the interview was limping along.  So we thanked Manny for his time, vowed to stay in touch, and left.  It was one of those moments in documentary work when you don’t feel too good about what you did.  It felt like attempted robbery.  We felt like we’d let Manny down.  He probably felt the same way.

Some time later I wrote Manny a letter and he didn’t respond.  A couple of months after that my original envelope addressed to him was returned to sender with a rubber stamp I’d never seen before:  DECEASED.  We checked the Social Security Death Index and learned that Manny had died not long after that second interview.  Of course, his death hadn’t made news in any of the mainstream sources.

We moved on, and Manny’s name went on a list of people who died after we interviewed them, a list that keeps growing – Bill Takas, Art Farmer, Dave Young, Clyde Cox, Nancy Overton, Johnny Griffin, Dick Katz, Jimmy Stevenson, Phil Dante, and many others.

In July of this year, with some phases of the project winding down, I moved out of my office at the Center for Documentary Studies.  I’m working at home most of the time now and I’m still unpacking the extra materials and organizing them in my home office.  This week I was sorting several boxes of things, making preparations for a new desk, and I came across the envelope that never made it to Manny.  It gave me pause.  My home scanner is too small to capture the whole envelope, but you’ll get the gist of it below.  I don’t think Manny would mind.

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-Sam Stephenson

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JLP and Ron Free Trio in Winston-Salem January 6

Here is a blurb from today’s Winston-Salem Journal.  WSNC (90.5, FM) will be broadcasting the JLP radio series throughout the month of January.

-JLP Staff

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Elizabeth Avedon’s Photo Book Top 10

Here is a nice blog notice by designer and artist Elizabeth Avedon – “Buy the book – it’s incredible!” – and more good company for Smith and JLP.

-JLP Staff

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JLP Exhibition in Top 10 for 2010

The notable NYC photography blog, DLK Collections, has put the Jazz Loft Project exhibition in its top 10 for 2010, out of a total of 153 photography shows.  DLK’s list of 30 shows that didn’t make the top 10 indicates the loftiness (no pun intended) of the top 10.

The JLP exhibition opens at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke on February 2 with a public reception at 7:30pm.

-JLP Staff

p.s. There’s a pretty shrewd and thoughtful comment from Tokyo at the end of the DLK blog entry.

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