Archive for April, 2011

Lourdes Delgado and Guillermo Klein in Durham this Week

Thursday night photographer Lourdes Delgado will speak about her large format photographs of jazz musicians in their NYC homes.  The talk is 7pm at the Center for Documentary Studies and in support of the remarkable exhibition of her work at CDS now.  I believe that if somebody had done 65 years ago what Lourdes has done recently, it would be the most important set of jazz photographs that we have today, a record of musicians in their everyday, private spaces and a physical record of NYC at a point in time.  Her work will gain value over time in the same manner.

The next night Lourdes’ husband, the mind-blowing drummer Jeff Ballard, will man the kit for Guillermo Klein Y Los Gauchos in a rare regional visit by this modern legend of a band whose live performances have left people’s jaws dropping for the past decade.  This band is not to be missed, especially given the remarkable fidelity that is being achieved in Duke’s Reynolds Theater these days.  Duke Performances Director Aaron Greenwald and engineer Luc Suer are to be commended for creating what I believe is the best sound for a theater this size (capacity 700, I think) that I’ve heard in the past few years, anywhere.  This year with gigs ranging from acoustic Joe Henry to the Vijay Iyer Iyer to The Bad Plus playing Stravinsky, the sound has been incredible.  To hear Klein Y Los Gauchos in this room should be a once-in-a-long-while opportunity.

-Sam Stephenson

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Wichita JLP Event Wednesday Night

WaterCard

Wednesday night at 7pm I’m doing a Jazz Loft Project book event at the outstanding independent bookstore, Watermarks Books and Cafe, in Wichita,Kansas, which is of course Gene Smith’s hometown.  The next night I’m doing a private donor event for the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University.  This latter event will be about Smith’s whole life and work, including my recent travels to Japan.

-S.S.

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Pittsburgh

Carson St.  Southside.  PIttsburgh.  April 2011

Carson St. Southside. PIttsburgh. April 2011

This is a photo I made in Pittsburgh last week, spurred by writer Rebecca Bengal and her recent Washington Post piece. Smith’s self-portrait lives.

-S.S.

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Tamas Janda

smith jazz loft scans nov 07 009

Tamas Janda, sitting, and Carole Thomas

My piece on 821 Sixth Avenue veteran Tamas Janda (a.k.a. Tommy Johns) is now posted on Paris Review Daily.

-S.S.

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Sonny Clark

This is just a note to say that I’ve been commissioned by Tin House magazine to write a new piece on Sonny Clark to be delivered in July 2011.  It’s for their “Beauty” issue which will come out next fall.  You may remember my pieces on Clark on Paris Review Daily earlier this year (scroll down from that link).  The Tin House piece will feature new material.

-Sam Stephenson

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Visual Storytelling

A new e-book from filmmaker Nancy Kalow and the Center for Documentary Studies, click HERE.

-JLP Staff

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Chaos Manor

Longtime readers of this blog will remember Chaos Manor, a staged reading of selections from the JLP book, with readers and musicians, planned for Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park last July.  It was part of the City’s Park Lit program and sponsored by A Public Space and the Center for Documentary Studies.  The event was canceled due to 103 degree temperatures and threats of power outages, etc.

Chaos Manor is being revived as a private theater workshop at Brooklyn’s Invisible Dog Arts Center May 2-6.  If all goes well, these are the first steps of what will become a public theater event with a target premier in 2013.  I’m working with director and producer Christopher McElroen on these workshops with invited actors and musicians.  As Chris says, “we’re going to throw everything up against the wall and see what sticks.”

I’ve introduced Chris on this blog before:  He founded and ran the Classical Theater of Harlem for eleven years.  He won awards for his production of “Waiting for Godot” set in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.  The film of that production is on display now in the permanent collection gallery at MoMA.  Currently Chris is working on the first-ever adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” with a premier in Chicago next January.  The rights to that novel have never been granted for stage or screen, so this production will be highly anticipated.

-Sam Stephenson

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Event at Flyleaf Books Tuesday night

Three friends of JLP will be together Tuesday night at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill at 7pm.  A Public Space (APS) founder and editor Brigid Hughes will be in town to participate in a program with APS contributors writer Allan Gurganus, photographer Frank Hunter, and me.  Last Fall APS published a spread of photographs that Frank made of the turn-of-the-century house where Allan lives, introduced with an essay by Allan called “Lair and Refuge.”  These photographs will be the subject of the event.

-S.S.

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Joseph Mitchell Inducted into N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame

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A few months ago UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication asked me to nominate Joseph Mitchell for posthumous induction into the North Carolina Halls of Fame in Journalism, Advertising and Public Relations.  Below is the letter I wrote.  Tomorrow the induction ceremony will take place at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill.  HERE is a piece I wrote about Mitchell for the Oxford American magazine a few years ago, and HERE is a public radio segment I did with novelist Allan Gurganus about it.  HERE is a piece I wrote on this blog about Mitchell’s fellow New Yorker writer Whitney Balliett in which I evoked Mitchell.

-S.S.

January 28, 2011

Dean Jean Folkerts
Carroll Hall, Campus Box 3365
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365

Dear Dean Folkerts:

I am writing to nominate the legendary New Yorker magazine writer, Joseph Mitchell, to the N.C. Halls of Fame in Journalism, Advertising and Public Relations.

The facts of Mitchell’s candidacy are these:  In 1908 he was born Joseph Quincy Mitchell in Fairmont, North Carolina, and he attended UNC-Chapel Hill 1925-29 and wrote for the Daily Tar Heel.  He moved to New York City four days after the stock market crash in October 1929 and began working as a reporter for the New York World. He soon moved to the New York Herald Tribune and worked there for two years before taking a job with the New York World Telegram. In 1933 he published his first piece in the New Yorker and in 1938 he became a staff writer at the magazine.  For the next three decades he contributed regularly to the New Yorker, reporting and writing about ordinary life in the city.

Those are the facts.  Beyond that, I should get straight to the point, using the words of Charles McGrath, longtime head of the New Yorker’s fiction department and the New York Times Book Review; in 2005 McGrath wrote:  “If (Joseph) Mitchell wasn’t the single best writer who ever appeared in the New Yorker, then it was a tie between him and E.B. White.”

What is remarkable about McGrath’s extraordinary statement is that he applied those words to a writer, Mitchell, who wrote nonfiction, primarily, a reporter who relied on interviews for his content.  The Nobel Prize for literature rewards novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets, people that dream worlds, as they say.  Nonfiction “reality” writers rarely get the kind of praise that McGrath heaped on Mitchell, and McGrath personally edited some of the finest fiction writers of modern times, including Nobel winners.

Mitchell’s subjects were not prominent or newsworthy in any timely sense.  He wandered the back alleys, harbors and waterfronts of New York City and found ordinary, topsy-turvy human beings with vernacular skills, routines and voices, and he applied to these obscure folks the same kind of concentration that journalists normally apply to prime ministers and presidents and CEO’s and superstar athletes and entertainers on the one hand, or drug addicts and accident survivors and convicts on the other hand; people of extremes.  Mitchell wrote mostly about people in the middle – fishermen, restaurant owners, bartenders, graveyard tenders, and other people who were overlooked by history.

Last year I was driving through the barren, beautiful landscape in between Santa Fe and Albuquerque and I heard the journalist Nicholas Kristof being interviewed on local New Mexico Public Radio.  It was not a syndicated national radio show; it was local.  Perhaps only a few thousand people were listening.  Kristof made a statement that I memorized long enough to jot down when I came to a stop.  He said, “Journalism covers well what happens one day; journalism does not cover well what happens every day.”

Joseph Mitchell wrote about the every day.  He found subjects and repeatedly visited them over a period of weeks or months or even years.  Then he wrote 10,000 or even 15,000 words on these people and the New Yorker would run these pieces in some of the most prime literary real estate in American periodical history.  This is not done anymore, that I know.  That kind of prime space is now reserved for Johnny Depp, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernard Madoff and other spectacular topics.  The ordinary human beings that Mitchell wrote about no longer get that kind of space and I believe it is a moral loss for our culture.

By honoring Mitchell in your Hall of Fame I believe you will be helping to highlight and restore the subtle artistic and moral values of paying attention and listening, values that are missing in our culture today of bellowing opinions.  There is something divine about Mitchell’s achievement and his work points toward a better world.  This world can still be achieved and journalists – reporters – are an essential part of the process.  We need to teach Mitchell’s kind of selfless and timeless observation on a wide scale.  But this kind of work has never been popular.  Thus, your Hall of Fame would make an important choice in Mitchell.

Sincerely,

Sam Stephenson
UNC ‘89
Jazz Loft Project Director &
Research Consultant
Center for Documentary Studies
Duke University

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JLP Event Tonight in Fayetteville, NC

Hosted and organized by Fayetteville State University and their jazz station, WFSS 91.9 FM, there will be a reception tonight at 6pm at the Arts Center in downtown Fayetteville and a 7pm presentation by Sam Stephenson.  More information can be found HERE.  In addition, WFSS will broadcast Sara Fishko’s JLP radio series beginning tomorrow night.

-JLP Staff

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