Archive for May, 2011

Spirits of Just Men


In all these years I don’t think we’ve had any references to moonshine in the Jazz Loft Project.  I often say that “we’re one degree away from anything” but moonshine might be one of the few things we can’t relate to.  Dan Partridge is still listening to tapes, so there’s still a chance.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the topic came up on a Long John Nebel program or WBAI reading of southern literature or something like that.

But the underground, complicated nature of the moonshine culture has overlaps with the Jazz Loft Project, as well as the detective work required to tell the story.  I want to recommend my colleague Charles D. Thompson’s new book, Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World.

I’m reading it now and it is terrific.  There are countless obscure characters, of course, and then every once in a while the writer Sherwood Anderson and musician Charlie Poole make interesting appearances.  I’m learning a lot about the movement from farm-to-factory that our economy and culture went through after the revolution of mass production, and how lots of former farmers regretted the move very much.  In the 1930s, because of the Depression, lots of people who had moved to the city moved back to the farms because growing your own foods was the only way to get some.  I wonder if one day we’ll be doing that again.

Oh, one connection JLP has to moonshine is my mother grew up in Galax, Virginia.  I won’t say anything more than that.

-Sam Stephenson

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Donald B. Adcock, 1925-2011


I met Don Adcock and his wife, the great poet Betty Adcock, while I was working at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh 1993-95, while trying to figure out graduate school.  So many of the good things in my life came from that store.  I met my wife Laurie there, plus Don and Betty and countless others.  Don and Betty never failed to be encouraging about my writing and my projects, and most of the time they’d make me laugh while doing it.  I had gotten hooked on Thelonious Monk in 1991 while living and working in Washington, D.C. and my affinity for jazz kicked into overdrive during the early years that I knew Don.  He was a jazz flute player and teacher.  (You can read his whole obituary from Raleigh’s News and Observer).  He could walk into the book store and tell me whether it was Tommy Flanagan or Hank Jones or Al Haig on piano on whatever CD I had playing in the store’s stereo.  This impressed me.  He also knew every tune.  He became a key Jazz Loft Project consultant, identifying music on Smith’s tapes for us.  In particular emergencies I’d play him snippets over the phone and he’d identify the tune within a few bars, often while singing or humming the tune at the same time.

Yesterday Betty called with the sad news of Don’s passing.  Last night I pulled out all the recordings Don dubbed for me on cassettes and later CD’s (my library had a separate Don Adcock Section).  I jotted down the names of everything.  Looking at the list, it occurred to me that there was nothing didactic about Don’s gift giving.  When he sent me new recordings, it wasn’t something he thought I needed to hear; it was simply something he’d been enjoying that week and he wanted to share it.  In addition, the list isn’t iconographic.  He didn’t care what the Penguin Guide or Allmusic said about a recording.  Something about the qualities of this list indicates how original Don was right until the end, always fresh, always looking for new things, always ready to share.  That’s why people loved being around him.  And Betty, too.

Here’s the list:

Two 90-minute cassettes of various renditions of “Body and Soul,” recorded off an old radio show by Gary Shivers at WUNC in Chapel Hill.

Chet Baker “In Bologna.”

Carol Sloane “Songs Sinatra Sings.”

Stan Getz “The Dolphin” and “The Lyrical Star.”

Lee Konitz “Jazz Nocturne.”

Jeanne Lee and Mal Waldron “After Hours.”

Peggy Stern Trio “Pleiades.”

Roy Hargrove “Approaching Standards.”

Jeffrey Smith

Gonsalo Rubalcaba “Discovery”

Miles Davis “The Sorcerer” and “Miles Smiles”

Lee Konitz with the Stan Kenton Orchestra

“Introducing Tierney Sutton”

Dizzy Gillespie at Montreaux 1981

Gerry Mulligan Quartet 1954

Michael Moore and Bill Charlap

Lee Konitz – Franco D’Andrea

Christian Jacob Trio

Keith Jarrett “Live at the Deer Head Inn”

Roberta Gambarini “So in Love.”

“We Three: Tenor Sax Legends” – Cohn, Sims, Gordon.

Martial Solal “Live at the Village Vanguard”

Phil Woods and Johnny Griffin “The Rev and I”

Oscar Peterson “The More I See You”

Red Norvo “The Forward Look”

Don Menza Big Band “Menza Lines”

Lew Tabackin Quartet “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

Stan Getz Bossas and Ballads: The Lost Sessions

Oscar Peterson Jam Montreaux ’77 w/Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lockjaw Davis

Alborea – a quartet of French musicians including an accordion and two bass players

Cecil McBee Band “Unspoken”

Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis featuring Oscar Peterson

Stan Getz Quartet in Paris featuring Steve Swallow and Roy Haynes.

Lee Konitz “One Day with Lee”

Art Tatum “Standard Transcriptions”

Stan Getz “Yours and Mine”

Chet Baker “The Touch of Your Lips.”

Stan Getz and Kenny Barron

Rene Marie “Vertigo” and “Live at the Jazz Standard”

Chet Baker “The Last Great Concert”

Miles Davis “ESP.”

Dizzy Gillespie “Impromptu”

Maynard Ferguson “Boy with Lots of Brass.”

Judy Wexler “Dreams and Shadows”

Eddie Henderson “Dark Shadows”

Chick Corea, “A.R.C.”

Michel Legrand “After the Rain.”

Kenny Drew, Jr.  “Winter Flower”

Janice Borla “Agents of Change.”

Ann Hampton Calloway “Easy Living”

Conrad Herwig “The Latin Side of Miles Davis”

-Sam Stephenson

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Chaos Manor at Invisible Dog

The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn

The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn

Last week at the Invisible Dog Art Center on Bergen St. in Brooklyn, the first steps were taken toward creating a dramatic performance based on the Jazz Loft Project story.  Director and Producer Christopher McElroen and I spent the week working five hours a day with actors, theater professionals, two photographers, and Brigid Hughes from A Public Space, taking apart the JLP story in the Invisible Dog’s basement (photo below).  By week’s end we’d drafted some text that we’ll use to develop the project.  It reads like this:

In keeping with the raw creative spirit of 821 Sixth Avenue, CHAOS MANOR will be developed and presented at The Invisible Dog, a raw space in a vast three story converted Brooklyn factory building with an open-ended mission to create, from the ground up, a new kind of interdisciplinary arts center.

The premiere of CHAOS MANOR will be staged within the twenty-two exterior windows and on the building façade of The Invisible Dog, located at 51 Bergen Street in Brooklyn, NY, with the audience on the blocked-off street below.

Using the building itself as an instrument, we will play the story of W. Eugene Smith, and his particular American moment, by sampling his 40,000 photographs and 4,500 hours of audio recordings from 821 Sixth Avenue.  Layers of recorded and live sound will be woven through twenty-two exterior windows, using the expanse of brick façade as a canvas to video map both live and archival imagery. The story will begin with the slow hoisting of a piano from the sidewalk up through an open window where a pianist will be waiting to play it.  From there CHAOS MANOR will commence and accept the musicians and artists that perceive the space a creative refuge from a chaotic world.

As the event continues, CHAOS MANOR will chase the arc of Smith’s own internal chaos of isolation and identity, while simultaneously tracing the chaotic American moment that was 1957 – 1965 and the revolutions that were taking place in the music as well.

This initial incarnation of CHAOS MANOR will take place at the Invisible Dog September 16-17, 2011.

The week was one of the highlights of my 14.5 years researching Smith.  Sitting around a table for five hours a day and pulling threads on Smith and the JLP story with theater professionals was exhilarating.  Their efforts aren’t just to analyze the story but to inhabit it, and portray it.  After reading several of Smith’s letters aloud, actress Lucy Owen made the inspired comparison of Smith to Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire (the 1947 opening of which Smith photographed for LIFE).  I don’t think I would have thought of that comparison in another 14.5 years.  But now we can use it.  Below are several photographs made by Kate Joyce on Friday.

Actors/artists Jaymes Jorsling, Brian D. Coats, and Raffeal Sears

Jaymes Jorsling, Brian D. Coats, and Raffeal Sears. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

L-R, Christoper McElroen, photographer Jason Goodman, and Julia Watt

L-R, Christoper McElroen, Jason Goodman, and Julia Watt. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

Sam Stephenson and Jaymes Jorsling.  Photograph by Kate Joyce.

Me and Jaymes Jorsling. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

By the way, Lucien Zayan, who runs Invisible Dog, took one look at this picture by Smith and told Chris he’d always wanted to stage a performance in the windows of a building.

smith jazz loft scans nov 07 007

After the September performances we’ll begin working on a narrative script for a more conventional theater telling, making use of the visual and sonic elements that prove effective in the Invisible Dog shows.

Invisible Dog Basement

Invisible Dog Basement, after cleaning up, as we are about to turn out the lights on Friday.

-Sam Stephenson

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Wichita, Late April 2011

Arkansas River bank near Smith's childhood home, Wichita.  Photo by Kate Joyce.  April 2011.

Arkansas River bank near Smith's childhood home, Wichita. Photo by Kate Joyce. April 2011.

Last week’s trip to Gene Smith’s hometown of Wichita was a follow-up to last year’s, which can be read about HERE.

I was hosted again by the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University.  The fine details of director Patricia McDonnell’s organization were exemplary once again, from the itinerary emailed to me two weeks in advance, to the updated itinerary and gift basket (health snacks, lip balm, a city map) waiting in my hotel room.  There were two dinners, a reception, and a lunch with like-minded souls.  The University’s President Don Beggs helped introduce my talk to a capacity crowd of 140 and then he sat with his wife on the front row and listened to the whole thing.

There was also a Jazz Loft Book event at the wonderful independent Watermark Books and Café, run by owner Sarah Bagby.  Marketing manager Beth Golay made one of my favorite JLP event posters for the occasion.

There was also some research accomplished.  The photographer Kate Joyce, formerly a Hine Fellow at the Center for Documentary Studies, came down from Chicago to make pictures of Smith’s old haunts.  She had photographed an interview I did with artist Mary Frank in New York last fall.  Kate also spent time in New York with Smith’s last girlfriend, Sherry Suris, who showed her photographs she made while accompanying Smith on his last visit to Wichita in 1977, a year before he died.  It was intriguing for me to walk around Wichita listening to what a skilled photographer describes seeing upon first encountering the town, Smith’s neighborhood, the Catholic Cathedral where he was an altar boy, his school, the hospital where his father committed suicide in the parking lot, and more.


A display inside St. Mary's Cathedral, Wichita. Photo by Kate Joyce. April 2011

One day we made the 70-mile drive due east on Highway 400 to Severy, KS, a classic, once-bustling, now-deserted Midwestern farm town.  Smith’s paternal grandparents lived on a farm three miles south of Severy before dying in the 1930s.  Severy was important enough to Smith to merit a mention forty years later in his book on Minamata, Japan, a topic that might seem far removed.  We tried to find the farm.  It still takes dirt roads to go anywhere three miles south of Severy today.  On Turkey Road, we must have come close, but I didn’t have enough information to be sure.  We drove back toward Wichita with a lot of mud on the car.

Turkey Road. South of Severy, KS.  Photo by Kate Joyce.  April 2011

Turkey Road. South of Severy, KS. Photo by Kate Joyce. April 2011

I came away from my second Wichita experience pondering these prevalent, interwoven themes, or suites, for my book-in-progress, Gene Smith’s Sink:


World War II

Pittsburgh into 821 Sixth Avenue


Care Giving

I have a growing sense of the significance of Wichita in Smith’s life and work.  It is integral – the river in front of the house a constant, the Cathedral another, and more.

In the future we’ll look for a home for a spread of Kate’s photographs, with a text by me.  The story may require another visit.

-Sam Stephenson

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Monk Charity Event in New Haven May 7

One of the rewards of my past dozen years of work has been getting to know members of Thelonious Monk’s family, particularly the cousins in New Haven and North Carolina.  It’s an impressive group of people, full of educators and religious leaders and community builders.  This morning I received the following notice from Pamela Monk Kelley, whose research on the Monk family history I wrote about HERE.  I don’t see Pam’s name on this notice – which is just like her, to prefer attention to go to somewhere else – but I feel sure she’s behind this charity event.  Pam’s sister Edith Monk Pue threw a similar event in Dunn, N.C. recently, with proceeds going to breast cancer research.


monk event

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