Archive for September, 2011

October is Upon Us


The steps from the clubhouse to the Durham Bulls dugout, late August, 2011. Photo by Frank Hunter.

And that means Major League Baseball playoffs, which got off to an astonishing start on the 162nd day of the regular season Wednesday night.

Today, the Rays will throw rookie Matt Moore in Game 1 versus the Texas Rangers.  Moore was with the AAA Durham Bulls a month ago when we did a trial run for a 2012 project we’re calling Bull City Summer.  For a player considered the top pitching prospect in the sport, we found Moore to be humble and gracious, even after doing a face plant while trotting to the mound during his first AAA start.

My partner on Bull City Summer, Adam Sobsey, wrote a brilliant piece yesterday about longtime Bull Dan Johnson, who hit an immortal home run for the Rays on Wednesday to tie the game with the Yankees with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth.  One afternoon a month ago I interviewed Johnson in the home dugout of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park as he was experimenting with a remote control airplane, unsure of his future.

The 1960 World Series, the Pirates over the Yankees, made it into the JLP book, courtesy of Gene Smith’s tapes of the radio broadcast, and into Chaos Manor, too.  My wife, Laurie Cochenour, who grew up a few miles down the river from Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium, heard Clemente’s name as she stood there on Bergen St. watching Chaos Manor unfold.  Her roots in Pittsburgh were what got me started on this Gene Smith trail almost fifteen years ago.  The trail keeps going.  Yesterday I heard from photographer Larry Clark who grew up in Tulsa and at age eighteen traveled to NYC to meet Smith.  Two years later he made this photograph of Smith on Sixth Avenue.

By the way, the manager of the Bulls, Charlie Montoyo, who has won five consecutive division titles in Durham, grew up in Puerto Rico, like Clemente.  Charlie was seven when Clemente died in the plane crash.  Today Charlie listens to Puerto Rican salsa during his daily five-mile runs.  He made me several mix CD’s indicating his refined tastes – El Gran Combo, La Sonora Poncena, Hector Lavoe, Fania All-Stars, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Ray Barretto – nothing but the good stuff.


Outfield lights, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, late August, 2011. Photo by Kate Joyce.

- Sam Stephenson

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New Scenes from Chaos Manor

Sometime in the near future we’ll be posting photographs from Chaos Manor made by the photographers in our creative collective, Kate Joyce and Jason Goodman.  Jason, who is also creating a video trailer for the show, flew to Milan for a 10-day commission the morning after Chaos Manor, and Kate returned home to Chicago with a Smith-like number of photographs from the proceedings.  Kate revealed today that, so far, she’d eliminated about 1000 pictures from consideration, with a couple thousand remaining.  Somewhere, Smith must be smiling.

Meanwhile, the following photographs were made on the first night by Anthony Sabatino, the grandson of drummer and former 821 Sixth Avenue resident, Frank Amoss.





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Documenting Medicine: Smith and Caregiving


On Monday October 10 I’ll give a presentation at Duke hospital about Smith and caregiving, which is a thread that runs through his life and work, not unlike several of the 19th century Romantic poets.  It’s not a coincidence that the words “doctor” and “document” come from the same Latin root, docere (doh-sarah).  My father is a retired physician and my mother was a nurse, and my brother is a physician, so it’s in my blood.  Natural caregiving is an impulse that doesn’t turn off.  A natural caregiver is never not a caregiver, like an artist is never not an artist.  It’s an itch that doesn’t turn off.  If you look at ancient pictures of caregivers, from a variety of traditions, they are often sitting there listening to a patient.  My father always said that if you listened to patients talking long enough, they’ll eventually tell you exactly what ails them.  That kind of listening (paying attention, getting outside of yourself) is a lost art, not just in medicine but in the culture at large.  One of the projects I’m pondering for the future is a national oral history project on doctors, nurses, and midwives over the age of 75.  In our loud public health care debate, I don’t hear the perspective of caregivers who have been working in the field for a half century.

Interestingly, in Jane Getz stirring memoir-in-progress, posted HERE on this blog last year, she noted how so many male jazz musicians were married to nurses. Did these “big dogs” require around the clock care? she asked.  Smith’s first wife Carmen was a nurse, too.

More information about my talk can be found HERE.


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Gene Smith in Germany


Michael Seiwert, a longtime reader of this blog, sent notice today that a major retrospective of Smith’s work opened in Berlin this week.  He sends links here and here.  We are very happy to promote this show.  It’s a great chance to see Smith’s prints from non-JLP areas of his career.  Thank you for the tip, Michael.

My only complaint about this show, which has been traveling in Europe for a couple of years, is that it’s a standard look at Smith’s life and work.  JLP indicates, in my view, that there’s an alternative way to see him, and that’s what I’ll try to do in my next (and final) Smith book, Gene Smith’s Sink, a biography (of sorts) for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  It’s also what we’re trying to do with Chaos Manor. Smith was a conveyor of this standard view himself.  (I don’t have time or space to go into what that standard perspective is, but I may have contributed to it with some of my writing on the Pittsburgh project, before I got so deeply into the JLP materials especially the still-mysterious tapes).  Like many great artists, Smith wasn’t the best promoter of himself.  Ironically, the standard he helped create works against him in today’s art world (Steichen’s Family of Man isn’t as popular as it once was, either).

The other problem with this retrospective is that its existence may rule out an alternative Smith retrospective anytime soon.  These master prints are not allowed to be in public circulation for longer than a couple of years every dozen years to two decades.  This could be a good thing for me, because at some point I’ve got to move on to something else (the Durham Bulls, Joseph Mitchell, Sonny Clark, Monk and Coltrane, Bernard Malamud, Dean Smith, Marcia Davenport, an oral history project on doctors and nurses over age 75, and a literary non-profit are near the top of the current list).

Smith’s prodigious printing techniques will be on clear display in this exhibition, and in the age of digital reproduction his manner of darkroom printing is becoming a dinosaur.  If you are in the vicinity, go see this show.  And if there’s anybody in Europe that wants to bring Chaos Manor to town in 2012, let us know.


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Late Night Sports Radio

My series on nocturnal sports radio continues on The Morning News.  If you are interested you can catch up on my series HERE.

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Branford Marsalis Quartet in Durham

Put this on your calendars:  January 13-14, 2012, the Branford Marsalis Quartet in Reynolds Theater at Duke in Durham, NC.  The fidelity that Duke Performances director Aaron Greenwald and engineer Luc Suer have finessed in this 600-seat theater is second to none that I’ve heard, anywhere, over the last couple of years.  It will be a unique opportunity to hear this state-of-the-art quartet on back-to-back nights in this venue.  Here is a video of the quartet last year – Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums.  This will be a home game for the band.  Branford and Joey have lived in Durham for about a decade and the band has recorded its albums in the Hayti Heritage Center sanctuary here over that time.

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821 Sixth Avenue. September 17, 2011.

Drummer and former resident of 821 Sixth Avenue, Frank Amoss, sends us this photograph of 821 Sixth Avenue that he made with his phone last Saturday.  Frank notes that the tree wasn’t there in 1961.

821 Sixth Avenue, white building behind tree.

821 Sixth Avenue, white building behind tree.

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More Scenes from Chaos Manor

These are from actor and producer Julia Watt, a member of the Chaos Manor creative collective.  Check back soon for work by the collective’s photographers Jason Goodman and Kate Joyce.

Chaos Manor command central.  3rd floor, Invisible Dog.

Chaos Manor command central. 3rd floor, Invisible Dog.

Saxophonist Levon Henry against projections of images of Jimmy Giuffre by Gene Smith circa 1959.

Saxophonist Levon Henry against projections of images of Jimmy Giuffre by Gene Smith circa 1959.

photo 2

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Scenes from Chaos Manor

I’m back in North Carolina after two weeks in Brooklyn.  The experiment succeeded, thanks to the efforts of the remarkable director Christopher McElroen and an inspiring and dedicated collective of video, photography, and audio pros, performers, musicians, and production assistants.  More to come on Step 1 of Chaos Manor, including photos and audio-video.  Meanwhile, here is a series of photographs by the Invisible Dog’s Simon Courchel indicating what was done this past weekend.

-Sam Stephenson



















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Preparations for Chaos

Paris Review Daily previews Chaos Manor.  Meanwhile, here are some scenes from the last twenty-four hours at the Invisible Dog.

Third floor, Invisible Dog.  Projection screens hanging by windows.

Third floor, Invisible Dog. Projection screens hanging by windows.

l/r Kate Joyce, David Tennent, Alex Koch, Kate Freer

Invisible Dog, third floor, l/r photographer Kate Joyce, video designers David Tennent, Alex Koch, Kate Freer

L-R, Kate Freer, David Tennent, Alex Koch

L-R, Kate Freer, David Tennent, Alex Koch

Alex Koch, David Tennent, Kate Freer

Alex Koch, David Tennent, Kate Freer

Sound designer Dominic Mekky, pianist Martha Kato, saxophonist Levon Henry, drummer Eric Read.

Sound designer Dominic Mekky, pianist Martha Kato, saxophonist Levon Henry, drummer Eric Read.

Bergen St. at Smith.  1:31am.  9/15/11
Bergen St. at Smith St., appropriately named, 1:31am. 9/15/11

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