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Baseball and Jazz

bulls rain delay

Snapshot I took during Durham Bulls game rain delay, end of July 2011.

Ken Burns aside, there are a lot of overlaps between the two great American inventions.  During JLP oral history interviews, the topic of baseball often came up.  According to Carole Thomas, Gene Smith put a red filter on his TV screen so he could watch baseball in his darkroom.  Some musicians were once outstanding prospects (Lou Donaldson, played 3rd base in a Negro semi-pro league as a teenager) and others were passionate fans (Dave Frishberg comes to mind – check out his great Van Lingle Mungo).  In the JLP book I included a transcript of the broadcast of the 1960 World Series (Pirates over Yankees) found on Smith’s tapes.

A few baseball recommendations:

Bullpen Gospels, by Dirk Hayhurst. A behind the scenes look at minor league baseball written by a current (injured) player for the AAA Durham Bulls.

Sixty Feet Six Inches, by Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson.  The two immortal ballplayers engage in a book length conversation about the art and science and culture of the game.  The marketing for the book doesn’t reveal this very clearly, but there is a lot of important insight into racial complexities these men experienced in baseball.  In that way it reminds me a little bit of drummer Art Taylor’s invaluable book of interviews with fellow musicians, Notes and Tones.

Durham Bulls game coverage for The Independent, by Adam Sobsey.  Sobsey covers the AAA Bulls in a manner that I find unique in baseball game coverage on any level.  A few nights ago he wrote what must be 5000 words on a single game.  Before the internet, there wasn’t an outlet for Sobsey’s kind of serial work.  This morning a literary friend read a few of Sobsey’s pieces and observed, “He’s an existential sportswriter.”  That’s a pretty good observation that may reflect Sobsey’s background in theater production and playwriting.  You don’t have to be a fan of the Bulls or their parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, to enjoy his work.

-Sam Stephenson

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More Scenes from Brooklyn

Kate Joyce sends along a few more photographs from the Chaos Manor workshop in Brooklyn three weeks ago.  I remain pleasantly dumfounded that we had the green 1962 Ford truck as a backdrop all week.  What are the odds of that?  I also like that in this first picture you can see Fred Kaplan’s book, 1959, which Frank Kimbrough brought with him.  Fred’s been kind to us over the years. I dig Hank’s Mastodon t-shirt, too.  Lots of forces were converging at the table. – S.S.

Musician Frank Kimbrough and photographer Jason Goodman

Musician Frank Kimbrough and photographer Jason Goodman

Writer Hank Stephenson, theater director Conrad Kluck, me

Writer Hank Stephenson, theater director Conrad Kluck, me

Brigid Hughes, founder and editor of A Public Space

Brigid Hughes, founder and editor of A Public Space

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Splinter Group wins National Addy


The creators and builders of this website, The Splinter Group of Carrboro, N.C., recently won a prestigious National Addy award, the ad industry’s version of an Academy Award.  Many kudos to Splinter founders Steve Balcom and Lane Wurster and their staff.


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Writing on photography technique?

I spent Friday in a darkroom at N.C. State University with Raleigh photographer David Simonton.  We experimented with some of Gene Smith’s darkroom methods.  David is a deep thinker and natural teacher.  I’ve interviewed a number of Smith’s assistants, including recently in Japan, but I told David to start from a blank slate.  He did a masterful job.  First thing in the morning we sat around his kitchen table and he pulled sections from about 8 different books dating back to the 1950s, a few of which I’d not seen.  Then we moved to State’s Craft Center to make prints and the last part of our day was spent working with ferricyanide on prints.  For me, it was a first step toward writing well about technique in Gene Smith’s Sink. There are more steps to take.  I want the writing to appeal to experts as well as mainstream readers.

Thus, I have a question:  What is your favorite writing about photographic technique?  Could be how-to, from a biography, from a novel, anything.

Many thanks for any responses, here or to me directly.

-Sam Stephenson

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Scenes from Saipan

Yesterday I arrived in Guam.  The tsunami scare two nights ago in Saipan was a new experience.  All is good now.  But as everyone knows it is a scary situation in Japan.  I made many new friends in my 18 days there and I’m sick with fear for them.  But looking back I’m not unhappy that I was able to make it out when I did.  In Saipan we were ordered to the top floors of our hotel for 90 minutes while we sweated out the tsunami threat.  Then things returned to normal.

My internet connection wasn’t the best so I wasn’t able to post any Saipan photos until now.

View from my hotel's open air lobby, Saipan.  Hill 500 in the background.

View from my hotel's open air lobby, Saipan. Hill 500 in the background.

Above, Hill 500 was named by the American soldiers because the hill is 500 feet high.  Covered in clouds to the left of Hill 500 is Mt. Tagpochau which is 1200 feet high.  Photos of and from these sites are below.  When the American troops invaded the beaches from the west, with Gene Smith following, the Japanese were well fortified on the tops of both Hill 500 and Mt. Tagpochau, with guns that ranged to 1500 meters.  What resulted, of course, wasn’t pretty.  Today, though, Saipan is quite stunning.  There are 50,000 residents, down 40% from a peak before their garment industry was healthy (before NAFTA and other trade agreements – Saipan is a U.S. territory).

View from top of Hill 500 looking back toward my hotel.

View from top of Hill 500 looking back toward my hotel. Tinian is the island in the background.

Much of the warfare on this island took place in the space you are seeing in the photo above.  The Japanese were well entrenched when American troops invaded the beaches from the west (the right side of the photograph above).

By the way, I’ve learned this history from an unusual and rich source in the form of Don Farrell, who grew up in Billings, Montana and has lived in the Northern Mariana Islands for 35 years, teaching school, working in the local government, and becoming the leading historian of the region.  More on him later.  He may end up being the focus of my next Paris Review piece.  Don looks like a cross between a ZZ Top guitarist and Colonel Sanders.  He likes to pop a few cold ones and he’s an experienced horticulturalist, if you know what I mean.  He’s a dogged historian and natural storyteller.  They don’t make ‘em like Don at the universities, although they should.  He would fit in well at CDS.

Hill 500 looking in the other direction.

Hill 500 looking in the other direction.

Mt. Tagpochau, 1200 ft. elevation.

Mt. Tagpochau, 1200 ft. elevation. I was trying to imagine hiking up this mountain with people shooting at you in 90 degree, humid conditions.

View from Mt. Tagpochau looking down into "Death Valley."

View from top of Mt. Tagpochau looking down into "Death Valley."

It turns out my internet connection is slow here in Guam, too.  The hotel is working on it.  I’ll post more Saipan photos when I can upload them faster.  My goal on this WWII battlefield portion of my journey has been to learn something that would allow me to write better about Gene Smith prowling around these areas with his camera during combat.  I keep thinking of a boy from landlocked Kansas, by WWII in his early to mid-20s, lugging his equipment around these tropical islands for 18 months.  I’m not sure, yet, how these impressions will make it into my book.  But they will.

-Sam Stephenson

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Where is Gene Smith in this picture?

In the fall I posted this picture and asked this question and I didn’t hear anything definitive.  Maybe there’s not enough information.  But I’m trying again.  I’d be grateful for any suggestions anybody has.  Next Saturday I’m heading to the Pacific for 4+ weeks walking in Smith’s footsteps.

- Sam Stephenson.


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Sonny Clark: A Recommended Playlist

Sonny Clark made some of his most affecting musical expressions as a sideman.  Here are a few recommendations with him as leader and sideman.  *Indicates two starting points.

Buddy DeFranco: 1954-56. Verve. Inexplicably, the music recorded by clarinetist DeFranco with Clark has been out of print, for the most part, for decades.  Do what you can to find some of these 39 tracks, particularly “You Go to My Head,” in which DeFranco and Clark engage in a stunning dialogue of simultaneous solos.

Serge Chaloff: Blue Serge. 1956.  Capitol.

Larance (aka. Lawrence) Marable: Tenorman.  1956.  Jazz West.

Clifford Jordan: Cliff Craft. 1957. Blue Note.

Lou Donaldson: Lou Takes Off.  1957.  Blue Note.

Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin’. 1958.  Blue Note.

Sonny Clark: My Conception. 1957-1959.  Blue Note.

*Sonny Clark: Leapin’ and Lopin’. 1961.  Blue Note.

*Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark.  1961-62.  Blue Note.

Dexter Gordon: Go and A Swinging Affair.  1962.  Blue Note.

Stanley Turrentine: Jubilee Shout.  October 1962.  Blue Note.  With old friends from Pittsburgh, the brothers Stanley (saxophone) and Tommy (trumpet) Turrentine.  Clark’s last recording session.

Sonny Clark: There are a few recordings of Clark in a trio format, each having some essential moments, such as the tune “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” from the 1957 Blue Note recording with Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, and the extraordinary “Nica” on the 1960 Time/Bainbridge recording with George Duvivier on bass and Max Roach on drums.  But generally I enjoy his playing more in other formats.

-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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CD Pick of 2010


TARBABY.  “The End of Fear.”  Posi-Tone Records.  Eric Revis – bass, Orrin Evans – piano, Nasheet Waits – drums, Oliver Lake – alto saxophone, JD Allen – tenor saxophone, Nicholas Payton – trumpet.

I first heard about this record from this piece by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times a couple of months ago.  Then I saw this piece by Doug Ramsey a few weeks later.

Last week when I heard Orrin Evans play a brilliant solo version of Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” at the Deems Taylor Awards in NYC, with Revis in attendance, I recalled these write-ups and finally bought this album.  Tarbaby is a collective trio consisting of Revis, Evans, and Waits.  The horn players on this record make guest appearances and all three sound fabulous.

Revis is the longtime bass player in the Branford Marsalis Quartet.  On that band’s remarkable, multiform 2006 release, Braggtown, named after a neighborhood in Durham, NC near where Marsalis lives and near the historic African-American church where the album was recorded, Revis contributed the most “out” tune ever recorded by Branford or anybody in the Marsalis family (that I’ve heard), a 14-minute “new music” marvel called “Black Elk Speaks.”

Revis has a huge, old school tone and he errs on the side of playing less notes, not more.  Yet, he’s not conservative at all.  “Black Elk Speaks,” the name coming from the 1932 book about a Sioux medicine man, demonstrates his preferences for history and adventure.  On this Tarbaby record he contributes a tune called “Brews” that makes me think of Andrew Hill in it’s spare tension and groove.

Tarbaby achieves the tenuous, rare blend of tradition and invention that all successful artists in any field seek.  If they could stick together as a full-time working trio for a couple of years, I bet they could rise to the top of the art form, if they aren’t already there.

To connect Tarbaby to the Jazz Loft Project, Waits’ father Freddie Waits was recorded by Gene Smith in loft sessions from September 1963 and April 1964.  There’s one tape where Gene and “Fred,” as the elder Waits introduces himself, meet each other for the first time and they have a conversation about Thelonious Monk and Hall Overton.

-Sam Stephenson

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