Jacob Collier- “I Don’t Want To Be A Saviour”

There I was, this past Saturday, minding my own business, fresh from another visit to Degas at Moma (stay tuned), braving the crowds at Summer Stage in Central Park on a gorgeous afternoon waiting to hear what would turn out to be an absolutely incendiary performance by Kamasi Washington & The Next Step, working my way ever so slowly towards the front of the throng, over 2 and a half hours, until I was 5 from the stage, when this kid came out to do the opening act.

By himself.


Uh oh.

I’d been thinking to myself that I felt sorry for anyone who got the opening gig slot ahead of Kamasi Washington, here in Central Park of all places. What it must feel like to be out there knowing that a mountain, this force of nature, this new movement of talent called the “West Coast Get Down” is about to fall on you, and probably obliterate every sign of you having been there. After all, when was the last time a group of very talented musicians came out of the same place at the same time? “I just got off a plane from London,” he said, rocking “bedhead” hair. Oh, I know how taking that trip feels. My heart sank. Maybe I should turn around and watch for incoming bottles, like I had to do for the 6 hours of opening acts the crowd hated before The Clash at Bond’s Casino back in the day. I decided to settle in and give the kid some slack. What the heck. It was such a lovely early evening.

Hmmm....Crowd seems pretty peaceful...so far.

Hmmm….My fellow “Kamasi-ites” seem pretty peaceful…so far.

One hour later, this kid- Jacob Collier, left me thinking that he might very well be THE most talented young musician on Earth.

“Hole on there, Nighthawk. Have you met EVERYONE on Earth, Mr. NightOwl?”


“How is that possible when you never leave Manhattan?”

“Because sooner or later? They all come here.”

Jacob Collier is S I C K. And, not as in jet-lagged sick. Check this out-

(On this new song, “Saviour,” he sings & plays everything. The video was filmed in ONE take, using 6 projectors.)

Ok. Let’s start at the beginning. He’s got this keyboard that’s not a keyboard like any you or I have ever heard- the “Novation” he’s playing in the photo, above. An invention from this guy, Ben Bloomberg, (who he introduced. He was there doing the sound), at the MIT Media Lab in Boston. As far as I could discern, it harmonizes his voice into the chords that’s he’s playing on it.

And wow. What chords!

(No Novation on this- just his actual voices. Not to mention SICK Melodica playing! Oh, and no use of Autotune.)

Young Mr. Collier apparently has been studying the hell out of Jazz harmony from Jelly Roll Morton up through Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul. He’s got a bit of at the jazz classicist to him, his harmony is never “outside,” or atonal. Rather, he uses extended harmonies, chords that go further than your basic triads, adding tones further and further away from the tonic, or tonal center- hence extended harmony. Musicians have long known that there is “gold in them thar harmonic hills,” in the form of incredibly rich sounds. But, it’s always been something you just don’t hear on the radio outside of on Jazz stations. Maybe now? We will. And, he’s not shy about singing EIGHT part harmony, or more(!), all with only his voice. THAT is unheard of in Jazz, or just about any other kind of music these days.

Still? I’ll be the last guy to put Mr. Collier in a box. Yes, his music, and musicianship, has a lot of Jazz elements to it. It also has R&B elements (Stevie Wonder appears to be a big influence on him judging by how many Stevie classics he’s covered), classical, folk and pop elements, among other things. Heck, being 21 now (18 when he was discovered by Quincy Jones, who signed him to his label and manages him now, on youtube) and covering both rock tunes and the “Flintstones” bring “pop” elements.

Ok, so we’ve got a guy with a keyboard who sings and harmonizes with himself. Then, he’s also a terrific bassist- upright or electric, to the point that he’d  be getting cred right now if that’s “all” he was. Im not comparing them as bassists, though I’ll go as far as saying he’s got a bit of Jaco Pastorius’s swagger, and, apparently, his long fingers. I think Jaco would have liked him, and yes, I met Jaco a number of times, and heard him in person at “The Birthday Concert” among many other times over 8 years. Jacob has the ability to take has vision and realize it on whatever instrument is needed and bring his personality to it at the same time, which no hired sideman could do. He’s a whiz on traditional keyboards from piano through synthesizer, with chops most keyboardists would kill for, a more than good enough drummer and percussionist, he plays some guitar, and lord knows what else. Apparently, Mr. Bloomberg has designed his stage setup, too, so that somehow there are sequencer triggers set up all over the stage so he can go from instrument to instrument, play a few bars on it, then have the sequence played back in a loop, which he then layers, live, all without , seemingly, pressing any buttons. Oh! And he’s one hell of a melodica player. I mean absolutely ridiculous, as you hear, above. There are youtube videos where musicians are already transcribing his melodica solos so they can learn them.

Here he is live, which is the closest I’ve found to what I experienced in Central Park, shot an someone’s iPhone 6S-

But? As amazing as all of that is? That’s not the point.

Music is the point, and that, above all the rest is what matters. As you can hear above, he’s got a completely unique approach to music. No matter how outlandish what he’s doing seems, it’s always done in service to the song- he’s really not just showing off.

A completely unique approach?

I think so. What else does that sound like? His vocals may sound like a one-man Take 6 at times, then he’ll surprise you and make a left turn at the drop of a dime. His arranging, which strikes me as one of his strongest suits, is a tiny bit like Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson-era), on steroids. At times he reminds me of Joe Zawinul of Weather Report in terms of the boundaries he pushes. At other times, like a 21st Century Swingle Singers. None of that encapsulates it, of course. He’s taking what’s come before and building on it. Ok, I’ll try this-

Jacob Collier is a phenomenon.


He’s better without a band, IMHO.

Already. And? HIs first album doesn’t come out until July 1. He’s been racking up big numbers on youtube since he was 18, and it’s easy to see why. And if all of this wasn’t enough? He directs and edits some of his own videos (like the one below).

He announced during the show that he had 50 copies of his debut album with him. Of course, I scooped one up. It’s funny how a number of the tunes that got my attention, and that of quite a few others around me, aren’t even on it. Very unusual for an artist with 1 album almost out, and who is all of 21 to boot. I’ve seen many new acts that had to repeat a song if they had to do an encore cause they played everything they knew. (You can watch a live stream of it’s release, hosted by Quincy Jones, here.)

His about to be released debut. I bet he was born doing just what he's doing on the right.

His about to be released debut. I bet he was born sitting at his workstation, as he’s doing on the right.

I left with the sense that here is, either, an old soul, or the reincarnation of one who had already mastered all of this!

He sings & plays everything on this astounding Quincy Jones/M. Jackson cover, except for Quincy’s cameo, and also filmed & edited it.

Jacob Collier is, already, a state of the Art 21st Century performer, who is on the cutting edge of so much of what it is to be a 21st Century Musician. Scouring the web since Saturday, I’ve come to feel that he’s “better” alone. Yes, he can play with other musicians, it’s not that. It’s just that his thing by himself is just so unique, so strong, and so amazingly well arranged and constructed, that THAT is the best way to experience him, IMHO. It’s like being in a band with your brothers- no one else has that chemistry he has with himself. Different musicians have different minds. When he plays everything himself, he knows what he wants. I don’t know what the his career path will be. Whether this means he winds up being a producer, or he can continue to reinvent himself over time, who knows. It will be fascinating to watch. But, for now, this is something unprecedented in Jazz, at least- a one man band. Where he goes from here we all shall see. His album is just him, recorded in his room at home, as it’s title, “In My Room,” announces. Check it out.

The fact that he’s being associated with Jazz is something I welcome. As I recently said, I’ve been hoping for a bunch of Artists to throw their hat into the ring to be “the Next One.” But? Jacob Collier, as his song, “Saviour,” which I quoted in the title to this Post, says, doesn’t want “to be a saviour.1

“…unless you can tell me something to change my mind,” he adds later.

I’m working on it, Jacob. I’m working on it.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “In My Room,” by Jacob Collier, from the album of the same name.

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  1. He might be singing “your saviour.” I can’t tell and there are no published lyrics available. It doesn’t matter.

Kamasi Washington- Live In Central Park

This is a Post Script to my recent Post on Kamasi Washington’s “The Epic.”

I stood for 2 and a half hours before the show Saturday, June 18, to get a good spot to hear Kamasi’s Central Park debut (his third NYC appearance as far as I can tell) at Summerstage in Rumsey Playfield along with a packed house of a few thousand I’d guess. It was well worth it. He, and “The Next Step,” lived up to every bit of what I’ve heard on “The Epic,” and on various live performances that are circulating online.

They were positively incendiary.

Here are a few photos I shot of what will be a long remembered concert.

The personnel consisted of-
Kamasi- Tenor Sax
Ryan Porter- Trombone
Brandon Coleman- Keyboards
Miles Mosley- Bass
Tony Austin & Ronald Bruner, Jr- Drums
Patrice Quinn- Vocals
Special Guests-
Rickey Washington (Kamasi’s Dad!)- Flute & Soprano Sax
Ingmar Thomas- Trumpet



Happy Father’s Day, Rickey. Father & Son, the day before Father’s Day.



A “Tenor Titan” in the making, right before our eyes.


View from behind the Mixing Desk at the packed house.

If you want to get the full effect, check this out-

One of the most striking things about this concert, beyond how so very very good every single Musician in The Next Step is, is that a good number of people in the crowd actually DANCED!


Jazz was DANCE MUSIC, that was also great to listen to, early on, right up until Bebop came along in the 1940’s and was too fast to dance to. It’s a great sign that in addition to being excellent musically, this music is DANCEABLE! Don’t miss them next time, which I hope is very soon.

PS- My post about the opening act, Jacob Collier, is coming soon.

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The Nighthawk Exposed!

Welll… “Exposed” in print. Interviewed, actually.

If you don’t get enough of me here, as hard as that might be to imagine (soft smile), you’ll be pleased to know that the nice folks over at the culture Blog myrecentdiscoveries.com interviewed me recently about NYC & Art.

Their article is now online, and if you’d care to have a look, it can be seen here, and yes, it includes a photo of yours truly.

My thanks to them.

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“These Young Guys Remind Me Of Why I Love Music”

I’ve been worried about the future.

The future of jazz. The future of real musicianship. I mentioned this when I wrote about Prince, who was one of the most well known (unofficial) figureheads of what remains of that movement. So much of it has been lost to technology. While tech has opened many new doors and opened them for many, many people who never learned to play an instrument, I don’t understand why it should also mean some of the tried and true doors close. Along the way, it’s become very hard to make a living playing an instrument.

Yet, even right now, though digital synths and sampling has kept getting better, there’s nothing like the sound of the real thing. Most importantly, nothing has come close to equalling a great musician playing his instrument. Prince knew that, and that’s why he always used real instruments, and often announced it proudly to the audience, right up to the end, when he performed solo, with a piano. He also was fond of covering some of the great music that inspired him. On any given night you could hear him cover “Crimson & Clover,” “Take The ‘A’ Train,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” ‘A Case of You,”or “I Wanna Take You Higher,” among many others.

Part of why I felt that way about Prince’s loss, was that it’s been a while since someone has come along to stake a claim to being “The Next One”- someone who will take the music to new places like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis or Ornette Coleman, or be the next great instrumentalist, like Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock,  or Jimi Hendrix. While there are a number of Jazz musicians I follow, at this moment, among those I’ve heard, I’d say Craig Taborn, and a young man from Los Angeles named Kamasi Washington are prime candidates to make a real mark.

Last year, Mr. Washington, released one of the most important records of the year, and possibly of the past few years, a 3-CD/172 minute tour de force appropriately titled “The Epic” Having only previously released 3 albums on his personal label, “The Epic” was released on Brainfeeder Records. It’s a record that has it roots solidly in what’s come before, it’s trunk thick with community, while it’s branches soar towards future skies. Speaking of roots in the past, one of the biggest for this particular tree, John Coltrane, was about 34 when he left Miles Davis to form his “Classic Quartet,” with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, in 1960, one of the most important groups in Jazz (or Music) History. Mr. Washington was also 34 when he debuted “The Epic,” in May, 2015, beginning his solo career. That’s not to compare them musically, just to point out, what for now is as an interesting coincidence, that perhaps, one day, will be more1. It’s also interesting because it just might show that Mr. Washington learned something else from those who came before- the importance of waiting. “Waiting is a part of intense living,” Nasreen Mohamedi wrote in one of her Diaries. In Jazz, young musicians were expected to pay their dues as sidemen, the “Graduate School of Jazz,” and bide their time honing their skills. Then, in the 1980’s a group of 20-something musicians were lumped together under the marketing term, “Young Lions,” (a co-opting of the name of a 1960 album featuring young masters Wayne Shorter, 26, and Lee Morgan, 22), and given high-profile major label releases, which are already largely forgotten. Instead of rushing to the market, Mr. Washington has spent his time developing the various aspects of his craft (as can be heard on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, “To Pimp A Butterfly,” where he plays and arranged strings) so he could realize his vision, until he was ready.


“The Epic” by Kamasi Washington, Front cover

“The Epic” is an auspicious start. It’s an album that is quite unlike any Jazz debut I can think of. The immortal, “Complete Birth of the Cool,” Miles Davis’ first, recorded in 1948, featured “unusual” instruments for post-war Jazz, including a tuba and french horn, which led to his group being called his “Tuba Band.” “The Birth of the Cool”2 is a landmark in Jazz history, marking the start of the “cool” era in Jazz that Miles epitomized. We shall see if we look back on “The Epic” that way.  It has upto 32 performers at any given tune that includes a 9 piece string section, a 14 voice chorus and a band upwards of 10 pieces, that has TWO bassists and TWO drummers. Unusual instrumentation for a Jazz album today. In that small way, it’s a little bit similar to Miles debut, though there is only 1 vocalist on 1 song on “Birth of the Cool.” But, “The Epic,” also, has a “dream” that goes along with it.

A dream?

Here’s what Kamasi Washington said during the Los Angeles concert Premiere of “The Epic” on May 4, 2015 (in my transcription)-

“So, a lot of people ask me what made you put out a 3 disc album? When I was working on this music, I started having this dream, and it sounds crazy, so I wanted to tell you the part of the dream that made this album what it is.

So the dream starts off like this. There’s a guard, I had the dream like 10 times. There’s a guard in front of a gate. He doesn’t do anything besides guard the gate. He has no family, he has no friends, he has no home, he has no possessions, all he does is guard this gate. He doesn’t do anything else. The gate is at the top of a huge mountain, bigger than Mount Everest. From the bottom of this mountain you can’t even see the gate. At the bottom of this mountain is a village and there’s all these people that live in the village and all the people in the village do is train every day all day to be able to challenge this guard, so they can become the guard, so they can guard the gate. That’s all they cared about. That’s all he cared about.


The Guard from the 3Lp Set

So one day 4 young warriors come up and they challenge the guard. The first one is super fast, like faster than anything you can ever imagine, but the guard beats him anyway. The Second one is super strong, but the guard beats him anyway. The Third one is fast and strong, but the guard beats him anyway. The Fourth one is even faster and stronger than any of the other three but the guard can still beat him and he sees openings where he can take him out, but he sees something special in him, he sees a spirit, or his power or something that he knows is in himself as well. And so he has this thought that he never had before. He didn’t have to be the guard anymore. He can let this young man be the guard. So, he makes a decision and he opens himself up and he lets the young man basically take his life. The gates open and these people come and drag him into the gate. And just as he’s about to go in the gate he opens his eyes and he realizes that none of that happened. He was just dreaming. He had been sitting on some stairs watching these young kids train in the village and imaging that one day one of them was gonna come and take his place.

So, then the dream would flash forward 10 years. And those kids that he was actually watching they were now at the level that they were going to go up and challenge the guard and they were going up the mountain to meet him. They get up to the top of the mountain and the guard is gone. He’s not there. And the gate is destroyed. And like they’re whole lives are like crashing because that’s all they ever did. That’s all they ever thought about was coming and challenging this guard.

And…that’s the plan.”

While the revolution will not be televised, it was captured on video by NPR, and much of what they recorded can be heard here, at it’s release party-

I can’t help feeling while watching this that quite of few of those on the bandstand, and in the audience knew they were experiencing something historic. I think they’re right- “The Epic” is turning heads. These are the musicians Common was speaking about in the quote I chose as this Post’s title. I agree. While no one can say where all this is headed, just hearing something that reminds you why you love this music is a sign…it’s something you can’t help but pay attention to, if you love the music.

Beyond the “plan,” his tenor playing has definitely caught my ear. Tenor sax is, along with the trumpet, the signature instrument of Jazz, IMHO, with an insanely great lineage that runs right up to today with Wayne (Shorter) and Sonny (Rollins). Who will carry the torch next? Ravi Coltrane (John’s son), Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin (featured on David Bowie’s “Blackstar”) and others have been holding sway with many listeners, while I remain to be convinced. Mr. Washington is throwing his hat into the ring. Bring it on, Kamasi! He has his own sound and a style that belies as many influences as his writing does, but is firmly “in the tradition,” and backed up with a formidable technique & power. If you’re familiar with Blue Note or Impulse Records, Kamasi will sound like a bit of a throwback. A welcome one. But make no mistake- he’s his own man. After years of paying his dues, he’s arrived. Wayne and Sonny became all time legends through consistent brilliance over very long careers. They’re part of the continuum who have set the bar very high. So we shall see how things play out. Yet, “The Epic’s” 8 minutes short of 3 hour length left me wanting to hear more of his playing, believe it or not.

Beyond his playing, his vision is something that’s been sorely missing in Jazz. Crafting an album with upwards of 33 performers is rare in Jazz (let alone for a debut). I found myself thinking back to “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” by Pharaoh Sanders (with Leon Thomas, which has fewer musicians but a similar feel), “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite” by the late, great Max Roach. Sun Ra’s Impulse albums. Heady company. Classic records, all. Mr. Washington is nothing if not someone who “thinks big.” His first band was precociously called “The Young Jazz Giants.” This band is called “The Next Step,” “The Epic” is said to be coming out as a graphic novel, and now, he’s currently in the early stages of a world tour, which lands at Summer Stage in Central Park on June 18, so expect to hear his name increasingly the rest of 2016.

And, probably longer.

Another part of his vision is how he encompasses many elements into his music. Rather then list them, because I don’t believe in “boxes,” I’d rather say that they are a mix of the unique styles of the musicians performing here. Though there are elements of what has been called ”avant-garde,” I, frankly don’t hear it. I think this is very accessible music. While, yes, genres are bending, and Mr. Washington is tackling that from a Jazz based approach, it’s done seamlessly in the service of the compositions. His maturity is showing. “The Epic,” also, passes the Joel Dorn “Don’t Make A Record That’s Already Been Made” test to my ears. I can’t think of anything it “sounds like.” “Apocalypse” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra with the London Symphony, produced by no less than Beatles producer, Sir Geroge Martin,  is about as close as I’ve come.

While he uses electric instruments, this isn’t the dreaded “jazz fusion.” It’s a new sound that Mr. Washington has been at the forefront of that is coming out of L.A., which, supposedly, is “one of the only cities that’s not afraid of deep experimentation.” (according to event producer artdontsleep’s web site. Hmmm…) Nonetheless it’s a sound that is genuinely community based. It might be L.A., or, it might be that many of these musicians grew up together and have been playing together for years. Regardless, you can hear it. It’s fresh, knowing and exciting. And so, the “West Coast Get Down,” as they call themselves, was formed. They are-

Ronald Bruner- Drums
Brandon Coleman- Keyboards
Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner- Electric Bass
Cameron Graves- Piano
Miles Mosley– Acoustic Bass
Patrice Quinn- Vocals
Ryan Porter- Trombone
Tony Austin– Drums
and Kamasi Washington

They form the core of “The Epic.”

Kamasi- “It’s like we’ve been cultivating our sound since we were kids. Since we were 13 years old. We always went outside the box. We were never conformists.”

Miles Mosley- “It was around the high school era that it all came together. We all played with each other. We were all each other’s favorite musicians. Something happened where our skill set caught up with our friendship.”

Tony Austin- “It’s like we’ve done some stuff together. Not just musical stuff. Been through trials and tribulations. Had friends that have passed away. Had to bail each other out of jail. Or whatever. Pay each other’s parking fines. Or lend each other money. We’re not just musicians, we’re also great friends. We’re also people that can just go hang out together.”

In spite of so many players and singers, no one gets in the way of another. There is no chaos. Listen to “Miss Understanding,” the opening track on CD3- “The Historic Repetition,” one of my favorite tracks, to hear what I mean. Here, Kamasi’s style takes me back to a number of great tenor saxophonists from Booker Ervin, to Pharaoh to Gato Barbieri to David Murray.

Before I listened to “The Epic” for the first time, I wondered about the engineering and production. With such massive forces at work, recording and mixing are make or break elements. It’s obviously an incredibly ambitious recording project, one that hasn’t even been attempted by major classical orchestras or operas that have the biggest record companies in the world behind them. Recording electric and acoustic instruments can be tricky, especially with the dynamics of 2 drummers, percussion, vocal and instrumental soloists. Back in the day, I, actually did it both ways- I played trombone, and later upright bass, in various sized bands and groups, indoors and out, and the desire to over-blow/over-play is high, especially when you can’t hear yourself for everything else going on. Playing an electric instrument (electric bass) with acoustic instruments is especially tricky as bass tends to carry  and you have to be very aware of the size of the hall. I was guilty of overplaying at first, to overcompensate what I thought wasn’t being heard. The production & recording of “The Epic” surprised me- everything going on is audible, which is a pretty remarkable achievement in itself. Credit is due to Tony Austin, who also engineered it. I worked on recording projects involving opera companies, putting together the budget and booking the session, and saw first hand what those costs are, at the sessions I watched how they were recorded, and I have worked on much smaller acoustic Jazz projects that I self-funded, so I have a little bit of an idea of the financial challenges that might have been at work here. It’s a bit miraculous Mr. Washington got it done, and done so shockingly well, especially partially or wholly self funded. Bravo.

This is contemporary music, at it’s finest. It’s music that looks back, and looks forward at the same time. Right now? I’m looking forward to hearing where Kamasi Washington is going next. Maybe there will be a future after all.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “The Epic” by Kamasi Washington.

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  1. Coltrane had released albums under his own name earlier, but hadn’t had a standing full time group previously.
  2. I should clarify that the original Miles Davis album was called “The Birth of the Cool.” It was later reissued with additional music from the same sessions, the rest of the music from it, as “The Complete Birth of the Cool,” which is the only way you can readily get it now, and the version I prefer. Too much of a good thing is never enough, right?

Why Muhammad Ali Is “The Greatest Of All Time”

I hate boxing.

The only time I’ve ever watched it was when Cassius Clay, and then Muhammad Ali fought.


I have no idea, really. As a kid, he was just cool. Audacious. A poet.

“Float Like A Butterfly
Sting Like A Bee.”


Then? He became


He took it all to another level. First, he transcended losing. “I never thought of losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.”

Then he transcended boxing.

Then he transcended sport.

Then he transcended politics.

Then he transcended national boundaries.

He was someone who had been to the mountaintop. He had survived everyone trying to bring him down- 61 in the ring (winning 56 times, beating guys named Liston, Frazier and Foreman), those who controlled the ring, the government, Parkinson’s disease, and on and on. All the while, he remained true to himself. Though he was ill for much of his later life (Hey? it was a miracle he survived those fights, right?), when I saw him on TV doing this or that, it was like seeing a vision. He struck me as something of a Bodhisattva, a being who, though he has achieved enlightenment, forgoes nirvana out of compassion in order to save others.


I believe Muhammad Ali was a Bodhisattva of the human spirit- indomitable, endlessly creative, a believer in himself, his courage, his cherished values. I have a feeling that whenever people saw him at these things, it was a reminder to those who remember- a “man who overcame so much, and he’s still standing,” moment, and he was a touchstone for those that didn’t remember. A living legend. A lesson, and example, for us all, incarnate.

“For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he trule feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.”*

After all, isn’t the the ideal, the supreme accomplishment in boxing? To be the one left standing at the end?

Here we have the ultimate boxing metaphor in one human life. We have a man who transcended everything there was to transcend in life. And, in the end, he was still standing.

Muhammad Ali remains undefeated- in life.


(Get well soon, Sv.)

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “My Way,” by Paul Anka and Claude Francois as performed by Frank Sinatra. Published by Chrysalis Music Group, Inc.

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Artist Megumi Igarashi Asks “What Is Obscenity?”

In Japan, creating and distributing plans to print a 3-D vagina apparently is.


Given the millennia long history of nudity in Art,and the very conservative(?), somewhat hypocritical, laws in Japan about exposure of “certain parts” of the body, it was only a matter of time until this happened. Well? She has. Megumi Igarashi (aka Rokudenashiko or “good for nothing girl”), self styled “Manko (Vagina) Artist,” has been in the thick of it since her latest arrest in 2014. Early in May she was found guilty of “obscenity electromagnetic recording medium distribution” and fined 400,000 yen, about 4 grand.

“When she’s young we kill her will to be free
While telling her not to be so smart we put her down for being so dumb”*

I’ve been watching her trials (figuratively- “Japan’s view of pussy is really weird,” she says, and unfortunately, literally) with both fascination and shock. Now that her book “What Is Obscenity?,” has been released (as seen above from Koyama Press) it’s obvious that whatever obscenity is? Her work isn’t it. Just released, copies are scarce. Her “Free Manka”  T-Shirts  are sold out as well. A movement is beginning here- “Manko positivity.” Needless to say, I support her in her quest for Artistic Freedom.

But wait. A “Vagina Artist?” Yes, that’s right. She makes molds of hers and casts them into sculptures, toys and even, a kayak, which she sailed on a river in Tokyo. Tsk tsk, young lady. Depiction of human genetalia is illegal in Japan- used Artistically, or not. I’ve long been fascinated by Japan, for a lot of reasons, a trip there a while back only served to increase, but this is one that makes me wonder- “Why did this take so long to happen?”

"Better cover up, my dear, or we could be in jail in Japan." Durer c.1504 The Met

“Better cover up, my dear, or we could be in jail in Japan.” Durer c.1504 The Met

From what I’ve seen of her new memoir, which is done in graphic novel (manga) style, she answers a lot of questions, though not that one, and raises many more. It looks to be well done. Not “resting on her laurels,” she is also trying to turn her cartoon character “Manko-chan” (i.e. “Miss Pussy”), seen here on her blog, into a pop culture icon. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Oh! About that hypocrisy? As Jon Stewart and others have pointed out, Japan has an annual festival each April devoted to the penis called the “Kanamara Matsuri” (“Festival of the Steel Phallus”), where penises abound on the streets in the forms of sculptures, veggie carvings and even lollipops. Here, you can see Ms. Igarashi actually posing with one. That picture speaks 400,000 words. It says it all. So far, for her endeavors depicting vaginas, Ms. Igarashi has been in jail twice.

Personally? The only “obscenity” I see here is in the double standard.

*-Soundtrack for this post is “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono from “Some Time In New York City.” Published by Universal Music Publishing Group and Downtown Music Publishing and Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

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