Art In Manhattan, 2017- And Then There Were Five

It was a year of discovery. A year where I discovered some great Artists I previously hadn’t known, finally caught up with some I knew about but hadn’t gotten to see much of their work, and got lost exploring some remarkable Retrospectives- for Raymond Pettibon and Robert Rauschenberg, both accompanied by memorable satellite shows. Most of these are represented in my monthly NoteWorthy Show selections throughout the year. But? There was more! So, I’m going to take this moment to pause and look back at the revelations of 2017, look at some memorable shows I didn’t write about at the time, and finally, highlight a pair of men who, I feel, had an exceptional 2017 in Manhattan Art.

No doubt about it- the biggest discovery this year was a long overdue deep dive into the world of Contemporary Photography. From seeing well over 100 Photography shows, to spending five long days at “AIPAD: The Photography Show” (with well over 200 galleries from all over the world showing work), to going through hundreds of PhotoBooks, and meeting many Photographers, legendary, famous, or not quite yet, along with the staffs of two of the world’s leading Photography organizations- Aperture and Magnum, both celebrating major anniversaries this year. Rarely did a week pass when Photography wasn’t in the the picture. Of course, in a world were there are now more cameras than people it’s impossible to get to see everyone who’s doing great work. As happens each year, NO matter WHAT I do to prevent it, this year too, there were shows I didn’t find out about until they closed. UGGGH!!!! Along the way, there were quite a few revelations, and a good many other things solidified…at least for the moment.

First, the revelations. In Photography, particularly by those younger than 50 (I say 50 because I seem to know/have heard of many of those over) and unknown to me, Gregory Halpern was the biggest revelation I had this year. His book “Zzyzx” won the prestigious Aperture Best Book Award for 2016, but I didn’t know that when I discovered his work at Aperture’s booth at AIPAD. I had never heard of him.

Gregory Halpern, “Untitled,” 2016, from his “Buffalo” series. Click any Photo for full size.

The work, “Untitled,” was a Photograph Aperture had run in the Spring, 2017 issues of it’s excellent quarterly magazine, in a pictorial by Mr. Halpern, titled “Buffalo.” I didn’t know that then, either. I simply saw the work, and then couldn’t get it out of my mind. It now hangs a few feet away. Out of everything I saw at AIPAD, particularly by those younger than 50 and unknown to me, this work grabbed me and didn’t let go. I went home that night with one thought on my mind- “WHO is Gregory Halpern?” After researching him most of the night, (including finding his incredibly honest and insightful answer to one very important question), serendipitously, I got to meet him the next day, and spoke to him about his book. It turned out to be a classic case where some things are better left unexamined. Gregory was so forthcoming in his answers about specific images I came too close for comfort to losing some of their mystery.

Gregory Halpern standing next “Untitled,” at Aperture’s Booth at AIPAD, March 31st.

In addition to being, in my eyes, one of the most talented Photographers of his generation, he is, also, one of it’s best writers. He’s the co-author of one of the most popular and respected Photography Manuals of 2017, “The Photographer’s Playbook,” and his occasionally published articles always enlighten and leave me wanting more. A Harvard grad, he’s now a professor in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology for some very lucky students. As if all of that isn’t enough, his wife, Ahndraya Parlato is, also, one of the revelations of the year as a Photographer. Her Photographs “glow”- in one way or another. Her most recent book, “A Spectacle and Nothing Strange,” is ethereal…mesmerizing…magical.

Leaving aside age or era, the work of Fred Herzog was, also, unknown to me. Early pioneers of color Photography have taken decades coming to the attention they deserve, such was the disdain color held among the Photographic cognoscenti for color Photography. With the publication of “Fred Herzog: Modern Color,” in February, 2017, an Artist who was fairly well-known, and appreciated, in his native Canada finally began becoming wider known in the USA. His work was memorably shown by Equinox Gallery of Vancouver at AIPAD this spring, where, I felt, it stood out.

Fred Herzog, “Main Barber,” 1968, seen at Equinox Gallery’s AIPAD booth.

Fred Herzog considers Saul Leiter THE master of early color Photography, and even with a giant like William Eggleston to consider (who’s 1976 MoMA show, “Photographs by William Eggleston,” which can be “visited” here, is widely credited with making color Photography “acceptable” in the world of “Fine Art”), it’s hard to argue with him. No Photographer new to me, regardless of age or period, had a bigger impact on me this year than Saul Leiter.

Saul Leiter, “Through Boards,” Circa 1957. This image appears (cropped) on the cover of the now classic book, “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” 2006, which launched the “Saul Leiter Renaissance.” It’s, perhaps, my very favorite Photobook. Sadly, now out of print, it would take real diligence to find a very good copy for less than $100. But, there are many worse uses of time. Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation.

It took until 2006 for Saul Leiter to be recognized- FIFTY EIGHT years after he started taking color photographs. As with William Eggleston, Mr. Leiter was, also, a devoted Painter. I can see it in both of their work, and I believe it’s part of the reason their work speaks to me, perhaps, more than the work of any other Photographer of any period. It was his friend, no less than the great Artist Richard Pousette-Dart (who’s also an under appreciated Photographer), to encouraged him to pursue Photography.

“Walk with Soames,” 1958, This was 20 YEARS before William Eggleston’s ground breaking MoMA show “legitimized” color Photography in the Art world! Photo by Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Mr. Leiter saw and used color in his Photography in ways no one else has, achieving effects that today’s finest digital manipulators can only dream of. As very good as his Black & White work is, like Turner or Van Gogh, Saul Leiter was a true Poet of color, perhaps the greatest Master of Color in Photography, though it’s, of course, impossible and pointless to qualitatively compare.

“T,” Circa 1950(!).Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation. Daring. Gorgeous.

Saul Leiter didn’t need Photoshop to get his results. He just stood there with his camera, and click…Art.

A number of established Photographers had terrific shows in NYC in 2017 that I didn’t get to write about here. Among them are Mark Steinmetz, Mike Mandel, Raghubir Singh (though marked by controversy), Richard Avedon, Herman Leonard, Michael Kenna, and Edward Burtynsky. But, I’m going to address one I simply can’t let pass, because I continue to think about it.

Richard Misrach’s Photo, “Effigy #3, near Jacumba, California,” 2009, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, right rear, with Guillermo Galindo’s Musical Instrumet/Sculpure “Effigy,” 2014, center2014. Barely visible are two strings between the forearms. The grey rectangle on the lower left side of the pedestal is where a speaker is mounted.

“Richard Misrach: Border Cantos,” (at Pace, 510 West 25th Street), was an utterly remarkable and serendipitous collaboration between renowned Photographer Richard Misrach & Composer/Sculptor Guillermo Galindo on the subject of our southern border, those protecting it, and those trying to cross it. To accompany Mr. Misrach’s large, atmospheric Photographs, Mr. Galindo created a whole orchestra of Musical Instruments out of objects found along the border, and proceeded to compose and record a 4 hour score that was looped in the show’s back room to meditative effect, ingeniously installed so that the music being played was coming from speakers mounted inside the display of the specific instruments that were playing at any given moment. (The Artists have an excellent website for this show where you can, also, hear these remarkable instruments.)

Instruments, like this. Guillermo Galindo, “Tortillafono/Wall Vibraphone,” 2014, Metal. The discarded metal cap of an electrical box from the failed SBInet (Secure Border Initiative) surveillance program was turned into a mallet and string instrument sits in front of Richard Misrach’s “Artifacts fround from California to Texas between 2013 and 2015,” 2013-5, 86 x 57 inches, Pigment prints mounted to Dibond. Photos of items found along the border.

And this- Guillermo Galindo, “Teclata,” His description- “On this keyboard, empty cans, bottles, and a plastic cup act as piano strings. The surface of the instrument is decorated with Border Patrol ammunition boxes.”

The surround sound effect was like sitting in the middle of a small chamber music group. The instruments, themselves, were beautiful as sculpture, and the music, which sounded to me like a cross between Harry Partch (who, also, made his own instruments) and John Cage, on instruments that looked like Rauschenbergs, had me asking if it had been released on CD. Why not?

Richard Misrach, “Playas de Tijuana #1, San Diego,” 2013, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, 42 x 160 inches.

Mr. Misrach, who has spent forty years working in the American Desert on his renown “Desert Cantos” project, showed a remarkable selection of images taken since 2004, but more intensely since 2009 (the collaboration with Mr. Galindo dates back to 2012), that told the story in slices. The effect of the music, the images and the sculptures (musical and non) was hypnotic, and ultimately meditative on the situation, the people protecting the border, and the refugees, while at the same time, even for those directly untouched by this story, the show spoke to a larger sense of walls, borders and refugees, and resilience. The Artists found, or created, beauty in this situation, reflecting the very perseverance that is at the essence of survival.

Richard Misrach, “Wall, east of Nogales, Arizona,” 2014, 68 x 84 inches, Pigment print mounted to Dibond

On the Painting & Drawing front, the most important Painting/Drawing gallery show I haven’t addressed was Kara Walker (at Sikkema Jenkins and Co.). Before it opened the buildup was downright intense. First, these posters began appearing, which certainly raised eyebrows until you notice (along the lower left side) that the text was written by the Artist. The show was also featured in a cover article in one of the last print issues of the Village Voice. I can’t remember the last time an Art show made the Voice’s cover, but this was the last time one did.

 Kara Walker sounds a bit weary in the poster, and particularly in the “Artist’s Statement” that appears on the show’s page on the Sikkema website.

“Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” 2017 Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen, 18 feet long, seen in the show’s first room. A “bottomless quagmire” is what the history of and current state of race and gender relations does feel like at this moment in time.

In the lower right side, this almost submerged head seemed to echo Ms. Walker’s weariness in her Artist’s Statement. “But frankly I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice’ or worse ‘being a role model.'”

After all the anticipation and buildup, at the packed opening, Ms. Walker, herself, was only to be seen for a little while, at least while I was there.

Kara Walker at the opening, September 7, 2017, with part of  “U.S.A. Idioms,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, almost 15 by 12 feet, in the background.

While she continues to create her signature Silhouettes, showing a gorgeous 2017 work titled “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” that’s almost 18 1/2 feet long, the bulk of the show consists on her ink and collage works, that have increasingly come to the forefront of her shows as time has gone on, most recently in her Cleveland Museum show, “The Ecstasy of St. Kara,” 2016, and at MoMA’s “Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection,” which closed on July 30, 2017, where her “40 Acres of Mules,” a Charcoal Drawing on 3 sheets totaling almost 18 feet long that was acquired by the Museum the year before, was on view in what was something of a one-work preview for her Sikkema show.

“Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” 2017, Cut paper on canvas. For me, one thing Ms. Walker’s Silhouettes all seem to ask is “Why do you see, what you see?”

Whereas it’s hard for me to imagine the care, patience and deliberation it must take for Ms. Walker to create one of her silhouettes, her Drawing & Collages look like they are done in bursts of raw energy and passion. At times the images approach the quality of a caricature of an event. No matter the differences in creation, when you see her Silhouettes and Drawings side by side they’re unmistakably by the same Artist.

While the Silhouettes, mostly, seem to leave quite a bit to the imagination, including the race of each character, her Drawings & Collages do not, especially when it comes to violence. Nothing is held back, hinted at or hidden. In the Drawings and collages, she has taken away the curtain inherent in Silhouettes in depicting racism and gender crimes. We see the faces, skin color, eyes, and what each one is involved in doing.  You can choose to look away, but otherwise, it’s pretty hard to “miss” what’s going on. The results are shocking, though they have precedent going back to Goya’s “Los Caprichos,” and “The Disasters of War,” and Daumier through Warhol, as well as in the work of Photojournalists and “Conflict Photographers” from all over the world. In Kara Walker’s work, though, the time is centered between 1788, when slavery was legalized in the US, through post Civil War “Reconstruction.”  Where the Silhouettes present a shadow of the figure, and the actions, the Drawings shine direct light. In fact, there are almost no shadows in her drawings- there’s no where for the perpetrators to hide.

“The Pool Party of Sardanapalus (after Delacroix, Kienholz,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, Almost 12 feet long.

Eugene Delacroix, “The Death of Sardanapalus,” 1844, Oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris. Kara Walker is, also, an astute student of Art History. In her work, Sardanapalus lies horizontally near the upper left corner, apparently, taking no interest in the orgy of death going on, as he does, lying arm on elbow on a huge red bed in Delacroix’. Her Ed Kienholz reference is a bit harder to track down, but it might be this one.

In “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, the ground is, also, gone. The figures hang in the space of the paper, though some sense of perspective remains- as you get closer to the top of the sheet, they get smaller.

“Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, 140 x 196 inches.

In this work, Ms. Walker’s figures cut across time, with some appearing to be contemporary. To the right of center, a figure “rocks the mic.” In the lower center is a figure that appears to be a modern riot trooper, in a helmet with face shield and body armor. He appears to have clubs in each hand. Right next to his left hand is what appears to be a black head, in a hoodie, on a platter, being carried by a woman, who looks away, while others nearby watch, some with shock on their face, some pointing to the scene. Just behind them, an extended arm holds and American flag, while above them a figure gives a Nazi salute with one hand while holding a Rebel flag with the other. Up top, a lynched figure hangs from a tree branch while women on either side of him perform acrobatics, with Klansmen standing next to them. In front of that naked black women are attacked by a group of men, while, again, others see what is going on. In the center of the work, the decapitated hoodied head looks straight across at a Civil War soldier pointing a gun at him, across time. Is this 1863? Or 2016?

“Storm Ryder (You Must Hate Black People as Much as You Hate Yourself),” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

The primacy of Drawing in her work was reinforced with the recent release of one of Ms Walker’s Sketchbooks from 1999, when the Artist was 29, as a book appropriately titled, “MCMXCIX.” It contains Drawings that, in style and subject, visitors to the Sikkema show will immediatley recognize. Interestingly, as Raymond Pettibon does in his shows (the latest concluding on June 24th, shortly before Ms. Walker’s opened), she prefers her larger works be tacked to the walls.

“Future Looks Bright,” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

Kara Walker may be growing tired of being a “role model,” of being “a featured member of my racial group and/or my gender niche,” (as she says in her Artist’s Statement referenced above). Of course, I can’t imagine being Kara Walker, but I can understand that it gets to be “too much.” I’m not sure, however, what her other choice is. I mean, I’m sure she COULD do something else if she REALLY wanted to. After seeing all the work and passion she put into this show? I guess I’m just not convinced that she really DOES want to do something else. Yet.

Finally…Looking back on 2017… Last year I wrote that I felt Sheena Wagstaff had the best year in NYC Art. She’s had a very good 2017, too. But, this year, I think that The New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni & Gary Carrion-Murayari. had special years, highlighted by the truly exemplary, and revolutionary, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” retrospective, which they then remounted simultaneously in Maastricht and Moscow. I feel it was “revolutionary” because totaling an unheard of 800 works, including brand new works created by the Artist for this show (some on the very walls of the New Museum), they gave an exhaustive look at Pettibon’s career, yet the show never slowed, never failed to keep and even raise interest. It even included work Pettibon did as a small child that he has now ammended in his own, unique style. Word has recently come that Gary Carrion-Murayari, who kindly answered my questions on the Pettibon Moscow show he co-curated, has also been named as a co-curator for the New Museum’s 2018 Triennial, so he could be ready to have another “big” year. Stay tuned!

The end result is that Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and the New Museum have served to put the “Big Four”1 Manhattan Museums on notice that, on their 40th anniversary, we are going to have to get used to saying the “Big Five.”

———————————–
A Special “Thank You!” to all the Artists who gave me their time and shared their thoughts with me in 2017, and to David White & Gina Guy of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gary Carrion-Murayari and Paul Jackson of the New Museum.
“Thank you!” to the Hattan Group and Kitty for research assistance, and to The Strand Bookstore for being open until 10:30pm seven nights a week. R.I.P. Owner, Fred Bass this week.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Heroic Elegy, Op. 36,” (1918), by Ernest Farrar, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of WW1, which was featured in another memorable show, “World War 1 & The Visual Arts” at The Met this year, as a way of honoring it, and all the Artists, and Musicians, lost during it. Shortly after “Heroic Elegy’s” premiere, Second Lieutenant Farrar was ordered to the Western Front. Two days after he arrived there, he was killed at the Battle of Epehy. He was 33. I first heard it while I was driving in Florida on September 11, 2002. The classical station there played it in honor of the first anniversary of 9/11. So taken with it was I that I pulled over and listened to it with my eyes closed, then immediately set about researching it’s composer. Though he wrote other fine works, “Heroic Elegy,” is special. It’s lightning in an 8 minute bottle. As beautiful as it is, there’s a quality, a confidence, in it that seems to promise so much more to come that he, tragically, never got the chance to give us, like the other Artists & Musicians lost far too early in this most senseless of wars.

On The Fence, #17, The Good Riddance” Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. With all due respect to The Frick Collection, who the powers that be that came up with “the Big Four” left out.

On The Beatles…and Sgt. Pepper’s 50th

Today, June 18th, is Sir Paul McCartney’s 75th Birthday. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul, and many more!

When it came out 50 years ago, on June 1, 1967, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was nothing less than the biggest tsunami in popular Music since, well…”Meet The Beatles.” A defining moment in modern music, splitting musical time into before, and after, it’s aftershocks have been so all-encompassing, it’s hard to listen to most of what’s come after and not hear some of it’s influence.

Though Traffic, the Beach Boys, The Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who’s seismic “Are You Experienced?,” the first album I ever bought, was released on May 12, some 19 days before “Sgt. Pepper’s”) were doing wonderously creative things with expanding the boundaries of rock, nothing else sounded anything like it, really. It cut across genres and audiences. No matter what they had listened to before, everyone listened to it when it came out1. When you think about that, it’s downright amazing given how experimental, even avant garde, quite a bit of it was. “Avant garde” and “experimental” is almost always a ticket to popular failure. Producer Sir George Martin was behind some of it- both technically (managing the recording, and facilitating the Beatles’ ideas ), and musically (doing the string and brass arrangements). Drugs, the expansive cultural, spiritual and musical explorations of The Beatles, themselves, were the rest of it. Still, in spite of all the changes going on, personally, and in the music, the whole thing hung together perfectly- from the opening background noises to the final backward voices, ending the unprecedented, all too real/all too surreal “A Day In The Life.”

It was a product of the moment, becoming the soundtrack for the “Summer of Love,” one that, also, took music a big step forward, and showed us the future.

Sir Paul McCartney performing at Yankee Stadium, July 2011, on his original Hofner “Beatle Bass,” one of the most historic musical instruments in the world. He actually remains under-appreciated as a musician, as are some of his projects, like “The Fireman.” Click any image to see it full sized.

The “concept album” had truly arrived (with all due respect to “In the Wee Small Hours,” by Frank Sinatra, 1955, a staple over here at the NHNYC.com offices, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, released May, 1966, and a few others). As a result, to this day, when you put it on, I think it should be listened to it all the way through.

Now, with the release of the new 50th Anniversary “Deluxe Edition” Box Set, things are getting complicated. So, I need to specify what I mean by “it”- Listen to the 13 songs on the original album all the way through. Which brings me to what I feel is a little bit of a problem. The new “Deluxe Edition” is NOT (I feel) the best way to experience Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. With all due respect to Giles Martin, who has (partially) remixed Sgt. Pepper’s for the Deluxe Edition, mixing his version from the original 4 track tapes. See footnote 2 for more details on this2 After a listen to the new mix, I prefer to stick with the original mix.

Giles’ Dad, Sir George Martin, was one of the greatest Producers in the history of recorded Music. You could make a very strong case and say he’s The Greatest, but I don’t believe comparing creativity, or creative people. In any event, his mix ain’t broke. Don’t “fix” it. I don’t think the “sonic upgrade” of the new stereo mix is that big to sacrifice something that was an integral part of the finished album, like this part of George Martin’s contribution was3. It was something he created WITH The Beatles. You’re dealing with master tapes that were recorded in 1967. There’s only so much that can be done to “improve them” sonically, and those come with tradeoffs-

Questionably “better” sound quality vs. losing some of the original experience, and, most importantly, the Artist’s intentions.

Sir Paul performs “Something,” on a Ukulele given to him by George Harrison.

Frankly, for those reasons, I prefer to stick with original mixes of just about every album ever made, and as reissues pile up, they get harder to find- you have to know what you’re looking for4. As a producer? I wouldn’t want anyone else messing around with my mix, and I was no Sir George Martin. “Technological advances” are a mixed blessing, bringing good and bad. Just ask anyone who prefers Lp’s to CD’s. (I’m not saying I do.)

Finally, the Deluxe Edition comes with a lot of extras. There are a seemingly infinite number of Beatles’ outtakes that have circulated among fans and traders over the years, and while many of them are fascinating, if you haven’t heard the original album, wait until you have it memorized before listening to them. The “Making of” Doc, included with the Deluxe Edition, sounds fascinating. I’m sure the book is good, too. All in all? It sounds like a supplement to having the original recording. NOT a replacement for it.

“Hey, Sir Paul! What do you think of the new Sgt. Pepper’s Mix?”

In all of this, I have not seen any mention of the involvement of Sir Paul and Ringo (who were directly involved with the original, of course, with due respect to Yoko and the Harrisons) in it. And, I haven’t been able to find out what Sir Paul thinks about the new mix. His website has him only commenting on the passage of time re: “Sgt. Pepper’s” 50th, but I found this comment critical-

“It’s crazy to think that 50 years later we are looking back on this project with such fondness and a little bit of amazement at how four guys, a great producer and his engineers could make such a lasting piece of art.”

I think that tells you all you need to know. He includes Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, as part of the creative team5.

“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in,
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go.”*

I believe the integrity of all of their work should be respected, and preserved.

But? With the passing of time, there’s no way I’m going to win that fight. There’s too much money aligned on the other side in reissuing records- just beware of anyone who tells you it’s “new & improved.” This, unfortunately, goes on in Art, too. After Artists pass away, increasingly their estates are continuing to issue/reissue their work. I have very mixed feelings about this. I’ll go to Photo shows and see “recent prints” that just aren’t up to the level of the quality of prints made by the Artist during their lifetime. This hurts the Artist’s reputation, in my opinion. In music, we now stand at the precipice of whatever will be done regarding Prince’s unreleased Mt. Everest of material. If you don’t think that’s going to materially impact his legacy, think again. Quick- How many albums did Jimi Hendrix release during his lifetime6? I feel for any new listener to his music faced with the dauntless task of looking through the list of COUNTLESS albums with his name on them, which are STILL being released 47 years after his death, and trying to find them.

The message in all of this? Buyer beware. Luckily? After 50 years? Most people already have “Sgt. Pepper’s.” So? On the 50th Anniversary (month) of it’s release put it on and give it a listen. All the way through. It’s an Album. Remember them?

Many since have tried. There’s still nothing like it.

Finally? When all else has been said…Think about this for one minute…

How HARD is it to connect with even one person who becomes special in your life? I still marvel that The Beatles FOUND each other!

Never in the whole history of Western Music (1200 a.d. to 1900) have two musical Geniuses collaborated before (as far as I know).

J.S. Bach was too busy raising 10 sons (each of whom became a noted, or great, composer), writing, rehearsing AND performing a new cantata each week, performing his regular church duties, and writing the rest of his incomparable music to collaborate with Handel. Mozart and Beethoven? Never happened. Brahms and Schumann? Nope. Brahms and MRS. Clara Schumann…? Romance doesn’t count. This is a 20th Century phenomenon. George & Ira Gershwin…Bernstein & Sondheim…Miles Davis & John Coltrane…Miles & Wayne Shorter…My list may be different than your’s. Here you have John Lennon & Paul McCartney, two of the very greatest songwriters in the history of Music. Alongside them? George Harrison, no slouch (and continually under-rated) himself. Heck…Who WOULDN’T be “under-rated” next to those two? I often wonder what George must have felt (from time to time? often?). On the one hand he had people wanting a “better lead guitarist,” his friend, Eric Clapton, perhaps, to replace him in The Beatles. On the other hand, he was lucky to get 1 or 2 songs on each Beatles album, NO MATTER how good his songs were! (Witness the then unheard of THREE Lp set he released soon after The Beatles split, “All Things Must Pass.” Talk about being “pent up!” “Within You, Without You,” was his song on “Sgt. Pepper’s.”) But? He was the “perfect” guitarist for The Beatles, as Ringo was the “perfect” drummer for them. That the four of them found each other?

It’s miraculous, in my book.

If you don’t think so? Point out to me the LAST time this happened in any of the Arts.

The Beatles were a gift from the Universe.

*- Soundtrack for this is “Fixing A Hole,” by Lennon & McCartney, from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

On The Fence,#8, The Birds & The Bees-tles” Edition.

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  1. Myself included, and I wasn’t into The Beatles until “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released, on February 13, 1967, as a single, presaging “Sgt. Pepper’s”
  2. Sgt. Pepper’s was recorded on 4 tracks, which is astounding when you think about that today. In 1995, my version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was recorded on 48 tracks. The Beatles would fill up 3 of the 4 tracks, then mix those down to the open 4th track. Then they’d repeat the process until they had filled all four tracks (I’m simplifying. There was more “bouncing” of tracks to open up other tracks involved.), the resulting tape was then mixed down to a final, stereo two track Master, which is what the records were made from- both in Stereo, and yes, in Mono. Both of those have been reissued, in the “Complete” Stereo and Mono Boxsets, and I prefer them, at the moment, among the recent incarnations of The Beatles albums.
  3. Giles Martin also did a 5.1 mix. You’re on you’re own there, since his dad didn’t do one, as far as I know. I have not heard it as yet.
  4. For example- Try finding the original mixes of Miles Davis’ Columbia albums, some of the greatest and most important music of the century, on CD. It’s hard. Early, now rare, Japanese import CD’s had them. Most likely you have to go back to the Lp’s for them, but make sure they’re vintage.
  5.  They did a Q&A with him about Sgt. Pepper’s BEFORE the Deluxe Edition was announced, here. Also, Pepper’s recording engineer Geoff Emerick said he “hadn’t heard it”, the new mix, in an interview
  6. The answer is 3 studio Lp’s- “Are You Experienced?,””Axis:Bold as Love”, and “Electric Ladyland,” and 3 live albums- the other 2 of which, besides “Band of Gypsys,” I’m not sure how much he had to do with.

R.I.P. Master Saxophonist Arthur Blythe

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Arthur Blythe this past week. Mr. Blythe was a Master of the Alto Saxophone, who, after having worked as a bouncer, started making his name (as “Black” Arthur Blythe) on the NYC avant garde loft scene, centered around Sam River’s “Studio RivBea” in the late-1970’s. This led Mr. Blythe to tantalizing first solo records for small and adventurous labels, before finally breaking out in 1980 on Columbia Records.

Arthur Blythe on the cover of his 1991 ENJA album “Hipmotism.”

“Adventurous” is a word I’d use to sum up what attracted me to him, actually. His early masterpieces like “The Grip” and “Metamorphosis,” (both on India Navigation) were never far from my turntable back in the day, bringing a breath of fresh air both in his writing and compositions as well as in his choice of instrumentation (bringing back the tuba, a staple of Jazz’ earliest bands, instead of the bass), as in his singular, searing and singing tone, his instantly recognizable “trademark.”

Adventure Lives! “The Grip” and “Metamorphosis,” both recorded live on the same date have been reissued on this “In Concert” CD.

The back of “Metamorphosis” with some of it’s early reviews. Exhilarating & ground-breaking, I say.

Mr. Blythe retained that adventurousness on his first Columbia records, “Lenox Avenue Breakdown,” and “In the Tradition,” both very good, leading to his masterpiece, “Illusions,” which alternated a classic acoustic Jazz Quartet, featuring John Hicks, with his more adventurous electric group,l which included guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, cellist Abdul Wadud and Bob Stewart’s tuba, on a record that I don’t think anyone quite saw coming. Coming smack dab in the middle of the fusion/jazz purist war started by Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” in 1969-70, here was a record that had a foot in both camps at the same time, which was unheard of. Then, he was increasingly forced by label pressures to “go commercial,” and his subsequent Columbia releases proved more and more disappointing, especially after “Light Blue,” his Thelonious Monk album. Later, Arthur Blythe recorded for ENJA, Contemporary Records, and others, with mixed results. But, live, in concert, or in a club, remained a great place to hear him, and his unique sound, one of the most powerful on the Alto of his generation, a power matched by his inside/outside style, which made him comfortable in any musical setting (like Jack DeJohnette’s “Special Edition” Band), and a presence that struck me as being defined by grace, even though he was a large man.

“Illusions” One of the great Jazz Albums of the 1980’s.

More recently, I’d heard rumors of illnesses, including Parkinson’s, but hoped he’d finally get a chance to be himself and fully realize his unique musical vision. Those chances seemed both rare and elusive. Now? To my mind, he leaves us under-appreciated, which is complicated to change because of the external factors I mention that effect his discography. I hope that future diligent Jazz lovers will explore his records, and keep his legacy alive.
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “My Son Ra” by Arthur Blythe, a staple in his live performances, it appears on both “In Concert,” and “Illusions.”

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

NYC Art Shows 2016- Sheena Wagstaff Rules The Waves

This year past, Manhattan Art was largely dominated by two themes. There was a seemingly continual string of shows by many of the bigger names in Abstract Expressionism (i.e. AbEx), one after the other, and I wrote about every one of them, beginning with Jackson Pollock @MoMA, Lee Krasner, Philip Guston (two- here and here), Richard Pousette-Dart, Joan Mitchell and Mark Rothko, along with a few excellent satellite compilation shows, each in a different venue, which, apparently is continuing into 2017 with Jackson Pollock set to open at the Guggenheim, completing the circle, for now. It was also a year of Women Artists getting important shows. Patti Smith, Nasreen Mohamedi, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Marilyn Minter1, June Leaf, Carmen Herrera, Nan Goldin, Mary Bauermeister, Carrie Mae Weems, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Krasner and Mitchell were only some of the highlights. Still? Artists weren’t the only women making a big impact on the NYC Art Scene in 2016. In fact, for my money, the biggest impact of all was made by another woman, The Met’s Chairwoman of Modern & Contemporary (M&C) Art, Sheena Wagstaff.

As far as I’m concerned, no other single person had the impact on NYC Art, all year long, that Ms. Wagstaff and her department did.

Sheena Wagstaff was named Chairwoman of TM’s M&C Department on January 20, 2012. Four years later, her 2016 began with putting finishing touches on TM’s new “branch Museum,” The Met Breuer (TMB), the first “branch” The Met has opened since The Cloisters in 1926! No pressure there. As it was about to open, ostensibly as the showcase for The Met’s “new” M&C Art iniatative, The Times’ Roberta Smith put the situation perfectly into perspective, speaking about the task Ms. Wagstaff faced/faces-

“But the Met is huge and old, with a history of treating contemporary art as an afterthought. Getting it to change is like turning around an ocean liner.” Roberta Smith, NYT, March 3, 2016.

It sailed into it’s mid- March opening with 2 shows- “Unifnished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a veritable Museum in itself covering 2 full floors (the third and fourth), and, easy to overlook, tucked away on the second floor, “Nasreen Mohamedi,” the first American Retrospective of the Indian woman artist who passed away in 1990, aged 53. Wait…Who? Yeah. Me, too.

Met Breuer, Opening Lineup, March 8, 2016. 11 months on? The 5th Floor is now gallery space, the 1st Floor Gallery is now the Gift Shop. Those 2 shows? They live on, indelibly. Notice that for all of Art History that’s represented in “Unfinished,” the signature image chosen is by Alice Neel, a woman, of “James Hunter Black Draftee”

Vijay Iyer (piano, left) performs with his trio. Met Breuer, Member’s Opening Day, March 8, 2016.

The first members of the public get to see “Unfinished” on March 8, 2016. That tiny drawing on the far opposite wall is by Michelangelo.

After over 15 visits later, to my eyes, “Nasreen Mohamedi” was nothing less than 1) an epiphany. Here was an Artist who was a Major figure in Art in the 20th Century who’s name exists in not one Art History survey that I know of.

I now haunt these galleries, in my memory.

2) Therefore, it was easily one of the best shows of the year, and 3) the more I think about it, for many reasons, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Most Memorable Art Work of the Year. Nasreen Mohamedi “Untitled,” circa 1970. When I first saw it, I thought it was a piece of fabric. Nope. This is a DRAWING.

Detail (about 10″ x 6″). Two amazing things about this- 1- The superhuman focus & manual skill on display. 2- The disease that would kill her would take these incomparable motor skills first, and shortly.

The subtlety, uniqueness and micro/macro impact of Nasreen Mohamedi’s drawings is seemingly without precedent. They speak to the “grand design” of the universe, while also giving the feeling that they are somehow familiar, though they are not.

 

Some call this work “The Seven Planes of Existence.” All her works were left untitled and undated, only 5 here were signed. Many were given to friends as gifts. She created most while dealing with an illness that would kill her family members, then rob her of her skills, and eventually kill her, as well.

Also an accomplished photographer, I find her photos every bit as wondrous as her work in other mediums. Each “Untitled,” ca. 1970

Closeup of the photo on the right. What exactly are we looking at?

I spent an hour sitting right next to Sheena Wagstaff at a “Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium,” at The Met 5th Avenue in June. After it was over, I had the chance to speak to her. All I could say to her was “Thank you,” for Nasreen Mohamedi, which gave me the chance to discover her. Then, I told her she had made “the perfect choice” to begin M&C Art at TMB.

Sheena Wagstaff, right, Met curator Brinda Kumar, center, and an Artist who’s name I didn’t get, left, at the Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium, June 3 at The Met. Ms. Wagstaff then sat down immediately to my right.

Six month later, I stand by those words.

Think about how much guts it took to make that call. How daring it was. TMB famously costs The Met 15 million dollars a year to operate. The Met, reportedly, ran a deficiet in 2016, costing jobs.  To say “a lot” was, and is, riding on the success of TMB would be an understatement. Not to mention TM’s world leading prestige. “Nasreen Mohamedi” was followed by “diane arbus: in the beginning.” Perhaps it would have been “safer” to have run Diane Arbus first. Maybe. Probably. I’m glad it was Sheena Wagstaff’s call (along with the rest of TM’s powers that be), and they chose Nasreen Mohamedi.

A page from one of her diaries. She blotted out much of what she had written. I wonder why. They left these patterns, reminiscent of her drawings.

The show was, apparently, a labor of love for Ms. Wagstaff. Hidden away in the very last gallery, in an iPad on the tables where visitors could peruse the now out of print and rare catalog, were some of the few extant photos from Ms. Mohamedi’s life. One of the last photos was a photo of Nasreen Mohamedi’s unmarked grave. I marvelled that someone had found it and photographed it. I looked for the credit to see who the photographer was. Sheena Wagstaff.

“Nasreen Mohamedi” was more than a terrific show. It was a statement. What was as easy to miss as the show itself was, as visitors made a bee line to see the copious treasures upstairs, it was more. It was the “answer” to the question about where Ms. Wagstaff was likely to steer The Met’s “new M&C initiative” going forward. As such, it was a shot over the bow of the future.

The future of M&C Art at The Met, and The Met Breuer, appears to be international, and inclusive. I expect more of the unexpected, more of the unknown and under-known. Bring it on. MoMA is running on all cylinders, putting on shows that are spectacular. It’s good for them, the Whitney, The Guggenhim, et al, to have some competition in M&C Art from The Met, and for us.

While “Nasreen Mohamedi” was blowing my mind on the 2nd floor, upstairs on 3 & 4, “Unfinished” was blowing everyone’s who saw it. Right off the elevator on 3, you make a right and in a small gallery you’re confronted by Leonardo da Vinci AND Michelangelo (all too rarely seen together in this hemisphere), AND Jan Van Eyck, and a few other works I can’t even remember because my mind was already overloaded. Oh yeah, some guy named Durer did one. This was TM “showing off,” as I read Ms. Wagstaff say in an interview. Boy, did they. The rest of the show had a roster that would make 90% of all other whole Museums in the USA jealous.

For a New York Minute, Michelangelo, left, and two Leonardos were on display in “Unfinished,” as the show opened. The triumvirate was soon broken up, no doubt due to the fragility of the works.

So? Ok. This was a “fail safe” show. Ms. Wagstaff was by no means finished.

Rembrandt & Velazquez- the two greatest Painters who ever lived, according to many, very rarely seen side by side.

After Nasreen closed, “diane arbus: in the beginning” came in on 2, with an installation unique in art & photography shows in my experience. Every piece got it’s own wall. Yup. You read that right. Over 100 pieces. Over 100 walls. Amazing. No beginning. No ending. The point being that it was all her beginning.

A rare shot of Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Arrow of Time,” on view in TMB’s first floor gallery. The only show to take place there before it became the gift shop.

After “Unfinished,” the year at TMB ended with another blockbuster success- “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” This is the kind of show that makes you wonder WHY it took so long for Mr. Marshall to be so recognized. He’s been creating at a very high level for a long time. It was only 3 years ago that he was showing at the always excellent Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea. But? Not everyone was sleeping on KJM. Walking through this show it’s a sad feeling for a New Yorker to read the tags and see great work after great work that belongs to Chicago or Los Angeles. Not even MoMA has stepped up to a large degree with Kerry James Marshall. TM FINALLY got a major work of his last year.

The beginning of “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” In many ways, this was the show of the year.

Now? It’s probably too late.

This, unfortunately, highlights one area where much work remains to be done. The Met’s collection is sorely lacking the work of M&C Masters. As I recently pointed out, as far as I know, they own no work by Ai Weiwei. no work by Nasreen Mohamedi, and only one work (albeit a very, very good one) by Kerry James Marshall (and this was only acquired in 2015), to name but 3 cases. Frankly? I find this shameful. TM recently elected three new trustees, two of which are M&C specialists, so hope springs eternal for a little more wind to be added to those sails.

New York had until January 29 to enjoy seeing a lot of KJM in one place. (My piece is coming soon.) Now? It’s going to be a long wait. Los Angeles? You get your chance beginning March 12.

So? By my scorecard, that’s 4 shows in 9 months that will be remembered and talked about for a very long time, including no less than TWO that were major breakthroughs for the Artists- Nasreen Mohamedi and Kerry James Marshall2, putting both in the pantheon of the Artists who belong in our greatest Museums.

But? Ms. Wagstaff, who struck me as having so much energy, downtown NYC could have used her during the Hurricane Sandy Blackout, still wasn’t finished. Over at 1000 Fifth Avenue…(remember The Met’s Main Building?), she and her staff have also rehung TM’s M&C Galleries there, and done an amazing job.

While at sea, mind the lighthouse! Edward Hopper’s iconic “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” 1929, receives pride of place in TM’s newly rehung M&C Galleries. Which reminds me- Sheena Wagstaff edited the Tate’s 2004 Edward Hopper Show catalog.

Works have come out of storage that haven’t been seen there in…?, and some, thankfully, have gone there in their stead. The arrangements are new, too. Themes take the place of chronological arrangements in many rooms, while the AbEx Galleries still remain largely together, but subtly ammended. We get to see, what I consider to be, a major work by Philip Guston that I never knew TM owned! Other works are given new prominence, notably Edward Hopper’s famous “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” and Richard Pousette- Dart’s “Symphony No. 1- The Transcendental,” (photo, here, further down the page.)

In this one gallery, I was shocked to discover works by Pousette-Dart (“Path of the Hero,” 1950, right) and Philip Guston (left, and below) that I didn’t even know The Met owned because they haven’t shown them!

Philip Guston, “Performers,” 1947. WHERE has this been? With one foot in his past, and one in his future, for my money, this is one of the most important periods of Guston’s career, and very few works from it exist, after he destroyed most. A major Guston.

The result is a veritable breath, no, wind of fresh air throughout. More wind for the sails of that S.S. Met Roberta Smith wrote about.

Sheena Wagstaff had a great year, in my book. Here’s to her. May the wind be at her back. That sound you heard in January was my giving a major sigh of relief at the news that we didn’t lose her when the Tate Museums chose a new Director (Ms. Wagstaff was Chief Curator at Tate Modern before she joined The Met).

P H E W…

Elsewhere, in the big City…

Other Museums and Galleries, of course, put on shows that linger in the memory, and I would be remiss in not including them. In addition to Nasreen Mohamedi’s, another Retrospective tried to make the case for it’s Artist’s place in the canon on 20th Century Art History, and wildly succeeded, in my opinion- “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” @ MoMA  Though he spent some time early in his career in NYC3, he, and his work, were rarely seen here after, and as a result, seeing this broad & in-depth look at his accomplishment over a mind-bending number of mediums was nothing less than a bombshell in it’s impact on myself, and I suspect many other New Yorkers. The depth, the staggering detail in the work (most famously in his films, but we see here it was carried over in most of his other work in other genres.), the mediums he probably invented, (like the music video), techniques he created or mastered, and on and on. This show was a capstone on a great year for shows at MoMA. “Picasso Sculpture,” “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” were must see/won’t soon forget in their own right. Bravo, MoMA. Now? About that building and the new one on the way…

Picasso, “Owl,” seen in “Picasso Sculpture.” One sure way to make this list? Include an Owl in your show. ; – )

In the galleries, what lingers with me were Ai Weiwei’s return to NYC at long last with 4 concurrent shows, “Mark Rothko: Dark Passage,” “Patti Smith: 18 Stations,“Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark,” “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing,” at the Whitney, and “William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest” (mostly for the chance to study his work at length, which only made me want to look again). And, I always enjoy the chance to be captivated by someone I previously didn’t know, like the amazing Sydney Cash at Heller Gallery, or the up and coming Robert Currie at Bryce Walkowitz- both of who share a fascinating ability to make you see things that aren’t really there.

Sydney Cash’s “Split Selfie,” 2016, oversees two of his other works that no photo can “capture,” at Heller Gallery. See them better here. When you watch, remember all that’s happening is the viewer moves slightly side to side.

And finally, personally, the chance to meet Patti Smith and Sheena Wagstaff, or run into Chuck Close, were things that remain rich, as much for the opportunity to speak with them as for what I learned from each encounter.

All of these experiences reminds me that in the final analysis? Art is personal. For every one of us.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Andy Warhol” by David Bowie (who we lost this year, and who is Ms. Wagstaff’s fellow countryman, and an Art collector), from his classic album “Hunky Dory.”

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. in 3 shows- 2 in Manhattan, 1 at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of their “Reimagining Feminism” Series
  2. It must be noted that “KJM: Mastry” is a show organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A. the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and The Met.
  3. when legend has it he was denied entrance to MoMA for the opening of a show that included one of his works.

Cancer Saved My Life

I grew up in a pre-determined life.

An empty lot? No, this is the box I grew up in. Click any image for full size.

I existed to follow in my father’s footsteps. The problem was that I had absolutely no inclination, or desire to do so.  Right through high school graduation there was never one iota of thought or discussion given to thinking “he might want his own life” by my family. After I escaped, by going on the road with a band, my family actively worked against my efforts trying to force me to come back to their plan. I disowned them in 2005. Lots of lonely holiday seasons have followed. By then, the die had been cast. I wound up knee deep in a career I never wanted to be in just to survive.

I know how he feels.

Finally, I dug myself out and got back to having a career in music, which went very well, until I got fed up with the record business (back when there was a record business), but that’s a story unto itself. Then, in 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer. I got the news, the results of my biopsy done the previous week, over the phone while I was sitting in my office.

“How was your weekend?,” the doctor asked quite casually. “Good,” I said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have cancer,” were his exact words.

Time stopped. The clock read a little after noon as I recall.

I could see the blurred shapes of my coworkers walking in front of the glass walls of my office who’s door was closed, but, after those words, that room symbolized how I felt. It felt like I was in this box surrounded by immediate circumstances- this diagnosis and my job. It felt like a room I’d never been in before. The world was going on outside of it, beyond the glass walls. I could see out the window across the hallway and see sunlight coming down the narrow street, shining on the windows on the other side, a few hundred feet distant.

I was in a different world now.

Life was closing in on me, putting me in a box. No stranger to spending a lot of time alone, I was now in a  world inside myself, more fully than I had ever been before.

After giving me my diagnosis on the phone, he said you really should come in to talk. “Yeah. I guess so,” I remembered saying. I was barely listening at this point. Disbelief is the first thing that hits you.

A few days later I went to meet with him, he sat down, and said to me “I had to show your slides to my colleagues. We’ve never this before.”

Huh?

What could possibly be worse? To get a diagnosis with cancer, THEN the doctor tells you “we’ve never seen this before.”

!?

Apparently all 15 of my biopsy cores came back with cancer. I asked “Are you sure those are my slides?” He said yes, and I don’t remember anything of the meeting after that. It was like a window shade rolled down over my mind after that, like it had been glazed over. I walked out of the hospital, in a daze and crossed insanely busy Park Avenue (which runs both ways) a few hundred feet north of 14th Street in the middle of the day without even looking to see if traffic was coming! Somehow I made it across to Union Square. To this day I have no idea how I got there. I walked back to work at 2 PM. My boss, Rob, who would become a good friend, and the only one I had told at work, came in and sat in my office, he looked at me and asked me if I was OK. I don’t remember responding, just sitting there in that space deep inside of myself still in shock.

Cancer? And? It’s bad?

I’ve never really been sick a day in my life. I’ve never had surgery. I’ve never spent the night in a hospital. There was no cancer in my family. I broke a bone in my hand once, I messed up my knee a little bit, I destroyed the hearing in my left ear playing in the band, and I destroyed my feet wearing rock ‘n’ roll shoes onstage made by the guys who made Kiss’ famous boots. That’s been the extent of my health issues in my life. To be diagnosed with cancer, and have to work your way through the biology, the medicine, the treatment options, the incredibly incomprehensible technology, and try to figure out, alone, what is the best treatment for you, is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Shock was the first stage for me, and it was quite a while before I got over it. Looking back now, it was years before I got over the shock that yes, I have cancer. Growing up, cancer was a death sentence. One thing I learned that even then, in 2007, most people I eventually told, treated me like I was going to die.

I was alone as I’ve ever been. Why is there even a light on?

Given all my responsibility at work, I didn’t say a word to anyone else there about any of this. A few days later my boss, Rob, came in and announced he was leaving. ! What? Are you serious? He got a better offer. The owner of the company, who still didn’t know, wound up giving me his job. He was the CFO of the 3 corporations with offices in 3 states! He was making $150,000 more than I was making. I was the Controller, but I wasn’t a CPA, which he was. And? I didn’t get a raise.

I had to deal with researching treatment options, not to mention the strain of being newly diagnosed with cancer, while learning his job, at the end of the year with a financial closing period looming for three corporations. I don’t know how I got through all of that. I had two full-time jobs.

Well? At least I didn’t have to worry about “celebrating” the holidays!

I did my due diligence, learned as much as I could, got four opinions, and then decided on the treatment. And then? Every cancer patient’s worst nightmare happened. I picked the WRONG treatment. I chose to have hormone therapy followed by two types of radiation treatment. That’s 3 treatments. Why? Because I just didn’t want to have surgery. People die during surgery.

So, at peace with my choice, that I had avoided surgery, I went back to the hospital to begin my treatment. The doctor who had diagnosed me sat nearby holding the needle with the hormones in it about 2 inches from my left arm. He said, “You know you’re not going to have any libido for twice as long as you’re going to be on this, right?” The treatment was scheduled to take 2 years. So? That was four years. “Um, what? No. I didn’t know that.” I had asked the question during the original meeting, but didn’t ask the right follow up question. Uggh!

I stopped him. He, basically, saved my life right there.

I went home devastated. After all of this, all of these opinions, all of this research I had made a mistake!

The writing on the wall SCREAMING at me. These letter are about as big as the mistake I made.

This treatment plan was chosen for the WRONG reason- basically, for my comfort. Since it wasn’t surgery, it was in my comfort zone. Ok. So? Now what, Kenn? The cancer is still here.

I had no choice but to start over. Square one.

Going to back to the beginning, I had to face that the most basic fact was the one I wasn’t focused on COMPLETELY. And that is-

Cancer was trying to kill me. This was WAR.

I then asked myself a hard, fundamental and essential question- What do you want to accomplish through treatment? There was only one answer. Get ALL the cancer out of my body as quickly as possible, via the means with the longest track record of proven results. By that I mean long term survival rates free of cancer.

A woman reached out to me online to tell me about her husband’s story. He had been treated and it hadn’t gone well. He had bad side effects after, and both of their lives were now negatively impacted, every day, by them. Then, she said, “If I had to do it over again, I’d insist he go to Dr. Samadi.” Who? He’s a surgeon. Since my treatment choice had turned out to be WRONG, I decided to consider surgery even though, yes, “people die during surgery.”

Umm..? People die from cancer, too, Kenn! MANY more people.

You want your best chance of getting cancer out of your body and possibly beating this horrible disease? Surgery was my best choice. (Mine. Every diagnosis is different. I am not a doctor and I am certainly not giving medical advice here. What worked for me may not for someone else. There are side effects from any treatment, and they are just one factor that needs to be carefully considered.) I was still young enough that if surgery didn’t work I could have radiation treatment(s) after. In my case, I couldn’t do it the other way around. I posted on a cancer support website asking who other patients thought was the best surgeon in NYC. About 20 people responded in 24 hours. Dr. Samadi got 3 votes. No one else got more than 1. The next day Dr. Samadi, himself, contacted me through the website.

“Hello. With your diagnosis, I can treat you and your prognosis will be excellent.”

Huh? What “good” doctor is on the internet looking for patients?

I didn’t respond. My bias against using the internet for this returned. What was I thinking looking for a cancer doctor ONLINE? The road to help, and an answer, felt endless…cold, lonely. It was November, outside and the dead of winter in my soul.

Life lies dormant on The HighLine in February. The path stretches far out ahead into the cold night…

About this time my friend, Fluffy, told me to try Columbia Presbyterian. President Clinton had been treated there. So? Being as Dr. Samadi was there, and with these other recommendations, I decided to call his office.

No one returned my call. ?

I decided to finally write back to him and tell him I tried. He said, “I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow at 1:30pm. Just come to my office and I will get you in.” Without an appointment? Again, irregular. But? Ok. I did. He did. Opinion #5.

I was impressed with every thing about him. He told me he could give me a triple golden outcome (i.e. be free of cancer with no serious side effects). An expert in the (then) new robotic surgery, he also had had state of the art training, and experience, in the two other, time tested types of surgery. Should the robot somehow fail, he could switch to one of them without missing a beat and complete the operation. No other doctor I knew of in NYC could do that. He had treated many patients successfully (I would speak to some). He seemed to have every base covered. The robotic surgery seemed to promise minimal incisions leading to a quicker recovery. I left feeling I didn’t want anyone else to touch me. I realized later that that feeling of ultimate confidence is something you MUST have in a doctor you choose to treat you! I decided then and there to make an appointment to have Dr. Samadi operate on me. I had done a 360 on surgery. Let’s go! It was the third week of November. The earliest appointment was in March!

What? Let me get this straight-

He’s booked FOUR MONTHS in advance AND still took time to offer his help (to me) online? Wow. Now? I was in awe. It felt like a hand had come out of the sky and plucked me out of the worst nightmare of my life. “Just get on the schedule and I will move you up,” he said, as my condition required quicker treatment.

He operated on me on February 7, 2007. 10 years ago today.

4 hours later, my eyes partially opened. The bottom half of my closed eyes revealed light. I slowly opened them more. There were trees, branches and sunlight. Where was I? It was early February. This wasn’t winter. This was spring. Around this narrow opening of light, it was all darkness. Just a narrow rectangle of light in the lower center.  It didn’t look like the famous “tunnel” near death experience survivors speak about. But, there was a center section of light surrounded by blackness.

Passing this doorway this week uncannily reminded me of “waking up” that day.

I laid there for over an hour and a half before anyone came over. I was in the recovery room. At least that’s where I was told I was. The light was from an open window about 100 feet across from me. I wasn’t sure I was alive.

To this day? Part of me feels like I died on that operating table on February 7, 2007.

In many ways, my life did end that day. As I realized that, I started thinking of my “new life” as having begun that day, too.

So, today? I’m 10 years old.

The part of my life that DID die from cancer? Ok…

I had no wife, no girlfriend, no family, no kids, no one I could see on a daily basis, there was almost no love in my life. Most of my friends took off after I got sick. The girl I had been seeing did me three days before my surgery, then I didn’t hear from her for four months. Until she sent me a card. A card? You live two blocks away from me. You’re the closest person I know in the whole world to where I live. I’m getting through my recovery alone, in a 4th floor walkup, with no one to help me. And, you send me a card?

She wasn’t the only one.

My “best friend” of seven years pulled up shop in New York and decided to move home to Indianapolis, Indiana. She went to see a friend of mine at a bar the night of my surgery when I was lying unconscious in the hospital. She told him she was leaving in the morning. He asked her, “Are you going to say goodbye to Kenn?” She said “Yes.” She never did. She left town and never even said goodbye to me. I was hoping and expecting she would help me over the next couple of weeks.

One of the first things cancer taught me was it made me realize that the two or three friends I had left were my real Friends (cap, mine, as I am wont to do in this Blog). Forget the online nonsense of what people call “friends.” How dare they use that word! I KNOW what a “friend” is. I learned the hard way. When push comes to shove, When the sh*t hits the fan, and all bets are off, like the soldiers talk about “in their foxholes,” you’re lucky if you have two or three people by your side. That was the first major lesson I learned then, and one reason I have nothing to do with so-called social media. It’s a total waste of time. All you’re doing is giving your personal information away FOR FREE to big corporations to use to sell stuff to you, or for other purposes that no one knows. If someone walked up to you on the street and said, “Hi. Tell me this, this, this, this, and this about yourself,” you’d think they were nuts, dangerous or criminals. Yet? Online, in front of the entire world, billions of people do it every minute of every day, without wondering about it. This is something I will never understand.

The doctor who diagnosed me told me I had a 20% chance of making it through year 1 after treatment without needing additional treatment. Today, I celebrate TEN YEARS without addtional treatment!

But? Early on? I was sure I was a goner. That 20% quickly flipped in focus to 80% against.

I decided to sell everything I owned and make preparations for “the end.” I lived like I was going to die. My assistant at work forced me out of my job while I was laid up in bed, so I left my job of 10 years, and the career I never wanted, to focus on my recovery. After I did, I took stock of my life.

Almost everyone was gone. My career was gone. My former boss, now friend, Rob used to ask me, “What are you doing in this job? You’re a creative guy.” It hit me pretty hard. I didn’t have an answer for him, until life handed me the answer. My cancer was gone (at least until my next test). What am I going to do now?

I decided to take care of myself. Complete my recovery, and live being myself- 24/7. Crazy, right? Who does that? 10 years later, I haven’t looked back. (Yet.) It’s pretty scary, though. I can’t say I don’t worry about the future. Then again? Who doesn’t?

Yes. There’s someone in that box, outside a “Home Parts” place.

So? Yes, a fair amount of the life I knew did die on February 7, 2007.

The second big thing cancer taught me was what REALLY MATTERS in life.

Are you ready?

I realized that ALL that matters in life is Loving and being Loved.

Read that again. I’ll wait.

That’s all. Period. End of sentence. Goodnight! Get home safely.

But, having no love in my life? Being a “get it done” kind of guy. I decided I could “get it done” and find love. I spent most of the next 5 years looking for love- E V E R Y W H E R E. What I re-learned was that “finding love” is impossible. Love isn’t something you can “find.” It just happens. Or? It just doesn’t happen.

 

I had an unforgettable moment on that corner, before things blew up horribly.

Of course, I didn’t find it. I thought I found it once, but it blew up, horribly, in my face and I came as close as I ever have to doing harm to myself. Yes, to actually doing away with myself. Cancer hadn’t killed me yet, but “love”/the loss of said “love” almost did. But? I survived that, too.

Finally? I decided to love myself. It was all I had left.

“The words of the prophet are written on the subway wall,” Paul Simon once sang. Or? A block away.

Besides? If you don’t love yourself, who will?

Beyond this, being thankful & grateful is absolutely essential. Of course I’ve been very lucky, and have so very much to be thankful for. I have been trying to practice mindful giving thanks from moment to moment. Having cancer, also, puts you in touch with the cancer community. I heard a lot of stories. Many terrible. Many inspiring. It’s miraculous, to me, that anyone survives cancer, given how it was when I was growing up. I’ve watched some dear people die from it. I’ve talked to quite a few people who didn’t have good outcomes- either from complications from their treatment, or from cancer returning and spreading. The cancer community is, also a wonder. Survivors like the author Musa Mayer, (who is “also” the great Philip Guston‘s daughter) have forged new paths in cancer advocacy and given hope and support to countless others in ways that didn’t exist when I was diagnosed.

I was privileged to be in the presence of Musa Mayer a few weeks ago as she spoke about her father’s work in the Nixon Drawings show @ Hauser & Wirth.

Beyond them, to say I’m grateful to the doctors who treated me and saved me 10 years ago is a huge understatement. Recently, I had the honor to meet another one who’s on the front lines right now, Dr. Melissa Pilewskie at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. Listening to her, I couldn’t help but marvel at her inner strength, and those of my doctors. She told me that as a surgeon she has treated 2,000 patients in 5 years. That’s 400 a year. There’s only 365 days in a year! Ok, Dr. Pilewskie is obviously a world-class doctor, with an extraordinarily rare skill set. I couldn’t help but wonder…where does this young lady get the inner strength to deal with cancer patients all day every day? Let alone to deal with them so well. It was a humbling experience that reminded me of the debt I owe the doctors who treated me. On my 10 year anniversary, it was also an insight into how far cancer treatment has come in my lifetime, and continues to progress, and a reminder of how many very special people are in there fighting tooth and nail to treat, beat, and even cure cancer. This isn’t a “job” to them. It’s their mission.

THANK YOU! And, bless you all.

If you get diagnosed with cancer (PLEASE, no!), you now have a great chance of being treated, and then get to go on with your life. My advice to you is- Get the best doctor your insurance will cover and get treated. Go for your follow up tests, religiously. For everyone else who doesn’t have cancer? Catching cancer early really is your best chance to beat it. Don’t miss those checkups! That’s how mine was discovered.

The big reveal from my experience with cancer is that cancer wound up forcing me to have the life I always wanted to have.

Finally.

No one lives forever. I was living my life like I was going to live to be 200, and everything I REALLY wanted to do, I would get to one day. Well? One day is N O W. That’s why I have this blog. That’s why I spend my life going to see Art 6 days a week, taking photos and listening to music. I can’t wait for “one day” anymore. Damn the expense (which goes up every minute)! Damn the later impact on my life (he says now)!

Life on the edge.  Yes, someone is sleeping in the doorway of this gallery. Maybe they’re trying to be first in line.

If I don’t do this NOW? WHEN am I going to do it? I don’t know if any of this would’ve happened if I didn’t get cancer.

After I started to recover, I had some of those plastic bracelets made for my last Blog before this one. I was writing about my daily experiences with cancer, in an effort to give others who were newly diagnosed some information through sharing my experiences, because at the time no one else was doing it. On them, I had three phrases engraved. One was

Get tested

The second was

Get treated

And finally-

LIVE YOUR LIFE!

They were there as a reminder to myself, a mantra, as much as what I’d learned.

Close, and seeing this this week was a coincidence, and a reminder.

Early on my friend and cancer survivor, Stephanie 2, told me that cancer “would change my life in ways I could not imagine.” She was right. My experience with cancer challenged me in more ways than any other. In the end? It challenged me to face myself. To love myself and to be myself, fully, no matter what.

I’m not grateful for cancer. I HATE cancer. It’s taken the lives of friends, acquaintances, and many I’ve admired from afar. It’s cost me parts of my body I didn’t really want to lose.

In the end, I’m more grateful for life (than what it cost me to have it). For the chance to change the course of my life, and finally live the life I always wanted to have.

Ok, so cancer didn’t really “save my life.” Doctors Chuey, Dinlenc and Samadi did. I used cancer as a wake up call to save myself after they did.

So?

Life, in February. The High Line, February, 2017.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating my 10th Birthday.

If I’m actually still alive.

———-

With my undying thanks to those who saved me-

-Dr. David Samadi

-Dr. Caner Dinlenc

-Dr. John Chuey

-Helen Petrocelli, RN

-The staff of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital

To those who stood by me-

-Fluffy

-Rob

And, with my thanks, and admiration to fellow cancer survivors, patients, and a professional-

-Stephanie 2

-Dave (R.I.P)

-kitty

-Mrs. kitty

-Mrs. Fluffy

-Musa Mayer

-Sv

And,

-Dr. Melissa Pilewskie

I took all the photos appearing in this Post over the first six days of February, 2017, except the photo of Musa Mayer, on January 10, 2017.

*- The Soundtrack for this Post is “Accept Yourself,” by The Smiths (who you can watch perform it in 1983!, below), written by Morrissey & Johnny Marr. Morrissey was 23, or 24 when he wrote this. Astounding. It’s Lyrics, published by Warner/Chappell Music and Universal Music Publishing, just fit-

“Every day you must say
So, how do I feel about my life?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself?
I am sick and I am dull
And I am plain
How dearly I’d love to get carried away
Oh, but dreams have a knack of just not coming true
And time is against me now…oh
Oh, who and what to blame?
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself, for heaven’s sake?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about the past?
Others conquered love – but I ran
I sat in my room and I drew up a plan
Oh, but plans can fall through (as so often they do)
And time is against me now…

And there’s no-one left to blame
Oh, tell me when will you…
When will you accept your life?
(The one that you hate)
For anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about my shoes?
They make me awkward and plain
How dearly I would love to kick with the fray…
But I once had a dream (and it never came true)
And time is against me now…
Time is against me now…
And there’s no one but yourself to blame
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Anything is hard to find; for heaven’s sake !
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself ?
When?
When?
When?
When?”*

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

Directions In Listening By Miles Davis

A ShortList Of Recommended Miles Davis Albums

Timeless. Miles on an Apple “Think Different” Billboard, I shot in June, 1998 on West 23rd Street.

This is an Addendum to my “Riffing On Miles Davis” Post in response to a note I’ve gotten asking what specific recordings I’d recommend listeners check out to hear Miles, and/or get a fuller appreciation of his accomplishment over the 40 years he recorded albums under his own name1. Personally? Miles Davis was my biggest musical influence, as he was for many of the musicians I worked with or admired. He was a living legend to us, akin to what Picasso was to visual Artists during his lifetime, and yes, there are quite a few interesting similarities between Miles & Picasso, but that’s a different piece. Ok. So, here’s my “ShortList” of essential Miles’ albums- suggestions for both a listener new to Miles Davis to start with, and for where to go from there. To clarify- Miles earliest records are almost 65 years old now. Older albums get re-released, if they continue to be worth hearing!, all the time, often with different names. Almost all of Miles’ are still available. I’m using their original album titles here. Disclaimer- This is a “ShortList”- a place to start. If I’ve left your favorite out? I hear you. I’m leaving out some of mine, too. I think we can all agree that there is A LOT of great music in his Discography. Dip your toe in and see where the River Miles leads you. I hope we can all agree on that.

First, “Kind of Blue”- Yeah. What else would be first? It seems to be every critic’s #1 choice as the first Jazz album you should have. Ok, I get that. For me, it’s much more. It’s a record I’ve lived with for most of the 56 years since it’s been released. I’ve gone through phases with it. First, there was the “tunes” phase- listening to, and loving the songs as songs, while marveling that they were basically composed at the recording sessions, or as legend has it, by Miles in a taxi on the way to them.

The Official Soundtrack of The Night. I go to The Met to see Art. I listen to this to hear it. I wore out the Lp, then bought this, the first CD release. There's now a 50th Anniversary 2 Disc edition with outtakes- Get that.

The Official Soundtrack of The Night. I go to The Met to see Art. I listen to this to hear it. I wore out the Lp, then bought this, the first CD release. There’s now a 50th Anniversary 2 Disc edition with outtakes- Get that.

Then, there was the Miles-“So-What”-Solo-Phase, which most musicians probably go through. I’m talking about Miles’ solo on “So What,” the first solo on the record. First, you marvel at it’s utter perfection. Finally, you write it out, study it, and learn to play it on whatever instrument you play. Then? You realize that was easy enough, but it doesn’t come within miles (sorry) of what he did. You start to wonder why not, and you then start to become a “Musician.” Further, jazz can be taught, but Jazz can’t be taught, I believe. The intellect, the sensibility, the taste, the creativity, the feeling, and the unique essence that makes a Master Musician are either there, or they’re not. Even if they are all there? You’re still not Miles. Only Miles was Miles. If you want to know why he was so great, or hear music that is Art, in my opinion, listen to this.

In the 1990’s I was fortunate enough to know, and once work with, the Artist Mark Ledford. He passed way far too soon and is probably best known for having been in Pat Metheny’s Band, and having a solo CD out on Verve called “Miles 2 Go.” He also played with the late, great Joe Zawinul, the co-founder of the legendary band, “Weather Report.” He, also, composed “In A Silent Way,” now a Miles Davis classic, and performed on some of Miles’ classic albums. Mark introduced me to Mr. Zawinul, one evening at the Blue Note, NYC. I was a very long time lover of Joe Zawinul’s music going back before his days with “Weather Report,” to those days he spent with Miles. Yet, when I finally got to meet him, all I could ask him was, “Have you heard Led play trumpet?” I wondered if he felt about Mark’s playing the way I did. Mark Ledford uncannily sounded like Miles on trumpet. Believe me, I don’t say that lightly. The highway of Jazz is littered with “Miles-wannabees,” who never were. Like me, Mark Ledford had grown up with Miles, and unlike me, he played trumpet. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when I first heard him play, I was like “WOW. This is uncanny.” I was lucky enough to have him play trumpet on one of my records.

Anyway, the point is that even Mark Ledford, a brilliant multi-talented musician, who could sound more like Miles than any of the millions of Miles imitators, wasn’t Miles. He would tell you that. Listening to Miles and trying to think where he was going…what would come next…was a game I still play. Then? There was that sound. As I wrote earlier, for me, his sound defines living in NYC as much as any sound I can think of. People in London, Cairo, Tokyo and Moscow probably feel the same way. Well? Sorry, but “Kind of Blue” was recorded here, within walking distance from where I’m writing this, so we’ll take dibs on it. Yet, “Kind of Blue” is as much about Miles’ sound when he plays, as it is about the sound when he didn’t play. It’s a masterpiece of silence, as much as it is of music, of “negative space,” as Artists call it, as I mentioned in my first Miles Post. When you go back and listen to earlier Miles albums you can hear it there, too. But, it’s a featured player here, and something that became integral to listening to Miles henceforth. For me, this silence is what puts Miles’ legendary coolness over the top. No other musician, in any kind of music has ever been as revered for what he played as for what he chose not to play.

Another view of the “Think Different” Billboard, June, 1998. This one shot from under what is now the High Line

Time would go by, and I’d come back to “Kind of Blue”, again. This time for Trane. John Coltrane is a world unto himself. He was as revolutionary a figure as Miles was, in his own way. One of the first “mainstream” jazz musicians to experiment and adopt elements of the avant garde in his work, he was a man who was on a mission. A mission that ended far too soon, when he suddenly passed in 1967, age 40! Look at his discography and you’d think he lived to be 100, almost no one was as prolific a recording Artist as John Coltrane (Thank goodness!) Like Miles, all periods of Trane’s work are important, and his period with Miles, which would end shortly, was certainly up there with any of them. While Miles was creating perfect statements with the utmost economy, John Coltrane was wailing. He often sounds like a man who knows he doesn’t have a lot of time to get it all in. Possessing one of the most formidable techniques in the long & storied history of the Tenor Sax in Jazz, he used every ounce of it, seemingly, all the time. Miles once said, no doubt referring to him, “I had seven tenor players, once.” Yet, in spite of what some critics say, I don’t ever hear him overplaying. Later, his explorations carried him much further afield than we hear him here, and that’s a different story, but on “Kind of Blue,” he is the perfect counterfoil for Miles (as he is one virtually all of his recordings with him.)

So, you can listen to “Kind of Blue” for the music. You can listen to it for Miles. You can listen to it for Trane.

And, you can also listen to it for the great Cannonball Adderley. Or the great Bill Evans, or for the band as a whole (Paul Chambers bass and Jimmy Cobb’s drums complete the band, with Wynton Kelly on piano on one track), a unique combination of master musicians, all at their peak, all together in one room. Thank Buddha there was recording equipment, engineers present, and someone remembered to hit the “Record” button! (I’ve been to sessions where someone actually forgot to.)

After “Kind of Blue,” there are many different ways you can go in exploring Miles’ recorded legacy. For me, I’d go with the music of the group that took acoustic music further than anyone has- before or since- Miles’ Quintet of 1965-67, the so-called “Second Great Quintet.”.

You’re looking at nothing less than what remains the State of The Art in small group Jazz. Available as individual records, or in this Complete Box Set, seen at Barnes & Noble, Union Square, one of the few CD Stores left in NYC this week. I never leave home without it…on my Phone.

To clarify- Miles’ “First Great Quintet” was the working group (i.e. they performed live) he had from 1955-58 that included Tenor Saxophonist John Coltrane. The group that recorded “Kind of Blue” is referred to as his “Sextet.” For me, everything the Second Great Quintet recorded is essential. Miles was joined by Wayne Shorter (Tenor, and later, Soprano Sax), Herbie Hancock (Piano), Ron Carter (Bass) and Tony Williams (Drums)- a group of young, and already accomplished, talents who grew to become masters on their instruments during this experience. One of their albums was titled “E.S.P.,” which perfectly summed up the previously unheard level of group intercommunication they attained as well as anything could. Therefore, the “album” I’m recommending is “The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings Of The Miles Davis Quintet January 1965 To June 1968,” a 6 CD set, pictured above. It’s a compilation of their albums of the period. It would be very very hard for me to pick one album. If you held a gun to my head? “E.S.P.”, then “Nefertiti,” “The Sorceror,””Miles Smiles,” but we are splitting hairs now.

E.S.P. as a single Lp/CD. While the music inside is telepathic, the cover, with then wife Cicely Tyson, makes me wonder, too. See note below about Japanese pressings.

E.S.P. as a single Lp/CD. While the music inside is telepathic, the cover, with then wife Cicely Tyson, makes me wonder, too. See note below about Japanese pressings.

This is music that features Miles at the peak of his powers, in the company of 4 young musicians (Tony Williams was 17 when he joined Miles!) who are becoming Masters, themselves, right in front of our ears. A key point in this evolution occurred when when the band was performing live early on. Miles wondered why the group played differently, more adventurously, behind Wayne’s solos than it did behind his. So he called them out on it and told them to play the same way behind his. In short order the group was matching it’s leader at every turn, and, by the time of their later recordings, even push him. It’s exciting, fresh, exploratory and endlessly vital music, that, in my opinion, redefined what acoustic jazz could be. Those terms are carried on in the superb Wayne Shorter Quartet of 2001 to date, one of the few bands that carries on in the spirit of the GQ2, perhaps at the behest of Miles, himself, who reputedly passed the torch to Wayne the last time they spoke. I digress.

If, like me, you get to the point where you must hear every note the GQ2 played, than by all means check out “The Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel,””Miles In Berlin,” and the “Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1,” (a 2011 release that only scratches the surface of rare live recordings by this band that are avidly traded among collectors. These are not on the “Shortlist,” however. Many of these are in surprisingly good recording quality, having originated from Radio or TV Broadcasts- or both.)

Many Miles fans will part ways with me here, when I make my next selections, and that’s fine. It’s my personal opinion. I think we’d all agree that it’s best to hear as much of Miles’ music as one can and decide for yourself, what speaks to you. There are about 50 studio albums to choose from that Miles recorded, 36 or so live albums, but, as I said, these are augmented by hundreds of live tapes that collectors trade. This list is merely a suggested starting point to help you figure out where you’d like to go, or suggest new roads if you’ve dipped your toe in Miles’ Ocean.

DSC04981PNH

This one changed my life. Oh, and music has never been the same since, too. Perfectly titled. Perfect cover art. Perfectly Revolutionary.

I’d suggest “Bitches Brew” next. As I touched on previously, Miles Running The Voodoo Down. it was a revolution in a career of many innovations. It still sounds ahead of it’s time to me. It has that air of improvisation that “Kind of Blue” has, but in an entirely different way. Wayne, Keyboardists Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Larry Young, Guitarist John McLaughlin, Bass Clairnetist(!) Bennie Maupin, Bassist Dave Holland, and Drummers Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham and Percussionists Airto and Don Alias, joined Miles in brewing up a concoction that melted the borders not only between rock and jazz but between so many other kinds of music at the same time, it was like the flat earth had suddenly become round. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it had the equivalent effect of The Beatles going psychedelic 2 years earlier with the release of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The influence of this album is everywhere I turn today- every time I see a jazz group that includes an electric instrument, there it is, or a group of some other kind of music that has jazz elements (including Prince) and an electric instrument or two.

Miles’ work with Gil Evans is also revolutionary, and much less controversial. Many consider it his most beautiful music. It extends as far back as 1949-50 and is collected on the legendary, and highly recommended, album “The Complete Birth of The Cool,” which is exactly what it was. Miles has been “cool” ever since. For me? He defines it. The shot below is from a radio session done the year before the record. Miles was playing Gil Evans Arrangements that featured unusual instruments for small group jazz, like the tuba and french horn. So, the band became known as “Miles’ Tuba Band.”  About 10 years later, they reconvened to created the masterpieces “Sketches of Spain” and “Porgy and Bess,” (yes, the Gershwin Opera). Add them to your list.

Pre-Birth of the Cool. Miles, NYC in 1948 with Lee Konitz on Alto, and Gerry Mulligan on Baritone Saxes, Left, John Barber on Tuba. From my collection.

Ok, it’s been hard to leave off other albums featuring John Coltrane, so I will wait no longer.

DSC04988PNH

No. He’s not posing here, or in the silhouette. Only Sinatra and Ella can “sing” standards with Miles. (Louis and Billie ain’t bad, either.)

“Milestones” is a classic. Along with Trane, it contains another (like on Kind of Blue) rare appearance by Cannonball Adderley, along with Red Garland (Piano), Paul Chambers (Bass), and Philly Joe Jones (Drums). This band, without Cannonball, comprised Miles “First Great Quintet.” “‘Round About Midnight,” and “Miles Ahead” would be your next stops for the studio work of this group. Two points should be made here- 1) Miles created these records for Columbia Records, who he signed with in 1955. Before that, this group recorded for Prestige. Among the Prestige titles, I love “Workin’” and “Steamin’”, though “Cookin’” and “Relaxin” are right up there as well.

DSC04987PNH

“Workin'” but not “Sweatin'” “It Never Entered My Mind” is on this. One of his greatest performances for my money.

After these, head to the even earlier Blue Note recordings Miles made, that were released as “Young Man With A Horn,” and then “Miles Davis Volume 2 and Volume 3”, from 1952-54. They have been collected in a Blue Note “Complete” CD set.

DSC04984PNH

“Miles Davis Volume 2” on Blue Note. One of their most iconic cover designs.

DSC04986PNH

The back cover of the above proves that Music is the universal language.

Oh. The other point, 2) is that the Miles in that as great as their studio records are, and they are among the greatest ever made by anyone, Miles and Coltrane MUST be heard together live, in my opinion, to get any kind of full appreciation of their chemistry together. As I’ve said, they were the perfect foils- Miles the genius of understatement, the inventor (to my way of thinking) of musical silence, contrasted by John Coltrane, who was at that time working on development of the final stages of what would be called his “sheets of sound” style. What might sound on paper like a musical train wreck (no pun intended), was in reality magic. Art. From there, there are, once again, bootleg recordings around, many of which belie the late 1950’s dates, with more than acceptable sound. The greatest “official” live album is “Jazz At The Plaza,” a somewhat unintended album (the musicians didn’t know they were being recorded), but a miraculous live document of the Miles Davis “Kind Of Blue” Sextet.

Ok. Still with me? Want to hear more? Good! We still many Miles to go! (Sorry.)

Before, and after, Bitches Brew was a very fertile period for Miles. “In A Silent Way,” and “Jack Johnson” are bookends in a sense- the former beautiful, subtle, crystalline, thanks in no small part to the presence of Joe Zawinul, who wrote the title track, in a band that includes 4/5 of the Second Great Quintet, along with John McLaughlin (Guitar), Dave Holland (Bass) and Chick Corea joining Hancock and Zawinul on Keyboards). Recorded in 1969, it’s the album right before Brew. “Jack Johnson” was recorded immediately after Brew in February and April, 1970. Miles Backed by “the greatest rock and roll band you have ever heard” (QUOTE) (McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock- Guitars, Hancock & Corea- Keyboards, Benny Maupin on Bass Clarinet and Jack DeJohnette and Billy Cobham on Drums, he wasn’t lying.

You’ll notice that many of the albums pictured are the Japanese CD’s. Why? The choice of Lp or CD is up to you. I actually have both of many of these, but my CD’s were nearer to hand.) In records and CD’s there are some who think the Japanese pressings sound better than the American versions. For Miles’ albums, this was true years ago, both in the later days of vinyl Lp’s and the early days of CD’s when many were rushed into production here in the US while paying little attention to sonic quality, sometimes, not even bothering to find the correct master tapes. So, early on, I went for the Japanese CBS/Sony pressings, which are what I still have and are shown here. CBS/Sony (Japanese Columbia Records) was legendarily fastidious in their attention to sound quality. These days, it’s not as much of an issue.

A bigger potential issue is that Columbia, which owns most of Miles recordings up to the 1980’s undertook a reissue program that saw them scour their vaults for unreleased takes to include as part of a series of “Complete” Box Sets. You should also be aware that they remixed (and remastered) the original tapes. This is something I find potentially troublesome in some cases. There is a lot to be said for having the original mixes, when an album was orignally mixed (i.e. was recorded on multi-track equipment.) Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what the current state is of mixes one would get if buying these albums on CD’s today. They might be the original mixes, which would have been done by Miles’ legendary Columbia producer, Teo Macero, more likely, they may have been remixed. It should say somewhere on the packaging. I don’t have them, so I can’t check. The Japanese CBS/Sony pressings I show are both. “Bitches Brew” states that it is a “New Remix,” but there is no additional information anywhere in the package.

Really? By Who? They're not sayin

Really? By Who? They’re not saying.

I’d have to compare them side by side with the original Lp versions out now to know if they’re different. Does it make a difference? Possibly not. Miles music was acoustic up to 1969-1970 and performed in small groups. There’s really not a lot to mess up there, though anything is possible. (Note- Sony, who bought Columbia, issued a 9 CD Box set called “Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings” in 2013, of his Columbia albums through 1961, with a few extras. I haven’t heard this because I prefer Stereo, when it issued that way, along with mono.) With the later albums, there’s much more potential for difference. I’m saying all of this to make the buyer aware of it, though it’s a subject I have not as yet seen anyone mention. It applies to other artists, especially rock artists, much more than it might to jazz artists for the reasons I mention.  Still, with any classic recordings, it is something to keep an eye, and ear on. IF you really want to get to the heart of the matter? Go for the original Lp’s. Yes, you can spent a fortune on original pressings, but if you are only looking to get the original mixes, any of the issues from the Lp era will contain them (I can’t vouch for the currently available Lp reissues.) The front cover images of these Japanese CBS/Sony CD’s are the same as the original Lp’s.

Ok. back to the matter at hand. While Miles’ recording career lasted about 40 years, he took about 6 years off from about 1974 to 1980. In 1981 he suddenly returned, with a new album, and a live tour. He continued to do both until he passed in September, 1991. We miss him, still.

The return from retirement.

In 1980 Miles came back after over a decade off. He recorded a string of quite popular albums, but only two of them are going to make my “Shortlist.”

“Tutu” is a different type of masterpiece. Produced by the very underrated Marcus Miller, for me, it harkens back to Gil Evans while using every bit of a contemporary sound, with utmost taste. Brilliant and unexpected, it’s matched every bit by the incredible photography on the cover and in the booklet.

The Prince of Darkness looms out of the Darkness.

The “Prince of Darkness” looms out of the Darkness on the cover of. “Tutu,” by Irving Penn, part of what I think is the greatest photoshoot of Miles ever.. The 4 foot poster of this was pictured in my prior Post.

And finally, “Miles & Quincy: Live At Montreux.” Recorded two and a half months before Miles’ passing, it was one of only two times Miles looked back musically, and WHAT a time! With an orchestra led by Quincy Jones, Miles actually plays the music he made famous with Gil Evans on “Porgy & Bess” and “Sketches of Spain,” 30 years earlier. Most of his fans thought he would NEVER play them again. It was the last musically revolutionary thing he did. Then, two days later in Paris, France, he, again, walked down memory lane, but this time in the company of many of the now Masters who were once his sidemen, including- Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Jackie McLean, John Scofield and Dave Holland, among others. Thankfully, Audio and Video recordings of both concerts exist.

The sun never sets on great music. June, 1998 on West 23rd Street.

A perfect conclusion to one of the most important careers in the history of recorded music.

Oh! Lest I forget to at least mention that Miles also recorded extensively with no less than Charlie “Bird” Parker, who he was obsessed to find after moving to NYC to study at Julliard, at age 18. He not only found him, Bird moved in with him, and the two played together off and on regularly during Davis’ key formative years. Many of these recordings are still available, and while they are quite good, and endlessly fascinating, I’d recommend them to fans who have become obsessed with Miles as “something else” to hear and enjoy. It turns out that Miles Davis, perhaps, knew Bird, another of the greatest and most important musicians of the 20th Century, who died at age 34, as well as anyone did. Amazing!

Ok!

So? There you have it.

Once you make your way through these, you’ll have a good idea which direction you want to go in next. Well? You’re in the right place. Miles’ late 1960’s albums are perceptively labelled-

DSC02889PNH2

‘Nuff said. Now…where are my headphones?

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Someday My Prince Will Come,” from the 1937 Disney film, “Snow White & The 7 Dwarfs,” as recorded by Miles Davis on the album of the same name, which I did not list, but chose because it’s a classic performance of a song that was never intended to be a jazz standard and now is one, and…because it fits. All photos are items from my collection.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. He took about 6 years off from about 1974 to 1980

Ai Weiwei & The Value of One Refugee

Ai Weiwei returned to show his latest work in NYC for the first time since getting his passport back, making a splash to rival his last big show here (which he could not attend), the retrospective “Ai Weiwei: According To What?” (at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014), this time with no less than FOUR concurrent shows- one in Soho, two in Chelsea and one Uptown. With so much terrain to traverse, and with so much to see, it makes sense to adapt my approach to writing about them, so I’m going to cover the 4 shows over 2 Posts, as follows-

“Ai Weiwei: 2016 Roots & Branches” @Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea
“Ai Weiwei: 2016 Roots & Branches” @Mary Boone Gallery, Uptown and
“Ai Weiwei: 2016 Roots & Branches” @Lisson Gallery, Chelsea in a second Post, here.
“Ai Weiwei: Laundromat” @Deitch Projects, Soho will be the subject of this one. 

“Ai Weiwei: Laundromat”-

Deitch Projects. Also seen in this Blog’s Banner.

Of the 4 shows, the centerpiece has to be “Laundromat” at Deitch Projects, an unprecedented Art show/installation, unlike anything I’ve encountered.

View just inside the front door. Click any image to see the full size photo.


Along with an upcoming documentary film, it’s part of the Artist’s response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis as experienced by the estimated 18,000 (at it’s peak) in the refugee camp at Idomeni, in Northern Greece, on the Macedonian border.



Ai Weiwei said-
“When we started filming in Idomeni, the first thing we noticed was people trying to change their clothes. These are the clothes they wore from Syria, wet and soiled from the difficult journey across the ocean, over mountains and through woods. They had no chance to wash their clothes until they were forced to stop in Idomeni. They would hand wash the clothes and throw it on the border fence to dry. There was nowhere else to hang dry their laundry. We photographed the clothes, but we did not, and could not, imagine they could later be included in an exhibition. The clothes were some of the few possessions they could take when they decided to leave their homes. There is not much else they could take. Off the coast of Lesbos, I found an abandoned boat drifting in the sea. Inside, I found a copy of the Bible and a baby’s bottle. You would also find small objects wash up on the shore. These objects were the most precious things a person could have, the last things they brought with them as they sought a new life.”

Merry Christmas

“Once the refugees were forced to evacuate to different camps from Idomeni, many of those possessions were left behind. Trucks came in and loaded these items up to take towards the landfill. I decided to see if we could buy or collect them so they would not be destroyed. Previously, my studio collected many life jackets from the local officials in Lesbos and made an installation with them at the Berlin Konzerthaus. My team negotiated with local officials who agreed to let us have the collected material. They were aware of our presence and were supportive. With a truckload of those materials, including thousands of blankets, clothes and shoes, all impossibly dirty, we transported them to my studio in Berlin. There, we carefully washed the clothes and shoes, piece by piece. Each article of clothing was washed, dried, ironed, and then recorded. Our work was the same as that of a laundromat.”1

Every item is hand tagged. These read “Baby Rompers.”

While Downtown New Yorkers are no strangers to acts of war and terrorism, catastrophic weather or blackouts2, one of the strange things about living through those events, for me, was that many people in other parts of the City, who were directly unaffected by them, lived in a certain level of oblivion about them. Many seemed completely disconnected from what was going on right in their own City. It can be easy to understand when you look at this, from the Hurricane Sandy blackout, which effected me, and all of downtown New York for 5 days to 2 weeks.  Now? At “Laundromat,” I was the “directly unaffected,” I had never heard of Idomeni, Greece, and knew little about the Syrian Civil War that’s led to 13.6 million refugees3 seeking to rebuild their lives elsewhere. That’s equal to the population of London. During my 5 visits to  it was easy to say now what others may have said about the Sandy Blackout- life gets to be so all-encompassing that few of us really know what’s going on in much of the City, let alone the rest of the world. It’s different when it’s personal.

I’m sure there are those who walked in and thought “This is Art? It looks like the Salvation Army.” I know what they mean. But? Yes, I consider this to be Art, and I consider it to be groundbreaking Art. “Laundromat’s” range of expression is formidable. Ai Weiwei is the master Artist of the electronic information age. Recently named “The Most Influential Photographer of the Past 10 Years” by complex.com (Cindy Sherman placed 13th, Annie Liebovitz 8th, and Sebastio Salgado didn’t place.? Yet, another reason I don’t believe in qualitatively comparing Artists.). Weiwei’s Blog was, perhaps, the first “essential” Blog of the 2000’s, before it was forcibly removed. Part of it has been translated and published and is still in print.4 Mr. Ai became the first Artist to have photographs “go viral” with his now infamous shot in the elevator with police after his arrest in 2009. Now, he has combined mediums (thousands of photographs, an excerpt from his upcoming documentary film and hundreds of internet articles and social media postings), with actual objects- the clothes and shoes left by the refugees in the camp. The clothes hang on racks. Washed, ironed and/or cleaned, they are “ready-to-wear,” tagged by hand and sorted by type, sex and age, near hundreds of shoes aligned in neat rows on the floor- about an equal number of matching pairs and singles. The shoes are of every kind imaginable, except high heels. (I saw only one pair with a very low heel.) Boots, low boots, sneakers dominate. I assume because their owner’s felt they were finished with crossing wet terrains or bodies of water. Both are present in mute witness to what they have seen and experienced.
What their wearers have experienced can never be washed away that easily. Many are, no doubt, still going through the experience of being a refugee and seeking an answer.

“Time to recharge my batteries” this shirt reads.

A Sea of Words. Hundreds of news and web postings seen in the “Newsfeed” section of the show, which fills the floor beneath visitor’s feet.

“Laundromat” is a deeply personal show for Ai Weiwei. On a number of levels. First, he seems to just naturally respond to humans in crisis, all over the world, be they individuals in the case of the Feminist Activist Ye Haiyan, as we saw in Brooklyn, in “Ye Haiyan’s Belongings,”  in 2013 (which recreated that photo verbatim, installing all of her belongings in a gallery in the Brooklyn Museum(!), something of a possibly precursor to this show), or his powerful documentary “Stay Home,” about the Aids activist  Liu Ximei, or by trying to put names and identity to the countless thousands lost in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, the subject of Backpack pieces “Remembering,” 2009, installed in Germany, and “Snake Ceiling” (seen in Brooklyn) as well as the monumental work “Straight,” 2008-12, which consists of 40 tons of rebar from the Sichuan quake that Ai recovered and striaghtened, It was powerfully displayed alongside the list-turned-wall paper, “Names of the Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizen’s Investivation,” 2008-11, in Brooklyn, photos of which I posted here. The amount of work he, his staff and volunteers put in to try and identify the dead children was nothing less than monumental. “Laundromat” is only the latest “piece” in Ai’s ongoing “work” regarding human rights. It, too, is monumental, in more ways than one.

I’m left to wonder- If he didn’t do this, who would? Would anyone?

First learning about this refugee crisis in 2015, after being freed from jail, but still unable to leave China, he dispatched two members of his staff to go see the camps and interview refugees. Once he got his passport back, he travelled to Germany, where he could get a much closer look at what was going on. Then he decided to go to Idomeni, and document it. “Laundromat” is the first result of those efforts. The documentary film, “Human Flow,” is next, scheduled to be released in 2017.

The second level of this being personal for Ai Weiwei is that he, himself, lived in exile for TWENTY YEARS! And? They began when he was an infant, in 1957.

He says-
“When I was born, my father (the great poet and intellectual), Ai Qing, was denounced as a ‘rightist’ and was criticized as an enemy of the party and the people. We were sent to a labour camp in a remote region far away from our home and so began 20 years in hard exile, which saw my father clean bathrooms and the family live in an earthen pit5.” This was after Ai Qing had been a friend of Chairman Mao (Ai Weiwei has spoken about handwritten letters from Mao being in their home), and had served as a representative of the Chinese government. “We carried almost nothing with us to the camp, only trying to survive. It was an extremely difficult time being seen as a foreigner in your own nation, an enemy of your own people, an enemy of those my father loved most. I know what it is like to be viewed as a pariah, as sub-human, as a threat and danger to society.”1. When the exile ended in 1976, and Ai Qing and his family returned to Beijing, many of his father’s readers had assumed he had died. Before he was all that he is today, Ai Weiwei grew up a refugee.
Now, he has turned the latest refugee crisis, coming after what the New York Times called “The Century of Refugees,” into a work of Art, giving voices to all of those who have not been heard. It’s impossible to walk through these clothes and shoes and not feel their presence- that there was a person for every single article here- especially the babies. Though cleaned, evidence of personal wear remains that is permanent, along with what is permanent, though now invisible- the experiences each of these items, and the person wearing them went through. You wonder “Did someone really make this trip wearing thong sandals?” You see many well-known famous brand names, like Adidas, famous images and icons, as well, including “Hello, Kitty,” even “Barbie.”
The clothes look like clothes you could see being sold right down the street, though many of the labels are unfamiliar (a classic way New Yorkers identify tourists), yet so much of what’s here is so common- everywhere in the commercialized world. and not all that different from the jeans t-shirt, sneakers and jacket I’m wearing standing among them. Though, of course, it’s very hard to consider the Idomeni Camp part of the “civilized world,” especially when you read accounts of it, like this one from International Women’s Rights Journalist, Jina Moore.
What are  you going to wear if your house catches fire and burns, or, you have to leave town, or state, or country…in a real emergency, or war?
A story could be told for each item here. Mr. Ai could have made a show with one item, and it would have been quite powerful, but it wouldn’t have been this show. As you walk among the clothes, or around the shoes, look at the thousands of photos on three of the 4 walls, and the hundreds of internet articles and posts on the floor beneath your feet, it is easy to become numb to the numbers, but the little bits of individuality each item retains reminds you of a more finite realm of experience. This is a group made up of people. Of individuals, like you, and me. 1+1+1+…= 18,000.


In the midst of ALL of this, the sea of humanity (not to mention the actual Seas surrounding Greece they crossed), the incredible hardships, suffering and deaths, there was one small part of this story, and this show, I found particularly interesting & revealing, though nothing about it is mentioned in the show itself! I only learned about it through doing my research. Ai Weiwei came across a 24 year old Syrian refugee named Nour Al Khzam, who’s photo I spotted (above) among the thousands on the walls, who is from Deirez Zor, Syria. She was trying to get to Germany to reunite with her husband. Before fleeing Syria she had been studying piano. Ai Weiwei arranged for a piano to be brought to the Idomei Camp so she could play it, as seen in the photos immediately above. I know he’ll be criticized for doing this, but I find it poignent because it speaks to a number of important things, including- going on with your life and realizing your creativity, even after being a refugee (which Ai Weiwei, himself did). It also speaks to something very important- What is the value of one refugee? How many great Artists, maybe an Ai Weiwei, great Scientists, or great people are among these refugees?

This image, above (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) of Ai Weiwei, right, helping to hold a plastic sheet while Ms. Al Khzam’s plays in the rain that day is of particular importance, as we shall see next time. (Note- This photo was not included in the show.)
Though Idomeni is half a world away, there was a beautiful piece of New York City included in this show. Among the materials handed out at Deitch was a sheet containing “September on Jessore Road,” by “New York’s Poet,” as Ai Weiwei calls his friend, Allen Ginsberg, written after Ginsberg had visited the Bangladeshi refugee camps in 1971. Allen Ginsberg had come to know Ai Qing during a trip to Beijing. And with it, AWW adds poetry to the list of mediums included in this show.
Having lived through a few events that might have made me a refugee (the Hurricane Sandy blackout left me without means of getting off of Manhattan, except on foot), the inescapable feeling of “Laundromat” was “There, but by grace, go I.” If anything defines the 20th Century as much as the airplane, space flight, electricity and the atomic bomb, it’s the refugee. More of them were created in one century than at any time in world history.
“I cannot give them food or tea, or money, but rather I can let their voices be heard and recognized. I can give them a platform to be acknowledged, to testify that they are human beings. During the saddest moments in our history, mankind has had to prove their worth as humans to their own kind. Unfortunately, this has proven to be the most difficult task. As an artist, this is something I would like to take on1.”
Ai Weiwei reminds us here that in this new millennium we have yet to find a way to deal with this world wide question.

There- but by grace, go I.

“He wants to see how far an individual’s power can go,” Chen Danquing, a Chinese painter and social critic said in the Nw Yorker’s profile of Ai Weiwei in 20108.  Ai Weiwei doesn’t help all of people directly, as he said, that’s not within his means. Yet he, in the way he lives his life, and in his work, stands for freedom- Artistic freedom and human rights. He, and his work, continually remind us of the primacy of human rights in ways that are unique, powerful and unforgettable. As for an “individual’s power?” The more of his work I see, the more I read his words, and the more I see of his compassion and soul, I’ve come to believe that Ai Weiwei is one of the most important human beings of our time. He has become something of the “conscience” of the Art world. If not the world, itself.

As big a statement as that is, even beyond it, no one can leave this show without remembering that here is a man who has accomplished so very much in the world after he, himself, lived in exile as a refugee in his own country for 20 years (not to mention everything else he has had to overcome). Though he wasn’t able to help them all financially, etc. I think he understated the impact he may have had on them.

Ai Weiwei at the Idomeni Camp.

As much as every item in “Laundromat” speaks for those with no voice, Ai Weiwei, the man, is living proof a refugee can survive, overcome, and make a lasting mark on the world. I have a feeling his mere presence in Idomeni served to remind at least some of those he encountered of that, and possibly gave them hope. How do you put a value on that? Of course he chose to avoid mention of any such thing when he commented on what he could and couldn’t do for them.

I don’t have to.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “The Unknown,” by Acrassicauda, a heavy-metal band from Baghdad, themselves exiled by the Iraqi War, and the subject of the documentary “Heavy Metal in Baghdad.” I had the honor to meet and hang out with Tony Aziz, their lead guitarist, in 2011, shortly after the band finally made it to the United States. Talk about overcoming, and continuing to follow your  dream…

(PS- Oh yeah…I still have THREE more Ai Weiwei shows to see…)

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. Deitch Projects Interview, 2016.
  2. Hurricane Sandy caused a partial evacuation
  3. According to the UN., 6.4 million have fled the country. An additional 7.2 million are displaced within Syria.
  4. It may be the most essential book on Ai Weiwei, along with the Taschen monograph, which, though published in April, 2016, is already slightly dated as his career continually evolves. Perhaps the best way to stay current with Ai Weiwei is on his Instagram page. But, be forewarned- he almost never captions his photos there, like he does not for the thousands of them in this show.
  5. “Ai Weiwei’s Blog,” P.53
  6. Deitch Projects Interview, 2016.
  7. Deitch Projects Interview, 2016.
  8. May 24, 2010

Art Is The New Rock n Roll

Manhattan, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Among the sites not seen above are-

C.B.G.B.
The Bottom Line
The Knitting Factory (Manhattan)
Fat Tuesday
Sweetl Basil
The Angry Squire
Lush LIfe
The Lone Star Cafe
Bonds International Casino
Max’s Kansas City
The Peppermint Lounge
Danceteria
The Gaslight Cafe
The Electric Circus
The Five Spot Cafe
The Half Note Club
The Lion’s Den
Minton’s Playhouse
The Mudd Club
The Cooler
Coney Island High
Great Gildersleeves
The Ritz
Gerde’s Folk City
The Palladium
The Savoy Ballroom
Sin-e
Slug’s
Cafe au Go Go
Smalls Paradise
Tonic
The Village Gate
Wetlands Preserve

and on and on…Going back further-

The Academy of Music
The Fillmore East

Those are just some of the live music venues we’ve lost in Manhattan. Spill a little of your drink on the pavement in their memory. In spite of the title to this Post, I include Live Music Clubs as a whole. The list includes Jazz and Folk Clubs, and clubs that had a variety of types of music, along with Rock Clubs. Some intrepid places have come along in their absence, though I don’t think anyone would say they’ve “replaced” them. There are some legendary places that still remain, including the Village Vanguard, for me, the greatest music club in the world. It’s nothing short of a cultural tragedy that so many clubs have UNWILLINGLY closed, which most of the above have, mostly due to rent increases that they couldn’t afford. When I walk past their former locations, which are “sacred” in their way (and so, some I consciously avoid), and see what’s there now, I continually shake my head and remember-

A little piece of New York City, and what makes this City great, special & unique, went away every single time each one of the Clubs closed.1

City government doesn’t care. They’ve done nothing to stop it. As the clubs have closed, it’s been interesting to me to note that there has been an increase in Art venues, a few Museums, but mostly galleries. Where some of those clubs were “cheap,” they were all at least “affordable,” to the average music lover, and they made going to see and hear music regularly possible. In the mid-1990s, I was going out every night, and hearing a crazily wild range of music, often in the clubs listed above that we’ve now lost. I wrote about many of the shows I saw as part of my Artist Management website. That led to my writing for a national music magazine for 4 years.

As prices, especially real estate, have risen steadily since the mid 1990’s the clubs have faced extremely challenging business environments, with no protection from government2, that has seen their business model largely change from a “club” to more of a “concert/show” environment. Clubs like “City Winery,” founded by Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, have become a model for franchises all over the country. Customers can sit, eat and drink, and hear music. I’ve never been to one. It’s not my scene.

Live music in NYC is almost a museum piece “Moon Duo” outdoors, in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, 2016

And so, this Post is my way of saying I realize that I only wrote about one live music event this year, a damn good one (Jacob Collier opening for Kamasi Washinton), and that I, unfortunately, expect this trend to continue.

As the music clubs closed, in another part of the City, Chelsea, hundreds of Art Galleries were starting up- unprecedented numbers. While most specialized in Contemporary Art, some showed the work of established Artists. Soon, it was possible to wander for endless hours and see as many Art shows as you wanted, or as your feet could take, without spending a dime, (unless you wanted to make a purchase.)

Little by little, completely unintentionally, Art began to usurp Music’s primacy in my life, even though I am someone who was a professional musician who spent 5 years on the road. This has continued to expand to the present minute, where as I sit here on New Year’s Eve, at the end of a terrible year in many ways, I sit back and realize that I’ve gone to see Art every day for the last 6 weeks, except Sunday and Mondays, when the galleries are closed, and the Museums have short hours. I’m now living the life I was living in the mid-1990’s as a live Music fan as an Art lover.

I still listen to, and love, Music. My iPhone is packed with Music to the point I have very little room left for Apps or photos, and it’s constantly being changed and updated. I am always listening to Music when I’m looking at Art. But, I so miss that spontaneous creativity of a a great live Jazz Band, or the energy of a great live Rock Band, even though my years of performing live have taken their toll on my hearing.

For me, anyways, there’s not a heck of a lot of difference between Art & Music, in many ways. If you look through the history of both, there are similar “movements” that happen in both at about the same times. You’ll find Baroque Art & Music, Romantic, Impressionistic periods in both, and 20th Centuries marked by similar explorations. Picasso and Miles Davis have been compared often, not without good reason (and I don’t mean qualitatively compared). A good number of Musicians (including Miles), are/were Artists, though very few Artists were also Musicians (as far as I know). The similarities don’t end there, but that’s the subject of another Post3.

I don’t expect the number of Art Galleries we have in Chelsea to last. When their leases are up, many will close, move, or go online only. A current list can be seen here. Their number is probably already down from the peak number, which was over 300, an astounding number for such a small area of Manhattan, and more than there has ever been in any neighborhood in the world. Back in the day, Soho experienced a “boom” in the number of Art galleries opening. Today, not many remain. It’s hard to know what the future is in Chelsea. Some galleries have moved to the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, even to Midtown (traditionally more expensive). This will, no doubt, continue. Given that I believe the Art Market has, or will very shortly, peak, a downturn in prices may well be followed by a downturn in interest/demand, which would further exacerbate things. Time will tell. The Art market has gone down, a lot, in the past and recovered. Right now, though, many of the people in the Art market today have never experienced a large downturn in prices, so who knows how they will react.

High tide. West 24th Street on Nov 6, 2012, a few days after Hurricane Sandy flooded these Chelsea Galleries. How many will now survive the tide of rising rents?

As 2017 dawns, however, I expect one of the biggest years in memory in the NYC Art World. Blockbuster shows loom in the Museums, and the galleries are going strong. Both auger well for new records being set in Art attendance. I think it’s a good thing. For me? This is the reason I continue to live in Manhattan.

Making the rounds of the galleries and Museums to see Art shows before they end now reminds me of the days when I’d make the rounds of bars and clubs to see bands while they were there. Yes, back in the day there were often so many bands playing at the same time it was hard to juggle, unless they were all playing at the same place, I’d find myself going from CBGB downtown on the Bowery far uptown to the original, classy, Iridium on the same blind date. Now, I find myself going to see a similar range of extremely wide ranging Art on the same day so often I expect it.

Having seen the rise, peak and fall of live Music in NYC, I well know that the Art gallery scene here is likely to follow the same trajectory. The unknown factor is- how much longer will it last? Somewhere, Carly is singing…

“We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway”*

Enjoy it now, while you can, Art lover, because these are “the good old days.”*

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon. Published by BMG Rights Management US, LLC.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. Feel free to let me know if I’ve left one out. I know I have.
  2. like our supermarkets don’t receive now
  3. I touched on in in this one.

A Tribe Called Quest- From Linden Boulevard To…Forever

When Q-Tip suddenly announced there would be a new, and final, album from A Tribe Called Quest coming out on November 11, you could have knocked me over with a cotton swab. Even after reading his hand written note a few times I still couldn’t believe it.

Did ANYONE see this coming? What would it be like? Afterall, one of it’s core members, Phife Dawg, passed away on March 22, as I mourned.

But, there I was November 15th, when I was finally able to get my hands on a download, and the experience was surreal. It reminded me of seeing “Eyes Wide Shut,” Stanley Kubrick’s unexpected last film, finished just before he died, on the day it opened, July 16, 1999. I was in the first row, and I’ll never forget the opening- on the huge black screen, big white letters appeared-

TOM CRUISE

then

NICOLE KIDMAN

and, finally

A Film By STANLEY KUBRICK

A chill ran up my spine. Oh My God…Another Stanley Kubrick movie, TWELVE YEARS after “Full Metal Jacket” in 1987! Forever my personal favorite director, I NEVER expected to see another film by him ever again, and here it was…

I’m not making any comparisons here between Stanley Kubrick and ATCQ other than to say they both occupy large places in my heart, and to say these unexpected final works had a similar shocking effect on me. What would they add to the canon they’ve already created? What new would we learn? For me, Tribe had more “Jazz” going on than any other group I’d heard that wasn’t an actual “Jazz Group,” even though Q-Tip, himself, played this down after people started calling them “Hip-Hop Jazz.” It’s in there. Yes, they had a lot of a lot of things going on, it was the way their lyrics flowed like a solo, with the same freedom, the same unexpected, thrilling turns, the interplay, and, Q-Tip’s voice has a “Jazz” edge to it. I hear bits of singers like Eddie Jefferson,  and even Billie Holiday in Q-Tip’s style. Beyond this, in terms of production, lyrical content and their approach, Tribe stood apart and alone, as far as I was concerned. While they addressed serious topics, like date rape, drug dealing on “Everything Is Fair,” and even the music biz tell-all, “Show Business,” on the sublime “The Low End Theory,” nothing interrupts their flow, and the music overcomes all. If there was an overriding “message” I took from A Tribe Called Quest? That was it.

From “Low End Theory” on, I followed each one up with seeing them live. I even drove to Asbury Park, NJ to see them in a small bar. There were so many people there, people were standing on the seats of the booths that ran along the wall. I was among the row of people standing on the narrow curved shoulder of those booths, with my head inches from the ceiling. I also saw them on New Year’s Eve at the Palladium, with Leaders of the New School and DeLa Soul. The amazing thing about that gig for me was that Tribe performed with a live band! I had always dreamed of hearing Tribe with a live band of improvisors.

“My pops used to say it reminded him of be-bop.”

Yeah. That’s it. That’s what I mean.

“I said, well daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles”1

Yeah.

Seeing their name on a new album, again? It’s on 5 previous albums that are seminal to quite a few people’s lives. Each one was an event, a cause for marathon listenings and discussions, about the lyrics, the style, the tracks, the cover…all of it.

Here it is- “We got it from Here…Thank You for Your service.” Available direct.

And now, EIGHTEEN YEARS after ‘The Love Movement” came out in 1998 (which isn’t considered their best album in anyone’s estimation that I know of), that same “Eyes Wide Shut” feeling returned. I put it on, shut my wide eyes and listened….

First up? “The Space Program.” It starts with a sample from a pretty obscure “blaxploitation” film called “Willie Dynamite,” from 1974, that says-

“I’mma deal with a bigger insult,man
It’s comin’ down hard
We’ve got to get our sh*t together”

Hmmm….Auspiciously setting the stage right away. This sure isn’t “The Love Movement.” Then, Q-Tip AND Phife take over-

“It’s time to go left and not right
Gotta get it together forever
Gotta get it together for brother
Gotta get it together for sisters”*

I was in shock. I didn’t realize that Phife had lived to work on this. It was downright eerie hearing him, especially singing that verse, and then solo, with the line

“Gotta get it together for dead niggas…”*

Whoa…

Yeah. But now they’re talking about ‘forever.” As in “Gotta get it together forever.” Has anyone in any form of “popular music” said that since Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song“? That’s pretty serious. Between “The Space Program,” and especially on the following, “We The People,” I’ve never heard Q-Tip sound more serious. But wait. This is just getting started. After verses by Q-Tip & Jarobi, here’s the chorus, with Q-Tip rapping the lines not in parenthesis, which are sung by a chorus-

“(Move on to the stars)
There ain’t a space program for niggas
Yeah, you stuck here, nigga
(Move on to the stars)
There ain’t a space program for niggas
Yeah, you stuck here, nigga
(Move on to the stars)
There ain’t a space program for niggas
Yeah, you stuck here, nigga
(Move on to the stars)
There ain’t a space program for niggas
Yeah, you stuck, stuck, stuck
(Move on to the stars)”*

As I said, Tribe hasn’t been heard from since 1989, though Q-Tip has on his excellent solo albums (“The Renaissance” is especially highly recommended.), as has Phife on his (and word came down this week that his second solo album will be released posthumously!). But someone who has been heard from during their absence was the great Gil Scott-Heron, who died on May 28, 2011, and who some call a founding father of rap. He released the amazing “I’m New Here” in 2010, which was remixed by Jamie xx as “We’re New Here” and the posthumous “Nothing New,” in 2014. But, back in 1970, Gil Scott released a record called “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” that included the track, “Whitey On The Moon.” This was during the Apollo moon landings that began in July, 1969. Here are it’s lyrics-

“A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(with Whitey on the moon)
The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I was already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wasn’t enough”

Lyrics by Gil Scott-Heron and Published by Carlin America Inc.

It’s hard for me, anyway, not to think that Q-Tip and Tribe have heard it2, but they’ve taken the possible influence of Gil Scott’s classic into a galaxy far away. With all the talk by Elon Musk, and others, about going to Mars, Tribe have a point. A cynic would respond that those who don’t have the money to fund their trip to space will get there the same way those who didn’t in the past did- by taking the jobs those with the money don’t want to do. Still? It’s a song I can hear becoming an anthem years down the road. Along with “Whitey On The Moon,” it’s the second blues song of the space age (“Space Oddity,” “Rocket Man,” or “Subterranean Homesick Alien” notwithstanding.).

It’s also quite a departure for Tribe. They’ve never made a “statement” as blatant as this.

And? It isn’t the last one here.

The song ends with another movie sample, this one from “Willy Wonka,” featuring the voice of the late Gene Wilder saying-

“A small step for mankind
But a giant step for us
Oompa, loompa, doopa dee doo
I’ve got another puzzle for you.”*

The “A small step…” line is of course the first line uttered by Neil Armstrong on the moon, and as for Oompa, loompa, Urban Dictionary’s #10 definition of this references Donald Trump, who has also been referred to by this name by Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert & SNL…This goes right into the second track, “We the people…,” which brings the emphasis back to earth, and right up to the moment.

“We don’t believe you ‘cause we the people
Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you.”*

And it gets more intense from there, culminating in a chorus that led the Village Voice in their cover article on Tribe to call this the “Soundtrack for the Trump-ocalypse.”

Village Voice, November 22, 2016 cover. Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Consequence, and Jarobi clockwise from upper left

 

Damn.

Here’s their official music video for it, which is sitting right at 2 million views as I write this-

Along the way, right in the middle of it, don’t miss this instant classic verse from Phife, that contains respect for women that Hip Hop rarely gets accused of showing-

“”Dreaming of a world that’s equal for women with no division
Boy, I tell you that’s vision
Like Tony Romo when he hitting Witten
The Tribe be the best in they division
Shaheed Muhammad cut it with precision
Who can come back years later, still hit the shot?”*

 It’s obvious, at least to me, that Tribe weren’t happy with the way “The Love Movement” stood as their final work. Phife is quoted on wikipedia as saying, circa 2007, about a possible Tribe reumion-
“Man, we was only 18–19 when we first got started. [When] We broke up we were still like 28. Now we are 35–36. It’d be real different being in the studio. It would be real interesting to see where Q-Tip is. It would all be on a much higher level. But we are all into such different stuff from way back then.”

Different in almost every way it is. Whereas previously they left grand political and cultural statements to Public Enemy (“Fight The Power,” etc),  and others. Not here. They’re saying it all for the record, on a record that is going to stand alongside their other albums and show anyone who listens what they were really all about.

Forever.

Then again, there could be something else at work here. It could be “maturity,” that being 18 years older brings, as Phife said. It could be that it is, indeed, “comin’ down hard” now, perhaps as hard as it ever has. Or, it could be the influence of that other “D” word.

No. Not him.

Death.

The loss of, and respect for Phife is all over this record. On genius, Jarobi White was quoted as saying of him- “Doing this album killed him. And he was very happy to go out like that.”

What more could possibly be said?

“Lost Somebody” is one attempt to put some of it into words. Jarobi in Verse 2-

“Never thought that I would be ever writing this song.
Hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone.”*

Before the chorus comes in-

“Have you ever loved somebody?
Way befoe you got to dream?
No more crying, he’s in sunshine
He’s alright now, see his wings”*

Respect, and love, for Phife is constant and endlessly a part of this record, even when his voice isn’t heard. I’m not going to do a track by track of the whole album. We’d be here a very long time. Check it out for yourself. I will say that other highlights for me include guest spots by Andre 3000 on “Kids…,” a no pulled punches, straight up dispelling of the the imagined hip hop (or “star’s”) life, which includes the already famous line, “Kids, don’t you know how all this sh*t is fantasy?”*) is just amazing on a track that is already garnered significant buzz. Elton John, a sample of who’s “Benny & The Jets” forms the basis for “Solid Wall of Sound,” a unique, sonic marvel, which also includes Jack White’s guitar, before Elton winds it up with a new verse written for this record, and Abbey Smith on the addiction ode “Melatonin.” Like Tribe at it’s best, these tracks get under your skin and stay there.

It’s under my skin. That play count, on the right, is mounting a month in.

There are riches galore. It’s always an unexpected joy to hear Phife here, especially when paired with Q-Tip, his childhood friend, as it is to hear Busta Rhymes, who Tribe made famous. Another surprise- Q-Tip’s playing (on keyboards, bass, and/or drums!)  and fresh production carry the day throughout, pushing the production envelope the way classic Tribe did, which, as Questlove once said, we expect from Tribe.

Finally, there’s the title. “We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service,” which Phife, apparently, came up with. The band says they don’t know what he meant by it. The best guess I’ve heard so far(*) is that it’s a dedication to President Obama. Then again? The album’s release date, November 11 is, also, Veteran’s Day! Then, again? That’s one of the things I’ve missed so much these past EIGHTEEN years. Discussing every detail of this record and hearing all the different interpretations there are about it.

PostScript- On Saturday, November 19th, Phife was honored with having the intersection of Linden Blvd and 192 Street in Queens, NY named in his honor, which you can watch here.. R.I.P., Phife. Linden Boulevard, which Tribe immortalized, may never be better represent, represent-ed.

Thank YOU, A Tribe Called Quest. For YOUR Service.

*-All Lyrics, and starred insights are from “We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service” by A Tribe Called Quest are quoted from genius.com, with nary a publishing credit anywhere to be found.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. Both quotes from “Excursions” by Ali Shaheed Jones-Muhammad, Malik Izaak Taylor, Kamaal Ibn John Fareed of A Tribe Called Quest,  Lyrics Published by Universal Music Publishing Group.
  2. Check out Q-Tip’s excellent vinyl collection here. I’ll bet $1. “Small Talk” is in it.

Six Years Ago, Today…

this amazing photo was taken by Oli Scarff of Getty Images during the protest in London’s Parliament Square on December 9, 2010. (Mouse over it to read the caption)

Ever since I discovered it while researching my Post on The Smiths & Johnny Marr, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I think it’s the most powerful music-related image I’ve seen so far this young century. And yes, that Ellen Wood is wearing a Smiths shirt in it, puts it over the top for me.  So, today, in honor of Ms. Wood, I’d like to send “Hand In Glove” from “Hatful of Hollow,” who’s cover image is on her shirt, out to her-

“Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
No, it’s not like any other love
This one is different, because it’s us

Hand in glove
We can go wherever we please
And everything depends upon
How near you stand to me

And if the people stare, then the people stare
Oh, I really don’t know and I really don’t care

Kiss my shades, oh

Hand in glove
The good people laugh
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we’ve something they’ll never have

Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we’ve something they’ll never have

And if the people stare, then the people stare
Oh, I really don’t know and I really don’t care

Kiss my shades, oh

So, hand in glove I stake my claim, I’ll fight
To the last breath

If they dare touch a hair on your head, I’ll fight
To the last breath

For the good life is out there somewhere
So stay on my arm, you little charmer

But I know my luck too well
Yes, I know my luck too well
And I’ll probably never see you again
I’ll probably never see you again
I’ll probably never see you again
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh”*


Ellen Wood was one among thousands of students protesting government proposals to let universities triple tuition fees that day. I apologize to her for taking this image a bit out of context to focus on what she’s wearing. In the only interview I’ve found with her to date, from 2011, she says-

“I feel the country is spiralling backwards into hopelessness, etc, etc. I am just like millions of other people who love The Smiths. ”

The resulting photo might not have been enough to get Morrissey & Marr to reunite The Smiths, but it gives me a lot of hope for the world, a lot of hope that the power of Art & Music to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives is still with us.

Today, it’s 6th anniversary, strikes me as a good day to remember that, especially at a time when hope seems to be in short supply.

(You can see more of Mr. Scarff’s amazing photos taken that day, here.)

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Hand In Glove,” by Morrissey & Johnny Marr from “Hatful of Hollow,” published by Warner/Chappel Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com