June - July 1999
Volume 5 Number 5
Table of Contents
About 7,500 people showed up. Others who didn't have to see (or want to pay $20+) parked themselves outside the fences.
I paint thirty hours a week. I sell paintings out of my home. I am by no means sucessful. I'm only succesful insofar as I work every week.
-- Ethan Azarian
Most people know Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World. Fans of R&B and hip-hop tend to have a harder time finding performances to suit their tastes.
Just because I missed Mothers Day does not mean I am taking this opportunity to re-win my best-daughter-in-the-world points.
I've always resented journalists doing things.
-- Nikki Giovanni
It's a good thing if they really built it for the black community, but is it gonna stay that way?
-- Bruce Simmons
As the sun slowly melted into an orange glow, the young nomads applied circus makeup, set up their assemblage of high and low tech musical instruments (Australian digiridoos, an African djembe, a European accordian, an effects module hooked through a small PA system), unravelled their oil-soaked chains and batons, and prepared for their evening firedance.
The 1999 Austin International Poetry Festival began community outreach programs such as the "poetry slam" in The Park at Austin's Children's Hospital.
In June, six aspiring playwrights will descend upon Austin to participate in the Dougherty Art Center's Texas Young Playwrights Festival.
Why oh why does Austin continue to be stuck in this place of claiming to be the live music capital of the universe, of being the cultural capital of Texas, and still be so far outside of the expectations of us folks who have some idea of what these attributions would really mean in another major market, major cultural center, major American city that actually has an urbane cultural scene?
In April of this year I challenged myself in a way that I never have before. Without a plot or plan, I dove into the ocean of filmmaking.
Antones Blues Festival Succeeds by Stephen Sparks
I was there. I've been covering Austin music for MauiTime Magazine (yes, in Hawaii -- also on the World Wide Web). Last article was on Antones -- it felt like I had a scoop (picture of me with Clifford on the Web) just in time.
I can't give you a hometowner's report, but things seemed to go well (main complaint: not enough porta-potties). From all indications the two stages worked -- they volleyed back and forth, hailing the finishing performers on one stage and reeling the crowd in for the next. About 7,500 people showed up. Others who didn't have to see (or want to pay $20+) parked themselves outside the fences.
Though Pete Mayes (veteran of the Gatemouth Brown and Junior Parker bands) turned in a fine CD last year (For Pete's Sake -- Antone 10040), I unfortunately missed his show. The Scabs were on the main stage when I arrived. Plenty loud, plenty of energy. If you've been in a cave, the nine-piece show band is an R-to-X-rated act, with some funny, tightly-knit arrangements celebrating (among other party topics) female anatomy. College stuff, but an excellent band any way you stack it. Blues? Maybe not.
Lou Ann Barton is a consistent singer/entertainer, turning in a solid performace. I particularly like her guitar player -- one of the smoothest and well-versed I've heard here.
Susan Tedeschi is probably the talk of the town by now. She has scooped Double Trouble as her rhythm section for an upcoming tour, delivering roots blues vocals and guitar licks with, well...balls! The crowd loved her. She looked great and performed with personality. Jimmie Vaughan and Buddy Guy called her on stage during their sets, and John Lee Hooker could be heard repeatedly saying: "Where's the girl with the guitar? Bring out that girl with the guitar!" Tedeschi somehow missed that historical cue.
South Austin's Toni Price, next on the local stage -- always a delight -- with the boys: 'Scrappy' Jud Newcomb, Champ Hood and Casper Rawls. There are moments when she just glows like an angel..."Nothing Can Be Done"!
Jimmie Vaughan's band was tight and exuberant and the hometown hero seemed to be enjoying himself. I didn't catch (what seemed to some) an eerie orb of emotion, when a StarFlight helicoptor passed over the stage, on its way to its moorings next door at the hospital. Missed it...but I got it later. He closed with "Tick-Tock-Tick...Time Slippin' Away," leaving us with a warm, hometown hum in our souls.
Guy Forsythe continues to grow out of the blues but never forget them. Like his new album, his performances are sharp, his energy and smile infectuous.
Showtime! Yes, I stood my ground and got to watch John Lee from about 15 yards back. So, here's my report: I think the band was too young (what the heck was it, then?) to do the ol' fella justice. I'm not the only guy who wanted to hear John Lee do HIS thing. You know, we wanted to hear HIS guitar sound, his style of playing. But what we HEARD was the band's massive electric sound, grinding out recognizable changes. Except that they didn't seem to always be the changes the "Boogie Man" was layin' down. More than once, he seemed frustrated at the machine rolling over his legacy, throwing his hands and eyes up in submission. Even when he called out to share a moment with "the girl wit' da GIT-tah," he couldn't seem to bring the fates under his control. But there he was, real as the blues that brought him there -- once in a lifetime, for a guy like me. (Blue socks matched his shirt -- cool shoes!) Too much electronics, too little communication because of it, for my part. The man has MORE than a story to tell, and although it was amazing just to watch him (to SEE him!), I would have liked to have heard (and felt) more of HIS story than the power of his players. A downside of the times. Nevertheless, an historical event of great gravity. His blond (and pretty) Hammond organist/pianist highlighted the very proficient lineup.
'Missed the Young Guns, holding ground for MY man. I first saw Buddy Guy 30 years ago in the nation's Capitol. Having hung around Jimi Hendrix for a few days (on The Experience's first visit to D.C.), I personally always looked to Buddy as the genuine article. Even back then he had such fluidity, style and fire. I found his show at Waterloo Park as exciting and joyful as any I've ever seen, by anyone, anywhere. He was barely getting warmed up, after he had whole crowd singing verses to "Hoochie Coochie Man," when the 10pm curfew hit ("I don't WANT to stop..."). And he played some great Hendrix licks ("I can do all this other shit too, ya know..."), as well as some signature Stevie Ray.
Many times throughout the proceedings, the artists and promoters would acknowledge Clifford Antone, for his love and support of the blues. As an outsider looking in, I have to agree with that sentiment. Whatever else he is, Antone is the consummate blues fan and host to his brethren in the blues. He's got style, and I love it! Congratulations to Charlie Jones and the staff of Antones for a fine step forward into blues history.
Ethan Azarian on the Art of Ethan Azarian by Allyson Lipkin
"It sounds kind of profound and silly... but if I didn't sell anything I wouldn't stop painting because the enjoyment I get from creating is wonderful," says Austin's original Orange Mother, Ethan Azarian. Ethan has fronted his band the Orange Mothers for many years in Austin. These days his paintings are taking the spotlight. Gallery Lombardi's current show features emerging artists Ethan Azarian, Phil Dempsey, Eugene J. Kubelka, Ron Prince, and Owen Towles, up May 13-June 6.
He continues: "It sounds profound and kind of silly but so be it...I am thirty-six but I get to be like seven years old. I get to use my imagination. Get to use color. I always remember as a kid creating and using my imagination -- we all do. I just never really lost touch with that imaginative side."
Ethan's paintings' bright images are often child-like. With building-block shapes and colors, he plays with images alreading existing in the art world -- an Ethan-imitation of Van Gogh's bedroom, or Dali's time-honored melting clocks, or Warhol's soup cans. But he also creates his own city-world, one that includes floating coffee cups, spillage, and lost city-cows. Does this make any sense? It will when you view Ethan's works. Somehow he blends bright, flat color, big shapes, and skewed perspective in his paintings and they read with depth.
"I'm a little intimidatied by the art world; I'm intimidated by art history," Ethan explains. "You know I never studied, I'm totally untrained. So there are things like that in my work that make me hesitant...But when you want to be moving along in your career, one of the tools available is discipline. I taught myself to paint a little bit every day. Now I paint five or six hours a day. In the beginning it was hard to be disciplined. I had to come up with ideas, work on my technique. The more diligent you are, the more you work on being disciplined, the easier it becomes. I paint thirty hours a week. I sell paintings out of my home. I am by no means sucessful. I'm only succesful insofar as I work every week.
"I never know if I am going to sell a piece. It's so wierd. I'll do a show and a year later someone will call up out of the blue and say 'I saw your show at Texas French Bread -- do you still have the piece with the cow in it?' I may or may not have the piece but they'll come by the house and actually buy a piece because they saw the show. It's great. I sold a bunch of work from that show at Texas French Bread. Didn't sell a piece while it was up. I always juggle like four or five people who may or may not buy something. And eventually they will buy something. But you have to wait a year. People want to know a little history about a painting. And what inspired it. It's like selling cars or anything. People want to know that it is going to look good, that I like it. I don't like the selling part of it but I think I'm good at it. You know it is difficult for me to talk about my work. It's not a steady income."
The nature of his work, Ethan claims, is not about anything. "It's just me using my imagination. They are not political. They are not about my dreams."
"They could be perceived as such," I protested.
"They could be perceived as anything," he insisted.
"But it's your juxtaposition of images that could be perceived as political. The cows in the city scenes, for example. They do look a bit preturbed," I insisted. "No, it's true," Ethan continues, "But that wasn't intentional. A lot of times people look at art and they will come up with something that the artist wasn't thinking about...Of course that's OK. Anything is OK. All the paintings are just about me and if people like it that's great. But it's just me being creative and going through this process. I don't think I'm a great painter. I don't think I'm a great person. I just think it's great that I can paint and make a living from it. It allows me to do what I really like to do, which is paint. If I wanted to be the world's greatest painter I would have killed myself by now. There are so many -- I mean, forget it. Locally. I'm not even talking about the Picassos, and Van Goghs. The untouchables. For me it's a real personal thing, almost selfish. But I'm not selfish about my painting. I'm just selfish about my time. I feel happy when I work."
"Landings" is up from May 13-June 6. Gallery Lombardi is located at 920 W. 3rd Street.
extemporaneous exhortation by Mercy Michael
in light and life
flirting with crawfish by Stazja McFadyen
you crazy crawdaddy
crawlin' around drizzly sunday afternoon
clippin' and clappin' your claws like castanets
drippin' with eau de muddy creek
what you tryin' to do
catch you a crawlady?
no one want to be your sugar baby
with a such face only
a blind crawmama could love
crusty old crustacean
i seen better personalities
but honey you sure got
one fine lookin' tail!
© 1997 Stazja McFadyen. Winner of Austin International Poetry Festival's 1998 Christina Sergeyevna Award, First Place. Published in AIPF Di-Verse-City Too Anthology.
Hot Soul in the Summertime by Shilanda Woolridge
Austin is a city with many identities: high-tech mecca, slackerville, liberal, and festival-haven, just to name a few. However, most people know Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World. One can meander into any number of clubs on 6th Street and find a live band performing. Sojourn further from 6th Street and even more live music can be found, from Stubbs BBQ all the way down to South Park Meadows. Fans of R&B and hip-hop tend to have a harder time finding performances to suit their tastes, but this summer, Wednesday nights will belong to them, courtesy of "Jump On It."
"Jump On It" is a free, family concert series held every Wednesday evening from 6-10pm at Rosewood Park. "Jump On It" starts June 2 and will continue to August 4. In its third year, "Jump On It" is styled like a variety show and will offer a lineup of artists performing R&B, jazz, hip-hop, poetry, comedy, gospel, blues, rap, spoken word, dance, and two-act skits.
The evenings festivities will be broken into several distinct segments. At 6pm the DJs spin tunes to get the crowd warmed up. At 6:30pm the evening will begin with the "Showcase Hour," a talent show for beginning and unestablished local acts to perform and compete. Next, a theater group called the Foundation will perform the first act of their two-act performance. The Foundation is a youth group that does a mix of drama and comedy with martial arts-flavored action scenes using Southern Kung-Fu and Northern Karate. Following the Foundation is the "Soul Hour," which will consist of R&B, jazz, blues, or gospel, and will be geared toward the parents and older audience members. After the "Soul Hour," the Foundation will return to perform act two of their performance. Then there will be a contest time in which questions will be asked and prizes will be awarded for the correct answers. The contest time will be short, only about 10 minutes, and will be used to hype the crowd into a frenzy for the "Jam Hour." The "Jam Hour" is geared toward the youth in the crowd and will consist of the headlining hip-hop act for the evening.
Considering the reputation of rap and hip-hop, some parents may cringe at the idea of their youngsters viewing a live weekly performance of it. Not to worry -- "Jump On It" promises to deliver a profanity-free evening of entertainment. NOOK, local hip-hop artist and mastermind behind "Jump On It," explains, "It's all radio-edit, no profanity. A lot of performers aren't used to performing without profanity, and it's a big change for the rappers. What makes it good is that the older crowd can listen. When they hear a cuss word, everything else a performer says is automatically voided. So having no profanity is a good way to bridge the generation gap. The younger ones can hear older music, the older ones can hear the younger music, everything is clean and it works."
In fact, it works so well that the audience doesn't hesitate to remind any performers that forget, even if they are well known national artists. MC Ren performed last summer and peppered his performance with curse words. The audience reacted less than positively to his choice of words, causing MC Ren to get angry and abandon his performance. "I guess he got in front of the crowd, got hyped up, and forgot," explains NOOK. "No use of profanity was stated in the contract he signed when he agreed to perform. It wouldn't be fair to let him use it if no one else could. Also, we do live broadcasts and we don't want any of the stations receiving penalties from the FCC. We can get past the profanity by exposing these new groups and showing others that you can still come out and perform. I'm about changing things."
And change things he will. NOOK's non-profanity clause is one of many lofty goals that he has set for "Jump On It." "I want it to be the premiere hip-hop and music festival in Austin. The kind that brings down record labels. You look at SXSW, but it doesn't cater to rap music. Very few scouts come down for rap, it doesn't get a lot of pull. We have a lot of talent, some of these groups need to be out there now making millions! This year we will release three promotional CDs. We'll record everything live and pick ten songs for each CD. The CDs will help open doors for a 'Jump On It' tour. I want to blow it up for the hip-hop scene East of Austin, so it can get the exposure it deserves. In Atlanta, there was a major music event called the Midtown Music Festival. It's a four-day music festival and they had everything from rock and roll and country to jazz. Over a million attended, so there were people from all over. There were lots of scouts from different companies too. The festival is run by two guys, so that really inspired me."
With or without inspiration from other festivals, NOOK takes the successes of last year to turn things up a notch this year. "I think things went great last year," he says. "We averaged 2,500 people a night. The night MC Ren came we had about 4,000. It's cool to look at things at the end of the night and say 'Whoa, I helped create this.'"
On June 16th attendees can look forward to seeing Cool Breeze, a rap group affiliated with Atlanta's other multi-platinum rap progeny OutKAST and Goodie Mob. Houston's Rap-A-Lot Records will also be on the scene. Rap-A-Lot is known for it's work with the former Ghetto Boyz member Scarface. Rap-A-Lot will have a talent scout and vending booth stocked with music and autographed posters. NOOK is waiting for confirmation from another rapper from the "dirty south" called 8 Ball, and a few other popular artists. In anticipation of greater numbers, NOOK and his crew have decided to have two stages. "The main stage will be set up similar to Auditorium Shores," he says. "Last year the stage was hard for everybody to see once it got really crowded late in the evening. Now we have a better set up, where you can see the stage from everywhere. You can even see the stage from the street. We also have better sound and lighting equipment."
"Jump On It" will soon have a new neighbor called the Millennium Youth Center. NOOK's feelings on the up and coming center are cautiously optimistic. "The youth need places where they can go, so they won't have to hang out on the street. If they do it right I think it will work, but there is so much political and under-the-table stuff going on. I'm supposed to emcee the opening and they keep calling me to tell me they've pushed back the opening date. There are a few places the youth can go, like 'Jump On It' on Wednesdays and Givens Park on Sundays where there are family barbecues. I think we need something going on every day of the week."
NOOK's concern for others got him started in the rap game in the first place. "I was 7-going-on-8, and my cousin was getting married. I told her that I would write a rap for her. My mom is the type of person who says if you say you're going to do something, then do it! So we got this little poem together for my cousin. Rap is poetry, only the delivery is different. So when I would go through things, I would write as therapy to release my frustration. I would write about things and then rap it. I started doing talent shows and began touring through elementary and junior high. I also got to tour as a part of the Austin Housing Authority. I've been consistently doing shows since 1988. I would talk about dealing with stuff in a positive way, and I'm still following that today."
This positivity is what ultimately led to the creation of "Jump On It." Three years ago, local community artist Dorothy Turner had been given jurisdiction over the activities at Rosewood Park for a year. She wanted the activities to be by the youth and for the youth, so she sent out a call for ideas. NOOK stepped forward with his ideas and was asked to form a youth committee. In January of 1997 Turner set up a mirror organization of adults who would be available when needed, keeping in mind that the youngsters were in charge. The fruits of their labor resulted in the first "Jump On It," which started on May 21, 1997.
Before anyone is tempted to coo about the nice event the at-risk youth put together, they should hold their tongues. NOOK and his group are full-opportunity youth. "We chose to use the term 'full-opportunity youth' instead of 'at-risk youth.' When you say at-risk, it's a negative term put on youth if you're living a certain way, or living in a certain community. So we want to break down any negative perceptions as far as that an Austin are concerned."
Hopefully "Jump On It" is just the beginning.
Image of Mom Answers Should I / Shouldn't I by Kelli Ford
Disclaimer: Just because I missed Mothers Day does not mean I am taking this opportunity to re-win my best-daughter-in-the-world points....Honest.
It's a pleasant mid-May Austin day outside. I stand in cool, gray drizzles with the backpack I grabbed in the rushed moments after someone ran past my room shouting a red-faced, "Evacuate the building! It's real!" The parking lot (can this be far enough away?) adjacent to the old American Institute for Learning, a charter school downtown, is filled with clusters of high school students joking and asking questions of worried staff. The muffled rumor is a bomb threat -- just some kids with summer-time, hump-day fever wanting to go to the lake and drink some beer...surely. But the serious looks on some faces, the biting of bottom lips, and my own paranoid, racy heart tell another tale. Teen angst has a new and dangerous intensity these days. What if this is real?
I search the crowd for suspicious looking characters. You know, black-coated, acne-faced students who don't quite look like everyone else. Wait a minute; this is a charter school. No one here quite looks like everyone else! Oh God. I walk slowly away from the crowd. This is all just a bluff anyway. Oh, I wish I didn't work at a school.
What twisted thought. Schools should be havens for those children who have no other. Fear should only be associated with some punk bully and lunch money battles. Now, schools have become scary. My mind tells me shootings in schools are still isolated and random incidents, but my eyes dart around every few seconds....just to check. Isolated and random or not, even one such incident is pure insanity. Anyone who might find that statement overly dogmatic has already become too desensitized to feel whatever it is to which some of our children's actions are pointing.
My thoughts turn to my Mom as the "boys in blue" pull up. (A new respect for them -- at least the bomb squad -- grows as I see them enter a building I want to get as far away from as possible.) I don't know why I never had the urge to run through my high school Terminator-style mowing down those in my path. Granted, I grew up in slightly different times. I didn't have a computer in every room in my home. Okay, I didn't have a computer in any room in my house. (This is not a "technology is evil and it is killing our world" piece, don't worry.) I had a wonderful mom. (I had a pretty great dad too, but I haven't missed Father's Day yet.) She worked always to make sure we had what we did. She is my best friend, still. We fought. We cried. I got my butt beat with a belt when I went way out of line, so I rarely went way out of line. Simple. My mom was gone a lot because she had to work so much, but she always left me a note telling me something like this: "Be in by 8pm. We'll eat at Dairy Queen tonight. Please get the clothes out of the dryer and fold them. I love you more than anything in the world. Mom."
Before anything, I knew I was loved -- Dairy Queen three nights a week or not! I didn't have the Anarchist Cookbook or "Doom" beckoning me from my bedroom. If I had, I don't know how things would have been different. Something tells me maybe I would be a little less sensitive to violence, but in the end, the commanding image of Mom would have won over any bouts I might have with "should I or shouldn't I.'"
All uneasiness seems to be gone from almost all of the staff and students alike as we wander away into downtown Austin. The threat is just a hoax, but just to be sure, we'll go home for the day. I feel a little silly for being so scared, but I can nurse my psycholgical wounds from the comfort of home. And for the students lucky enough to have a ride, it looks like this hump-day will be spent at the lake after all.
An Interview with Nikki Giovanni by Sandra Beckmeier and Gretta Maxfield
ADA: What would you like to talk about? I had a list of questions, but I'm interested in knowing about the keynote speech.
Giovanni: You know if I can answer you in all respect -- I've always resented journalists doing things. I'm a sports fan, and ever since yesterday we've been doing this thing with Wayne: "Wayne Gretsky is going to announce his retirement." Let him announce it! They have all of this pre-announcing and then of course Sports Center comes on at 5pm here, 6pm in the real world. They say Wayne Gretsky may announce his retirement. No, he made his announcement at three o'clock this after-fucking-noon! And if everybody, [laughter] excuse me -- would quit anticipating, we would deal with news. But we never deal with news. Ever notice that?
Things happen and either we're getting reports on what will happen, right? Or we're getting reports on what has happened that they're late in doing. And so in terms of what I want to do in the keynote, I'm going to re-support your talk, but I don't like to do that because it sounds like I'm repeating myself. I hate grown-ups who read a speech to grown-ups because nobody enjoys hearing that. And you're standing up there and saying, "Today we are here to honor Heman Sweatt." I mean it's terrible. And everybody does because they have to pass it out. Do you know what I'm saying?
Giovanni: And what the press does -- and I'm not picking on the press -- but what they turn around and do is say they deviated from the written speech; but the written speech has never been given, so they had a right to deviate. So it drives you crazy.
ADA: Define revolution and how it differs and where you see it now, the difference between then and now.
Giovanni: Well, I think we sadly are seeing things that have to be put down just as the government is totally willing, and I'm not having a problem with trying to stop the so-called ethnic cleansing in Kosovo -- you know we're trying to stop that. I think that the government has to move, and I think that Clinton is right to vacate crimes. It's a separate sort of category and I know people have been laughing about that and I've been reading editorials that have been saying, "Oh what does that mean we'll give them double laughs ha, ha, ha, very funny." But you need to tell people you're not allowed to do that! You're not allowed to go and seduce a young man into your car and tie him up to a fence post and beat his brains out! You're not allowed -- in Alabama we had that same situation with a gay young man, you're not allowed to beat people to death. And then your reason for doing that is, "Oh, they were gay," as if everybody was supposed to say, "Oh, okay, I understand why you did that."
You're also not allowed, as we know in Jasper, Texas, to tie people up behind your pick-up truck. And so, clearly, whatever revolution means, it means a vigilance that we cannot allow one scapegoat to be indispersed for another because one thing that is extremely clear is that black, gay, or any other kind of difference, you just can't interchange it. So the same people that beat gays to death also beat their wives and fucked their daughters and that's a huge no-no. It's just not allowed! I hope that Clinton's bill is passed. I hope that it passes because people need to know. It's not just against the law because common sense says you shouldn't beat people. You don't have to be smart to know that, but it sends a message that says we take this seriously. Because there was a time if you beat your wife everybody thought, "Oh yeah, well, she probably annoyed him and the eggs were cold." And we laughed about that. And then finally the women got enough out of it and said, "Well no, this is not a good idea!" It has to stop and we need to send a message about the gay community too because I don't know what makes the gays so powerful. All the gays? I don't know, I've never seen gays tie up a straight guy and beat his brains out because he said no. It's certainly something that the black community needs to be in front of, and so I've been very disappointed with the response of the black community. I think that the black community is afraid of being identified with the "out" group, and yet the black community is the "out" group. If it wasn't the gays that they are beating to death now, it used to be us.
ADA: I've heard it called "crimes of ignorance."
Giovanni: I don't think it's crimes of ignorance, I think it's crimes of evil. I think they thought they could get away with it. Somebody else said if ignorance can't be the question then education can't be the answer. It's not ignorance. It's not stupidity that makes two sort of half-drunk college boys decide to beat to death another. It's something fun about beating people. I don't beat people so I don't know what fun it is. I don't want to beat people because I don't want to take a chance that it might be the thrill of my life. But clearly it's fun to kill people and clearly it's fun to dominate people. You know that because too many people do it. Clearly it's a kick, and it's probably the same kind of kick that you shouldn't do because once you do it, it's very difficult to stop. We can't ignore that, so what we're going to do is we're going to stop it before it gets an opportunity. The same way we don't want you to do drugs, you know. It's not because drugs stop you from working -- you're not working any damn way. We don't want you to do drugs because clearly you would slit my throat to get money to do drugs. So the way that I protect my throat is that I suggest that you not do it. I guess the other way would be that I find a way to make drugs cheap. Because as long as we keep it illegal we know that we're going to have a problem. We don't want people on drugs because it is an ectasy. I don't do drugs because I wouldn't trust myself to do drugs. I never did and I never will. I'm a control freak, but clearly it's an ecstasy, and that's what people say and everybody can't be lying. The Menendez brothers shooting their parents because they could have killed them -- alot easier than what they did. It was fun!
And that's why we have war. That's one of the reasons why I support women for example, women in the military. It's one of the reasons men don't because men have a good time. They go off and they don't have to bathe, they don't have to shave, they don't have to brush their teeth. Whatever they find that they want to fuck, they can, and they can kill it. And everybody has a good time, and I think we need to send some women in, because when the women come in it's no longer fun. And that's what they're complaining about women in the military. It's not fun. All these blood sports, something's wrong with it!
Slam is an outgrowth of hip-hop culture which says that poetry has a voice, and a meaningful voice.
ADA: How do you go about teaching poetry?
Giovanni: I'm a very traditional poet. I'm basically a lyric poet and my kids do rap -- and that's fine. I don't have a problem with that. I just want to make sure they know poetic tongues, that they know what they're doing. My job is to make sure they have all of the tools available.
Millennium Youth Project by Wayne Wilson
"It's a good thing if they really built it for the black community, but is it gonna stay that way?"
Those were among the first words spoken to me by Bruce Simmons, a resident in the immediate area surrounding the Millennium Youth Entertainment Center located at 2334 Rosewood. The facility is predicted by many to be another spark in the East Side's economic upliftment plans. The site will hold a performance stage, bowling lanes, roller skating, a food court, and a couple of movie theaters. With the Givens and Rosewood recreation centers in close proximity, and the Boys and Girls Club center not far down the road, the area has the potential of becoming the youth activity mecca for Austin. The new youth center should be open seven days a week with free admission Sunday through Thursday, and a $2-$5 cover Friday and Saturday. However, in spite of all the opening arrangements, there flows a definite undercurrent of suspicion.
"I don't understand why it took so long to build," Simmons says while eying the beautiful new facility. His conversation never lacks in enthusiasm for a safe entertainment area for youth, but it is plagued with questions of cost for entrance into the facility, cost of skates, movies, etc., and if these costs will reflect the set income of some of the families in the neighborhood.
"We already have youth programs in the area. Are they gonna work together, or is this just another band-aid?"
Located across the street from the facility on Chicon St. is the University of Texas Longhorns Program. Raymond Coleman, director of the program, is excited that the facility is almost complete. He has definite plans to utilize the new space in coordination with their programs, which work with 19 schools in the Austin Independent School District -- which in turn equals about 2,100 children between the ages of 8 and 14 years old. The Millennium complex, along with the new track and field arena, places neighborhood Longhorn headquarters in the optimum area for youth activities, especially during the summer months.
The optimism for the children never dulls, yet there still remains the lingering questions that often surround business ventures with good hearts in need of government money. And many people deserve ovations for sticking it out, despite the red tape. John Yancey, the chairman for the Arts in Public Places Panel, sincerely commended the Central City Entertainment Board -- a board which coordinated most of the buildings' unfoldings and was partly comprised of young people from the East Austin community. Yancy also emphasized that the kids stuck with their goals through years of bureaucracy, and for that they should be commended -- Jennifer Cole-Dole and Michael Bryant to name just a couple. Yancey and fellow Arts in Public Places Panel member Nailah Sankofa emphasized the point that children need more to do than just hang out and/or be entertained. "The new complex does not really reflect a fun + culture + arts concept, nor does it provide a space for the adults in families or the more mature audience in the area to come and enjoy." But they both agree that the site mirrors the mindset of the average teenager.
"There had been suggestions made about including an observation deck, maybe above the skating rink, so parents could watch from there. Especially for the preteens, 7 and 8 years old -- they are a little too young to just be dropped off at the complex," Sankofa said. "I just hope the children never forget why the center was ever built!"
It has been almost seven years since the tragic death of Tamika Ross and the wounding of five others in a church parking lot, and finally her spirit is tangible again in the manifestation of the new youth center scheduled to open in June. Eighteen-year-old Marvin Johnson stated it best: "The new place will be good for kids that don't have anywhere to go, that are just chillin' with nothing to do."
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
High and Low Tech Signifiers
At the most recent DiverseArts Sunday Salon, I was treated to a happening presented by Nomadic Festival, a ragtag band of cultural rebels. As the sun slowly melted into an orange glow, the young nomads applied circus makeup, set up their assemblage of high and low tech musical instruments (Australian digiridoos, an African djembe, a European accordian, an effects module hooked through a small PA system), unravelled their oil-soaked chains and batons, and prepared for their evening firedance.
I could talk about the costumes, the fire breathing, the fire eating, the hoola hoops, and of course the nubile, scantily clad, undulating fire dancers, but the focus of this column is more specifically about music, so I'll just say: Seek them out, wherever they perform. Get close; get singed.
The eclectic and self-invented approach of the nomads carries over into their music. A rhythmic pulse to accompany the dancers was provided by a mix of African drum and pre-recorded samples. On top of this, two digiridoo players aimed their tubes into a microphone which went through the effects processor to create a throbbing aura at once ancient and very modern. Finally the accordian player sent popular melodies (evoking traditional circus music), along with surreal dissonances through the effects processor to create a complex musical texture. The result was a striking and moody sonic frame for the visual ritual.
What gives musical accompaniment its emotional meaning? Clearly not all music fits with all visual presentations. That's why movie soundtracks are so carefully assembled (and why some of them are glaringly wrong). The answer to this question has to do with what the music signifies for its listeners. Musical sounds are culturally encoded, that is, they have ready-made meanings attached to them. Madison Avenue figured this out a long time ago. Just listen to the music accompanying TV ads and you will notice clear cultural markers. This is why advertisers avoid music which is too ambiguous or too socially marginal. Its cultural meaning hasn't been firmly established yet and so cannot be readily exploited.
Technology within music is also a cultural marker. If we hear traditional instruments like hand drums and wooden flutes, we think "tribal" or "ethnic." If we hear acoustic guitars we think "folk." If we hear sampled drumbeats and electric bass we think "urban" or "contemporary." Some musicians use these markers in predictable ways, others in more experimental ways.
The proliferation of ethnic-sounding electronic samples in New Age music is a good example. The music is supposed to be about relaxation, meditation, healing. Traditional cultures have ancient, time-tested approaches to these goals involving various rituals, and music accompanies these rituals. Now this music has been sampled and put on computer chips. Press a button and out comes a sound that evokes traditional culture. Some might say this is a bit hypocritical, or at least flakey.
On the other hand, some musicians use cultural markers in unpredictable ways, to comment on preconceived ideas, or to create new blends of sounds which transgress set cultural boundaries and open up the ears and the mind to new conceptions. Thus we have new musical sub-genres like "tribal chant," "urban jungle" and "progressive country." Some, like genetically engineered fat substitutes, can cause nausea and other internal disorders. But some can point the way to new musical heights.
All this was running through my mind as I listened to the eclectic mix of high and low tech musical sounds produced by the nomads. They were playing nothing very earth-shattering or new, but they were able to create a mood which complemented the dance ritual, playful yet intense, a little sexy, a little dangerous, and in some ways connected to an ancient spirit which has inspired so many human rituals.
November 2, 1998, on the Eve of Becoming an American Citizen by Liliana Valenzuela
Not me, not I
a gringa I would never be
gritos de "muera el imperialismo yanqui"
resonando en mi cabeza
yo, la Malinche,
"there is always me-search in research"
going full circle
me an American
a bona fide Chicana chayote-head
My life is here now
raising my bilingual chilpayates
married, metida hasta las chanclas
in this brave new world.
una Nutella bicolor
vainilla y chocolate
dual citizenship, at least,
los politicos en Mexico finally woke up
to us "raza" on this side of the border.
Welcome Paisano, Bienvenido Amigo,
hasta que se les prendió el foco, cabrones.
Ahora sí, pásenle, que su nopal está lleno de tunas.
Aquí en la frontera, en el no-man's-land,
mujer puente, mujer frontera, mujer Malinche.
Ahora sí, cuando me chiflen por la calle
me podrán decir "gringuita" y por primera vez
lo seré, una bolilla, una gabacha,
mis ojos azules y cabello rubio por fin
corresponderán a los estereotipos de la gente
"But you don't look Mexican..."
Enton's ¿qué parezco? ¿acaso tengo changos en la cara?
When I die, spread my ashes along the Rio Grande,
the Rio Bravo, where I once swam naked.
© 1999 Liliana Valenzuela, winner of Austin International Poetry Festival's 1999 Christina Sergeyevna Award, First Place. Published in AIPF Trés Di-Verse-City Anthology.
Out of the Mouths of Babes by Stazja McFadyen
"The pen is mightier than the sword," wrote 19th Century author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. These days, the old ballpoint is hard pressed to meet the challenge. Modern weapons are more formidable than mere swords. With mass media bringing us so much troubling news, it's enough to send you to Office Depot for a battalion of Bic's®. You might hand some out to your children, while you are at it.
James Bailey, an LBJ High School Science Academy student, penned these timely words in his poem, "Another February 16th":
"Sometimes I think
that life is filled with potholes,
instead of land minds,
but moments like these make me realize
all the time bombs placed in our lives
are tests toward a greater war,
a war with ourselves."
Bailey is among 32 area youth poets published in Austin Younger Poets Award Anthology 1999, edited by Frank Pool, chairman of the Austin International Poetry Festival.
In addition to the Austin Younger Poets contest, the 1999 AIPF began community outreach programs such as the "poetry slam" in The Park at Austin's Children's Hospital. Visiting guest poet Alan Kaufman launched the inaugural slam on April 13, assisted by English poet Jamuna and AIPF board member Dr. Byron Kocen. The children's poems were compiled in a mini anthology, "Wildflowers," which includes this piece by Raul Mendoza:
La genta cree que estoy contento cuando
Me ve sonreir pero es un poco de tanta alegría
Que tenia antes de mi enfermnedad pero mi gran Ilusíon es volver a México y ser el mismo de Anes pero si no es asi estare igual de contento
Porque tengo mi vida y mi familia.
People think I am contented when they
see me smile but it is a small happiness that I had before my illness
but my great dream is to return to Mexico and be the same as I was before.
But if this is not to be
I will be as contented
because I have my life and my family.
Kaufman wrote in the "Wild Flowers" preface, "The young patients received us a little warily at first, but in no time, poetry was jamming in the joint. One nurse kept score. Cynthia Fitzpatrick, the social director, served as impromptu translator for a patient whose mother tongue was Spanish. Byron gave pointers on writing while Jamuna played dramatic drum rolls on his bongos. The kids got to writing. Then one by one they took the stage to strut their stuff. Raul Mendoza, Troy Gilliam and Melanie blew us away with poems written on the spot in less time than you can say 'Yeats!' These kid champions give meaning to the word courage and offer proof positive that poetry is alive and well in every human heart."
AIPF is among several local educational and arts organizations assisting youths to put their pens to task.
Poets United, created by members of Huston-Tillotson College's Community Service Partnership Project, produced an anthology titled Pages of Power. The intergenerational collection including pieces written by children of the Rosewood Family Learning Center during Dr. Marvin Kimbrough's English 303 class tutorial visit to Rosewood.
Deborah Orr of Outreach Productions is currently seeking poems by school children for an upcoming anthology, The Youth Have A Million Voices. Poetry in the Schools annual contests are sponsored by the Austin Poetry Society. This year's participants included nearly two hundred students from fourteen area schools. Awards and cash prizes were presented at the Austin Poetry Society's 50th Anniversary Annual Awards on May 15.
On a national level, WritersCorps "has helped more than 12,000 people in some of America's most disadvantaged neighborhoods express an inner truth that previously lay dormant or denied" since its inception in 1994. In the fall of 1997, coordinator Nancy Schwalb started the Washington, D.C.-based Youth Poetry Slam League in four middle schools. The YPSL now reaches into every middle school in the District of Columbia, with expansion teams in San Francisco and the Bronx. Utilizing volunteer instructors, YPSL conducts workshops "to introduce and expose youth to creative writing as a way to cultivate self-expression, build community, and recognize and validate creative and intellectual ability."
Borders Books and Music has partnered up with WritersCorps, underwriting the 1998-1999 interscholastic YPSL tour. "As a company we are extremely excited about our association with WritersCorps and that we are able to support the youth voices," said Ann Binkley, Borders spokesperson in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
With Borders stores as venues, the YPSL tour kicked off in San Francisco on January 23, and wrapped up with "Bring In Da Slam III" before a standing room only audience estimated at 700 in Washington, D.C. on May 15.
For those of you who have never attended a poetry slam, it is a poetry competition judged half on content and half on performance. A panel of five judges rate each poet on a scale of 0 to 10, with the top score and bottom score thrown out. Slams often begin with a "sacrificial poem" to give the judges a chance to warm up.
With National Public Radio's Ray Suarez serving as master of ceremonies, Borders CEO Bob DiRomualdo delivered the first sacrificial poem at "Bring In Da Slam III." He couldn't hold a candle to the poetic talents of his YPSL co-commissioners, Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and the Slam Pappy himself, Marc Smith. He was a good sport, nonetheless, breaking the ice for the six YPSL contenders to take on the competing team of veterans: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor, Nikki Giovanni, D.J. Renegade, Quincy Troupe, Grace Cavalieri, and Jeffrey McDaniel.
The YPSL team was made up of Shonnell Shelton and Michael Billups from Washington, D.C.; Tabia Brown and Jason Gamio from The Bronx, N.Y; and Kethan Hubbard and Natriece Spicer from San Francisco.
Natriece's aunt Lannay lives in Washington, D.C. She had never attended a slam before. But when Natriece earned a perfect 30 on her performance in the final round, Aunt Lannay didn't need anyone to explain what the standing ovation was all about.
The YPSL team took down the competition and took home the trophies. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.
Perhaps the pen is still up to the task, after all.
Texas Young Playwrights Festival'99 by Shilanda Woolridge
In June, six aspiring playwrights will descend upon Austin to participate in the Dougherty Art Center's Texas Young Playwrights Festival. Actually, the Texas Young Playwrights Festival is already in full swing. George Ramirez, the coordinator of the Texas Young Playwrights Festival, started the ball rolling during fall semester last year. He sent out 3,000 posters to different schools and school districts in the state of Texas calling for submissions of original one act plays. The students are allowed to collaborate, but there can only be up to three writers per piece. The plays were due January 29, 1999, and all entrants must have been under the age of 19 on that day to qualify. There is no age minimum, however, and the youngest entrant this year was 9 years old.
When all the pieces were in, Ramirez hired readers and playwrights to look through the pieces and give him suggestions. One would assume that Ramirez was looking for young prodigies, but he was actually digging for diamonds in the rough. "I tell the readers to look for plays that are well-written or developed to the point that they can still be worked on and made better. Some of the plays that don't move forward are the ones that are too advanced or polished. We go for those who might need a little more help. We are also interested in diversity and different voices."
Ramirez and his readers started with 90 plays and cut them down to 24. He then enlisted the help of Susan Deter and her students. Deter is a Dramaturgy instructor from the University of Texas at Austin. A dramaturg is someone who assists in playwriting and helps the playwright think outside the book. Her class of 12 students tackled two plays apiece, and chose 12 plays for participation in the Day of Dramaturgy. This took place on a Saturday in April and was an eight-hour commitment for everyone. The 12 playwrights came to Austin to meet their dramaturg and talk about their play. A coordinator cast each of the plays and recruited volunteers to read from them. After the reading, there was a critique session of the plays. The Day of Dramaturgy is exciting, but it's the beginning for some and the end for others, because there are two more stages and more cuts to be made. Ramirez sees it a little differently: "If the playwrights make it to the Day of Dramaturgy, then they should consider themselves a winner at that point."
The next stage takes place this month. Six of the young playwrights were chosen to come to Austin, and five will be in attendance. They will be here from June 13-19 and will live and board in the Jester Dormitory at the UT Austin campus. A male and female mentor are hired to chaperone them, and they will have supervision 24 hours a day. Throughout the week the playwrights will participate in workshops and will have the chance to do re-writes on their plays. In the evenings, the students will be taken to programs at Esther's Follies, Hyde Park Theatre, Zachary Scott Theatre, and other local venues. The tickets are donated in support of the festival. "We try to bring the students to a different performance every night," says Ramirez. The students' final day in Austin will be capped off with a polished rehearsed reading of their work.
The last stage involves a collaboration with the Austin Circle of Theatres (ACOT). "They assist us in having three of the plays produced," explains Ramirez. This will take place in August on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This time it's a complete production with lighting, costumes, and rehearsals." The playwrights don't have much to do with the bare-bones production of their plays.
"As soon as they are done [in June] they are kinda out of the loop. When I receive their play, they receive an itinerary with all the dates. I let them know that there's a possibility they'll make it all the way through, so please make sure they'll be available to be in town for these dates," says Ramirez.
Three of the following playwrights will have their one act plays come to life in August. Please look to ACOT and this magazine for more information this August.
- Gavin Dahl, Austin: Afraid of Americans
Heath Hamrick, Bremond: Doves in the Gale
(Repeat performer; he made it all the way through last year.)
- Jaulik Foster, Dallas: Two Wet Ducks
- Amelia Starr, Dallas: Inside's Out
- Keri Ward, Marindale: Pals
- Rebecca Whitehurst, Austin: Paper Doll Army
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
June is Jazz in Austin
It's the first week of June and I am not up to my neck in pre-production craziness. For the first time in 10 years I am not trying to tie-up loose ends, get contracts signed, keep the bank account in the black, get everything ready for Jazz Fest.
For the last ten years, June for me has been all about joy and pain, hot fun in the summertime, good music and team work. For the last ten years for me June has been all about, first, producing the Clarksville (now Austin) Jazz and Arts Festival, then trying as best I could to recover from it. During the course of the 1990s, for me, June really has been "Jazz Month in Austin." And although we have moved the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival to September for 1999, this June still looks pretty good for jazz in Austin.
By the time you read this, Dianne Reeves, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy McGriff, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Earl Harvin, and a host of equally stellar sidemen will have come, performed, and left Austin jazz fans all the more enriched from their passing through. Chucho Valdez is due in town soon. Tina Marsh's annual summer Creative Opportunity Orchestra concert at Laguna Gloria is on the horizon and the clubs have beefed up their jazz offerings for the month. Indeed, for 1999, June IS Jazz Month in Austin. To be very clear, for Austin these bookings, this programming is some heavy stuff for such a short time span, regardless of the month. Whether you went to or will go to these shows or not, you gotta commend the producers for bringing to Austin a taste of the international jazz scene. We don't get nearly enough of this stuff. And the real deal here is that unless these shows turn, unless these shows pay for themselves, you are not likely to see this kind of adventurous booking around here on a regular basis.
And you know what, this ain't really about being adventurous at all. In any major urban market in America these shows -- including the CO2 -- would be safe risks for the producer/promoters. Why oh why would a show with the last of the major dudes of B-3 organ be a heavy risk? Why would a Dianne Reeves concert -- an elegant-but-down-home, sit-down show in the city's premier concert hall, featuring one of the heiresses apparent to the jazz diva throne -- be a big risk in any other major American city? On the heels of her new Blue Note album, in a city that has never hosted one of her concerts, the show should be a sellout, right ? Why would the city's only contemporary big band showcase ensemble for new improvisatory works, Tina and CO2, not be able to get the attention of local media and jazz heads in its hometown?
Why oh why does Austin continue to be stuck in this place of claiming to be the live music capital of the universe, of being the cultural capital of Texas, and still be so far outside of the expectations of us folks who have some idea of what these attributions would really mean in another major market, major cultural center, major American city that actually has an urbane cultural scene? Perhaps I've answered my own questions here. Perhaps we Austinites should adopt a more realistic view of the urban reality with which we are working. The results of this month's jazz offerings will offer us some clues on this.
Is the Austin cultural scene really up to all of the hype from the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau? Is it just marketing hype? Or should these folks try to be more specific about their claims? Maybe Austin should claim to be the bar band capital of the universe. I ain't got the answer, I'm just a participant observer.
Maybe the folks who identify themselves (ourselves) as the jazz community ought to make sure that we are represented in all of these "official" discussions about the music scene here. Maybe, traditionally, jazzheads just ain't into that kinda political and marketing crap. Maybe that means a new tradition ought to emerge. Maybe jazzheads should realize that we need to stand up and be counted -- be counted in terms of our buying power, our influence in the local market, be counted in terms of what we will support for the commercial interests in this market. Maybe we need to show up and let the commercial sector know we are a reasonable risk, if indeed we really are. Maybe we need to make sure that those traditional funders of the classical arts -- and those others who always seem to put their money behind the myriad of Austin beer parties and rock shows -- know that jazz is a great marketing tool for their good names (and logos).
Jazz in Austin needs to more consistently demonstrate a greater potential for bankable market share in the local music scene. In short, jazz in Austin needs to make somebody (musicians at the top of the list) some money. Jazz in Austin needs to be supported, underwritten, treated like the important non-commercial entity that it is. The challenge is to do that AND make somebody some money (and yes, I do know that what I just said is really a contradiction. But maybe that is how we should try to look at this). If real and significant corporate underwriting is not happening, jazz has to do commerce. And that should not be totally offensive to us. Unless either or both becomes reality, touring jazz in Austin will be the thing we want, but can't afford.
From my perspective, much of the cure for the ailment has everything to do with proactive involvement of traditional financial supporters of the arts and cultural programs in this city. If Dell (mentioned here simply as an example of the new high tech industry arts patrons of late) gives millions of dollars to support the continuation in Austin of European classical arts traditions, why can't they do more to ensure that jazz lives in Austin? Maybe in time, this group of new Austinites will figure this one out and support a wider range of worthy cultural causes. And to be fair, those of us in the jazz business, in the nonprofit arts world need to engage these folks in dialogue that educates them on our perspective and the potential benefit of supporting diversity in this fast paced, growing market.
In the meanwhile...
This June, for the first time in recent memory, commercial promoters (Mark Collins and partners/backers of the Mercury Club) are actually stepping out there and offering us a unified package of world class jazz goods that merits the title of "festival." This is generally, at least in Austin, the province of the nonprofit cultural arts organizations. To their credit, the Mercury has for the past year done a very good job of presenting artists and shows that otherwise would have passed Austin by. With Jimmy Smith and variations of Roy Hargrove ensembles providing the consistent core of their most popular and successful touring shows, the Mercury has done much to turn new audiences on to jazz music. For the first time in years, there are actually veteran jazzheads going to Sixth Street to see shows. More importantly, there are actually Sixth Street regulars, young hipsters who are going to hear jazz. For some, the Mercury has probably been responsible for first exposure to the likes of Smith, Hargrove, et al.
As well, Collins and crew have opened their doors to other new and young producer/promoters of jazz and blues in Austin. Carl Settles' Revolution of the Bluez and Jazz Revolution shows and Noel Waggoner's first production attempts have benefited from the Mercury's open-minded approach to developing new audiences and business networks. And because of limitations of the actual physical space of the Mercury, this June's Austin Music Fest demonstrates that Collins' vision (and booking tastes) are bigger than his smallish Sixth Street club. In the festival's first outing, working arrangements with Direct Events' Back Yard and Clifford Antone's blues nightclub made possible what is essentially a new jazz festival of regional significance. And if you take a good look at the posters and ads for the Austin Music Fest, you'll notice that evidence of sponsorship support is virtually invisible -- where are the "sponsored by" logos and tags?
A night of B-3 giants at Antone's and Tito and Eddie the next day at the Back Yard, no matter how you add up the numbers, amounts to a very expensive weekend for the promoters. Since there didn't seem to be a host of advertising and money sponsors signed up to support the fest, I'm really hoping that Mark and Company got the kinds of crowds necessary to pay for the shows. Commercial promoters here in Austin have simply not put themselves out there like this. Mercury Productions deserves a positive nod for the effort, and the risk. The Austin Music Fest was a commercial, for-profit venture. And because of this it, could not be funded by grants and sponsorship support at a level that approximates underwriting. In order for a jazz production like this to survive, it has to make somebody some money. I hope it succeeded.
After all these years
Before I had any conversations with the Mercury folks about the Austin Music Fest, before I saw any press releases or posters, I first heard the rumors among the ranks of Austin's jazz scenesters. The early word on the street was that Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Smith, Roy Hargrove, and Tito Puente were headed to town for the Mercury's new jazz festival. I repeat, this was the rumor on the street. But I gotta tell you, my first feelings were a weird mix of surprise, joyful anticipation and wonder, and way down at the bottom of my stomach was some uneasiness.
And I had to ask myself, "With such an impressive lineup of jazz stars, the kind of folks who rarely come to Austin, why was this making me feel uncomfortable?"
Well, I'll tell you. It seemed that in the instant that I'd given up on making a June jazz festival work in Austin, given up because of poor funding, poor turn out, HOT-HOT-HOT weather, sponsors not meeting their commitments, and, very honestly, not having the kind of organizational support necessary to reach the appropriate audience and funding sources for a nonprofit jazz festival, the Mercury comes along with a line up that just blows my mind. I asked myself, after all these years of trying to convince this market to support a major jazz festival, how'd they get the backing necessary to put this show up (I asked myself those questions with fresh memories of actually losing money on a great McCoy Tyner concert just a few years ago)?
I must admit that the notion made me feel like my investment in bringing jazz to Austin, the risks we've taken, the educating we've done with the Clarksville and Austin Jazz and Arts Festivals was simply never going to show a return. I moved our festival to September as a last effort to save the concept and all of the sudden June is full or touring jazz and a new festival produced in the same time frame as our traditional period. And, the headliners just happen to be two acts that I first brought to Austin, Jimmy Smith and Roy Hargrove. After deserting it, was I feeling that my turf was being invaded?
Well, yes that was the initial feeling. It passed. The truth of the matter is that Austin needs more touring jazz shows to come to town. I left June behind to seek cooler temperatures and more students. That doesn't mean that June is Jazz follows. The Mercury filled the space in a way that our nonprofit festival could not financially afford.
And since my new saying is, "Jazz in Austin has to make somebody some money," and because Austin's traditional supporters of nonprofit art and culture institutions are stepped in the European classical tradition, those of us who work in the nonprofit jazz world have to find the key to leveraging support for our efforts.
High-tech America, new Austinites, new millionaires: the Symphony needs your support. So does the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival.
Verities by Rachel Staggs
In April of this year I challenged myself in a way that I never have before. The Austin Cinemaker Co-op put together an interesting project, "Make A Film In A Weekend," where filmmakers had two days to shoot a one-reel, in-camera edited Super8 film. Without viewing the finished product, participants were then to create a soundtrack for the film. I found this very intriguing. Honestly, I was most interested in developing the soundtrack, for I am not a filmmaker. So, without a plot or plan, I dove into the ocean of filmmaking.
Friday, April 9th at 5pm I arrived at the Artplex to pick up my "mystery prop." Everyone was given a prop to incorporate into his or her film. Our mystery prop happened to be children's block letters. Every filmmaker reached into a grocery bag full of blocks and randomly chose seven. After an hour of waiting, I was introduced to the camera that would be mine for the weekend. With my basic Super8 rented camera and no real training, I set out to make an avant-garde art film.
Saturday, April 10th was an extremely busy day in my life and time was limited. I called several places looking to buy film for the project. My desire was to film in color. Filmmakers were told that color Kodachrome film would not be accepted due to its long processing time. I searched for color film all over Austin (most places were sold out), and finally found a store that was not out of stock. I hurried over, frustrated to find that there were only two types of color film available. One was the Kodachrome and the other had "chrome" in the name. I tried calling the Cinemaker Co-op for help because I know absolutely nothing about Super8 film; no one was there. I was afraid that I would buy this other type of color film and it would also have a long processing time, thus I would be eliminated from the project. So I bought black and white film, came home, loaded the camera, and took off for Bass Concert Hall where I experienced the Broadway sensation of Rent. Upon returning home, I shot the title card before the sun went down.
It all came down to Sunday, April 11th. Beginning in my bedroom, I created several paintings encompassing the agony of being wronged by a lover. Almost like a silent film, these paintings spoke without sound. I had this ethereal image of myself covered in silver body paint from the waist up. My eyes were circled in black and my hair was completely covered in blue shimmer pomade. Instead of being afraid of this "fantasy me," I decided to bring it to life and share it with everyone in this short film. After an hour of work, I was transformed into an otherworldly creature. My friend Travis, who shot this segment of the film, said I looked like a figure from a Gustav Klimt painting. I then cooked the mystery block letters in my 1954 oven and completed the film with shots of angels that I glazed in a ceramics class years ago.
With no way to really edit the film or even see what shots came out, I dropped off my reel entitled "The Moment" about 15 minutes before it was due.
Still covered in silver and blue paint, I filled out a contract and developed a tagline. I was a bit overwhelmed at this point and nervous about others experiencing the vulnerable place I had created. My life tends to be scattered and connected at the same time. The word random comes to mind. "Randomness Is Bliss" was my tagline and maybe my life's swan song.
Making this film was a therapeutic process. I brought out old relationship baggage to draw from and hopefully put to rest forever.
Sunday evening I had a difficult time cleaning the pomade off of my body. My hair was a different story -- not only was it difficult, but impossible. It was greasy and extremely attached to my hair shaft. I had plans to bid farewell to the Electric Lounge that night, so I left the medusa hair in place. I danced the night away and had a fabulous time. Early Monday morning I received a call from my father. He told me that my grandmother, Mattie, passed away during the night while I was dancing. She had been living with Alzheimer's Disease for several years, so it was not a shock, but the news was heartbreaking just the same. As I prepared to leave town for the funeral, I compiled my soundtrack. I used excerpts from four songs I wrote and performed on, along with poetry written by my friend Paisley. I closed the soundtrack with a short poem I wrote about the death of my grandmother. Upon leaving town, I dropped off my soundtrack, not sure if it would coincide with my film.
I had plenty of time to work myself into a frantic state worrying that my film would suck. I thought about the audience viewing my breasts during those Klimt moments and became quite self-conscious. I even remember saying to my friend Paula, who accompanied me to the screening, "maybe it will all turn out black." Well, most of it did.
My grandmother died the day I created The Moment and maybe her spirit came through it. After the title card ran the film went black and my soundtrack took over, which included strong music and lyrics. In the black stillness and ambient music a single candle lit up the screen. Paisley's beautiful poetry fell from my lips as one angel with a glowing light above her head graced us with her presence and lingered. Experiencing Mattie's death and connecting to her spirit through this film was a moment I never expected.
Someone I barely know spoke to me about a week after the screening. He said he was going through the program reading the tag lines before the films began. He read "Randomness Is Bliss" and wondered in disbelief if someone could really create that feeling. He told me that I did capture the essence of that phrase and it was beautiful. Thank you, Michael.
Yes, I learned a bit about Super8 filmmaking and the fact that shooting indoors requires better lighting. But I walked away from the whole process with a larger understanding of myself. To me that was more important than impressing the masses with my Super8 skill. I do have a new desire to increase my knowledge in this area, and luckily the Cinemaker Co-op has opportunities for the novice and the experienced filmmaker -- side by side.
Just as it was therapeutic to create this piece, not having control over what others would see was a lesson in letting go. I had "my moment" that Sunday afternoon. I was a goddess. Those who saw my film had a moment as well, but it was their own.