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V5N8: November 1999

 

Austin Downtown
Arts Magazine

November 1999
Volume 5 Number 8



Table of Contents

The Greatness that was Greece by Jan Houston. 1

Lessons for Doula by Sandra Beckmeier. 2

Mady Kaye: A Singer for All Seasonsby Paul Klemperer. 3

Jazz singer Mady Kaye is both an entertainer and a historian. She is one of the most respected and sought after voice instructors in Austin.

Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer. 4

I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that another live music venue here in Austin has decided that jazz doesn't sell enough drinks. The club shall remain unnamed, but the story is older than I am.

Polaroid Bad by Sandra Beckmeier. 5

Rock en Español: Latino Rock Alliance Unites Latino Artists of Various Genres by Tom Benton. 6

The band simply rocks, plying a guitar-fueled crunch that undeniably validates their citing of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine as influences in their biography.

Slam: the Word Sport by Stazja McFadyen. 10

The most frequently asked question about slam poetry is summed up in three little words: "What is it?"

Sun Ra Arkestra Returns to Austin for Extravaganza by Rashah Amen. 13

One of America's true musical treasures, the Arkestra is one of a few music institutions that swings in the tradition of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, as well as create new and exciting music of the future-now.

Up All Night by Harold McMillan. 15

There are those times when most of my time is spent just trying to figure out just what it is that I want/need to be doing here.

Verities by Paul Klemperer. 16

What makes you happy?

 

 



The Greatness that was Greece by Jan Houston

...is yet alive
beyond the lofty ruins
of a dusty myth
its fate cast from Olympus
like scattered artifacts
among the armless statues of
alabaster gods and goddesses
honed featureless
by the winds of time
riddled in salt air
on an Aegean shore
longing for life
in the touch of a stranger
from a golden age

The greatness that was Greece
Abides not in cracked columns
standing sentinel on an acropolis
hosting Aristotle vs. Plato
in the echoes of an empty Parthenon
where spirits whisper
to ancestors centuries removed...
they speak to me
in the tongue of young Diogenes...
still at war for Helen
still in love with Aphrodite
their minds bring welcome gifts
of wisdom to the future
and wreathes of victory
and through their knowing eyes
I watch the launching
of a marathon for freedom
run down narrow streets
into the teeming city
to light a simple torch
on Grecian soil

The greatness that was Greece
is yet alive...
born in the cradle of democracy
alive in all things glorious
and strong
The greatness that was Greece
is yet alive...
for the loving of humanity
is not an ancient art
and truth survives us all

©1999 Jan Houston.
Jan Houston is a poet, musician and human rights activist. She lives in Plano.

 



Lessons for Doula by Sandra Beckmeier

Baby enters the WORLD
to walk a long road, to walk on his own
we rejoice the long way he came

the long way road!

He enters the WORLD
the big old sun hiding behind the clouds
because he was so beautiful
the sun was scared to shine yet on his face!

The world is all around him
We feel his pains
The early pains
We're feeling mommas pains
Where will he be? He's here!

Joy is momma says he's hungry
Joy is he
Joy is the dance of the innocents
Joy's gonna teach us how

As we work, work, work
And learn until we can't learn no more
so sweet this work, this work
Live and learn

 


Mady Kaye: A Singer for All Seasonsby Paul Klemperer

Jazz singer Mady Kaye is both an entertainer and a historian. She is one of the most respected and sought after voice instructors in Austin, both because of the precision of her technique and her extensive knowledge of singing styles. For years she has been performing the music she loves to a wide array of audiences, from smokey bars to restaurants to theaters. No matter what the venue is, her exacting talent and expressiveness brings out the essence of her material. As one reviewer put it, "She declaims her text like a reader of fine poetry."

Mady Kaye's 1997 release, Songs For All Seasons provides a good sample of her abilities, mixing jazz standards with original numbers, backed by some of the best jazz players in Austin, including A.D. Mannion on drums, Mitch Watkins on guitar, and Tony Campise on saxophone, just to name a few. Her thoughtful interpretations highlight her vocal expertise, from art song to bebop.

In April of 1998 Kaye's performing took a new direction when she was asked to give a lecture in the Learning Activities for Mature People (LAMP) series. The subject was the "Lyricist in the Golden Age of Song, the music of the 1920's and '30's." It was a chance to share the stories behind the songs and the legendary writers responsible for so many jazz standards. (For example, did you know that songwriter Irving Mills first published Duke Ellington's songs and helped secure his place in the pantheon of Tin Pan Alley?)

The success of this lecture inspired Kaye to expand the historical presentation into a musical tribute to Tin Pan Alley, a 30-song one-woman show, with musical accompaniment by her husband Spike on bass and Jeff Helmer on piano. Blending narration, historical anecdotes, period costumes and musical numbers, the cabaret style show was performed at Zachary Scott Theater on August 13-15 of this year to capacity crowds.

It was a great experience for her and for her audience. When I spoke with her, she began to describe the show, reconstructing the atmosphere and even growing wistful as she described her full-length beaded and sequinned gowns. The fact that the shows sold out made her realize it could have played for a long time.

Fortunately for her many fans, Kaye decided to record the Zach Scott show as a live CD. Edited down to 72 minutes of music and narration, it will be released as Mady Kaye Goes Cabaret: A Tribute To Tin Pan Alley and will include many classic songs, including "Forty-Second Street," "Puttin' On The Ritz," and "Lullabye Of Birdland."

Mady Kaye will celebrate her new offering with a CD release party on Saturday, November 13, 8 pm, at the Bombay Room (the music showcase above the Clay Pit Restaurant at Guadalupe and 17th). It should be a swinging time. You can also check her out at her website.

 



Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer

The Ebb and Flow of Venues

As a jazz musician I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that another live music venue here in Austin has decided that jazz doesn't sell enough drinks. The club shall remain unnamed, but the story is older than I am, and nobody needs to hear another rant about the lack of support for creative music. It's just one less gig. Let's look instead at some of the ways creative music is being supported here. Generally speaking, venues are either commercial or non-commercial. In a commercial venue, music is foremost a product to be sold, like food or alcohol. Just as a restaurant usually has a set menu or style of food, commercial music must fit into designated labels. I've been to a couple restaurants where one would ask: "What's on the menu?" and the response was, "I don't know. I'll see what the cook is making." These experiences, however, are few and far between. If chefs cooked like jazz musicians play (and some of them do) we might get some incredible cuisine, but those restaurants invariably do not last long.

Occasionally some creative people are able to use a commercial framework without losing their joie de vivre. We see this most often in commercial settings that have a longstanding connection to more artistic parts of the community, for example coffee houses, art galleries, book and record stores.

A good example of this creativity in action is the silent film series put on by the Alamo Drafthouse, incorporating local musicians to provide original live music accompaniment. The shows tend to be sold out, reflecting definitive community support, and they have been going on for some time now. I was fortunate to catch the showing of the 1925 version of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World recently, for which accompaniment was provided by a 15-piece orchestra made up of members of Brown Whorenet and The Golden Arm Trio. The evening was a feast for eyes and ears, but more than that it proved once again that commercial enterprises do not have to sacrifice creativity in the pursuit of profit, and that our greatest resource, human talent, can be harnessed to create a product which the community will buy, without the whole process becoming exploitive and unpleasantly bourgeois.

Non-commercial venues may include publicly supported institutions, such as college theaters, museums, and the like, but there is also the range of unfunded and often short-lived spaces, things like jamming in the park or at private parties, underground raves and whatever strategies people come up with to reinvent their musical communities. The most vibrant times seem to be when both sectors (funded and unfunded) of the non-commercial environment can interact. All too often academic institutions are self-enclosed worlds lacking consistent contact with the less learned community. Musically, this has led to a distinction between academically trained musicians and those with street or "real world" experience. Both camps can benefit from each other's knowledge and create more vibrant music. There are indications that we are in such a period here in Austin. At least there is more recognition that young "street" jazz players are infusing the local scene with their energy.

Austin has a history of creating venues for young experimental players. The only problem is that these venues don't pay (well, maybe beer money), and have a brief longevity. Two recent exceptions to the longevity rule are the concerts at Movements Gallery, and the shows and in-stores at 33 Degrees record store. The Tuesday jazz concerts at Movements have consistently provided some of the most creative music in town for more than a year now, and 33 Degrees regularly hosts national and international experimental music groups. Our own DiverseArts Sunday Salons also should not go without mention.

For jazz and other experimental musicians, it is an unfortunate truth that age makes conservatives of us. Partly this is because our tastes tend to stabilize as we grow older, but I think it is more the result of economic factors. Youth has the time and freedom to experiment, whereas aging geezers like myself have to make a living and if we do it through music, we tend to genuflect before the tastes of the marketplace. All too often this means that young players have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to promulgating experimental music.

But this is not always the case, and every example of aging artists (and business people working with them) who don't lose their youthful flexibility is a crack in the wall of monolithically monotonous mainstream 'Merica. It also shows that Austin is not a typical college town where experimental art is essentially an extension of transient student culture. One of the best examples of this that I can think of is the Creative Opportunity Orchestra (CO2), possibly the oldest creative music group in our city. The musical love child of trombonist Randy Zimmerman and singer Tina Marsh, the C02 provides a consistent clarion call, encouraging artists to pursue their vision, and bringing together supporters of creative music from different parts of our community.

Venues come and go, but Austin's creative music tradition continues to survive. At times it seems we are on the verge of a renaissance; other times it's back into the trenches. Realistically, jazz has always faced these cycles. What is perhaps more encouraging is the appearance of new types of venues which not only showcase creative music, but expand the function of the venues themselves.

 



Polaroid Bad by Sandra Beckmeier

I have been to Boston
I remember one woman
who wrote for the paper

she was issued,
as they were issuing
I guess someone wanted to see that
she would be finished in the eye of the
public

a by-product of the de-facto imagination of
info-tainment

still
I've made mistakes like these
I am white
and I am lucky in America
I have opportunity and I am blessed.

I had this argument once by myself
I said how is she supposed to write
about things which are supposed to be written when hanging off the side
around the corner
maybe at the coffee bar
are the creators of post-mortum relation-
ships.

because
all the people
who read up...

human life is well misunderstood
there are those who write
those who buy paper in bulk
and those who throw them away when the
hero doesn't win.

 



Rock en Español: Latino Rock Alliance Unites Latino Artists of Various Genres by Tom Benton

The Latino Rock Alliance is not here to hip you to the latest Tejano single; nor do they come bearing psychedelic guitars noodling over a battalion of hyperactive percussionists. Rather, they are here to rock. Rock en Español.

Former in July of 1999, the Latino Rock Alliance unites working musicians, live music enthusiasts, and music industry professionals for the purpose of developing and promoting Latino artists working within the forum of "alternative rock" and other peripheral genres, including metal, ska, and the vast terrain in the midst of it all.

Luis Zapata from La Plaga, a member of the Latino Rock Alliance, offered an a more open-ended but still illustrative explanation regarding the differentiation of the acts represented by the Alliance and the remainder of Spanish Rock:

There is a global current called "Rock En Español" -- Spanish Rock. What we represent is called Latino Alternative -- the alternative part of that rock. It is characterized by what I would call a very stormy creativity on the part of the artist, I think that one of the things that distinguishes it not only from the rest of Rock En Espanol but also the rest of alternative music is the fact that this freedom of creativity has allowed artists to meld a bunch of different influences that they may have and at the same time and come up with something very fresh.

His assertion is completely on the mark; Houston's Moscas, among the proudest sons of Texas' Latino Alternative scene, recently opened up for Argentinian superstars Los Fabulosos Cadillacs at La Zona Rosa, and though they largely treaded the line between funk-fueled power-pop and bone-crunching rock, their background was still betrayed in ways other than just by their language of choice: drum rhythms occasionally more Puente than Pixies, guitar patterns that clearly had their roots on nylon strings. The vast majority of the crowd seemed to be there for Los Cadillacs, but those who arrived early were quickly made to move by Moscas, won over by the infectious enthusiasm of this young band, Zapata's prophecy from earlier in the evening fulfilled: pretty much any of these bands that you see is going to deliver from themselves 120%.

The most visible representation of the Latino Rock Alliance in Austin thus far has been their recently-completed residency at the Black Cat, the semi-weekly Rock En Español Night. The music and the club worked to be a snug fit, for a variety of reasons, and proved very successful in laying the groundwork for things to come, as Zapata explains:

The first level was to showcase. That's what the shows at the Black Cat were all about: to basically do a series of shows on 6th Street at a club where it's all ages. We're dealing with music that should appeal to teenagers and we really think it's a crime that should have to be 18 or 21 before you see a rock band. That's terrible. The Black Cat seemed to be the most natural place because they have always been a great place for breaking new artists into Austin. We started doing these shows and showcasing bands from all around Texas and a couple from Mexico that are an active part of the circuit but have never had the chance to perform in Austin. I think the shows were pretty successful, they allowed us to make so much noise and attract so much media that didn't know about this music and they started to write and to do interviews on the radio, which allowed us to solidify the Latino Rock Alliance.

In addition to garnering media attention for the cause, the Black Cat series allowed many Latino Alternative bands to move out into the larger Austin scene. Several groups are finding favor with club owners who recognize the bands' abilities onstage as well as their commercial potential for drawing a crowd; Los Skanarles, for instance, are regulars on the Emo's roster and deSangre (the Texas champions of the Mars Music "Battle of the Bands" who will be moving forward to represent the state in the National Competition) are frequent openers at the Black Cat's "Heavy Music Night." Babe's, the Continental Club, and the Back Room have also shown interest in presenting bands. Zapata doesn't believe it's a stretch for groups singing in different languages to share the same stage, if for no other reason than one of pure pragmatism:

We're into the feel of what rock and roll's all about, which allows people who don't understand the Spanish lyrics to get into it. You know, a lot of people don't know what Mick Jagger is singing -- there's not very good diction in rock and roll! By the same token, the feel should be understood by everybody.

With the Black Cat series recently coming to a successful completion, one might think that Alliance would take a breather and let the fruits of their labors percolate through Austin. Not so, Zapata explains:

What we're trying to do now is to start bringing some bigger bands for some shows in November: a band from Mexico called Tijuana No which is on BMG Records, Calavera from Los Angeles and Viva Malpache from Chicago. We're working different projects -- that will be our second step, to bring these bigger bands and hopefully by next year we'll be coming out with the first records by some of these Texas bands.

Because few labels are actively courting Latino alternative groups, the Latino Rock Alliance works in conjunction with many labels to turn them on to the most worthy, a project which may shortly come to fruition.

In the meantime, Austinites should not want for their regular dose of this music. Spanish Rock Radio can be found on KOOP (91.7 FM) every Tuesday from noon to 1pm and Latin music is showcased on the Austin Music Network every day from 2 to 3pm on No Borders (with Wednesdays devoted exclusively to Latino Alternative).

Zapata concluded our conversation with a very poignant open letter of sorts, because he knows that there are certainly more musicians out there than ones that he's been hearing from:

One of the most rewarding things is the fact that now you can open the musician's referral section and find musicians contacting other musicians to play Spanish rock bands. I have a lot of friends, Hispanics, who were in rock bands and they weren't really willing to sing in their mother language or even try in this circuit and now they can get backed up. So any band would like to get into this genre, we have the resources for them to be able to develop their art. They're not going to be alone or abandoned. They're going to get help.

deSangre

deSangre poster artOne name that kept enthusiastically reappearing throughout my discussion with Luis Zapata was that of deSangre: a self-styled "Spanish alternative rock" band based in Houston who Zapata believes may be the scene's greater asset in catapulting the Latino alternative movement into mainstream acceptance. Their debut CD, Principio y Fin, ambitiously gives credence to this theory -- miles from the bland cookie-cutter pop (with distortion petals, of course) being feverishly shoveled out by MTV and commercial radio under the nebulous heading of "alternative rock," Principio pulls from a wide-reaching bin of sounds, betraying influences both overt and less than obvious. To begin with, the band simply rocks, plying a guitar-fueled crunch that undeniably validates their citing of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine as influences in their biography. Yet amidst all of the neck-snapping drumming and subterranean bass comes the sound of the group's keyboard player, a typically unoccupied position in this particular genre. But from waging furious battle with the band's guitarist to interjecting a small arsenal of unearthly audio embellishments, his presence is clearly vital. And while the groups cited above may offer a decent explanation of deSangre's sound, I can't help but somehow compare their song-craft with my fondest memories of the glory days of Queensryche (and I can only hope that deSangre will not be mad with me over the infamous '80s rock implications of such a statement -- I assure you I mean this in the nicest possible way).

The band recently holed up in a Houston studio to record a follow-up to Principio y Fin, which by all accounts of those involved is excellent and is expected to please those who've enjoyed their debut as well as, hopefully, a new and larger audience. DeSangre performs regularly all over Texas, and can be frequently found in Austin at the Black Cat's "Heavy Music Night." And whether or not their Texas victory in the Mars Music "Battle of Bands" will eventually lead them to rock stardom and pricey arena gigs, interested listeners should not miss the opportunity to hear them while they can.



Serious Fun:The Compositions of David Del Tredici by Sean Denmark

He was born in 1937 in Cloversdale, California to devoutly Catholic parents, the first of five children. At 12, he began to study the piano; in four years, he was playing with the San Francisco Orchestra. A run-in with a bad piano teacher precipitated a switch in his career path from the piano to composition. He worked with Aaron Copland and labored diligently under the zeitgeist of classical music in the 1950s: austere, modernist serialism. His output won him some praise from critics, if no recognition from the public at large.

All this, however, was pre-Alice in Wonderland.

Recognized American composer David Del Tredici is coming to the University of Texas for a few days before Thanksgiving as part of the music school's Visiting Composers series, and during his stay two UT music groups will perform works from his "Alice cycle." I would like to prepare you against certain questions that might arise while listening to these works. Questions like: Why does a composer devote a thirty-year span of his career to Lewis Carroll's children books? Why abandon "serious" modernism to obsessively return, in composition after composition, to a piece of "fun" literature?

Del Tredici's early works included smaller instrumental pieces and settings of early poems of James Joyce. I must confess I find these difficult on my unschooled ears. 1968 marked a switch, with the piece "PotPourri," from the grave and traditional poems of early Joyce and a compositional style of extreme modernism to Carroll's fun and fantastic stories and increasing tonalism. Several "Alice" works followed ("An Alice Symphony," "Vintage Alice," "Adventures Underground," "Annotated Alice"), but it was the hour-long "Final Alice," an opera/cantata for amplified soprano and orchestra, that "really put me on the map," as Del Tredici has explained. "I couldn't imagine setting a Carroll text to dissonant music. Dissonant music can't possibly project the mood that surrounds Carroll's writing. In order to create that mood I had to rethink everything I had done up to that time." Del Tredici's neo-romanticism ran counter to fashion, and whether it was liked or hated, it stood out in the crowd.

Not that the piece is smooth sailing. Sirens blare, the soprano bellows through a bullhorn, a cacophony of percussion is employed. Del Tredici even dusts off the Theremin, a mostly forgotten electrical instrument used to create the unearthly, wildly wavering peels that signified suspense in countless sci-fi movies. I wonder if both of Del Tredici's styles, modernism and chaotic tonalism, don't sometimes mask a lack of thematic development.

One might expect a certain self-consciousness from a composer approaching traditional music from serialism. However, Del Tredici possesses a gift for melody; an example is the piercing purity of the "Acrostic Song" that drifts above the post-apocalyptic landscape at the end of "Final Alice." Neither is the work all fun and games, though Carroll's text and Del Tredici's score play many games with the audience. Del Tredici subtly probes the subtext of Alice in Wonderland, Carroll's questionable love for the young girl on whom Alice was based. Del Tredici, in his obsession, is not afraid to examine the disturbing obsessions of Carroll.

In 1980 the composer began "Child Alice," a monstrous work that would eventually consist of four movements, each originally performed seperately. The UT Symphony Orchestra will perform a portion of the first of these. "In Memory Of a Summer Day" won Del Tredici a Pulitzer; in it he took a new approach to Carroll, as he does with every new Alice piece. It describes a day spent in storytelling on the river by Carroll and the "real Alice," Alice Pleasance Liddell. Del Tredici's preferred soprano voice is paired with, and pitted against, a sweeping symphonic mass. The UT Orchestra will perform only the central section, where the orchestra without soprano probes the work's themes and runs the gamut of emotions, from peacefulness to frenzy.

The New Music Ensemble will perform "Haddock's Eyes," written in 1985 for soprano voice. Del Tredici currently continues work on an opera, "Dum Dee Diddle." It is uncertain when, if ever, the Alice well will run dry.

The division between Del Tredici's early "serious" and latter "fun" music is an obvious one, but it may confuse as much as it delineates. One personality, which swings from earnest to quirky, miniature to monolithic, is recognizable in all of Del Tredici's oeuvre. The chaotic trappings of his tonal work, for example, resemble his serialism. The effect can be unsettling. Does he mock what he once gravely employed? And does he really find Carroll's writing inexhaustible, or is it a way of limiting and controlling countless options? The listener only sees Del Tredici through Carroll. Even if this obscures much, Carroll's work is, upon examination, surprisingly personal, and so is Del Tredici's. The glimpses one is afforded are of a gleeful, uneasy, important artist.

The University of Texas Symphony Orchestra will perform "Triumphant Alice" from "In Memory of a Summer Day" on Monday, November 22 at 8pm in Bates Recital Hall, located on the second floor of the Music Building at 23rd and East Campus Drive. The concert will include Gershwin's Concerto in F and Beethoven's Third Symphony. Tickets are $3 at the door. The New Music Ensemble will perform "Haddock's Eyes" on November 23 at 8pm in Bates, in conjunction with Rafael Hernandez III's "Invocation and Dance" and New Music director Dan Welcher's "Phaedrus."

 


Slam: the Word Sport by Stazja McFadyen

The most frequently asked question about slam poetry is summed up in three little words: "What is it?"

The Austin Chronicle's "Best of Austin 1999" compared slam poets to "the bastard stepchildren of theatre and literature mixed together," adding, "the spoken word 'trend' has proven that it has the legs to stick around as a viable performance genre."

Slam is an evolving poetry movement, milling forward since the mid-1980s when Marc Smith created "The Uptown Poetry Slam" at The Green Mill in Chicago. Now a legitimized genre, slam is defined in the 1999 Random House Webster's College Dictionary, Second Edition as: "competitive, usually boisterous poetry reading." Does this sound like the iambic pentameter's evil twin who escaped the ivory tower of academism to get in people's faces and have some fun? You're close, very close.

Slam broke rules. New rules were formed.

Each poet has three minutes in which to perform a piece of his/her own composition. No props, no costumes, no musical accompaniment, no animal acts. Five judges are selected from the audience. The judges are told to be consistent with themselves, to weigh content and performance equally, and be unswayed by audience response. They score each poem on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0. The top and bottom scores are thrown out. Points are deducted for exceeding the time limit. After three rounds, with eliminations determined by lowest scores, the winner is the poet with the most points.

Judges are boo'd or cheered, depending on whether the audience agrees with their scoring.

Weekly winners qualify to compete in the annual "slam-off" to determine the 4-member team representing their home town at the National Poetry Slam in August.

Austin slam poets"The voice of the audience, to respond to the poets in any way they see fit, is one of the precious and fundamental building blocks that the slam stands on," said Sonya Feher, volunteer coordinator for the 1998 National Poetry Slam hosted in Austin.

Censorship is not among the restrictions. Perhaps for this reason, traditionalists such as the president of a local poetry society have kept their distance. While hosting a poetry reading at Book People recently, national journalist/poet Bill Moyers said he hasn't had the guts to slam.

Among the more adventurous is Faulkner Fox, who teaches Poetry at the University of Texas. She came to cheer on one of her slamming students. The following day she wrote her first "slam" poem, about which she says, "Here's what I can't figure out -- would it have been a poem if I hadn't been to the slam last night."

The Austin Chronicle's "Best of Austin 1999" Critic's Picks gave Austin slam poets the "Best Slam Survivors" title, referring to the closing of the Electric Lounge, headquarters for Austin slam since 1994, followed by a short-lived stint at the Red-Eyed Fly.

After a transient summer, the Austin slam family held a summit, with an open forum. The summit led to the formation of a seven-member volunteer council. Members are Mike Henry, Phil West, Sonya Feher, Hilary Thomas, Dillon McKinsey, Aaron Sanders and Woody Baldwin.

If there is a main auricle in the heart of Austin slam, it is Mike Henry. In an e-mail interview, he talks about his passion for the art, its history in Austin, and where he wants it to go.

ADA: When/how did you first begin to slam?

MH: The first real slam in Austin was held at Emo's as a qualifier to get into the slam in the poetry tent at Lollapalooza 1994. It was hosted by Wammo, who had discovered slams on a trip to New York City for the CMJ music conference. We slammed at Emo's every week for a few months, and it was fabulous. Wammo invited me to the first one ... it was love at first sight. By the end of the night, I knew I had found a new home.

ADA: How did the Austin slam get started and who were the key guys?

MH: Full props should go to Wammo. He started the Austin slam, fueled it with his irrepressible energies and made it live. After Emo's, he approached me at the [Electric] Lounge and I, of course, said hell yes. So we started doing it there in late 1994, took our first team to Nationals in 1995 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wammo continued to host the slam until after the 1996 Nationals when he handed the reins over to Genevieve Van Cleve. She hosted for the next year or so, then split for England. Phil, Sonya, Hilary, Gen and I have shared hosting duties since. As for a more holistic look at "key" people, there are so many ... Phil has been a driving force behind the slam for years. He and I both currently serve on the Executive Council of Poetry Slam, Inc., which is the national slam organization. Sonya, Gen, Susan B. Anthony Somers-Willet, Ernie Cline, Jeff Knight, Hilary Thomas, yourself, so many people have worked to build the slam. It is a product of all of us.

ADA: Comparative info on the local scene's growth/ changes/expansion?

MH: I remember "back in the day" when there were only a half-dozen people who would usually slam, and we'd always have to scrounge up judges, often enlisting Electric Lounge employees into service. Maybe there were 20 or so people there total, but still the poets would sear the walls and pierce the hearts with their words. And because of that, we grew.

Over the years our slam has spread its wings over Austin and reached so many people. Hundreds of poets have slammed here, and literally thousands of people have seen slam in Austin. Sure it has ups and downs, but our audience has definitely expanded. We have been embraced by the local media. Every year the slam finals are packed to the walls.

And, we were given the chance by the national community to produce the 1998 National Poetry Slam, and it rocked like a hurricane. You know this story well, Staz: tickets being scalped outside a sold-out Paramount Theater, CNN coverage, largest NPS in history to that date. NPS 1998 broke the mold...added more teams to the mix and set a standard for the future to be based on.

As far as the evolution of our team at Nationals goes, we are clearly recognized as one of the top slam centers in the nation. In our first year, we had a team member place second in the nation (Wammo), which is pretty much unheard of. We made the finals in our second year at NPS, which is also a Herculean feat. In every year since then, we have come unbelievably close to returning to the finals stage. We stand up with the best slam cities in the world and hold our own, and then some.

ADA: Austin slam community? A family? An "insider" clique?

MH: This is a family. I know it is, because it is my family. The people that I have grown to love, and be in love with. The people that I trust the most -- that I will call when I am in trouble. Next February when Phil gets married, Wammo and Danny Solis and I will stand behind him at the altar.

And more than just that, the family extends to everyone who comes to the shows, slams or judges or watches. There is open-armed, infectious love available for whoever wants it.

The slam gets knocked as being a clique a lot. I think that people mistake our love for each other, the care and fun poetry and support and insanity that we share ... mistake it for being something exclusive. It's true we do share all of those things. But if it's a clique, we are the worst "clique-ers" in the world. Because all you have to do to join the gang is, well, show up. And love poetry. Yep, those are pretty much our two really stringent and oh-so-exclusive guidelines. I'm not trying to be too much of a smartass here...I do realize that many people have the perception of the slam that it excludes people. Changing that perception is among the very highest priorities in our family right now.

ADA: What impact do you want the council to have on Austin slam's future?

MH: I want it to be a central hub for the wheel that is our slam. A grounding element, a place that people can come to with input. I want it to be an inclusive council that represents the family and has the concerns of the slam, the family, the audience, at heart. And, basically, I want for it to be a structural and organizational body that helps us to do what we do even better. The Austin slam is blessed with so many priceless and life-changing poets. It is my hope that the council will help us to do more, to be more. To take the poetry to more people. To have even more fun.

The Austin slam family ceased their wandering and settled in to a weekly slot, Thursday evenings at Gaby & Mo's Coffeehouse Bar, 1809 Manor Road. Sign up begins at 7:30pm.

For more information on poetry events in Austin, visit the Austin Poetry Calendar online.

 



Sun Ra Arkestra Returns to Austin for Extravaganza by Rashah Amen

It is 1989. I'm sitting around Amon Sherriff's living room one hot New Orleans afternoon, watching Sun Ra videos with several musicians. Among them is ex-Pharoah Sanders, Duke Ellington, Rashaan Roland Kirk drummer (and Strata-East Records executive), Jimmy Hopps. All of a sudden Jimmy goes, "Yeah that's it -- that's the sound! Not many bands can truly get the sound of the big bands of eras gone, but these cats got it." The band Hopps (aka Shahid Jimmi EsSpirit) was referring to was the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra.

One of America's true musical treasures, the Arkestra is one of a few music institutions that swings in the tradition of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, as well as create new and exciting music of the future-now. This video watching session inspired EsSpirit to take a 72 hour vow of silence as he locked himself in a room with all the videos to investigate the sounds of the Arkestra. No one bothered him nor saw him for 72 hours. When he came out of the room he said, "I'm ready to perform with Sun Ra. Please contact him." I then called Sun Ra and told him of EsSpirit's desire.

Sun Ra informed us that he soon would be in New Orleans for Jazzfest. He also said Pharoah was one of his proteges and he would see EsSpirit on the trip to New Orleans.

The classic meeting of the two high-spirit beings took place at the fairground the day before the Arkestra was set to perform. I was standing next to Gil Scott-Heron's saxophonist Bilal Sunni-Ali when I introduced the pair: "Sonny this is Shahid. Shahid this is Sun Ra."

Bilal and I stood back as these two giants of Black Classical Music met. To our amazement, there was a golden glitter-like effect that appeared to us over their heads...not like a halo, yet physical just the same. Bilal and I acknowledged this to one another. We were witnessing something truly special. Shahid indeed did perform with the Arkestra. He left New Orleans the next day to tour with the band. Ten years later, maestro Sun Ra has returned to Saturn (although his spirit is present at every Arkestra concert). Still the band zooms onward and outward under the direction of alto saxophonist/ composer Marshall Allen. Built on the foundation of precision and discipline, The Sun Ra Arkestra continues to be a power-house ensemble with one of the most extensive repitores of any band, ever! From Jimmy Lunceford and Fletcher Henderson tunes to the wealth of Sun Ra compositions, from high-energy improvisational explorations to Gershwin and Disney tunes, Sun Ra Arkestra concerts are amazing rituals; complete with dance, song, percussion jams and chants. Like Sun Ra, Marshall Allen was born under the sign of Gemini. His energy for composing, rehearsing and performing speaks loudly of his committment to keeping the Ra spaceship in high orbit.

Allen wrote several of the songs on their newest CD, A Song For The Sun. This is the group's first recording since Sun Ra left the planet. Allen said, "This CD focuses on the band doing their swing thang -- I figured we would record some swinging and beautiful material before we got wild again." Swinging and beautiful the CD truly is.

The Sun Ra Arkestra will soon land its spaceship in Austin for the first time since the historic Liberty Lunch show back in 1988. The Arkestra headlines the Austin International Music Extravaganza's 2nd Annual "Peace-N-Rhythm Festival" happpening, November 16-20.

The week's activities start with drum and dance workshops November 16 at Givens Recreation Center. A second workshop is set for the Cantu Pan American Recreation Center on the November 17. Both workshops are free and target young participants in Austin's after school programs. The "Peace Filled Journey" Music and Meditation Workshop, hosted by Amon and Cina Sherriff, Austin Meditation Center, and discipiles of Sri Chimnoy is scheduled for Saturday November 20, 2pm at Casa de Luz.

The performance component of the Austin International Music Extravaganza features The Sun Ra Arkestra and The Cosmic International Ensemble at 7:30pm, November 18 at the St. Edwards University Ragsdale Center (Mabee Ballroom). The performances spotlight the Arkestra as well as local musicians in Austin's international music scene. The line-up for November 18 includes members of the Gypies, Correo Aereo, the Oliver Rajamani Group, Cosmic Intuition, and more.

"Peace-N-Rhythm Week 1999" concludes with The Peace-N-Rhythm International Drum and Percussion Festival. Featured artist is Arkestra set-drums master, Shahid EsSpirit. Additionally, the festival features 15 drum/percussion performances from Oliver Rajamani, Tropical Productions, Dwayne (D-Madness) Jackson, Boris Wright, Daniel Llanes, Ras Iginga, and others. Open drumming circles are scheduled, so bring your drums.

Tickets for the Austin International Music Extravaganza are available at Sound Exchange, Jupiter Records and 33 Degrees, or by calling (512) 604-4405.

 



Up All Night by Harold McMillan

Now and then, there are those days -- sometimes several days in a row -- when I wake up and have the feeling that something happened during the course of the night that somehow threw me out of the "loop." All of the sudden I feel like I'm standing over here by myself looking back at all of you. I'm out of the conversation. Don't get the joke. Missed the meeting because I didn't know about it. Don't feel right at work because I don't know what to do first, second, at all. Exactly what is it that I do, anyway?

There are those times when most of my time is spent just trying to figure out just what it is that I want/need to be doing here. I know there was something going on here that I was a part of. I had an assignment, but I just can't seem to remember what it was. And, my friends, for some reason, you won't even tell me what it was. You seem to know that that dazed look is not just a "look." I am dazed. You refuse to shake me out of it.

Thank you?

Oh shit! I guess I forgot to return your call, too. Sorry. Really, I am. It's just those big ass trees. I can't get them out of my mind. The sea lions. The cold-hearted, angry Pacific beating the hellouta them big gnarlly rocks. The salty evergreen smell of wet air so thick and cool you can see and taste it -- at least until noon. Under the big top, the canopy, it's 68 degrees. In the clearing, 50 yards away it's 78 and sunshine. The tree right next to camp was probably 75 feet tall, five feet wide when Jesus was born. Highway One, Big Sur. General Sherman! Big fuckin' trees, a little earthquake down south. Big bidness corporate farms, set on the flattest earth possible, nestled a few miles into the middle of a ring of truly majestic mountains, rows of lime trees so straight, so geometrically perfect that I can't believe my eyes, nor can I even see the end of the rows as I pass by at 70 mph, speeding along to the next precious piece of what must be some of God's best handiwork, in this part of the world at least. A hundred miles behind us, the "greatest meeting of land and sea." A few miles ahead, a town where it seems that everybody is brown, English is the second language (a non-language for some), and when I ask for a "breakfast taco" at the we - don't - really - care - if - you - smoke - with - your - morning - coffee - cafe, they ask in Spanglish for me to explain what I mean by "breakfast taco." Where the "burrito" I describe beats the hellouta most any Tex-Mex tacos (except maybe those I get on the East Side every Saturday morning at Mi Madre).

I'm outside the loop because, inside my head, I'm still California dreamin'. The poor man's tour of the sea, big trees, mountains and valleys, small towns and cities, state and national parks, tent and Coleman stove, packed (too tight, according to Grace) in the ten-year-old-Honda with the road maps, wife and toddler, my trusty buck knife and the need to get the hellouta 100 degree Central Texas October reality. What a great road trip!

Now remind me, why is it that we live here in Austin?.....Oh yeah, it's so cheap to live here, there are no traffic problems, it's "liberal," everybody is making a lot of money, the community really supports the arts, there are lots of cool apartments and houses for rent close to downtown, bigotry is dead, and its the live music capital of Central Travis County. Isn't that what the Chamber of Commerce tell us?

With that said, I just want to let you know I do realize that the Chamber of Commerce in Monterey County, California probably puts out similar drivel. Don't get me wrong, I am an Austinite. I live here. I even really like it sometimes (after all, I do live here).

What I'm saying to you is -- damn! -- California is really a beautiful state. It's big and a lot of it is really paradise-like. A couple of weeks driving and camping through it really makes it hard for me to get back into the swing of it here in Austin. Obligations and various financial realities made me come back, but I tell ya, I coulda hung out in Cali for a long time without seeing too much of it. The people were ok, but the splashing wet splendor/savage power of the Pacific at Big Sur, a few miles away that grove of 3500 year old "smaller" coastal redwoods, a few hours away 6000 feet up in the Sierra Madre, Sequoias big enough to drive a Cadillac through; that's what got me.

Maybe God spoke to me. Perhaps it was the secret fear of being this season's tourist whose name makes the news because of a chance encounter with a California black bear. Maybe it was the joy and wonder I saw as my son experienced all of this, like the first time he ate ice cream, simply something else to learn about being human (unlike me, Hayes took all of this in stride; just more cool stuff that mom and dad were turning him on to). Maybe being so far removed from my personal, self-centered day-to-day, in the middle of all of this majestic natural truth, made it possible for me to once again see just how small and inconsequential are the worries that creep into the lives of those of us who want to do too much, too fast, all of the time, right now. Maybe I just needed something to re-set my internal clock. Seeing, touching, smelling trees that are older than Jesus might have that effect.

Now I just have to figure out if it was really the sea, the big trees, the people of California, or just the fact that for the first time in months I was alone with my family 24 hours a day and our tent didn't have a phone line, a fax machine, email, the Internet, mail service, or walk-in visitors who required payment, advice, or information.

 



Verities by Paul Klemperer

What makes you happy?

Driving back from a gig in Dallas around 4am one night, I'm in the shotgun seat doing my job of keeping the driver of the band van awake and we're musing (a genteel term for bitching) on the exigencies of playing bar gigs for a living, or for that matter, the exigencies of any repetitive job, maybe even a job you basically like but that still grinds you down little by little, and the subject of happiness comes up.

Staring out at the wan starlight and the much brighter lights of truckstops, oncoming headlights, floodlights specifically designed and positioned simply to illuminate billboards for bored nightdrivers to stare at, all those lights, all that energy serving such a less than profound purpose, it's all too easy to let the vacuousness of Interstate 35 get inside you and activate that little voice of doubt that whispers "What's the point of it all?" Sitting there, empty and exhausted, knowing you won't crawl into your own bed until 7am, just when normal well-adjusted people are waking up next to their beautiful spouses in their picture-perfect ranch-style homes, you realize there's only one practical solution.

So after you've stopped at Whataburger and are now back on the highway contentedly eating dead flesh on a tasty bun, you begin to wax eloquent. Just what is the deal with happiness, anyway? By now it's a painful cliche almost not worth mentioning that American consumer society substitutes commodified experiences for real self-worth. But those commodities still pull on your libido like a red-breasted robin yanking a slow worm out of the ground. You know that doesn't equal real happiness. You know that material culture is just filling a void. But what is that void?

Taking a different tack (since you're beginning to depress the bass player who is doing the driving and now warns you that if his eyes fill with tears of despondency and hopelessness it could impair his abilities), you bring up the age-old perspective that maybe happiness is over-rated. Maybe staying busy, being productive is the answer, or an answer anyway. You know plenty of people who always seem unhappy, stressed out, full of real and imagined complaints, and yet they get a lot done and in their own small way make the world a better place. In fact their unhappiness kicks them along, pushes them to do good works, like a donkey following a carrot he can never reach. Maybe individual happiness isn't the big deal we make it out to be.

Then you think of that girl you were talking to in the bar (the beautiful blonde who had had enough drinks to become loquacious, but not enough to forget her boyfriend). She did that missionary work in Central America when she was a teenager and it opened her eyes to be with people who had so little, living in cardboard shacks, and yet they were happier than 99% of the people she knew in Dallas, who were more concerned with what they lacked than what they were blessed to have.

The bass player grunts at your sentimentality, but you were trying to make a real point, not just regurgitate some biblical cliche. Anyway, he's not much help himself since he's always bringing up things like how the sun will eventually go supernova and destroy the earth, and the universe appears to be exothermic, meaning all energy will eventually dissipate, leaving only cold floating dust, believers and unbelievers alike.

But there was a point you were trying to make. You recall the thought you had when you went to that Austin Ice Bats game and were surrounded by 5000 screaming rednecks as two hockey players beat the living crap out of each other on the ice, and then during intermission a purple hot rod was driven onto the rink and a guy shot rolled up Ice Bat T-shirts out of a compressed gas bazooka into the stands, and you thought "Are these people really happy?" But the question was really much more profound than it sounds now as you relay it to your fellow passenger on this lonely highway in the small hours before dawn. The question included both the knowledge that you were an outsider and so who were you to judge, and the knowledge that all the flash and glitz served no greater purpose than the campfire of a stone-age tribe surrounded by a terrifying world of darkness. You wanted to tell them happiness is more than the absence of fear. But of course if you say things like that you'll just get the crap beaten out of you.

Then you see the billboard for Sun City Retirement Village, with the huge photo of octogenarian musicians jamming in the twilight of their years ("It is your destiny, Luke") and you know that you will be in Austin soon. You get a glimmer of the truth, through a glass darkly and all that. It has something to do with being aware of all the aspects simultaneously; happiness is consciously being part of something that's bigger than you.

You communicate this to the bass player in a garbled, bleary-eyed word picture, and he says, "I know just what you mean." Then he changes the subject.

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