Natural Disasters

Keith Jarrett Mourning Star

One day a friend of mine was playing a record by Keith Jarrett called The Mourning of a Star. While the LP was playing I flipped the cover over to the back side, where I encountered a poem by a writer who I didn’t recognize. This was truly one of those times where a poem reached out and grabs you (or, as Bob Dylan put it, “Every one of those words rang true/And glowed like burning coal”). Although it was a long time before I saw that poem again, the memory of reading it the first time remained vivid, and when someone mentioned it to me ten or fifteen years later, I immediately knew what he was talking about.

It turns out the person who brought it up was the poet who wrote it.  Terry Stokes was a creative writing professor at the University of Cincinnati, and the two of us had been hanging together for months before I connected the dots between the writer and the poem. That happened when Terry was telling me about a poem that he published in Esquire. Soon thereafter Terry was contacted to find out if he would be willing to have his poem appear on an album cover by Keith Jarrett, and Terry gave his permission.

“I got fifty dollars from Esquire,” Terry explained, “and fifty dollars from Keith Jarrett. So I made a hundred bucks for my poem.

Not bad – and especially because so many more people would be able to read the poem due to the fact that it was on the back of an album cover by such a popular musician. 

By that point I had figured out that Terry and I had already bumped into each other long before I saw his poem on the Keith Jarrett album cover. At a Miami University writer’s conference where I also met Cameron Crowe and P.J. O’Rourke I had heard Terry give a reading and chatted with him at one of the parties that took place every night. 

Attending that conference convinced Terry to move to this party of the country. Englight professors John Weigel and Milton White had much to do with that – and happened to be the two teachers who had the deepest influence on me as a writer, artist, reader, teacher, whatever. 

After Terry retired from teaching, I heard less and less from him, and it’s been over ten years since we spoke. We became friends at a good time for both of us. During that period I was editing a offbeat literary magazine called Evil Dog that published lots of interesting writers from this area. In a small way the buzz was kind of on about that magazine, which – in part because I worked downtown at that time and made lots of downtown friends – seemed to connect with people who normally didn’t read literary magazines. Terri Ford, Aralee Strange, F. Keith Wahle, and Terry Stokes – those were some of the writers who helped make the magazine something special (and fun, too!).

The poem on the Keith Jarrett album cover was called “Natural Disasters.” That was also the name of the book where it appeared as the lead-off poem, and today I scanned it so others could read it. When I read “Natural Disasters” I think of all my friends who “wrestled with the lion.” Those seem to be the kind of folks I hang with, and Terry Stokes was one of them. As another year ends while a new one begins, it’s natural to take stock of things and look inward – and this poem by an old friend certainly inspires that.

Terry Stokes poem

From Deep Inside the Forest

Another Part of the ForestIn early 2011 a business called Classical Glass moved from Main Street in Over-the Rhine to a new location. Shortly thereafter Mike Markiewicz showed me the space they’d left. Classical Glass was a studio as opposed to a storefront, and the room looked dirty, dark and dingy. I had a hard time imagining it being transformed into a record store.

Mike Markiewicz didn’t, however. After all, he’d overseen Kaldi’s, Sibylline Books and Iris Book Cafe as they went from nothing to something. Each helped to make Over-The-Rhine a better place. But could he do the same with a record store? He believed he could.

Progress at the store moved at what like a glacial pace, to the point where I wondered if it was ever going to open, whereas Mike knew it would. Mike and I talked a lot back then, and he was pumped about the store. “This will be my masterpiece,” he said.

Even then, though, he was thinking beyond that. He kept talking about moving out into the woods and living a bare-bones existence after a few years of the record store. There would be music, but not the massive collections he had accumulated (and then disposed of) repeatedly. “Two hundred albums,” he said. “That’s it. Only the essentials.”

another part forest again

What Mike would take to the woods was revealed in bits and pieces to me over time. After Another Part of the Forest was in full swing, with records filling both floors, I continued to drop in on him. He always had a record he wanted to play me that he had to search to find, and sometimes it eluded him. In fact, it often eluded him. But when he did find the record I needed to hear, my musical universe expanded. Often during those visits our discussion would return to the records that he would take to the woods. The three artists he made it clear would definitely accompany him to the woods were the twentieth-century classical composers Martinu and Messiaen and the jazz musician John Surman.

Heavyweight stuff, in other words: the kind of music that, even though you listened to it while busses zoomed past and sirens howled in the distance, you left OTR and entered a different world, a place that was often dark and turbulent and was full of the “ugly beauty” that inspired a Thelonious Monk song title.

Mike passed away a week and a half ago. His death come suddenly, although the extreme exhaustion that was evident when I visited him during his last several months made the fact that he was extremely ill less of a surprise. When the store was getting up and running he predicted that he would head to the woods after three or four years. Ever since he passed I’ve been thinking about that trip he wanted to make but didn’t. On the other hand…

another part forest again again

On the other hand, when a person names a record store Another Part of the Forest you have to wonder how far away the woods really were in the first place. Maybe he entered the woods when he opened the store, or maybe he’s there now. He always seemed oblivious to the noise and the commotion surrounding him. Quiet and introspective, he was tuned into something else. As many times as we talked, and as often as those conversations focused on big fat metaphysical issues, I must say that part of him remained elusive. “The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth said, but for Mike it wasn’t. He kept it at bay. He did his thing. He lived the way he wanted to live, a nonconformist who in spite of crazy odds did all sorts of good things for the best neighborhood in a city that people are finally starting to appreciate. I miss the guy more every time I return to his masterpiece. I wish that just one more time he could drop the needle on a record. This time, though, it’s my turn to drop the needle. Listen close, my friend. You’ll recognize the tune:

http://youtu.be/fXchqOO8xYY

 

Nelson Slater Playing Fries Cafe Saturday

On Saturday (8/10) Nelson Slater will be performing at Fries Cafe in Clifton. As I reported in a recent blog entry, Nelson just released a new album on vinyl that is a long-awaited follow-up to Wild Angel, which was produced by his old college friend and bandmate, Lou Reed. This is one those shows that should “bring ’em out of the woodwork,” as fans and friends of Nelson Slater are many. Among other things, the show provides an opportunity to buy a copy of his new LP.

I was happy to see that The Hunt, a movie shot by a Danish director, is still at The Esquire, as it’s the best new movie I have seen since The Double Hour in 2011. More than with most movies, a plot summary would be ill-advised if you haven’t seen it, so I won’t go there. I will say it’s a disturbing very movie, but is not without heart – in fact, that’s among its most redeeming qualities.

In spite of the threat of rain there was a good crowd at the Etienne Charles show at Seasongood Pavilion yesterday, which shows that there is still an audience for jazz.  That in turn renews my conviction that the Blue Wisp can overcome its growing pains and connect with a wider audience. Part of the equation is fresh new blood, and that’s one of the strengths of the It’s Commonly Jazz series, which has focused on younger musicians with new ideas. There’s still three shows left in the series, which takes place the next three Thursdays from 6pm to 8pm and is free.

Remembering JJ Cale

After guitarist, songwriter and vocalist JJ Cale passed away a few days ago, memories started popping up of a musician who, in his own understated, behind-the-scenes, low-profile way left a big mark on music.  Yesterday I typed up some of those memories and sent them to a website I’ve never submitted to before – popmatters.com – and discovered this morning that my article is now in print. Here’s a link to my piece in popmatters.com:

 

 

 

 

The Words and Voice of Aralee Strange

Over two decades ago Tom Kellerman opened a used bookstore near the post office in the Gaslight District of Clifton. His idea was to create a store that was more than just a store—he was picturing a place where people would mingle and drink coffee and have literary readings and sit in a corner and read for as long they wanted. That doesn’t sound so radical now, but at the time there was nothing like it in Cincinnati.

At one of the literary readings I shared some of my fiction. On that night I was paired with someone I’d never heard of before.

Literary reading can turn into a shoutfest, and part of the reason for that may be that literature is so under the radar writers feel they have to strain to get people’s attention.

With a lightning bolt tattoo near her right eye and an androgynous face, Aralee Strange spoke in a soft voice, yet her readings were so powerful that the audience was spellbound. There was vulnerability in her voice, but there was also strength.

Kellerman’s didn’t last long, and when it closed I saw it as a confirmation of literature’s marginal existence in America.

Ultimately, though, Kellerman’s wasn’t the end of something. Really it was a beginning, forging connections between writers and inspiring thoughts about what could happen if artists pulled together. Continue reading “The Words and Voice of Aralee Strange”

iswhat?! Album Release Party at MOTRPub NEXT MONTH

PLEASE NOTE: I HAD THE WRONG DATE FOR THE ISHWAT SHOW, IT’S NEXT MONTH, SORRY FOR THE CONFUSION

This Friday 4/19 On Friday, May 17 the hip-hop band iswhat?! will have an album release party at MOTRPub. The new release is called things that go bump in the dark, and it is available on both CD and vinyl. It should be a fun night,  and a chance to show some support for a band that’s been getting attention around the globe. In fact, I’m guessing that it’s because iswhat?! is so busy touring that this album release party didn’t happen a little sooner. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entry about the album, and here’s what I wrote:

things that go bump in the dark is the new full-length release by Cincinnati’s iswhat?!, a hip-hop band that has toured the US and Europe and performed with major jazz artists, among them Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake and Hamid Drake. It’s a fine record, and I’m happy to report that, along with being available as a CD or a download, this full-length release had come out on vinyl. Locally the CD and LP are available at Shake-It and Everybody’s; online you can buy it on cdbaby and iTunes.

If you’ve caught ishwat?!, chances are you’ve seenNapoleon Solo Vox fronting a trio. On things that go bump in the dark band members change and band sizes fluctuate with each song, and others artists share some of the vocal duties. My sense is that Napoleon is still the mastermind behind the music, but, like Kip Hanrahan, he constantly shuffles musicians in order to make the words and music come to life. Continue reading “iswhat?! Album Release Party at MOTRPub NEXT MONTH”

Nelson Slater Album Release Party Friday at Daniels Pub!

It was twenty years ago today that Nelson Slater first spoke to me about releasing his follow-up to Wild Angel, an LP that came out on RCA in 1976. I’m happy to report that the album has now appeared; it’s called Steam-Age Time Giant, and it came out (as should every album) on vinyl. Here’s a link to a recent blog entry I wrote about the record:

The New Nelson Slater Album

This Friday, April 12  Nelson will be playing at Daniel’s Pub, which is still there after all those wild years, at 2735 Vine Street. Great things have been happening on Short Vine lately (including some new developments at Bogart’s), and this will be an opportunity to bring some of the old spirit back. Going to Daniels will bring back old memories for us veterans and launch new ones for the newcomers. Folks, this is an event, let’s get out and show some support! The music starts at 9, Something Groovy will be Nelson’s special guests, and other performers include Grow Horns, Large Hadron Collider, and The Special People. Also, rumor has it (we’re not certain yet if this is just another one of those unfounded internet rumors) that Mr. Jerry Parker will be in attendance Friday evening.

Kenny Poole, Guitarist

James Brown with David Matthews - keyboards; Kenny Poole - guitar; Michael Moore - bass; Jimmy Madison - drums

My article in Cincinnati Magazine’s April issue covered lots of ground—decades, actually, but the connecting thread was a band that in 1968 started performing at a club in Mt Adams six nights a week and remained at that location for about a year. The name of that band was the Sound Museum, and it was led by saxophonist Jimmy McGary. After the Sound Museum crossed paths with James Brown, a spinoff of that group became Grodeck Whipperjenny, and that same band recorded an album that is credited to James Brown even though his contribution was minimal.

In the article I discuss three albums that were recorded by Cincinnati Musicians during that period. Although it wasn’t released until 1980, the Sound Museum’s jazz recording Two Tone Poems was recorded at Jewel Recording Studio in 1968. More rock-oriented, the eponymous Grodeck Whipperjenny is a 1970 release, and the funkier James Brown release Sho is Funky Down Here came out in 1971. There’s a lot of overlap in personnel on these records, which is intriguing because the scope of the music is so broad. As David Matthews explains in the Cincinnati Magazine article, with Grodeck Whipperjenny he was (due to James Brown’s prompting) exploring what was for him a different style of music. So there was an element of naiveté—but when you combine that with brilliance, interesting things can happen. Continue reading “Kenny Poole, Guitarist”

Grodeck Whipperjenny

A few days ago an article I wrote appeared in Cincinnati Magazine. The piece focused on a slice of Cincinnati musical history that wove together so many styles it would be impossible to say which genre was at the root of it all. It’s a story of a jazz group that ended up morphing into a psychedelic band for one album and a funk band for another; the jazz group also released, posthumously, a very experimental jazz album. All of these things took place in Cincinnati while James Brown was recording at King Records here, and the plot thickened as soon as he entered the picture.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot to the story. When I pitched it to Cincinnati Magazine I created what was quite possibly the longest query letter ever. I had never written for them before, and this was an out-of-the-blue pitch. There was some interest on their part, but there was no guarantee that it would be a good match.

I went ahead and wrote the article, all 5,500 words of it (the first draft, that is; eventually we trimmed it down to about 4,000). Shortly after I sent it an interesting twist of fate occurred for an article that very much hinges on the activities of James Brown: RJ Smith, author of the recently published JB bio The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, joined Cincinnati Magazine’s staff. Prior to that time RJ had never lived in Cincinnati, so that was a huge and quite welcome coincidence; he ended up providing invaluable assistance during the editing.  Also, the magazine did a great job of designing and laying out the piece both in print and online.

As I stated near the end of the article, ultimately this is a story about friendship, and I made several as I delved into this slice of Cincinnati musical history. The people I talked to the most were David Matthews, Carmon DeLeone and RJ Smith. It’s also because of this article that I was able to meet Lou Lausche, Carol McGary, Sean McGary, Phyllis Boyce and many others. I also benefitted from chatting with someone I already knew, Shawn Marsh, who I nicknamed “Shawn Marsh of Sound Museum fame” (sometimes shortened to “Sound Museum fame” or “Sound Museum”) for reasons that—well, I’ll let him explain it to you.

I’m going to write a couple entries on the musical side of this subject, but that will make a lot more sense after you’ve read the article. Here’s a link to the Cincinnati Magazine article:

Tomorrow Never Knows in Cincinnati Magazine

 

William Ackerman Interview in The Absolute Sound

I began writing for a magazine called The Absolute Sound about five years ago. For those of you who haven’t heard of The Absolute Sound (hereafter referred to as TAS), it was founded in 1973. Primarily TAS focuses on audiophile stereo equipment; it also contains a music section, and I publish reviews, interviews and feature articles in that part of the magazine.

Writing about music is something I’ve always enjoyed, and from the beginning contributing to TAS was fun. Quickly, though, I grew to love it. Partly that’s due to a coincidence: I was a vinyl record lover even when records bordered on extinction, and shortly after I joined the magazine a vinyl resurgence began taking place. It turns out I was at the perfect place to celebrate that  surprising bit of news. I doubt any magazine on the planet grumbled more about the fact that vinyl had become an endangered species; now we celebrate both analog and continually improving digital recordings.

That’s part of what I love about the magazine. Also, I chat a lot on the phone and email back and forth with people from around the world who are connected to the music industry in one way or another. As opposed to corporate behemoths, these folks selling music, stereos, record cleaners and other accessories work on a smaller scale, emphasizing quality over quantity. Often they’re testing unknown waters and taking risks, and they do so because they’re driven by a passion. Examples include the Rune Grammofon label, whose new deluxe 7-LP release by Norwegian musician Arve Henriksen epitomizes the labor of love record-making can involve. The Lithuanian label NoBusiness Records also come to mind; in a few years this new small label has put out dozens of avant-garde jazz records on vinyl. I’m also impressed by the Paris-based Sam Records, whose passion for reissuing killer jazz LPs includes recreating album covers from the original artwork. And there’s Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, a record pressing plant that didn’t even exist a few years ago. People must have thought they were crazy to open a plant at that time; now they need two full-time shifts to keep up with demand. Continue reading “William Ackerman Interview in The Absolute Sound”