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Valerie Gladstone

born in: New York
lives in: New York
Writer, editor, documentary producer, curator. Editor at Harper's, Channels, Americana Magazine. Published in The NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, Travel and Leisure, Town and Country, Artnews, Art and Auction, among others. Also in the websites Black Voices, The... [more]

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Choreographing a multimedia 'devil'

Choreographing a multimedia 'devil' By Valerie Gladstone, Globe Correspondent | February 20, 2009 NEW YORK - Ominous crackling sounds drift through Manhattan's Dance Theater Workshop as choreographer Zoe Scofield's wild and mysterious piece "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't" begins to unfold. Blurred video images of snowflakes appear on a scrim, and as they gently fall through space, Scofield can be discerned kneeling in a square of light, rotating her torso and rising to kick her legs. Other dancers appear like shadows on the dimly lit stage, all in white, moving to the dissonant chords in an electronic score by Morgan Henderson. Before the tumultuous 70-minute performance ends, they go through startling transformations, from graceful vulnerability to the ferocity of untamed beasts, exotically decked out in brightly colored plumage and wearing brilliant face paint. Scofield and her husband, the video artist Juniper Shuey, established their company just four years ago in Seattle, but the 30-year-old choreographer has already attracted a good deal of attention, winning prestigious commissions and festival invitations. The Seattle critic Brendan Kiley called "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't" "a beastly ballet, both harrowing and gorgeous." Scofield, who got her start as a dancer in the Boston area, made sure that her first tour included Boston, and she's drawing on her roots in a special way: A graduate of Walnut Hill School in Natick, Scofield is having her five-member company perform with 10 ballet students from the school at the Institute of Contemporary Art tonight and tomorrow. Among those happy to see Scofield back is dancer/choreographer Diane Arvanites-Noya, a Walnut Hill School dance teacher, who was struck by Scofield's originality from her first choreography class. "Zoe has a powerful visceral language," she says. "She's fearless and determined to say what she has to say. She's extremely educated as an artist and lives her life like poetry." This becomes evident in conversation. A pretty woman with abundant dark hair and an intense gaze, Scofield sets high standards for herself. "I want my work to be human, vulnerable, and passionate," she says, munching a salad in the lobby at Dance Theater Workshop before a recent rehearsal. "I want to create a heightened sense of reality, a spectacle, something outside the normal, not anything linear. I don't want to dictate either; I want the audience to have their own experience inside what I choreograph." An avid reader, Scofield came upon the book "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" by Philip Zimbardo a few years ago, and she says she was fascinated and horrified by what she learned. Based on some scientific evidence, the author theorized that given certain circumstances, good people would engage in evil action. The findings affected Scofield deeply enough to inform the new piece. "I hope to convey the emotional pressure, both internal and external," she says, "that occasionally comes to bear on all human beings to act irrationally and badly." Adding 10 students to her troupe for this work, she decided, would more powerfully transmit the feeling of oppression, of "outside forces bearing down." In the recent New York performances, Barnard College students took part. This kind of provocative choreography is a far cry from Scofield's early years in dance. Growing up in a small Georgia town, she took ballet classes from the time she was a little girl, dreaming of one day becoming a ballerina in traditional roles. With life there stifling, she says, ballet was an escape for her, a safe haven. Things improved when her family moved to Boston so she could attend Walnut Hill School. But no matter how hard she worked, when she was about to graduate from the school, a teacher warned her, "You'll never be a ballerina. You don't look like a swan. You'll never be happy in ballet. You're too independent." Though she came to realize that he was right, at the time she was devastated. Afterward, she briefly danced with Arvanites-Noya's Prometheus Dance company and a couple of other troupes, including one in Toronto, before giving up dance altogether to study Ashtanga yoga. That might have been the end of her dance career if she had not met Shuey when she moved to Seattle in 2002. "I was drawn to him right away," she says, smiling. "I felt a ridiculously powerful force to be with him." After two years together, he insisted she return to dance. "I saw right away that dance is who she is," Shuey says. "We soon began to dream about pieces we could do together." Trained in theater at Emerson College, Shuey also had a good business sense, and they began writing proposals and applying for grants. Their efforts paid off with their first collaboration in 2005 in Seattle's Northwest New Works Festival, and other important engagements have followed. Shuey aimed to create another emotional dimension for her works through his visual design. They added Henderson to the team to create their scores and Kamran Sadeghi to incorporate and electronically manipulate live sounds from theaters during performances. The result is an engulfing experience. Scofield draws on everything that has formed her in the new piece. She likes ballet for its clarity, verticality, and discipline. She uses aspects of yoga for flexibility and modern dance technique for its fluidity. By combining these elements with her own directness and partiality to angular and jagged movements, she produces thrillingly dynamic and baroque work. Her dancers thrive on performing it. "I've been with Zoe four years," said Christiana Axelsen, "and I love being in her magical world. Every dance includes so many crazy things, like this one, with the snow and face paint. She's full of creativity, and it's so much fun to be part of it." © Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Santo Loquasto Adds the Afterlife to the Worlds He's Designed

June 8, 2003 Santo Loquasto Adds the Afterlife to the Worlds He's Designed By VALERIE GLADSTONE SANTO LOQUASTO was behind schedule. On this chilly morning in February he was working on his set and costume designs for "HereAfter," a highlight of American Ballet Theater's current season. His other projects for the spring included Woody Allen's new movie "Anything Else" and Mr. Allen's new play "Writer's Block," and productions of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" on Broadway and "Love's Labour's Lost" at Stratford, Ontario. There was also the Metropolitan Opera's "Salome" for next season. Surprisingly, he appeared relaxed, even jovial, as his associates handled the phones in the small office in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Mr. Loquasto, 58, is one of the foremost set and costume designers. He has received nominations for countless awards, from Oscars to Obies to Tonys ó including a Tony nomination this year for "Long Day's Journey." In addition to filmmakers like Mr. Allen, he has worked with a veritable who's who of choreographers, including Agnes DeMille, Kenneth MacMillan, Paul Taylor, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Mark Morris. "I'm a romantic," he said. "I love the high level of fantasy dance allows." Mr. Loquasto grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He got hooked on theater in his teens, when his mother took him to see "Gypsy." He acted in high school plays and majored in liberal arts at King's College in Wilkes-Barre. He later studied theater production at the Yale Drama School. After a few summers at the Williamstown Theater in Massachusetts, he was asked by Joe Papp to become the resident designer at the Public Theater in New York. Later Jennifer Tipton, the lighting designer, introduced him to Mr. Taylor and Twyla Tharp. His apartment was covered with art books and magazines open to pages where he has found inspiration. "I lift from everyone," he said. "I call it being reverential." On the dining room table was a model of the set for "HereAfter": an ancient-looking temple, which reflected the ballet's spiritual themes. Nearby he spread out silky fabric in muted reds and blues, which he was considering for the costumes. "It's my job to help create a visual narrative," he said. Mr. Loquasto and Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of Ballet Theater, first discussed "HereAfter" a year ago. Mr. McKenzie explained that the two-part work was about man's journey through life and death. Natalie Weir would choreograph one ballet to John Adams's "Harmonium" and Stanton Welch the other to Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." Both are choral works, and the New York Choral Society would accompany them, which meant more than 100 singers had to be accommodated onstage. After hearing all the plans, Mr. Loquasto recalled saying to Mr. McKenzie, "What will you guys think of next?" Mr. McKenzie said: "Santo is undaunted by challenges. And he's sensitive to dancers' foibles, and insecurities, and takes them into account in his designs." Before designing anything for a dance, Mr. Loquasto listens to the score. "The music is the catalyst for me," he said. "It evokes a time, a place, a mood and frees me to imagine a whole world." At her first meeting with Mr. Loquasto, Ms. Weir told him that she wanted her ballet to reflect the music's spirituality. "I thought of opening with my main male figure suspended from the ceiling," she said, "as if in an embryonic state, between life and death." Mr. Loquasto sketched a cagelike contraption, and because Ms. Weir did not want it to appear as though the dancers and chorus were interacting, he devised see-through blinds that divide the chorus from the rest of the stage. "Santo understands that the designs should interact with the choreography," she said. "He gave clarity to the images in my work." In keeping with the ballet's tone, Mr. Loquasto suggested simple costumes that showed off the dancers' bodies. They looked natural enough to have been bought off the rack. In fact, some of them were. "I keep an eye on the money," he said. Mr. Loquasto often offers advice that affects the choreography. He worried that a ballet set to "Carmina Burana" might look kitschy. "It's very tricky," he said, "when you enter into primitive worlds." He designed unitards that make it appear as if the dancers' bodies have been painted; he also suggested that the dancers wear temporary tattoos. "I drew from Aztec, Mayan and aboriginal art, hoping to convey a sense of timelessness," he said. When Mr. Morris asked him to design costumes to look like M&M candies for his "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," Mr. Loquasto asked if he meant the inside or the outside, which sounds like a joke. But Mr. Loquasto chose brown, for its suitability to the Englishness of the piece. "My collaborations are my greatest reward," he said. "Whether they are combative, remedial or genuinely collaborative, I look forward to them, the ongoing ones for the pleasure of working with people I've known for years, and the new ones for the challenge. They're as exciting as romance." But Mr. Loquasto's relationships with choreographers, particularly with Robbins, have not always been easy. "No matter what I suggested, Jerry would do what he wanted to do, which was always the same thing," Mr. Loquasto recalled. "Once he asked me, `Why can't you do for me what you do for Twyla?' and I told him, `Because she allows me to respond and you're not interested.' " Mr. Loquasto and George Balanchine had a showdown over Robbins's "Four Seasons." When Balanchine saw that he had used the same color for the women's dresses and tights, he asked Mr. Loquasto to change the tights to dance briefs. "I told him that I could not cut their legs there," Mr. Loquasto said. "No one was going to think they were naked. After I made my pronouncement, he turned to someone nearby and remarked: `That's why I like working with Rouben Ter-Arutunian. He's not like Santo; he does exactly what I tell him to do.' " The women did not wear dance briefs. By late April, Mr. Loquasto was almost back on schedule with "HereAfter." All he had left were the final fittings in Barbara Matera's costume shop in downtown Manhattan. As he pinned layers of cloth on one patient dancer after another, he was still designing, trying to find just the right combination of patterns that would please the audience's eye, be comfortable for the dancer and enhance the choreography. "At times," Mr. Loquasto said, "I think I draw too broadly and have no real style of my own. But in a way I really shouldn't have a recognizable style. I'm supposed to represent the artist's vision, not mine." When it was suggested that he was an artist, he laughed and continued adjusting fabric on a dancer's leg. Valerie Gladstone is a freelance writer in New York who specializes in dance.

The Return of the Broadway Boogie-Woogie

November 6, 2005 The Return of the Broadway Boogie-Woogie By VALERIE GLADSTONE GRIOT NEW YORK Garth Fagan Dance and the Wynton Marsalis Septet Rose Theater, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday THE choreographer Garth Fagan and Wynton Marsalis, the co-founder and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, go way back. They met in the 1980's when Mr. Fagan, a jazz aficionado, took his dancers to New York clubs to hear Mr. Marsalis play. "I knew we could learn from him," Mr. Fagan said in a recent conference call with Mr. Marsalis. "I sensed we saw things the same way." Eventually he invited Mr. Marsalis to a rehearsal at the company's headquarters in Rochester. "I was young then - 23 or 24," Mr. Marsalis said, "and for him to do a performance just for me, to show me that kind of respect, like I was Duke Ellington, was actually startling. I tried to understand the choreography as well as I could with my level of sophistication, which was very little at the time. But more than the choreography, I knew him. I could understand the genius of the man and his depth of understanding of world cultures, Afro and not Afro." Mutual admiration led to collaboration. When the Brooklyn Academy of Music commissioned a full-evening work from Mr. Fagan for the Next Wave Festival in 1991, he asked Mr. Marsalis to compose the score. The result, "Griot New York," with dramatic sets by the sculptor Martin Puryear, is often cited as Mr. Fagan's finest achievement. But because of scheduling difficulties, the work, which vividly captures the city's vitality and diversity as well as its chilling indifference to the disenfranchised, has not been performed in New York in its entirety since its premiere. On Wednesday, however, Garth Fagan Dance, accompanied by Mr. Marsalis on trumpet with his septet, will perform the piece at Jazz at Lincoln Center. On other programs during the troupe's engagement through Nov. 13, are the premiere of "Life: Dark/Light" set to a score by the jazz violinist Billy Bang, excerpts from "Griot New York" and other works from the repertory. Mr. Fagan, 65, who choreographed the Broadway hit "The Lion King," and Mr. Marsalis, 44, warmly recalled their collaboration on "Griot New York," which began with Mr. Fagan sending Mr. Marsalis a poem he had written with the same title, sketching out some of his themes. Like a West African griot, a storyteller who preserves traditions and culture, Mr. Fagan's work touches on what he saw as New York's most striking qualities, joyful and sad. He included references to African countries, and places with beautiful names like Bujumbura, and dealt with slavery and AIDS. "Being the artist he is," Mr. Fagan said, "I knew he could grasp what I was trying to do." There had never been any question that Mr. Fagan would choose jazz for "Griot New York." "Jazz is America's music," he said. "It has all the structure of classical music and all the freedoms and passions of America. We do real jazz dancing to this man's score. We become like sidemen, dancing in and out of the music." Already trained in a vigorous, highly rhythmic style - a fusion of African, Caribbean and modern dance and ballet techniques - Mr. Fagan's dancers find in "Griot New York," with many sequences set to calypso, blues and other social dance forms, an occasion to display their extraordinary virtuosity and musicality. Mr. Marsalis said that he felt completely at ease composing for dance. "Our music is dance," he said of jazz. "A lot of our big grooves are called dance grooves. It's much better for us when it's with dance. Garth brings a new consciousness to us. We see his work and say, 'Man, look at this counterpoint and these different things he has in his dances, dancers dancing in different times, using their bodies in different ways.' The stuff is so inspiring to us." With Mr. Fagan's themes in mind, Mr. Marsalis wrote a score with sudden and abrupt contrasts similar to what he admires in certain paintings. "The form that I often used is collage," he said. "It cuts from one thing to another, like New York from one block to another, like Stuart Davis's paintings. Or a certain type of Romare Bearden collage: it has the feeling of the city, but it also deals with country themes. It's cutting back and forth with a lot of swift, angular things. New York is the sound of counterpoint. There is a lot going on in the city, all organized by form and space - that's a jazz concept because we use space to organize whatever we play." They worked on the piece for several months, separately and with the dancers, often conferring by phone. Mr. Fagan, who was born in Jamaica, choreographed the dance in eight sections, hoping to convey the varied experiences of New Yorkers, especially of Africans and of blacks from the Caribbean. When something didn't quite mesh, they adapted. "Wynton came to us with the music for the love duet 'Spring Yaoundé,' " Mr. Fagan said, "but when he saw it, he said, 'No, man, I'm not going to use this,' and he tossed away what he'd come with, and sat down at the piano, and with one hand on the keys, he put his trumpet to his mouth and just composed an extraordinary ballad right there. I mean the damn walls were crying with emotion by the end of it." In ravishingly sensual duets like "Spring Yaoundé," in which the dancers wind themselves around each other and end with their faces so close they appear as one, Mr. Fagan shows varieties of romantic love - interracial, gay and straight. "People need someone they can count on," Mr. Fagan said. "That is the essence of mankind, working and making love and growing and supporting each other." Mr. Fagan thought it was important to have an interlude with Mr. Marsalis and his septet alone onstage to simulate a jazz concert in a club. For all the other sections, they play in the pit. But jazzmen like to play something different every night, so he had to beg them to play the same notes at every performance. "Sometimes Garth told us we were making too much noise down there," Mr. Marsalis said, recalling the good times his septet and Mr. Fagan's dancers spent together on tour with the piece in 1993. "We'd be making stuff up and acting crazy, changing parts, clowning around. We're kind of mischievous that way. At least we were like that then." Even though 14 years have passed since Mr. Fagan choreographed "Griot New York," he doesn't think the work has become dated. "All the same elements in the city are still there, in more and lesser degrees," he said. Will they work together again? "Absolutely," Mr. Fagan said, "The next piece I do with Wynton will be a collaboration to be premiered at his new theater. Within the next two years." Not missing a beat, Mr. Marsalis said, "I'm going to hold him to that."

Stepping to a new level In his dances, a Boston native reaches to embrace virtuosity, maturity

Stepping to a new level In his dances, a Boston native reaches to embrace virtuosity, maturity By Valerie Gladstone, Globe Correspondent | October 26, 2007 NEW YORK - On a muggy evening, choreographer Seán Curran climbs the stairs of an old building in Manhattan's Chinatown to rehearse his troupe for a three-day engagement at the Tsai Performance Center. A Boston native, Curran feels extra pressure when his company performs in his hometown. "It's nerve-racking," Curran says of the visit, which will take place this weekend, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. "My entire family comes. They're not really into contemporary dance. So the stakes are high." His dancers, already sweaty from warming up, smile as they greet the choreographer, who sports a spiky haircut and is wearing a black T-shirt, brown corduroys, and striped socks. They launch into "The Nothing That Is Not There and the Nothing That Is," a name drawn from a Wallace Stevens poem. To a poignant Leos Janacek piano score, Kevin Scarpin and Evan Copeland walk slowly across the studio, as if in another world. Nora Brickman and Francisca Romo glance at them and then jump center stage, swiftly raising their hands in gestures of refusal. "I want the shapes of your arms to be more angular, more graphic," Curran says, showing them what he means. "The music reflects the composer's feelings of loss and of a life overgrown with memories. The piece is harsh. It's about people unable to connect." Connecting with people is, in fact, the 46-year-old Curran's greatest strength. Articulate, gregarious, and a natural teacher, he has attracted wide audiences for his witty, highly athletic, visually pleasing, and philosophical dances. They grow out of his eclectic background, which began with a childhood devoted to Irish step dancing, continued with modern-dance training at New York University, and was followed by 10 years performing with the celebrated Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and four years starring in the original cast of the off-Broadway hit show "Stomp." "I learned about speed, musicality, and counterpoint from step dancing," says Curran. "It gave me an appreciation for virtuosity and showmanship. They underlie everything I do. I choreograph to please the eye. Bill T. schooled me in improvisation. Dancing with his company was like being in a laboratory. I've learned about scale, sets, lighting, and theatricality from [choreographing for] opera, and the importance of research because I have to know the scores. It all adds up to a pretty interesting education." Indeed, with that wide-ranging education, Curran seems to have graduated to a new level of maturity as a choreographer. Now celebrating its 10th season, the Seán Curran Company performs regularly in New York and tours extensively in the United States and abroad. Curran increasingly choreographs for opera and theater, including the Metropolitan Opera and New York's Shakespeare Festival. A passionate modern-dance advocate, he teaches at the Boston Conservatory, among other schools. Meanwhile he has evolved artistically, along with his company. Most of his dancers are now at least 20 years younger than he is, and some have backgrounds in yoga and Pilates and are heavily influenced by street and club dancing. (Success hasn't precluded challenges: Curran recently had to trim his company from nine members to six, squeezed like many arts organizations by decreases in funding; two guests will dance with the company in Boston.) "I'm moving into a new period," Curran says. "I'm no longer a colleague of my dancers; I'm the boss. I look kind of funny when I dance with them, so now I only do solos. My new pieces are also very different than the older ones. They're more contemplative, without being any less vigorous and athletic. I jokingly call my new style postmodern Baroque." Boston audiences will see two superb examples of Curran's new style: "Social Discourse," a world premiere to a soundtrack by Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, and the acclaimed "Aria/Apology" (tonight and tomorrow only), set to Handel arias and recordings from the confessional Apology Project. The late artist Allan Bridge began the project in the '80s by giving people the freedom to call his voice mail anonymously and leave apologies for things they were sorry they had done. He was inundated with calls. After compiling them, he set up a website and published them in a magazine. Listening to the recordings is rough going. They concern murder, rape, and incest, often by people who do not seem remorseful. "The apologies are about being wrong," Curran reminds the dancers before rehearsing "Aria/Apology," "and the arias are about grace." They take positions lying on the floor as an apology for a rape begins, the man's voice gruff and defensive. The simple juxtaposition of the passive figures with the description of the heinous act creates a feeling of horror and sadness in the studio. As the ugly words fade away and a glorious aria takes their place, dancers move into a series of lushly tender duets and solos, only to come to a standstill as another anonymous caller talks of killing a gay man. Scarpin then takes center stage, going from one angular position to another in shapes that Curran discovered in paintings of St. Sebastian - an icon for many in the gay community, Curran notes. The Apology Project struck a chord with Curran in part, he says, "because of my history. I only got sober 13 years ago and I had to make a lot of amends to people for the disappointment and hurt that I had caused. I know a lot about shame and guilt and the need to apologize and get it out." After the intensity of "Aria/Apology," the dancers move on to the more lyrical "Social Discourse." The piece "is about this new stage I've entered," Curran explains. "It concerns discussions the dancers have among themselves and discussions between me and them, about ideas and new ways of moving. It's fast and frenetic, as if everyone is talking at the same time, sort of like what happens when I give them a problem to solve." All of his work is collaborative, Curran says: "This time I asked each of them to make a letter S with their bodies. . . . We ended up with six phrases, each a distinctive portrait. And that became the basis of this piece." As Copeland demonstrates his S, curving and winding his body into all kinds of intriguing shapes, it is easy to see why Curran's dancers thrive in his company. "Seán really allows us to put our own personality into his work," says Brickman. "Of course, it's still very much his choreography. Some dancers may find it wonderful to belong to big companies and do the dances of choreographers with great legacies, often learning them off videotape, and being told to do them exactly as dancers of the past. But I love Seán's gift to us of collaboration. He gives us the nugget and then lets us develop it. We become part of the creative process. That's why most of us first decided to be dancers."

Grace at the End of His Fingertips

ARTS AND LEISURE DESK DANCE; By VALERIE GLADSTONE (NYT) 1424 words Published: April 29, 2001 FOR more than a year, in the dark basement of a small Greenwich Village brownstone, the puppeteer Basil Twist has been reimagining Stravinsky's poignant ballet ''Petrouchka,'' originally choreographed by Michel Fokine for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1911. In his cramped eight-foot-square work space, piled high with cartons of old, cherished puppets, Mr. Twist has immersed himself in the exhilarating score, searching for inspiration for his own ''Petrouchka,'' which will have its world premiere at the Clark Studio Theater on May 1 through 13, as part of Lincoln Center's New Visions series. The Stravinsky score, in a version for two pianos, will be played by the Russian twin sisters Irina and Julia Elkina, who as an introduction will also play Stravinsky's Sonata for Two Pianos. It was the huge success of Mr. Twist's breathtaking underwater version of Berlioz's ''Symphonie Fantastique'' in 1999 at the Here Theater Complex in SoHo that won him his current assignment. ''I was bowled over by Basil's work,'' said Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center's vice president of programming. ''He seemed perfect for our new series, which brings together the worlds of theater and music. He's taking puppetry into a whole other realm.'' Late last month, Mr. Twist was spending a good deal of time analyzing videotapes of his workshop performances that he had just put on at the Walker Center in Minneapolis. Perched on a stool, with the gangly puppet Petrouchka lying limply next to him on his desk, he said, ''This time I wanted to create an old-fashioned puppet show, something entirely different from the abstraction of 'Symphonie Fantastique.' '' At 31, this lithe, dark-haired puppeteer, wearing a green turtleneck shirt, baggy black pants and heavy boots, looked very much the part of downtown artist. But he also projects an innocent, childlike quality, perhaps crucial to his artistry. ''I'd thought about Stravinsky because I wanted to use a 20th-century composer,'' he said, ''and I knew 'Petrouchka' because of the puppet theme. But my work is too intimate for an orchestral piece.'' After much digging, he came across the two-piano version. ''I thought 'bingo'!'' he recalled. ''It all came to me at once. I saw two pianos facing each other across the stage as a beautiful way to frame the action and integrate the music with the performance.'' While a student at the distinguished Advanced National School of Puppetry in Charleville-Mézières, France, in the early 1990's, Mr. Twist and his fellow classmates put on ''Petrouchka,'' which is based on the story of three puppets -- the clown Petrouchka, the dashing Moor and the alluring Ballerina -- who briefly come to life in a tragic love triangle. But Mr. Twist said he had always been disappointed by the Fokine ballet. ''With dancers pretending to be puppets, it's not a particularly pretty dance,'' he said, ''nor is the choreography very imaginative. It's robotic, a reduction of the human body. That's not my idea of puppets at all. I think of them as idealized human beings, capable of great freedom of movement and expression. So I got all excited about making this a fantastic show with gorgeous and extraordinary puppets and the Ballerina performing steps a human ballerina only wishes she could do.'' Mr. Twist painstakingly constructed his new characters out of wire, foam, wood, flexible tubing hoses and hinges, using felt to create their distinctive faces. They first came to life in the second room of his cave-like work space, where he figures out ideas on a makeshift stage with his nine-member troupe. In the style of traditional Japanese bunraku puppet theater, three puppeteers manipulate with their hands each four-foot-tall puppet; its eyes move, eyebrows rise, mouth opens and shuts, hands and arms gesture realistically. One puppeteer controls the head and pelvis, the second manipulates the arms, and the third the feet, forming a kind of pyramid behind the puppet. Outfitted head to toe in black velvet and hidden by special lighting -- staging techniques of Czech black theater -- the puppeteers are invisible to the audience. ''Since the 60's,'' Mr. Twist said, ''it's been popular for puppeteers to be visible. Though it's harder to hide everyone, I much prefer illusion.'' Displaying a large, white cardboard circle, he said: ''I use lots of circles. I attach them to long sticks, and the puppeteers manipulate them so they look like they are spinning -- an effect I use between scenes. It's sort of hypnotic, things going round and round, like in a fairground. I hear that in the opening music.'' He plans to use other abstract elements, like big flowers, again on sticks, which his troupe will arrange in different patterns. Turning up the Stravinsky score that had been playing softly in the background, he said, smiling, ''Listen, here come the chickens.'' It did sound like a march for chickens. ''So, I thought, well, at this point, let's have little chicks strut across the stage,'' he said. Mr. Twist's passion for puppetry could almost be said to be genetic. His grandfather, Griff Williams, a big-band leader in the 1930's and 40's, loved puppets. At the close of his shows he would bring out string puppets, suavely dressed in tuxedos, and manipulate them on top of the piano, so that with their little batons it looked as if they were leading the orchestra. Although his grandfather died before Mr. Twist was born, his grandmother, Dorothy Williams, gave him those puppets when he was 10. ''It sort of sealed the deal,'' he said. His mother, Lynne Twist, had already introduced him to her father's sideline by establishing a small puppet company with several other women while he was growing up in San Francisco. He also got a good dose of the Muppets on television. After briefly attending Oberlin College in Ohio, Mr. Twist discovered the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts, where he interned for three months before coming to New York in 1989. As it turned out, however, he got much more work here as a busboy than as a puppeteer and was about to try college again when he learned of the French school of puppetry, where he became the only American to win acceptance into its three-year training program. Since graduating in 1993, he has performed with the innovative puppet artists Roman Paska and Julie Taymor, built and directed puppetry for Mabou Mines, and presented his own shows in Russia and Ireland. By early April, Mr. Twist had moved his rehearsals from the Village to the Upper East Side and then to an abandoned bank building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with ceilings 20 feet high and immense windows giving onto the river. There, he could use all his props. In a recent rehearsal the puppeteers took their places on a platform inside the 22-foot-by-40-foot stage, set up in the middle of the room. Given the tight space and the need to move quickly and efficiently, they must have the skills of dancers, and in fact, Christopher Williams, who controls Petrouchka's head and pelvis, studied ballet and modern dance at Sarah Lawrence College and assisted Mr. Twist with the choreography. ''Sometimes, it's like directing traffic back here,'' Mr. Williams said, as they got into position. Over the course of the show, they continually move back and forth across the stage, sometimes even briefly taking over partial control of another puppeteer's character. AS Mr. Twist switched on a tape, the puppets flew into the air to the lively rhythms of a joyous Russian dance. The Moor, his head swathed in a purple turban and gold jewelry sparkling on his bare chest, did a royale, his green and gold trousers shimmering as he jumped. The Ballerina and Petrouchka expertly and un-self-consciously spun into pirouettes, still dressed in their underclothes. Working with Mr. Twist, the costume designer known as Mr. David was finishing the Ballerina's elegant gold lace tutu and Petrouchka's red and blue checkered pants and tasseled blue hat, modeled after Nijinksy's in the original Ballets Russes production. ''I thought I'd only use these puppets for rehearsals and make new ones for Lincoln Center,'' Mr. Twist said. ''But now we love them very much, so I just keep replacing their parts when they become damaged.'' Glancing at them fondly, he whispered, ''How could I do otherwise?''






Excellent analysis

From the Atlantic Monthly


Why The Economist is thriving while Time and Newsweek fade

by Michael Hirschorn. The Newsweekly’s Last Stand

NEWSWEEK’S RECENT DECISION to get out of the news-digesting business and reposition itself as a high-end magazine selling in-depth commentary and reportage follows Time magazine’s emergency retrenchment along similar lines. It accelerates a process by which the 76-year-old weekly will purposely reduce its circulation from 2.7 million to a bit more than half of that. (Its circulation was nearly 3.5 million in 1988.) Likewise, Time’s circulation, which 20 years ago was close to 5 million, is now at 3.4 million. Both newsweeklies are seeking to avoid the fate ofU.S. News & World Report, which after years (decades?) of semi-relevance gave up on the idea of weekly publication entirely.

These tactical retreats by Newsweek and Time are brave stabs at relevance in a changing media environment. They’re also a decade late. In the digital age, with its overabundance of information, the modern newsweekly is in a particularly poignant position. Designed nearly a century ago to be all things to all people, it Chaplin-esquely tries to straddle thousands of rapidly fragmenting micro-niches, a mainframe in an iTouch world. The audience it was created to serve—middlebrow; curious, but not too curious; engaged, but only to a point—no longer exists. Newsweeklies were intended to be counterprogramming to newspapers, back when we were drowning in newsprint and needed a digest to redact that vast inflow of dead-tree objectivity. Now, in response to accelerating news cycles, the newspapers have effectively become newsweekly-style digests themselves, resorting to muddy “news analysis” now that the actual news has hit us on multiple platforms before we even open our front door in the morning.

Given that even these daily digests are faltering, how is it that a notionally similar weekly news digest—The Economist—is not only surviving, but thriving? Virtually alone among magazines, The Economist saw its advertising revenues increase last year by double digits—a remarkable 25 percent, according to the Publisher’s Information Bureau. Newsweek’s and Time’s dropped 27 percent and 14 percent, respectively. (The Economist’s revenues declined in the first quarter of this year, but so did almost every magazine’s.) Indeed, The Economist has been growing consistently and powerfully for years, tracking in near mirror-image reverse the decline of its U.S. rivals. Despite being positioned as a niche product, its U.S. circulation is nearing 800,000, and it will inevitably overtake Newsweek on that front soon enough.

Unlike its rivals, The Economist has been unaffected by the explosion of digital media; if anything, the digital revolution has cemented its relevance. The Economist has become an arbiter of right-thinking opinion (free-market right-center, if you want to be technical about it; with a dose of left-center social progressivism) at a time when arbiters in general are in ill favor. It is a general-interest magazine for an ever-increasing audience, the self-styled global elite, at a time when general-interest anything is having a hard time interesting anybody. And it sells more than 75,000 copies a week on U.S. newsstands for $6.99 (!) at a time when we’re told information wants to be free and newsstands are disappearing.

All of this suggests that although digital media is clearly supplanting everything analog, digital will not necessarily destroy analog. A better word might be displace. And The Economist’s success holds a number of lessons for dead-tree revanchists on how to manage this displacement.

The easy lesson might be that quality wins out. The Economist is truly a remarkable invention—a weekly newspaper, as it calls itself, that canvasses the globe with an assurance that no one else can match. Where else, really, can you actually keep up with Africa? But even as The Economist signals its gravitas with every strenuously reader-unfriendly page, it has never been quite as brilliant as its more devoted fans would have the rest of us believe. (Though, one must add, nor is it as shallow as its detractors would tell you it is.)

At its worst, the writing can be shoddy, thin research supporting smug hypotheses. The “leaders,” or main articles, tend to “urge” politicians to solve complex problems, as if the key to, say, reconstituting the global banking system were but a simple act of cogitation away. A typical leader, from January, on the ongoing Gaza violence was an erudite, deeply historical write-around on Arab-Israeli violence that ended up arriving at the same conclusion everyone else arrived at long ago: Israel must give up land for peace. The science-and-technology pages tend toward Gladwell-lite popularizations of academic papers from British universities. A February report on new scientific analyses of crowd behavior seemed to promise a fresh look at how police might deal with potentially rowdy mobs, but it quickly degenerated into an unsatisfying gloss on a British professor’s explanation of why some crowds become violent and some do not, with some syntax-obliterating hemming and hawing for good measure. (“And it is that which may help violence to be controlled.”)

Pieces like these tend to support the Economist-haters, who believe the magazine is simply conventional-wisdom-spewing crack for Anglophiles. But then you come across a brilliant exploration of the current drug-fueled violence in Mexico, offered in support of The Economist’s long-held position in favor of legalization, and you suddenly feel like you have a handle on the world that you didn’t have before.

The Economist prides itself on cleverly distilling the world into a reasonably compact survey. Another word for this isblogging, or at least what blogging might be after it matures—meaning, after it transcends its current status as a free-fire zone and settles into a more comprehensive system of gathering and presenting information. As a result, although its self-marketing subtly sells a kind of sleek, mid-last-century Concorde-flying sangfroid, The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009.

True, The Economist virtually never gets scoops, and the information it does provide is available elsewhere … if you care to spend 20 hours Googling. But now that information is infinitely replicable and pervasive, original reporting will never again receive its due. The real value of The Economist lies in its smart analysis of everything it deems worth knowing—and smart packaging, which may be the last truly unique attribute in the digital age.

For a magazine that effectively blogged avant la lettreThe Economist has never had much digital savvy. It offered a complex mix of free and paid content (rarely a winning strategy) until two years ago and was so unprepared for the Internet that it couldn’t even secure as its Web domain. (It later tried, unsuccessfully, to claim the URL.) Today, access to the site is free of charge, excepting deep archival material, but while editors have made some desultory efforts at adding social-networking features, most of the magazine’s readers seem to have no idea the site exists. While other publications whore themselves to Google, The Huffington Post, and the Drudge Report, almost no one links to The Economist. It sits primly apart from the orgy of link love elsewhere on the Web.

This turns out to have been a lucky accident. Unlike practically all other media “brands,” The Economist remains primarily a print product, and it is valued accordingly. In other words, readers continue to believe its stories have some value. As a result,The Economist has become a living test case of the path not taken by Time and Newsweek, whose Web strategies have succeeded in grabbing eyeballs (Time has 4.7 million unique users a month, and Newsweek has 2 million, compared with The Economist’s 700,000, according to one measure) while dooming their print products to near irrelevance.

It’s no surprise, then, that the redesigned Time seems to bear an ever-greater resemblance to The Economist (its editor is on record as being a fan; and every other editor of a vaguely upscale magazine nurses a hard case of Economist envy). The revamped Newsweek, not yet unsheathed at press time, no doubt will as well.

As it happens, the new-look Time is quite a good read—my earlier prejudice against it, I’m sure, being a learned response similar to that of millions of others who came to see it as doctor’s-waiting-room fodder. Perusing a recent issue, I found a sharp essay on the changing ethical landscape of “Great Recession” America, and a terrific piece of reportage about how Detroiters are responding to the accelerating collapse of their city and, more generally, how cities should respond when significant chunks of their metropolitan area become unsalvageable.

But it takes time and millions of dollars, and possibly risible branding campaigns, to turn quintessentially middlebrow secondary reads into upper-middlebrow must-reads. And even as Time and Newsweek attempt to copy The Economist’s success, they seem to be misunderstanding what it is, exactly, that they should be copying. By repositioning themselves as repositories of commentary and long-form reporting—much like this magazine, it’s worth noting, which has never delivered impressive profit margins—the American newsweeklies are going away from precisely the thing that has propelled The Economist’s rise: its status as a humble digest, with a consistent authorial voice, that covers absolutely everything that you need to be informed about. (Tellingly, the very lo-fi digest The Week, which has copped The Economist’s attitude without any real reporting or analysis at all, is thriving as well.)

The secret to The Economist’s success is not its brilliance, or its hauteur, or its typeface. The writing in Time and Newsweekmay be every bit as smart, as assured, as the writing in The Economist. But neither one feels like the only magazine you needto read. You may like the new Time and Newsweek. But you must—or at least, brilliant marketing has convinced you that you must—subscribe to The Economist.

Perhaps Time and Newsweek simply can’t mimic The Economist in function as well as form. The rapid marketplace shifts that are forcing the newsweeklies to retrench may have bled them of the resources necessary to imitate their British rival’s globe-saturating coverage—say, the reports on trade policy in Botswana; the 30-page specials on fusion energy in Indonesia; the correspondents who scamper (or give the impression that they’re scampering) across backwaters and remote deserts, spraying assured advice along the way like so much confetti.

But even if the newsweeklies had millions of dollars to throw at covering the world, their efforts probably wouldn’t be enough. Repositioning your brand today is so much harder than it was in the old days, especially when you’re destined to be seen as a copycat product. In the digital age, razor-sharp clarity and definition are the keys to success. Knowing what and who you are, and conveying that idea to an audience, is the only way to break through to readers ADD’ed out on an infinitude of choices. General-interest is out; niche is in. The irony, as restaurateurs and club-owners and sneaker companies and Facebook and Martha Stewart know—and as The Economist demonstrates, week in and week out—is that niche is sometimes the smartest way to take over the world.


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Clive Thompson on the Future of Reading in a Digital World

By Clive Thompson Email 05.22.09

Illustration: Michael Bierut/Pentagram; book: Istock Photo

When McKenzie Wark wrote Gamer Theory—an analysis of why people enjoy playing videogames—Harvard University Press published it as a conventional hardcover. But Wark also put it online usingCommentPress. The free blog theme blew the book open into a series of conversations; every paragraph could spawn its own discussion forum for readers.

Sure enough, hundreds dove in, and pretty soon Gamer Theory had sparked erudite exchanges on everything from Plato's cave to Schopenhauer's ideas on boredom. It felt as much like a rangy, excited Twitter conversation as it did a book. "It was all because we opened it up and gave readers a way to interact with each other," Wark says. "It changed the way they read the book."

Books are the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn't embraced the digital age. Publishers and author advocates have generally refused to put books online for fear the content will be Napsterized. And you can understand their terror, because the publishing industry is in big financial trouble, rife with layoffs and restructurings. Literary pundits are fretting: Can books survive in this Facebooked, ADD, multichannel universe?

To which I reply: Sure they can. But only if publishers adopt Wark's perspective and provide new ways for people to encounter the written word. We need to stop thinking about the future of publishing and think instead about the future of reading.

Every other form of media that's gone digital has been transformed by its audience. Whenever a newspaper story or TV clip or blog post or white paper goes online, readers and viewers begin commenting about it on blogs, snipping their favorite sections, passing them along. The only reason the same thing doesn't happen to books is that they're locked into ink on paper.

Release them, and you release the crowd. BookGlutton, a site that launched last year, has put 1,660 books online and created tools that let readers form groups to discuss their favorite titles. Meanwhile,Bob Stein, an e-publishing veteran from the CD-ROM days, put the Doris Lessing book The Golden Notebook online with an elegant commenting system and hired seven writers to collaboratively read it.

Neither move should come as a surprise. Books have a centuries-old tradition of annotation and commentary, ranging from the Talmud and scholarly criticism to book clubs and marginalia. Stein believes that if books were set free digitally, it could produce a class of "professional readers"—people so insightful that you'd pay to download their footnotes. Sound unlikely? It already exists in the real world: Microsoft researcher Cathy Marshall has found that university students carefully study used textbooks before buying them, because they want to acquire the smartest notes.

The technology is here. Book nerds are now working on XML-like markup languages that would allow for really terrific linking and mashups. Imagine a world where there's a URL for every chapter and paragraph in a book—every sentence, even. Readers could point to their favorite sections in a MySpace update or instant message or respond to an argument by copiously linking to the smartest passages in a recent best seller.

This would massively improve what bibliophiles call book discovery. You're far more likely to hear about a book if a friend has highlighted a couple brilliant sentences in a Facebook update—and if you hear about it, you're far more likely to buy it in print. Yes, in print: The few authors who have experimented with giving away digital copies (mostly in sci-fi) have found that they end up selling more print copies, because their books are discovered by more people.

I'm not suggesting that books need always be social. One of the chief pleasures of a book is mental solitude, that deep, quiet focus on an author's thoughts—and your own. That's not going away. But books have been held hostage offline for far too long. Taking them digital will unlock their real hidden value: the readers.



Unknown User says:
“What I fear with everything going digital is the loss of hard copies, with out hard copies it is easy to change what happened in the past, literally history.I see it with music and mp3 rarely do you get an album when you download it. In its proper order the way the musicians recorded, same when I upload the album. When it comes to music it's nothing more than annoying, when it comes to history though that gets pretty scary, i.e. 1984, if all copies of the book have been burned I am sure you can upload a slightly altered copy somewhere on line. ”
Posted over 6 years ago
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Fela Kuti


International Film




Youssou N’Dour: A Concert and the Biographical Film: I Bring What I Love, Opening June 12 in New York City

The great Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour opened BAM’s terrific weeklong festival Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas with a concert on June 5. The next night, the series offered a special advance screening of the engrossing documentary “I Bring What I Love,” about his life, which was directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. It was followed by a blazing performance by N’Dour and his band The Super Etoile that had the entire audience on its feet dancing and clapping to the music.

Though nothing could equal the emotional power of hearing him sing – to me, his voice is one of the richest and multi-layered in the world – Vasarhelyi’s film movingly captures the charisma of this man who pleas for a more tolerant view of Islam through his music. Following him from concert to concert, country to country, and then home to his cherished grandmother and parents and children, it shows the tensions that arose when he recorded the original album “Egypt,” including in it verses in praise of Mohammed – forbidden by most Muslim sects.  

Trying to show that music only enhances religion and belief, he went up against the most conservative members of the faith, undaunted by even the Senegalese rejection of the recording. By the time the film ended and he came out on the stage, I think most of us in the audience felt we now knew the man, and entered his music even more fully.

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From The New York Times

June 10, 2009

Merce Cunningham Sets Plan for His Dance Legacy

Merce Cunningham, the nonagenarian choreographer, is planning for a world without him. He has decided that when he dies, or when the right time comes, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will embark on a final two-year international tour and then shut down, the Cunningham Dance Foundation, which supports the company, announced on Tuesday.

By other provisions of the plan, the Merce Cunningham Trust will take control of Mr. Cunningham’s dances for licensing purposes; the dancers will each receive a year’s salary as severance and extra money to help find new careers; staff members and the musicians who play for his performances will also receive payments.

Meanwhile, Cunningham associates will prepare detailed records of the dances so they can be licensed and given authentic productions by other companies. The foundation has embarked on an $8 million fund-raising campaign to pay for the transition.

The plan is Mr. Cunningham’s effort to confront the vexing problem of how choreography created by a lone master and interpreted by a dedicated company should be treated once the master has died. He turned 90 on April 16.

Cunningham associates say the plan can serve as a model for other creative artists, particularly choreographers with their own companies, to protect their legacies. At the least, it should help Mr. Cunningham’s body of work avoid the ugliness that surrounded the legacy of Martha Graham (who gave Mr. Cunningham his start in dance) after her death in 1991. The Graham foundation fought a bitter legal battle with Ron Protas, Ms. Graham’s heir, over rights to her ballets and was eventually awarded most of them.

“It’s really a concern about how do you preserve the elements of an art which is really evanescent, which is really like water,” Mr. Cunningham said in an interview last week. “It can disappear. This is a way of keeping it — at least with our experience here — of keeping it alive.”

The announcement came at a news conference at the dance company’s studio in the West Village. Mr. Cunningham did not attend because, foundation officials said, he was uncomfortable discussing the matter in public. One of the company’s dancers, Daniel Madoff, surrounded by eight colleagues, said, “It deeply saddens us to think about a future without Merce.” But he said the dancers support the plan.

Despite the careful planning, several issues remain unresolved, including what will initiate the transition plan. It certainly goes into effect on Mr. Cunningham’s death, but he could also make the decision beforehand. When asked what might prompt him to do so, he said: “It could be fatigue. It could be a lot of things. Certainly the financial situation could have a great deal to do with it.”

The board of the Cunningham foundation could also make the decision to cease company operations and begin the transfer to the trust, said Allan Sperling, a board member and a lawyer who helped work out the plan.

“It’ll be clear,” Mr. Sperling said, based on Mr. Cunningham’s capacities in the future.

“He’s the key to the whole thing,” Mr. Sperling added, noting that some board members had suggested that the winding down begin now, but that Mr. Cunningham refused.

“I don’t want to drop it,” Mr. Cunningham said. “If necessity makes that happen, all right. But at the moment, I’d like to continue.” At some points in the interview Mr. Cunningham appeared to contradict the documents prepared by the foundation, which included clear references to the company’s eventual closing.

That is the plan, he acknowledged. “But I hope that in its own way it can go on,” he said. “I’m under no illusions about things not changing. I would like it mostly if the ideas we explored were continued, not only with the present people but with other companies.”

Mr. Sperling said Mr. Cunningham had mentioned the possibility of the trust’s keeping on a few dancers to teach his works at other companies.

Mr. Cunningham added that he can accept the company’s future closing. “So if it stops, then it stops,” he said. “I won’t be around. I’m not going to say yes or no.” ”

Then he offered another possibility. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “if they close the present company down, they can start building something else.” Another uncertainty is whom Mr. Cunningham will name as successor trustees, and thus who will control his legacy. They are likely to come from his closest associates, who include Robert Swinston, his assistant; Trevor Carlson, the foundation’s executive director; and Laura Kuhn, executive director of the trust for the composer John Cage, Mr. Cunningham’s longtime collaborator and companion.

The plan calls for the Cunningham trust, which was established in 2000, to assume control of Mr. Cunningham’s personal art collection, including works by Jasper Johns andRobert Rauschenberg, who each designed sets for him. It will also take charge of the sets, props, costumes, archives and the digital “capsule” of each dance, which will include video, audio, lighting designs, and production notes.

The final two-year tour will offer a “triumphant conclusion to the creation phase of Merce’s work,” a document outlining the plan says.

Mr. Cunningham has stipulated that tickets to New York performances should cost $10.

In the interview Mr. Cunningham acknowledged the fragility of his choreographic record.

“I understand that my pieces, whatever they’re worth, can easily enough be forgotten not only for what they were,” he said, “but because as time continues, something else is happening which changes, which will push dance in different directions.”



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John Coltrane
Thelonious Monk


Early Jazz



Charlie Parker

When reading about jazz, I look for writers whose passion for the music comes across in their description and critique of performances and recordings.

For What’s Going On: Ben Ratliff, a jazz and pop critic for The New York Times since 1996 who has written “The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music” (2008); “Coltrane: The Story of a Sound” (2007, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award); and “Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings” (2002).

Ratliff: “I wanted to know what Little Richard sounded like and what he might signify for me. I began to understand that music criticism can be both reporting and conjuring. It’s not just opinion. It’s not just an answer to the question of what something sounded like and who played it. It can also address what music might mean with its abstract gestures and tonal masses and shudders and silences, what shape it takes in your memory and understanding, and in some way, what it’s for. That’s a lot to take in over your breakfast, but if you can do it, then it’s going to be a good day. This is all subjective, to some degree. A minute ago, when I wrote “your memory,” I meant the one that belongs to me, the writer. But I also meant the one that belongs to you, the reader. Because we’re in this together. Music exists only in relation to those who hear it. Music criticism exists only in relation to those who read it.”

For History and Context:Robert Gottlieb, the former New York editor and dance critic for The New York Observer,  excellent vast compendium “Reading Jazz.”  (1999) The book blurb: It includes plenty of dashing portraits, autobiographical and otherwise, of jazz greats ranging from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker (rightly seen as the twin pillars in jazz history to date), such curios as an early essay by the Swiss classical conductor Ernst Ansermet on the impact of jazz in Europe right after WWI and many fine accounts of memorable nights on the bandstands of the '30s and '40s. The reportage section reminds us again of how sterling a stylist the New Yorker's Whitney Balliett is, and there is a definitive piece on the essential differences between classical and jazz criticism by Winthrop Sargeant. Almost everything is worth its weight, including the reminders of the great debate that used to rage over the merits of bop versus classical New Orleans style, exemplified here in pieces by the French critic Hugues Pannassie and English poet Philip Larkin (himself a noted buff). It's a feast that also enshrines a great deal of American social history. For history and context.

 For the Feeling: Geoffrey Dyer: “But Beautiful”  (1997)  From:

An impressionistic, semi-fictionalized series of portraits of early jazz legends - Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus et al - it's also one of the great books about popular music, period. His starting points are first-hand accounts of these great musicians' lives, memoirs and liner notes, and particularly photographs - his destinations are gloriously creative evocations of a time and a sound, of the immense spirit of these extraordinary players, and the cities with which their lives and music became entwined.Dyer: "Part of jazz is the illusion of spontaneity and Monk played the piano as though he'd never seen one before. Came at it from all angles, using his elbows, taking chops at it, rippling through the keys like they were a deck of cards, fingers jabbing at them like they were hot to the touch or tottering around them like a woman in hells - playing it all wrong as far as classical piano went. Everything came out crooked, at an angle, not as you expected. If he'd played Beethoven, sticking exactly to the score, just the way he hit the keys, the angle at which his fingers touched the ivory, would have unsteadied it, made it swing and turn around inside itself, made it a Monk tune." [p.39]

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