Monday, October 22, 2012

Brian Settles and Dewey Redman jazz at the Smithsonian

The Brian Settles Quartet at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Patricia Leslie

It's free terrific jazz on tap at the "Take Five!" series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the performance by the Brian Settles Quartet last week fit the bill. 

Settles, a tenor saxophonist, is a native Washingtonian who graduated from the Duke Ellington School of Fine Arts, has degrees from The New School University and Howard University, and has played with Curtis Fuller, Shirley Horn, Mickey Roker, and Butch Warren, among others.

The program was totally Dewey Redman, a composer who played clarinet, alto sax, and tenor sax over six decades before he died in 2006, six days after his performance at the Charlie Parker Festival in New York City, his last show.

Redman's son, Joshua Redman, also a tenor saxophonist, may be better known than his dad after Joshua won the Thelonious Monk sax competition 21 years ago. 

Some of Dewey Redman's compositions on the Smithsonian program were "Boody,"  "Dewey's Tune,"  "For Eldon," '"Imani," "Joie de Vivre," "Look for the Black Star," and "Sunlanding."

While mulling the problems of the world, it was rather nice to sit and listen to sexy sax sounds which took one listener away to a South Pacific island where peaceful thoughts were rudely interrupted by ominous drums, forewarning of potential conflict between the contemporary and the dark ages.  Or that’s the way a mind traveled. 

Next up was a hint of Days of Wine and Roses and rumblings of all things past.  Here came a bird to light upon a leaf and nearby lurked a lusty predator which inched closer and closer.  The tension built, and SWOOP, the bird was gone.  Just like that.  It was not all a sad ending, according to the music, since one of the parties smiled broadly, or at least, those were the effects.  

The group then played a “bluesy” number (“Boody”) which carried a listener to other places while sitting in the open (but enclosed) courtyard.  Have you seen the photos of what Kogod used to be?

Musicians who joined Settles at the Smithsonian were Thad Wilson, trumpet; Tarus Mateen, bass; and Terence Arnett, drums. 
The Brian Settles Quartet at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Patricia Leslie
Plenty of room, tables, chairs, refreshments, and good times accompanied the performance in the Kogod Courtyard.

Coming up:

What:  Holiday Jazz at Take 5!

When:  5 - 7 p.m., December 20, 2012

Where:  Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.

How much:  No charge

For more information:  202-633-1000

Metro stations:  Gallery Place/Chinatown or walk from Metro Center

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Irish ruins

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie

Scattered throughout Ireland are many remnants like these which date from the 12th and 13th centuries following the Norman invasion of Ireland around 1168.
In Ireland/Patricia Leslie
The ruins are common along country roads where one cannot drive more than a few miles without spotting ancient castles and towers, many which stand close to roadways.

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie
Like huge grave markers spread over vast cemeteries, the gray buildings pay tribute to past occupants and, like cemeteries, they are generally ignored by residents who lack the esteem Americans hold for them, structures this old, non-existent in the U.S. In Ireland most of the remains are unprotected and shrouded by years of nature's growth.
In Ireland/Patricia Leslie
A search of several websites reveals their anonymity.
In Ireland/Patricia Leslie
Noted Irish history scholar Richard Roche writes in his The Norman Invasion of Ireland:
What eventually occurred in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th century was a change from acquiring lordship over men to colonising land. The Cambro-Norman invasion resulted in the founding of walled borough towns, numerous castles and churches, the importing of tenants and the increase in agriculture and commerce, among many permanent changes brought by the Norman invasion and occupation of Ireland.

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie
The church was busy, too:  Between 1172 and 1348, hundreds of new parishes were constructed.

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie

Wikipedia describes several famous structures and places:

Rock of Cashel: Legend associates the Rock of Cashel with St. Patrick, but the name comes from Caiseal, meaning "stone fort." Excavations have revealed some evidence of burials and church buildings from the 9th or 10th century, but it was in the early 12th century that the Rock began to be developed into a major Christian center.

The Rock of Cashel/Patricia Leslie
In 1101, Muirchertach O Briain, king of Munster, gave the Rock of Cashel to the church, and shortly thereafter, a round tower, which still stands, was erected. In 1111 Cashel became the seat of an archbishop. The present cathedral was erected in the 13th century.

In 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, Cashel was sacked by English Parliamentarian troops under Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin.  His men looted or destroyed many important religious artifacts, and massacred Irish Confederates and the Roman Catholic clergy.

The oldest and tallest of the buildings is the round tower which dates from c.1100
Other accounts at Wikipedia describe local mythology: The Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil's Bit, a mountain 20 miles north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock's landing in Cashel which is said to be the site in the fifth century of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick.

In Ireland/Patricia Leslie
The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years before the Norman invasion, and claims to have one of Europe's finest collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture. Little remains of early structures. 

The Monastery of Skellig Michael was a Christian monastery founded on an island in the Atlantic Ocean between the sixth and eighth centuries and continuously occupied until its abandonment in the late 12th century.  It's located about seven miles from the Ring of Kerry, and its remains and most of the island were included on the 1996 UNESCO World Heritage List.

Skellig Michael/Patricia Leslie

In Scotland/Patricia Leslie

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kennedy Center tinkers with Millennium Stage

Toubab Krewe plays at the Kennedy Center's new Millennium Stage/Patricia Leslie

It wasn't the first time the Kennedy Center has moved its Millennium Stage upstairs to the Atrium, according to an usher.

"They are just trying something new," she said.  "Do you like it?"

It was new all right, and refreshing and hip and more like a club and in retrospect, the new venue made the Millennium Stage on the ground floor seem like a school classroom and old-fashioned with its folding chairs all neatly lined up and ushers saying "hush, hush."  Goodnight, mush.

 My gawd, the new digs were almost electric, in contrast, "fluid" and flexible.  "Mood" lighting and draperies added to special effects.

"There aren't enough seats," said another usher, "but this is the way they want it.  Kind of like a jazz club.  But you can sit on the floor," and many of the young and the old and the in-between did just that.

More college students than normal milled about, checking out the crowd, and chatting while enjoying liquid refreshment.  (Thank goodness, Happy Hour transferred upstairs, too.  I was crushed, absolutely crushed at the prospect of no beer and trinkets with free music at KenCen which, after a nanosecond's thought, gave way to reality and revenue, and there was the bar after all! Reason lives.)

What will they call it? The Atrium Stage?

Toubab Krewe at the Kennedy Center/Patricia Leslie

Up on stage was Toubab Krewe, a quartet of instrumentalists from Asheville, N.C., who combine their sounds from guitar, piano, fiddle, bass, percussion, kora (Wikipedia: "a 21-string bridge-harp used extensively in West Africa"), kamelengoni (12-string harp lute), and djembe (a drum played with bare hands) to make unique music with influences from Africa, the Middle East, the East, and Hawai'i.

According to program notes, the difference between Toubab Krewe and other groups adapting African music is the way Toubab innovates on what's been learned "instead of simply recreating tradition." 

The group's members are Justin Perkins, Drew Heller, David Pransky, and Luke Quaranta who have studied and lived in Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and Mali, and have performed in festivals around the world including Bonnaroo and in Mali, the Festival In The Desert.

At KenCen, Toubab's lively, not too harsh nor too loud, somewhat mellow music uplifted the crowd and sent everyone out on a happy note to go watch the Nats. It was lots of fun, and that's what music is about, isn't it? 

Goodnight to the old lady whispering "hush."

(Wikipedia says "toubab" means foreigner in several West African languages, and "krewe" is the New Orleans way to spell "crew.")

Toubab Krewe plays at the Kennedy Center's new Millennium Stage/Patricia Leslie

What: Oct. 15 Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha Chas (with free dance lessons at 5 p.m. with Dancing by the Bayou)

Oct. 16 Hilton Worldwide:  Compagnie de Danse Jean-Rene Delsoin

Oct. 17 Fire and the Wheel

Oct. 18 Theater Patrasket: Friendship (Denmark)

For future performances, click here.

When:  Seven days a week at 6 p.m.

Where: The Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20566

How much: Admission is always free at the Millennium Stage

Metro station: Foggy Bottom and ride the free shuttle (every 10 minutes) from there to KenCen or walk it (10 minutes)

For more information:  800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Salman Rushdie on book tour in D.C.

Salman Rushdie, left, with Robert Siegel at Lisner Auditorium, George Washington University/Patricia Leslie

Despite last month’s warning from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that a fatwa or decree issued in 1989 calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie may still be in effect, Rushdie addressed a sold-out Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University Monday night where there were no security checks.
No magnetometers, no wands, no bag inspections.

The British-Indian writer who spent ten years in hiding because of a book (Satanic Verses which angered and still does, some Islamic leaders in Iran) came to talk and answer questions posed by NPR’s Robert Siegel about Rushdie’s latest book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, which describes his undercover life. (The book is named after two writers Rushdie admires, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov, and was a pseudonym Rushdie used.)

While he was in hiding, Rushdie said writing “saved my life….Writers are used to sitting in rooms, staring out the window, wondering what the hell to do.” It’s a good thing he wasn’t a movie producer, he said, for he would not have been able to work. 

“One of the great things about the history of literature,” is that writers are “always taking on tyrants.” Writers speak the truth and tell it "to their faces….If you give in to a bully, you ensure there will be more bullies, not less. We know this as kids. We should remember it as adults….

“The nature of democracy is disagreement….You don’t have to resolve the argument. You just have the freedom to discuss it.”

Many of the evening's questions came from members of the audience which Siegel read to Rushdie.

One person wanted to know if Rushdie had any regrets about Satanic Verses.

No, none. “I’m very proud of it," Rushdie said. "It’s one of the better books I have written. Now that the fuss has died down,” he hopes people will read it like it was intended, as a novel. That’s “beginning to happen.”

He talked about books which pass the test of time because readers like them. “Now, finally, this book [Satanic Verses] has a chance to pass this test.”

Answering another question, he said he tried writing Anton in the first person but didn’t like it and switched to third.

He named James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Franz Kafka as great contemporary writers.

Kafka wrote “dark and scary” things which, at the same time, were “quite funny.”  Rushdie, 65, born in India who speaks with a British accent, was quite funny, too, and at ease, comfortable in the surroundings, and made the audience of about 1,500 laugh several times.  He has been married four times.

He was friends with the late Christopher Hitchens (there’s a “big hole in the world” without him), and they frequently played games including substituting “hysterical sex” for “love” as in Hysterical Sex in the Time of Cholera, and Hysterical Sex is a Many Splendored Thing.

Rushdie said he thought his death sentence would end in a year, but it lasted for ten. It was a situation for him that “endlessly went on.” It wasn't isolation which bothered him as much as claustrophia. He was surrounded by four “enormous men” who were not his closest friends, yet while he was in hiding, everyone kept quiet: housekeepers, the police, neighbors. It was “a battle between love and hate. The reason I am here," he said to applause, "is the power of love which proved itself to be stronger.”

Rushdie has lived in New York City for the past 13 years. The U.S. "is where I began to get my freedom back.” 

His decade-long confinement enabled him to write: “I got a f-ing good book out of it,” he said to cheers, and when he exited the stage, a standing ovation.

The event was sponsored by Politics & Prose Bookstore and The Center for Inquiry-DC.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'Cole Porter' is a hit in Falls Church

Cole Porter fans will not want to miss the story of his life and loves told in songs and narrative in Cole Porter: You're the Top! now on stage at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church.

The passion between Porter (Sean Thompson) and his wife, Linda Lee Thomas (Carolyn Cole) glows throughout the non-stop original musical as their eyes lock, and they sing and dance to 26 of Porter's compositions, magnificently assembled by co-directors Laura Connors Huff and Stephen Gregory Smith from Porter's repertoire of more than 800 creations.

Of course, the crowd's favorites are the expected:"Let's Misbehave," "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," and "From This Moment On," to name a few. 

Did you know Porter wrote a song about a gigolo?  The directors include some lesser-knowns, too.

Carolyn Cole and Sean Thompson star in Creative Cauldron's Cole Porter:  You're the Top!/Photos by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography 

With the audience right there on three sides, "It Ain't Etiquette" to get up on the stage and dance with the stars although it was mighty tempting to join them "Ridin' High," singing and whirling around the fabulous black and white set (Margie Jervis) from table to piano to chaise lounge and back again, telling Porter's and Thomas's stories about "I Love Paris," "I Happen to Like New York," and Porter's break-through.  That he was attracted to men and she was eight years older did not diminish (much) their immense yearning for one another since Linda gets a kick out of Porter who has her under his skin.

If you thought it might be tough to sing and dance at the same time, never fear!  Thompson and Cole make it look, oh, so easy. "In the Still of the Night" it was "Alright with Me" to "Experiment" and take "All of You" "Night and Day." (Fortunately, there is no sing-a-long.)

Adding oh-la-la to the evening's enjoyment are the sounds produced by Alvin Smithson, musical director and pianist, Kim Martin, drums, and Vince Calcaterra, bass and violin, accompanied by excellent lighting design (Paul Spiegelblatt) and choreography (Kara-Tameika Watkins).

(Edgar Allan Poe fans will remember Thompson from Creative Cauldron's production last year of Nevermore, and Cole who starred in Women of the Blues.)

What: Cole Porter: You're the Top! 

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., through October 28, 2012

Where: Creative Cauldron "where imagination bubbles over" at Artspace, 410 South Maple Avenue, Falls Church, Virginia 22046

How much:  Prices start at $20

For more information:  571-239-5288


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kathleen Turner sizzles in 'Molly Ivins'

Kathleen Turner in Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Red Hot Patriot:  The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Photo by Mark Garvin

What better place for a hardy liberal like Molly Ivins to be featured in a one-woman production than in Washington, D.C. where bars host special drinks and nights devoted to events like the Super Bowl of Politics AKA the Great Debates and every third house throws a debate party?

Kathleen Turner, 58, star of Body Heat, The War of the Roses, Prizzi’s Honor, The Accidental Tourist, and Romancing the Stone, is s-m-o-k-i-n-g in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins at Arena Stage, and if you don't have your ticket, well, you don't have your ticket, and please be prepared to stand ($50).  (Okay, there are a few pricey seats left.)
She’s got the twang, the mannerisms, the delivery to bring back to life the lively and hot-tongued Ms. Molly by way of playwrights and twin sisters Margaret Engel and Allison Engel who based their script on Ivins's writings, interviews, speeches, and the Engels' talks with Ivins's friends and colleagues.  (Ivins died in 2007 of breast cancer.)

The show's props, staging, and direction flow ever so smoothly under the tutelage of David Esbjornson.  Turner's "prop star" (Nicholas Yenson) is absolutely “spot-on.”  Such a nerd.  Those glasses.  He reminds you of every high school brain you ever sat beside in chemistry class.  He walks so fast across that stage, he is like a candidate trying to exit the platform after another gaffe.  Shrub.

The show's been playing for more than a month (August 23), and it's still filling up every night.  I probably was the last person to visit the "new" Arena Stage, and what a treat.  Not just the production but Arena, too!  Spot on.  Hey!  Anybody ever thought of an Arena Madness?

Who:  Kathleen Turner as Molly Ivins

What:  Red Hot Patriot:  The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

When: Now through October 28, 2012 (except Mondays) 

Where: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024

How much: Standing room tickets start at $50 and there are seats left

Duration: 75 minutes (no intermission)

Metro station: Waterfront

Parking:  On the street or in a nearby lot

For more information:  202-484-0247

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater at Night from 6th Street, photo by Nic Lehoux, Bing Thom Architects

Monday, October 1, 2012

'George Bellows' tape is a treat at the National Gallery of Art

George Bellows, Beach at Coney Island, 1908, private collection

Only precious few days remain to see the fabulous George Bellows show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington before it departs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and later, the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The exhibition ends in Washington October 8.

An audiotape available at the entrance to the exhibition will make your visit more enjoyable and is certainly worth the $5 charge.  (Most art enthusiasts don't mind having to fork over a few bucks to hear professionals discuss great works and provide guidance, especially when institutions charge nothing for admission.)

One of the featured works on the tape is Forty-two Kids (1907) which shows boys having a lark of a time, swimming sans bathing suits, jumping off a broken wooden dock into a dark abyss, their future? 

George Bellows, Forty-two Kids, 1907, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund

Rather than a daytime scene, the light illuminates the naked boys on the dock which is surrounded by the black water and night, which consumes half the painting. Inspection reveals some of the children have already jumped in, and floating in the distance is a solitary boat, perhaps a life boat to rescue the children from their probable trajectory.    

The catalog says this painting came close to winning the annual Lippincott prize at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1908 but after voting 8-2 in its favor, the jury reversed its decision, probably because of a perception Mr. Lippincott might object to the work's nudity.

Said the artist, it was not the naked children which intimidated the jury, but "the naked painting."

Bellows (1882-1925) was associated with the "ashcan school" which concentrated on social conditions and life of poor people in New York tenements in the early 20th century.  He often portrayed the friction between modernity and the past.  

One example is Men of the Docks (1912) (an "ambitious, very successful picture," according to the curator on the tape). In the center of the work across the river are the city's tall buildings while in the foreground, emotionless longshoremen stand between a huge modern cruise ship in the sunlight and on the left, a small industrial boat in the shadows.  Those who do not have their heads hung low look to the left of the scene as if awaiting notice they have been replaced by modernity.  (Bellows painted Men of the Docks in the same year as the Titanic sinking.)

George Bellows, Men of the Docks, 1912, Randolph College, founded as Randolph-Macon Women's College, 1891, Lynchburg

Both Members of This Club (1909) is one of Bellows's most famous renderings of an illegal sport and all its blood, sweat, and gore. The narrator says the fighters are literally trying to kill each other, and they look it.  Be sure and study the faces of the onlookers surrounding the ring and see if you spot evil. 

George Bellows, Both Members of This Club, 1909, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Chester Dale Collection

Frankie, the Organ Boy (1907) makes a viewer wonder about his background and what became of him.  He seems bewildered and out of place in his formal suit in the dark as he clasps his hands: "What am I doing here?"

George Bellows, Frankie, The Organ Boy, 1907, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Purchase, acquired through the bequest of Ben and Clara Shlyen

The forlorn expression of the Little Girl in White (Queenie Burnett) (1907), Bellows's laundry girl, offers a glimpse of what her childhood was like.   

The Saw Dust Trail (1916) shows the power of the evangelist Billy Sunday.  The catalog quotes Bellows:  "I paint Billy Sunday... to show the world what I do think of him.  Do you know, I think Billy Sunday is the worst thing that ever happened to America?  He is death to imagination, to spirituality, to art."

George Bellows, The Saw Dust Trail, 1916, Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection

And then there is Bellows's portrayal of horrible scenes, all based on reality.  Who will ever forget the powerful and wrenching The Barricade (1918) which shows Germans in World War I using naked Belgians as human shields, or The Law is Too Slow (1922-1923) based upon a 1903 newspaper story, dateline Wilmington, Delaware, about a black man who burns at the stake while a mob of perpetrators stand and watch. In an ironic twist, the captive seems to ascend in a geyser of flames in Bellows's rendering of crayon on paper which suggests a crucifixion. 

George Bellows, The Law is Too Slow, 1922-1923, Boston Public Library, Print Department, Albert H. Wiggin Collection

Last weekend the National Gallery and Bellows were packed.   I asked myself: What are all these folks doing in here on this gorgeous day? 

Allow about an hour to hear the tape, and more time, to see the entire show. 

What: George Bellows

When: Now through October 8, 2012, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Washington, D.C., between 3rd and 9th streets at Constitution Avenue, NW

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-737-4215 or

Metro stations: Judiciary Square, Navy Memorial-Archives, or the Smithsonian