J is for jazz and for the joy it brings! I started listening to jazz about 2005, and one of my favorite things is watching musicians play live, and the exuberance of their enjoyment. I often listen to jazz while working in my studio, and I love how jazz inspired another mosaic artist, John Yancey, to create the Rhapsody mosaic mural in Austin, TX.
Normally, I don’t like when music comes popping on when I visit a site, but when I was looking for spring shows for Nutmeg Designs, and came across the CD RamBand Boosters show, and it was jazz that came on, and I was smitten. Their Spring Show is a benefit for the CD RamBand, which includes a concert and jazz ensembles. Stratoz and I have a soft spot for jazz, and we signed up for the 21st Annual CD Ram Band Spring Show, happening this Saturday April 2nd, from 9-3 at the Central Dauphin Highschool, Harrisburg, PA.
Next March 25th is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, a horrific tragedy that inspired a wave of governmental and workplace reform.
For this past year, I’ve been composing and arranging a series of instrumental jazz pieces that together honor and reinterpret the story of the Triangle factory. They incorporate influences from traditional East European, Jewish, and Italian folk and sacred music, as well as influences from across the spectrum of jazz.
146 people died in the fire, mostly young immigrant women, because the all the doors were locked at closing time because the owners wanted to search the workers as they left. Ironically, the shirtwaist was an article of clothing that many women found a relief, because it was much more comfortable than corsets and hoop skirts, and in my post about Tiffany glass artist Clara Driscoll, she is shown wearing a shirtwaist blouse.
When I was an undergraduate, I took a class in the history of the labor movement in the United States, and was very moved by the account of this fire, as well as the story of the Lawrence textile workers'(mostly women and girls)strike of 1912, and wrote a series of poems for my MFA in creative writing on women workers. Triangles have been a favorite motif in my mosaics, especially those from quilt blocks like “Spinning Pinwheel” and “Broken Dishes” and remind me of how quilts were usually the work of women’s hands.
In 2007, Kuemmerle wrote a composition entitled “Kolmio,” which means ‘triangle’ in Finnish. This piece was written for a modern dance project at Arizona State University.
In 2005, I spent some time with Master Career counselor Damona Sain, as I was feeling restless in my librarian world. Every inventory I took said art, art, art, and librarian was not coming up, and in fact may have been on the “make me loopy” list. I was making collages at my dining room table, and loving the world of color and pattern, but I assumed that I wasn’t an “artist”. But I started listening to the voice that said “you can make art,” and when I discovered mosaic, I knew this was my medium. The challenge was the kernel of truth in my librarian self, my attraction to research. I read 20+ books on making mosaics. The photo of the tower of books only represents books I own, not the ones I checked out of the library!
I read until I thought I would burst if I didn’t make a mosaic soon, but I was still in a holding pattern, wondering if I should read one more book. This limbo was an uncomfortable place, as I searched for everything on “doing” but remained in my head. Making the leap was the scariest part, but once I landed, I was on holy ground, feeling truly like myself. I loved the poem The Waking by Theodore Roethke when I was in high school, which captures the paradox of learning by going where we have to go:
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Aptly, my first step was making pebble mosaic stepping stones, for the house Stratoz and I had just bought. I was in heaven, sorting pebbles, seeing the subtle gradations of color.
What was a first step that you took toward learning by going where I have to go?
I’ll leave you with Kurt Elling’s lovely jazz interpretation of Roethke’s poem.
I’ve been thinking a lot about expatriates. My sister is getting ready to be one for the second time, moving to South Africa. 2010 was 25 years since we moved from Canada to the United States. One expatriate who has inspired me is jazz pianist Marian McPartland. I came across her NPR interview show, Piano Jazz, by chance on the radio. I was just beginning to realize how much I wanted to make art, but I wasn’t familiar with doing things I actually enjoyed. I felt somehow that if I liked something, that meant it was irrelevant. What struck me about Marian McPartland was how much she enjoyed playing the piano, talking to her guests, listening to their playing, then playing with them in that wonderful conversation that comes when you are truly listening to someone and responding.
Marian(her real name was Margaret!) grew up in England, was passionate about music, heard jazz on the radio, joined a piano quartet and toured entertaining the troops during WWII with the USO, and met American jazz musician Jimmy McPartland, got married, and moved to Chicago with him after the war. She moved to New York and led a trio at the Hickory House for 8 years, and became a jazz composer. Eventually she started her own record label, Halcyon, because she believed jazz musicians were treated as second class citizens by record companies. This was 1969, and highly unusual for a woman to up and start her own label.
In 1978 she began her interview program Piano Jazz, and over 30 years later she has created an incredible oral history of some of the greatest jazz musicians in addition to classical and popular artists such as Norah Jones, Elvis Costello and Alicia Keys. At 90 she played at her own all-star jazz birthday party! I am awed by her journey from British classical music student to American jazz icon. Be sure to listen to her voice. She doesn’t sing, but her voice is melodious, with a mixture of British and American accent all her own. She is gracious as a host, but isn’t afraid to swing the pieces she plays. Her guests rise to the occasion of playing with her.
Listening to Marian every week for an hour, I began to appreciate the energy that comes from doing what you love, from being true to your vision, from delighting in life. I played flute in Junior High band, and took classical flute lessons, but never caught the spark of the music, the flow. But I can hear it, and appreciate it, and be inspired by it.
Here she is accompanying Norah Jones on September in the rain:
And here she is being interviewed by Billy Taylor:
It’s amazing the connections we can make online. Stratoz, the stained glass half of Nutmeg Designs, helms the Nutmeg Designs Twitter account and usually includes a good dose of jazz in his tweets. By good fortune he found Icelandic Jazz Pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, who makes fabulously beautiful music, along with her husband Scott McLemore, drummer, composer and designer.
We found great pleasure in listening to Sunna’s music, and when she said she was coming on a mini-US tour, with a stop at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, NJ, we jumped at the chance to see her. It’s a bit of a drive from where we are but so much closer than coming to Iceland!
Sunna let me know on twitter that she loved my mosaic pendants and to please bring some, and I laid out an array of colors, and was so excited that she chose a dusty blue one with abalone shell for herself and two others as gifts. She put it on right away and wore it while playing a wonderful evening of jazz. What an honor to become part of people’s lives! When I create mosaics, I often feel like I’m improvising, letting the materials lead me in the present moment. I start with a basic idea or theme, and work off of that, seeing what unfolds.
The first full moon of April is our anniversary of being together. I like having a floating anniversary, connected to the moon. 22 years! We took an anniversary trip to Philadelphia to hear the Blue Note 7 at the Kimmel Center. Blue Note is celebrating 70 years as a jazz label, and 7 of their fine musicians are on tour together, with an album aptly named “Mosaic.” We enjoyed the concert, in spite of Wayne’s clogged head, and my bandages from the fall I took on Tuesday(I suppose it is convenient to have been on the way to work, at a hospital, when I tripped.)
We spent Saturday walking around Rittenhouse Square, visiting the Rosenbach Museum for the first time, and seeing Marianne Moore’s Greenwich Village apartment delightfully intact within the museum. My librarian self was thoroughly mesmerized by the Rosenbach’s collection of first editions, including James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the photograph of Belle Da Costa Greene, friend of Abraham Rosenbach, librarian to J.P. Morgan, passing as Portuguese to elude the prejudice she would have faced as an African American. Quite beautiful and stylish, she’s quoted as saying that although a librarian, she doesn’t have to dress like one. . .I’ll have to keep that in mind.
We came across an exhibit of prints at the Philadelphia Free Library, Intaglio a Go-Go: Etching Moves Forward. That is where I saw Cynthia Back‘s Strata, 2002, aquatint, etching, deep bite, chine colle. I love the layers, the colors and textures, and my mosaic artist self is intrigued by the tesserae-like stones. It made me think of my 22 years with Wayne, and his also apt name, Stratz, all the layers of history, of our travels, our love. He is my bedrock, and I am grateful what we have built together.