Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Somerville’s Jon Garelick: The Boston Phoenix and all that Jazz. Interview with Doug Holder

Jon Garelick

Somerville’s Jon Garelick: The Boston Phoenix and all that Jazz.
Interview with Doug Holder

Jon Garelick is a freelance writer living in Somerville, MA. He writes about music (jazz in particular) and arts and culture in general, including books, TV, movies, art, and theater. He was an editor at the Boston Phoenix for 22 years, until its closure in March 2013. Currently he writes for the Boston Globe, DownBeat, Jazziz, and other publications. He has also written for the New York Times and New York Times Book Review, and Rolling Stone. He has won two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards – in 1993 – for his writing about music. You can find a link to his archive of his work for the Boston Phoenix and other information on his blog  He also contributes to the local Web site The Arts Fuse.

 I had the pleasure to sit down with Garelick at my usual self-appointed office space in the back of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville.

Doug Holder: So how is it living in Somerville?

Jon Garelick: My wife and I have lived in Somerville for three years. We live in the Union Square area. We love Somerville. The city services are great. I love the robo calls from the city about traffic, etc…The arts community is amazing. The house we have is great for writing—I have a great office space. This is really good because I am freelancing now.

DH: You were the music editor for the now defunct alternative newspaper The Boston Phoenix for many years…starting back in 1990. How did you get started there?

JG:  The first freelance piece I had was in the Phoenix in 1985. That piece was about “The Fringe”—the Boston avant-garde jazz trio. At that time they played at Michael’s Pub. Eventually the paper took me on full time in 1990.

DH: Now with the Phoenix’s demise…is there a big void in the Boston media?

JG: It’s incalculable to me. The cultural ecosystem is supported by things like the Phoenix. Artists need to get the word out. People who are interested in the scene need a place where they can find out about it. Advertisers need the venue. There is still The Dig but they don’t seem any more robust than when we were around.  The Boston Globe is doing what they can do but they are struggling.

DH: I recently interviewed Dan Gewertz—the former arts columnist for The Boston Herald.  He feels the emphasis in journalism now is on the next big thing—like Lady Gaga or folks of that ilk.

JG: Certainly everyone has covered Lady Gaga. You always need something people know about. However, The Globe has been very receptive to any pitches I have made. I have a column, usually the last Friday each month, where I cover jazz. They want me to get local musicians to interview. My experience has been different. There are many people that I pitch that I get no response but that includes famous people as well.

DH: Can you tell me about the atmosphere at the Phoenix in the early 90’s?

JG: In the early days it was very vibrant. Advertising was good; the music was excellent. We worked in conjunction with a music radio station owned by the Phoneix, WFNX. It was a wonderful convergence of writers and the music we found vital and interesting. The kind of music we wrote about became popular. This was Alternative Rock and the Grunge movement... folks like Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Throwing Muses, etc… This was a burgeoning scene. There were actually record stores (Laughs) and record labels. And they did a lot of advertising. There was incredible advertising support that let us do all kinds of things. We had a jazz supplement that I started, and other innovative features.

DH: How about the post-salad days?

JG: The paper lost a lot of pages. The writing was in a smaller space. We went from writing 1200 word pieces to 400 words. We tried to compensate with putting stuff online but that didn’t pan out. Advertising never really turned around.

DH: You have written extensively about many genres of music but especially about jazz. In an article that I read authored by you--you said that jazz was not meant to be “big”—it is small like, say, poetry. Has the jazz scene become smaller since you have come on the scene?

JG: It’s hard to say. You use to use record sales as a barometer. Jazz used to be 10% of the market like that of classical music. Now—how do you measure it? If you measure it by artistic activity I would say it’s at its peak in terms of creativity. I think the things musicians are doing now is amazing. People like Ambrose Aikinmusire from Oakland, California  and Kurt Rosenwinkle do creative things in terms of form, improvisation, rhythm and harmony.

DH: Hasn’t there always been a lot of creativity on the scene?

JG: Yes. But there are many different kinds of jazz now. There has not been a downsizing of creativity. Unfortunately there is no significant jazz radio to get the word out about it anymore.

DH: I remember going to see Esther Philips and Pharaoh Sanders at the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall in Boston years ago. Did you hang out there?

JG: I went to shows there. But I really learned about jazz from jazz radio. But to go to one of those places—it was a big deal for me in 1971. $12 bucks was a lot to shell out for me back then. I didn’t go a lot. But I would go to see big names like Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.

DH: Any jazz clubs you would like to talk about or recommend?

JG: Well of course Scullers at the Doubletree on Soldiers Field Road, and the Regattabar at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square.  In Somerville The Green Room on Bow St. in Union Square now has jazz performances. Johnny D’s occasionally has good people. In Inman Square—the Lilly Pad has many major, major artists playing there.

DH: How about Jazz films—any favorites?
JG: I like “Jazz on a Summer Day” about the Newport Jazz Festival. “The Black Board Jungle” has a great jazz sequence in it. It’s about a teacher in an inner city school who tries to introduce the kids to jazz with disastrous results. I like the Chet Baker documentary “Let’s Get Lost” as well.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Not By Bread Alone Created by Adina Tal and the NALAGA’AT DEAF-BLIND THEATER ENSEMBLE

Not By Bread Alone
Tel-Aviv, Israel
Arts Emerson
April 1 to April 6th
Paramount Theatre

Review by Amy R. Tighe

I suppose it might be safe enough to tell you.
In the row in front of me are two women I haven’t spoken to for years . Once I was quite close to them but we had a bad falling out. We can see each other, but we act as if we don’t actually see one other.  They are three feet away and a universe apart.  I live in a culture where this is possible.  Excluding.  Isolating.  None of us have the courage to reach out.

As I entered the theatre, I thought the show was running late—usually the audience is settled and the lights darken and the show begins.  But there are people on the stage, standing in a line over a long table, kneading individual  balls of dough for bread, and wearing aprons and white puffy baker’s hats. Flour streams in the air like smoke. I am disoriented—a stickler for being on time, I can’t understand why the lights are on, the bakers working and we available to watch their work.

The actors hands have a presence of their own- they are present to their dough, creating the necessary texture it needs to rise. The care and the intelligence in their fingers is strong.  I somehow can feel that their gravity is different, that it comes from a different dimension though their patient touch.
“Not by Bread Alone” is created by the NALAGA’AT DEAF –BLIND THEATRE ENSEMBLE from Israel. The troupe formed in 2007 and this is their second production.

All of the actors are blind and deaf. Some had full sight and then lost it.  Some have never heard a word. All are verbal but not all have found access to a spoken language. All of the cast and crew believe “that we can, must and deserve to change the reality we live in.” Theatre and community building are vital to their work.
At first I was distracted by trying to figure out who could see and who couldn’t.  I suppose I can tell you that I married a man who was completely blind but his eyes could track you as though he saw you. We played jokes on people who did not know he didn’t see, and merely thought I was a pushy wife to direct him on my arm so much.

So I am used to looking into eyes that have no idea I am there.

The show begins and a narrator tells us that when a beautiful blonde woman walks by it means nothing to him! He prefers slim strong  hands with silver rings on them. And we all laugh because it’s a safe joke but some of us are not sure if he can hear us. So, some of the audience use sign language for clapping—waving fingers in the air, but we don’t know if he sees that, either.  Are we heard?

A screen at the top of the stage projects the script. We are learning stories, we are able to see the words, see the actors, see the stage and watch them work.  Are we seen?

“I was blind at birth, I lost my hearing at 15. I had sight and hearing and both one year before my nephew was born and when I could not see his face, then I knew I was truly blind.  I was born deaf and my father said it God who had done this. I sit with people who laugh and I can not hear them so I feel completely alone in the group. Sometimes the complete darkness and silence makes my thoughts  lonely.”  So many of these words are the same as mine, same as the words I often hear from friends.

These stories are cleanly told, everyone in the audience understands, the communication is clear.
As a troupe, the actors touch one another for cues, directions and when they leave the stage together, they form a chain with one arm on the person ahead of them so they do not get lost.  Each actor has a darkened angel, a personal interpreter, who taps them, leads them on and off stage, guiding them. One actor, completely blind, walks boldly forward to meet an actress in a scene and misses her. His darkened angel walks calmly on stage, taps him, angles him in the right direction and walks calmly off stage, ever watching and the scene continues.  With simplicity, he has showed me his healed courage.

“But we have dreams.” The stage changes, the darkened angels move their actors into place—sitting on a calm and thorough swing, walking a baby carriage while smiling on stilts, standing in a boat on turgid waters, hiking and bird watching with giant birds. “Swaying before the beauty of creation …”  We dream. We dance. We know you are out there and these dreams are in here.  You can see us. We know you can.
In several stories, the actors say that only by holding a hand can they know they connect. The scent of bread rises, the words “darkness and dreams and silence and loneliness” keep being projected on the screen, the play begins to end and we might meet these people.

Maybe this is a home coming.

I think I could tell you I was raised Catholic, scared of breaking  bread,  eating the Christ and knowing his suffering. I am scared of this communion with people who have lost so much. “I can smell the bread” one says in joy.  He has found our common body.  Have I lost so much in this short life I don’t even notice when I smell the bread?

The play is over, the curtain calls are completed, and we are invited on stage to eat and meet.  Hebrew, English, Sign and laughter are shared.  And bread.

I don’t want to tell you that a few minutes later, on the subway, my fellow travelers are focused on unhuman technology which they push, trying  to communicate.  We do not see one another in this fast moving box. Moments ago, on a stage, I touched and was touched by hands that understand human communication in the exact and unfathomable ways that define us as human.

I don’t remember, but I suppose that at times in my mother’s womb it was very dark and very silent. I suppose I was full of the knowing that only I would be the one to travel her body to claim my own. I had courage then. I have been afraid to tell you that isolation has become my culture’s daily bread and sometimes this darkness stops me from reaching.

With their fierce simplicity, humorous kindness and elegant courage, the actors of the NALAGA’AT Ensemble show us how to do what humans do: they invite us in, touch us back, open their hands and offer their bread.  And teach us to heal our own wounded courage.