CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to protest arts on the Left ranging from the radical avant garde to revolutionary folk song. This blog is aligned with John Pietaro's revolutionary music website www.DissidentArts.com . The Cultural Worker celebrates art at its boldest and features a variety of articles, reviews, fiction, essays and musings by myself--a musician, writer, and labor organizer by design. Scroll straight down and you'll also find also find an extensive, ever-expanding Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, and a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be decidedly revolutionary and unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The neo-fascists and the slaves to capital and conformity will find no words of warmth in the content of this blog. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the musicians, writers, painters, dancers, actors and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Monday, August 18, 2014

REPORTS ON DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2014: THE VIEW FROM INSIDE

 The Dissident Arts Orchestra playing a live improvised score to 'Battleship Potemkin' at the Dissident Arts Festival 2014 (photo by Andrea Wolper)

 

REPORTS ON DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2014

 
My report on this year's DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL came in the form of a group email to everyone involved. A love letter. And then a series of email replies followed. I am including some of that here to expand on my own description. One thing that is obvious to all in the room: this was one hell of a special Festival!
 
 
Dearest Dissident Compadres,

I woke up at 8:45 with a headache, a sore back and a stuffed nose. Rolled over to try to get more sleep and "L'Internationale" kept rolling through my head! And then I'm hearing "Blue Monk" like mad. Can't stop that. This was only followed by the swarm of mental pictures of the entire evening running through my mind, like a montage section of an early 30s Soviet film! This all going on as the gentleman in the upstairs apartment's television bellows out Sunday morning service. Halleluiah just don't work with Monk and dissidence. Time for a coffee and some head-clearing....

My greatest thanks goes out to each and every one of you for staging what must be the finest of the nine thus far Dissident Arts Festivals. The evening quickly moved into the dark of late-night and then Battleship Potemkin took us to about 1:30. I don't know, I stopped counting. But the overwhelming positive vibes from everyone in the room prevented any of this from feeling like it went on too long!

First off, hats off to Anthony and Mark and the other guys of El Taller for not only hosting this event but keeping everything running so smooth. Anthony I cannot find Mark's email address so please pass this on to him. His sound work was exemplary, as it always is, but in the frantic pace of trying to adjust sound for each act, run the computer for the live feed, shoot photos, all I can say is "wow". In the thick of madness, everything went so smoothly and at one point as I was sitting down next to Laurie, trying to catch my breath between acts, he was running by but stopped long enough to reach out and ask how I was doing. Anthony, too, was always available for any and everything. Gentlemen, this is a partnership I hope to keep active for many years.

And a very special thank you to Denise Iacovone, out tireless artist. She created a powerful piece in honor of the sounds, the faces, the energy before her and reflected it all back at us with such expression, such an artful eye. And did this from the stage, yet another great Fest performer. I look forward to posting a photo of this on the Dissident Arts Festival FB wall. What a thing of pride!

Now to the musicians, poets, performance artist. What can I say? Most of you showed up early and stayed for a long time, some just not leaving after their gig was over. At one point I noticed Lou Grassi still sitting in the back long after his set (as the drummer of Upsurge!) was past. Lou is an amazing drummer that I played with for a year or so every Monday night at the Stone, when Karl Berger's Improvisers Orchestra first came together. I wasn't going to pass this opportunity up, so asked him if he wanted to play drumset for the last segment, the score for "Battleship Potemkin". What a wonderful outcome! THat's the kind of night it was. But I am getting ahead of myself...

The show opened up with a beautiful set by Truth to Power! - Juan Quinones, Michael Bisio, Michael Wimberly. Juan I must ask you to please send this to Mike W - I neglected to save his address. But as the set started I was so moved by this strong, personal, radical poem that spoke of the police brutality and crimes that are so easily overlooked when they are institutionalized. Juan's blue harmonica wailed mournfully--but not complacently. These were blues to march on a picket by! And the rest of the set followed with a mélange of emotions, from gentle swaying to thick crunches of Downtown sounds. What an opener.

Chris Butters' poetry was so strong that even after that amazing trio, no one thought the room was too quiet, to static. Not possible. The first piece, all about John Coltrane (one of my own greatest musical heroes--probably all of yours too) moved into a series of others that took us along on the social justice train. Thank you Chris. Comrade.

Bernardo Palombo's set was truly neo-nueva cancion. Threading stories through song, bringing us a Spanish language version of an amazing song like Woody Guthrie's "Plan Wreck at Los Gatos". And of course shaking the house with one of the great anthems of the peace and progressive movement "Guantanamera". Bernardo, I am so glad that you chose to come out of performance retirement right about this time.

My brothers of the Red Microphone never fails to move me into contortions of new sounds I didn't think I could play---the inspiration is only rivaled by the great time we have together. With all due respect to modesty, I must say that we played one hell of a set last night. It just gets better. Every time we perform as a unit, it just gets stronger so I say, let's just keep going with this mission. We can adapt many more Leftie anthems to our sound. I have about 100 more in mind. Thank you Ras, Rocco and Phil.

Sana Shabazz' s poetry is more like the output of a story teller, a griot, than the average spoken word artist. Sana lived in Beacon NY during the same period as Laurie and I did (we were there 2005-10) and I was sure to book her to read her work several times on that stage at the Howland Cultural Center. We stayed in contact after Laurie and I got back to Brooklyn and was surprised to learn that she'd moved back to uptown Manhattan. So Sana was with us to celebrate number 9 and was also there last year for 8 and also performed with the Dissident Arts Orchestra a couple of years ago at a spot in Ditmas Park Brooklyn. My thanks Sana for your socially conscious words and beautiful spirit.

Upsurge! is another entity that brings politically radical words to the stage, albeit woven into an amazing fabric of jazz. LAst night Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg stood side by side with Ras Moshe, Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi to produce a set that was more akin to modern theatre than anything else. This is the kind of theatre that I would pay Broadway prices for. And we got to enjoy it as a part of this Festival. Thank you all for something so special.

 Sadhana featured the great compositions of Will Connell, a gentleman of jazz whom I have come to know and love. But to know Will is to love him. Here's a man that should have all of the attention given to other folks who came through some of the tumult of the 60s and shined in the Black Arts Movement. His work with Horace Tapscott alone should put him in the incredible history of the music, let alone his own jazz compositions that take us on a chase through 20th century classical music and back to free improv. Last night's set was exemplary. And having Vincent Chancey miss the gig, with all of his own cache, might have been a problem if Will sought to get a mere mortal to replace him. Instead he found Marshall Sealy, whom I had not met before. OMG this combo of he and Will, in tandem with the youthful rhythm section of Max Johnson and Jeremy Carlstedt, was a jewel. I have had the honor of performing with Will at one of his large ensemble sessions at Arts for Art and we are going to work together again in the winter. I am there---but glad I got to enjoy all of that from the audience last night.

Crystal Shipp's performance art digs into the soul. I first met Crystal in 2002 when I began working as a rep at District Council 1707 AFSCME. Most union reps tend to be activists and some have a certain flair that tells me that they are also artists. Usually they are writers and the flair is a kind of bookish one, more like John Reed. But Crystal walked over to say hello on my first day at that job and I made her immediately as some sort of actress. I was basically right. She has brought her performance art, poetry and paintings to many such gatherings and was a performer on an event I organized as a fundraiser for United for Peace and Justice around 2003. It was the night before that first big anti-war march that took back the street. Well for a while at least. She also was a part of this fest a couple of years ago. Thank you Crystal for doing it. Again.

Andrea Wolper and Ken Filiano. THANK YOU BOTH. Shit, they never fail to simply nail it. Married couples are expected to be in sync but watching these two create together is a treat. Ken's bass playing is a magic carpet ride---the night was dedicated to Charlie Haden and Fred Ho and Ken's presence throughout so much of it made it clear that Haden was being celebrated. Even in a room full of incredible bassists! And Andrea carries her vocal training with her wherever she goes, but so easily wraps that around avant pops, clicks and yowels, cabaret song, free jazz excursions, serious story telling and more traditional poetry too. And there's not only art in all this but also humor. New York Stories. Yeah. Keep 'em coming, Andrea. All that and she curates a series of her own, down at the Why Not? Jazz Room in the West Village that has scored so many great musicians. Matt Lavelle and I will be there in Oct.....

Harmolodic Monk is the duet of Matt and I. It has been in existence for about 14 months now after being debuted at Ras' series Music Now! at the Brecht Forum (we all continue to mourn the loss of that incredible venue and institution). We have a unique duo in pairing Matt's trumpets and alto clarinet with my vibes and percussion---constructing a bridge between Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. Or something like that. We are told it works and that's about right. Jack DeSalvo, the brilliant guitarist, runs the Unseen Rain record label. He recorded us in January in his studio and the download version is available now---disc come out in a few months. We are very proud of this work and I have been loving creating so much good music with Matt. He also put me in his 12 Houses band and around this time we must be up to like 15 or 16 houses, but what the hell. The music carries it all. Muchos gracias Matt for HM and for bringing it all together last night.

The Dissident Arts Orchestra has been a part of this event for several years now, though some of the players keep changing around. Nora McCarthy-vocals, Cheryl Pyle-flute, Will Connell-flute, Rocco John Iacovone-reeds, Ras Moshe-reeds/flute, Matt Lavelle-trumpet, Gil Selinger-cello, Ken Filiano-upright bass, Laurie Towers-electric bass, Lou Grassi-drums. Such an aggregation! Nora has been on every DAO gig save for the first, and we never want her to leave. The drama added with voice--one which combines a free and trained voice, poetry and more. She was also a special guest on the Red Microphone's album--turning L'Internationale into a faraway place anthem for all time. Cheryl Pyle was a mainstay and then missed the last one but she is back. The icy, sinewy sound of her flute always reminds me of that cool theme music for 'The Open Mind' television show. Yeah. Gil Selinger, cello monster and a hell of a photographer. Before the DAO performance Gil was that guy in the cap running around shooting pics of everyone. So we have not only documentation but some very special shots as his angles are always the one we wished we took when we have a camera in hand. Great stuff and great cello playing. How many cellists have revolutionary themes off the top of their head?

My much better half Laurie Towers is such a powerful electric bassist; she brings bits of James Jamerson and Carol Kaye and a swath of colors into these gigs and so I always insist she be there. Laurie's work schedule (running two businesses of her own, stressfully but so positively and increasingly successful!) has kept her from playing as often as she once did---but there's always an electric bass chair for her ion DAO And in my life. So much gratitude, baby. And then there's Ken again. We had tandem basses as I always like to have and to include you in this line-up on the acoustic side was a treat. I should say that I walked over to Ken and whispered in his ear that during the Odessa steps scene I would call on him to play some heavy solo sections---I am sure all agree that this was the best depiction ever. And having Will join in---man. And last minute addition Lou Grassi---thank you Lou! Not only as a soloist but as an accompanist this was a bubbling brew of hip sounds.

And of course my mainstays Ras (explosive, Ayler-esque inner anguish/soft breezy and beguiling. At the damned same time. Pure art. ---that's Ras), Rocco (long-held tones that soar above it all, funky bar-room vibes, West Coast Konitz meets Eastern religion meet the West and East Villages. In style), Matt (trumpet calls to herald in the revolution, the spirit of Louis rolled into Don Cherry, barks, blasts, high-flying birds, mellow soul, ahhhhhh). What a band. What a night.

Be on the alert, all. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the Dissident Arts Festival. Anthony: if possible I would like to split this panoply of rad artists into two--a Sat night and a Sunday afternoon. This way everyone has a good audience and we don't need to run into OT. Especially when we have no funding and I cannot pay folks union rates. These folks deserve extra time to perform in and I hope to at least give them that. Let's talk as we get closer to next year, okay??

Much peace and love to everyone who made this possible. I SURE AS HELL HOPE I DIDN'T LEAVE ANYONE OUT OF THIS.....YOU all are why there is a Festival.

Keep the art burning with passion for social change.
jp
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ANDREA WOLPER:

Aug 17, 2014 11:43 AM




John, first, of all . . .  WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP??!   You were supposed to be sleeping in this morning. 

Next, you beat me to it: I was just about to write to thank you. Seriously. And I can't believe your mind is clear enough to have written this beautiful recap. I was so inspired last night by your vision and commitment (not to mention your organizational skills), and, now, even more so ('cause you're coherent this morning, ha!).

I'm cc'ing this to everyone, because: thank you to everyone. Damn, that was a long evening, but in the very best way -- long and strong! I'm still a bit high from the great music, words, performances, energy, love, strength, beauty.
 
Thank you so much, John, for doing this, and for inviting me to be part of it. And thank you to all the artists, Taller, and everyone involved!


Love, Andrea
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CHERYL PYLE:
 Aug 17, 2014 12:06 PM

thank you John , and all the musicians.

I love playing  the films - the orchestra was really  some amazing music for the film last night
and what a  great festival with amazing groups ! thank you for including me in the creativity.
I  posted a few pictures , 

 
peacelovemusic, Cheryl
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NORA MCCARTHY: Aug 17, 2014 2:34 PM
First of all John, Much thanks to you for putting this amazing festival together again......and for including me, I love being a part of the DAO, there's nothing like it, and to all the great artists that contributed to the positive energy and beauty of this annual event and important musical movement. To carry off something of this magnitude is not an easy feat and I reiterate your accolades to all involved, my hat is off to you! Secondly, how did you manage to write such an extensive and eloquent recap of the evening so early in the day, that in and of itself is pretty spectacular as I'm just enjoying my first cup of coffee, (smile.)  Just want to say it was great for me to commune with my favorite people and artists last night, very inspiring, very joyous.
Looking forward to more.
Again,
THANK YOU!!!!
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MATT LAVELLE: Aug 17, 2014 3:32 PM

It was deep how many people stayed through it,musicians and listeners alike. Deep listening abound. A powerful night. What I felt about halfway through and wanted to say but did not was this:
 
The wall of negativity that has held back the human race, that giant massive wall of darkness, has at last have some cracks in it. One reason is the tireless and tenacious artists in the world who refuse to give up and continue to believe in what we CAN be. Last night I looked around and witnessed soldiers of the highest order testify to a truth that one day we shall all witness come to pass.

 
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LOU GRASSI:  Aug 17, 2014 4:26 PM

What a night! I just couldn’t leave. So much great music and poetry. What a pleasure to see and hear so many old friends and meet, hear, and play with so many new ones.
Thanks John for the amazing job you did organizing this, and for inviting me to play with the orchestra, and for the beautiful summary of the evening. Hoping to see you all again soon! Lou

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ROCCO JOHN IACOVONE: Aug 17, 2014 11:14 PM

Friends and Fellow Creative Artists.....

Just look at all the love going around. I mean check out ALL the LOVE going around these e mails! 

Wow. It just keeps flowing and pouring out ..the same way the music, the poetry, the Perfomance art, the comments, the smiles, the feelings, the hugs, the audience,  the glances, the stories, the art work, the audience, the venue itself....just at it felt last night. 

It was a night filled with the absence of negativity! Think about that! AND in NYC. This defines what a miracle really is. I mean during the entire night, I did not feel one neg vibe nor did I feel any big egos taking the stage pounding their chests saying " hey all, look at what I do!"

Instead I felt positive vibes, I felt everyone was there to contribute to a cause... I felt support for all...artists complimenting each other on their work.... I felt I was among friends and we shared a commonality.

I felt at home.
 
Out of this comes the real thing. The real Art. And I think we all got to that last night. It's evident in the Art, spoken, played, and painted that was produced.
We have John Pietaro to thank for this. He really does a tireless job. We all know what it takes to put anything together and to put something this size together is really a tremendous feat. Thank you John!!!
And thank you to all who documented this evening. It's very important to do this. 
You know, driving Will Connell home last night, he commented that "It harkened back to the old days when things went on throught he night sometimes while everyone hung out" ...And you know he's right
Thank you all
I'm ready for the next one .....like soon. Maybe twice a year?
Peace 
Rocco
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RAYMOND NAT TURNER: Aug 18, 2014 1:47 AM

THANK YOU John for having the vision & courage 9 years ago to follow your dream! CONGRATULATIONS, I hope that it looks like what you had in mind a decade ago...perhaps even bigger & better?
 
We've participated in nearly 1/2 of them.  It's always a great feeling to produce art that is not for the titillation and enrichment of the 1%, but rather the entertainment, enlightenment and uplifting  of ordinary working-class folks and other cultural workers. The current conditions in our country demand the Dissident Arts Festival's existence.
 
If you're open to it, I'm certain that there are others like myself who are willing to step forward and help shoulder some of the workload in producing the event as well as presenting/performing. I hail from the San Francisco Bay Area with several years experience in successfully producing Bay Area Jazzpoetry Festivals and Frederick Douglass Days/Alternative 4th of Julys. 
 
Respectfully,
Raymond
PS I'm hoping that one day  there will be Dissident Arts Festivals in the South, Southwest, Midwest, CA and Pacific Northwest to provide outlets for marginalized or silenced progressive and revolutionary artists and their audiences in those regions...
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LAURIE TOWERS: Aug 18, 2014 5:48 AM

To all...
I have to say I have been SOOO moved by the outpouring of glowing praises and positive vibes about .saturday night , so I just want to take the last dance and give a bit of a sidebar .
About John.
The man I have been with for almost all my adult life , is just what you have come to know. Talented, thoughtful , madly intelligent and full of passion . The size of the cause bears no weight. Small or big it gets his undivided attention . He cares deeply and truly. Loud or soft and the texture never wears.
I hope he has been basking in some of the wonderful words bouncing off everyone's emails as I have . You are a truly wonderful man darling ..and of course I love you.
Heres  looking at you kid..
Cheers!
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KEN FILIANO: Aug 18, 2014 11:06 AM

hi john,
as attested to by all that everyone has written, your wide open (generous) and determined efforts are herculean! thank you for starting this wave that the rest of us followed and contributed to and made even larger .... an evening of generous expression. that's real dissidence -- offerings and actions of generosity.  thank you, john and thank you, everyone who was there - audience and performers = all are artists. -------

"....in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful -- that which is full of wonder." (edward abbey, "desert solitaire"
thank you , thank you, thank you.
ken
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RAS MOSHE: Aug 18, 2014 1:25 PM

Oh YEAH!
Serious fun.
All the music/words/art was off the hook.
Peace.
Right on.
Ras
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MY OWN RESPONSE TO EVERYONE:
I really appreciate everyone's responses to this. I meant it when I spoke of this amazing community of progressive improvisational musicians out there. And not only those performing but all of those in the audience, lending support. I am just sorry that I never got to greet a lot of the audience personally. So many out there.  I am glad I now have your ears:  I have been shouting about the need to have a serious coalition of musicians and other artists who are also activists---or in the least who have radical and/or progressive values they understand can benefit via their artform. I often look to collectives of cultural workers that I admire, such as the Composers Collective of New York (that which was founded by Charles Louis Seeger in the 1932 and included the likes of Copland and Cowell), or the Black Arts Movement and its various local components. Some of these art-activist associations were founded for a singular purpose, like the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League of the late 30s or Rock Against Racism 40-some years after. Others were intended as permanent fixtures which ended up burning out only after years of hardcore activism, such as the League of American Writers or the John Reed Club.
 
There is a new need for a creative Left coalition in this country. Some of us already have our own titular organizations for cultural work. They make an impact via specific events but aren't really organizations as there aren't actual "members". I count my own Dissident Arts in this category and also Ras' Music Now!. I am sure there are more out there, all operating independently and possibly successfully, but without the ability to really reach out and make the kind of impact WE need to make. So I will use this moment to propose once again  that we of the creative community who would dare use our "product" not necessarily as an end in itself but as a means to greater ends, found a collective we can commit to. Yes, this need be a membership organization. Yes, it needs to have regular communication and at least some kind of meetings, even if only to keep ourselves remembering that we are a "we" after all. This must be an umbrella that folds the Music Nows and the Dissident Arts and others into its whole. Not to steal the identity of those already wonderful things but to enliven them and allow their resources to feed the whole---and allow those separate organizations to finally be, after all, actual coalitions. Via the umbrella group we found.
 
This umbrella group should be named something appropriate that will allow for the various levels of activism, indeed, Leftism, each of the members subscribe to. I am a Marxist but someone else who is a liberal might be just as strong and proud and outgoing in actions. There must be room for all visions as long as they are progressive. Some may be specific to the peace cause or women's rights or labor or civil rights. Some may dedicate their lives to sustaining the planet. We must respect all of these issues and support one another's beliefs as credible areas for us to create around. And to create for.
 
I see this organization as being one that should have not-for-profit status so we can apply for grants. But being a miserable realist, I also know that it will be very tough for an out Left organization to get funding. So we will shoot for the grants but recognize our own means to have concerts such as we were all a part of last night. But, shit, we live I NYC--the greatest city in the world with the hardest-living artists in it. If we could survive Bloomberg's sanitizing and selling us out, we can be strong enough to stand as one. And create concerts and series and venues that can bear the title of this umbrella organization. We can use this to have a louder, prouder, outer voice to become a force within and beyond the rest of the activist community. That activist community has been splintered since at least the late 60s and so its artists have been just as splintered. No more---if we don't want it to be. At least not for the radicals and progressives of NYC. We can become that unified creative voice, that arts arm of activism. And--no---this need not be the only commitment. I won't stop playing improvisational music which is simply abstract or dedicated to this composer or that. This kind of activism and belief hasn't dimmed my practice time or learning standard. But if there is also a strong collective of cultural workers, particularly those who speak the language of new music and free jazz---an art as radical as our politics as I like to say---we can make music which cuts to the core. That which emanates from the stage will be visceral: our message about equality and social change will be visceral.
 
We can do this. We really can. Imagine how strong this or similar festivals of sound would be then. We can do this, sisters and brothers.
 
peace,
jp

The Red Microphone performing at this year's Dissident Arts Festival. Photo by Vi An Diep