Sunday, November 30, 2014

GROOVING ON THE QUIET GIANT: In Preparation of Will Connell Memorial Week at the Stone

Celebrating the Life and the Music: in Contemplation and on Stage

by John Pietaro

On the heels of my last posting to the Cultural Worker, as news of the passing of Will Connell becomes more widespread, I am happy to report that Will's week at the Stone shall stand. Even through the blue reality, there is cause to celebrate.

His residency at this, one of the few Downtown spaces left downtown, set for December 23, 26, 27 and 28, was all Will spoke about for months. His daughter Safiya Martinez recently told me that the week of concerts at this space, "was simply his dream". He had planned on the concept for years and was working tirelessly to get all of the music together, arranged, copied out. It would not be hyperbole to say that Will was living for this event. This makes the strange and sudden loss that much more of an injustice. But, in classic Will style, the musicians already dedicated to this residency are making no fuss, no moan, and carrying on. In tribute.

I made plans to spend last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, in Will's apartment on East 9th Street with Safiya, Ras Moshe, Jason Hwang and Rocco John Iacovone. We represented a cross section of Will's time in NYC, or at least a reasonable facsimile. Our task was to examine boxes of music in a somewhat anxious attempt to find the score and parts for the epic two-part "World Peace, With or Without People", a work that includes segments of music and poetry from the Horace Tapscott years through these days. In many ways, it is Will's own story. As dissonant as it is dissident, rapturous as tumultuous, equal parts ballad and experimental adventure, boldly singing, frenetically swinging. All of that and yet nearly no one had seen the final product, let alone could identify exactly where he had it hidden. Even as we planned on the venture I worried that we may never find it the manuscript...

It was nearly noon and so I hurriedly moved east on 8th Street, into St Mark's Place after my ascent from the subway station on lower Broadway. It was a long walk but one I have always enjoyed: even with the gentrification, with NYU taking over the landscape, even with the well-heeled corporate-types pretending to slum it and the wannebe hipsters carrying plastic arts dogma close at hand, that part of Broadway melds wonderfully into the East Village. They cannot squeeze the bohemian spirit out, even when the bohemian is priced out. That's both the lure of New York and its shame.

Once inside Tompkins Square Park you can almost forget the gleaming glass towers within range---and that so many powerful musicians, writers, painters, actors and dancers have lived and worked here. Rarely thriving, almost certainly struggling, but ensuring that this downtown area would remain hallowed ground. Will was among them, maintaining the rigors of a day job just to pay the rent while living out his calling. And like most, he suffered the devious developers, vampire landlord archetypes, breathing down his throat. The artists that pave the road in the poorest 'hoods are eventually driven out, one way or another. Yeah, its New York's shame.

Emerging onto Charlie Parker Way I moved quickly over to 9th and found my way to Will's place. Safiya greeted me with a warm hello. Ras was there already. She asked that we three stand over Will's piano where she'd set a candle and some small remembrances of her father in modest reverie. She spoke across the spectrum to Will and asked him to help in our search for the charts we needed to carry out his vision. After a moment, we were into our task, soon joined in by her mother/Will's ex-wife Thea Martinez, Rocco and then Jason--who'd worked with Will for so many years and was invaluable in assessing the music we went through. .

I looked around the neat studio apartment with its white walls and basic furniture, and marveling over the books: on shelves, in stacks and sitting in most of the otherwise empty spots. The guy was a real intellectual and his choice in books, on Black Liberation, yoga, the horoscope, world history, art, literature and philosophy, and in no particular order, spoke volumes. Where would this man have stored the manuscript we so desperately needed?

Carefully rummaging the boxes, the stories of Will began and there was laughter. Gentle remembrances and bits of imitations of some of his catch-phrases--his raised eyebrow smirk, his tendency to lean in close when trying to get your attention. We saw scores for works dating back 40 years amidst clippings he'd saved, handwritten notes and a few photos. In no particular order.  Folders filled with standards could include a flugelhorn part from "Intaka"; stacks of his copying work for David Murray might contain lists of his ideas; the backs of envelopes were as valuable as onion skin manuscript paper in this search. Realizing that parts of "World Peace" included Will's compositions performed in more recent times, we separated the pieces and made sure to compile the part we'd probably need.

After we found some important components, the group, now joined by yet another musician friend, came to the sad conclusion that perhaps we simply weren't going to find the Tapscott-era material--the main part of the first set slated for December 23. Or its important poetry, that which told the tale of "World Peace". This was troubling, to say the least. Where could this material be?? But something had me take a look in a box someone else had already gone through. "No, no, its not in there", I was told, "I already examined everything". But something had me continue on. I lifted up a pile of charts from the large box and looking downward could see, clipped together, a small stack of photocopied sheets. It stood out so I pulled it up and out. Here were the Tapscott-era charts! We scrambled back into the box and found another similarly clipped stack; yes, it was indeed the poetry! Will came through after all.

As I write this, we are awaiting a senior member of the group to take charge and decide how best to present theses charts of Will's and the ideas he conveyed but never got to write out. But its good to know that his dream will be shared with everyone on December 23, 26, 27 and 28. Will Connell made a real impact on the creative music scenes on both coasts, scenes that he not only performed in but actually helped  forge.........

Press Contact: NEW MASSES MEDIA RELATIONS John Pietaro  (646) 599-0060

New York, NY: Memorial Concerts for Underground Legend of Avant Jazz Will Connell

As winter descends over Alphabet City, the homeland of radical arts mourns the loss of one of its own. Saxophonist/bass clarinetist/composer Will Connell Jr died on November 19; his music and life are to be celebrated in a Christmas-week event at the Stone. He came of age in the 1960s as an invaluable part of Horace Tapscott’s organization and the LA Black Arts Movement, and stood as an underground giant of NY’s Free Jazz and New Music circle since 1975. His sudden passing occurred just weeks before his planned residency at the Stone (Dec 23-28) and days shy of his 76th birthday. The musicians who were to be a part of Connell’s residency have vowed to keep his vision alive in this series of concerts which now stand in his honor and memory; all of the proceeds will serve as a fundraiser for Will’s family.

The music performed will be an amalgam of Connell’s more than half-century as a performing artist: compositions ranging from those associated with Tapscott to his latest works as well as the free improvisation he was so fond of. The variety of sounds embody Connell’s stage and studio life; his resume sported gigs with Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, David Murray, William Parker, Charles Gayle, Chico Hamilton, and Anthony Braxton. A core downtown figure, Connell also engaged James Chance, Minor Threat, Black Flag and Ryan Adams in creative endeavors—a performance pedigree ranging from hip Jazz to New Thing to No Wave. From basement clubs to the Newport and Moers festivals to nation-wide TV broadcasts. The musical fabric Connell brings to the Stone also includes his work as a music copyist, laying down the score for Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America”, the World Saxophone Quartet and many of Motown LA’s best.  Known as an understated, quiet giant of the music, Will Connell’s voice is best heard through his alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, drenched in the rich tapestry.

The program at the Stone will open on December 23 with words by Will’s daughter, poet and actress Safiya Martinez, and then move into two powerful sets by Will’s 13-piece band, the Dark Tree Ensemble. This collection of works, “World Peace, With or Without People: Music from the Legacy of Horace Tapscott”, is split between LA compositions and those from Will’s nearly 40 years in NYC. This world premiere, featuring Tapscott’s brilliant music in perspective and also as a reference for Connell’s own compositions, promises to be historic and serves as a statement for these years of ongoing global conflict.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the club is dark, but the residency continues from the 26th through the 28th. The focus will be on Connell’s collaborations with other artists over the years including Vincent Chancey, Connie Crothers, Jorge Sylvester, Rocco John Iacovone, Golda Solomon, Andrea Wolper, Michael TA Thompson and many more, in large assemblages and intimate combos. The sounds range from free to world music, new composition to latter-day Beat poetry to exploratory visions.

Event: WILL CONNELL MEMORIAL WEEK: Celebrating the Life & Music of the Heart & Soul of Downtown

When: December 23, 26, 27, 28, 2014

Place: The Stone

Ave C @ 2nd Street, New York, NY 10009   (212) 473-0043

Admission: $15.


TUESDAY 12/23:

--8 pm

OPENING STATEMENT: Safiya Martinez, Will Connell’s daughter

World Peace, With or Without People: Music from the Legacy of Horace Tapscott, performed by the Dark Tree Ensemble - Music from the Los Angeles experience.

Will Connell (compositions), Fay Victor (voice), Andrea Wolper (voice), Rosi Hertlein (violin, voice), Ras Moshe (soprano sax), Hayes Greenfield (alto sax), Matt Lavelle (flugelhorn, alto clarinet), Vincent Chancey (French horn), Steve Swell (trombone), Jesse Dulman (tuba), Joe Daley (euphonium), John Pietaro (vibes, percussion), Larry Roland (bass), Jeremy Carlstedt (drumset, percussion)

--10 pm

OPENING STATEMENT (poetry by DH Lawrence): Safiya Martinez

 World Peace, With or Without People: Music from the Legacy of Horace Tapscott, performed by the Dark Tree Ensemble - New Music in New York.

Will Connell (compositions), Fay Victor (voice), Andrea Wolper (voice), Rosi Hertlein (violin, voice), Ras Moshe (soprano sax), Hayes Greenfield (alto sax), Matt Lavelle (flugelhorn, alto clarinet), Vincent Chancey (French horn), Steve Swell (trombone), Joe Daley (euphonium), Jesse Dulman (tuba), John Pietaro (vibes, percussion), Larry Roland (bass), Jeremy Carlstedt (drumset, percussion)

FRIDAY 12/26:

--8 pm

I.C.E. : Improvisational Composers Ensemble

Rocco John Iacovone (alto & soprano saxophones, compositions), Ras Moshe (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute), Sana Nagano (violin), Michael Lytle (bass clarinet), Rich Rosenthal (guitar), Phil Sirois (bass), John Pietaro (hand drums & percussion), Dalius Naujo (drumset)

 --10 pm


Vincent Chancey (French horn), Max Johnson (bass), Jeremy Carlstedt (drumset)


--8 pm

Jazz & Poetry Choir Collective

Golda Solomon (poetry), E.J.Antonio (poetry), Phylisha Villanueva (poetry), Rosi Hertlein (violin, voice, poetry), Larry Roland (bass, poetry) Michael T.A.Thompson (conductor & sound rhythm). Special guest: JD Parran (flutes)

--10 pm


Connie Crothers (piano), Andrea Wolper (voice, poetry), Ken Filiano (bass). Special Guest: Golda Solomon (poetry)

SUNDAY 12/28:

--8 and 10 pm

Jorge Sylvester's ACE (Afro-Caribbean Experimental) Collective

Jorge Sylvester (alto saxophone, compositions), Nora McCarthy (voice, poetry, compositions), Waldron Mahdi Ricks (trumpet), Donald Nicks (electric bass), Kenny Grohowski (drumset).  Special Guests: Craig Harris (trombone), Jay Rodriguez (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone), Marvin Sewell (guitar)

The son of a violin prodigy deprived of the profession by racist politics, Will Connell Jr became aware of both music and the struggle for justice as a child of the ‘40s. Jazz served as a source of art and great pride for the African American community, and its impact on Connell was nothing short of visceral: “I heard Billie Holiday at 17. Tears ran down my face like Niagara Falls”. That same year, 1956, Connell joined the US Air Force, serving some nine years. In between tours he purchased an alto saxophone but didn’t dedicate himself to music until surviving a chemical blast that blinded him for several days. Lying in an Air Force hospital in darkness, Connell vowed that if he regained his eyesight, he’d formally study this art that had driven him so deeply. This and the gnawing outrage about the military’s treatment of Black servicemen led to his decision re-join civilian life.  Studies at LA City College (Dolphy’s alma mater) led to years of close work with Horace Tapscott wherein Connell served as reeds player and music librarian and copyist. The Tapscott organization was LA’s paramount arm of the Black Arts Movement and its immersion into African American culture and liberation had a lasting impact on Connell. By 1975 Connell relocated to NYC’s Lower East Side where he resided for the rest of his life. Through the decades he performed or recorded with such luminaries as Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Chico Hamilton, Pharoah Sanders, Butch Morris, Roy Campbell, Sam Rivers, Steve Swell, Billy Bang, Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake, Daniel Carter, Jason Hwang and many others. He also engaged in extensive projects as music copyist, most notably Ornette Coleman’s ‘Skies of America’ as well as for David Murray's Big Band, the World Saxophone Quartet and a bevy of R & B and pop artists ranging from Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack to Stevie Wonder and Simon & Garfunkel.

Will Connell was a deeply relevant part of this rather unclassifiable musical genre which prides itself on free improvisation as much as post-modern composition, global sounds and the bite of revolutionary politics. Usually preferring to be a member of a band as opposed to its leader, Connell may have been the last of the modest greats. Having served as guest curator at the Stone in 2012, which brought him some note, and featured earlier this year in the Arts for Art organization’s series, and as a member of the Veterans of Free on the Tribute to ‘New York Eye & Ear Control’ concert in June, this master of the New Jazz is now recalled at his rightful place at front and center.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Obituary of WILL CONNELL: Loss of a Quiet Giant

 Will Connell at the 2014 Dissident Arts Festival, NYC (photo by Gil Selinger)
Loss of a Quiet Giant: Will Connell 1938-2014

An Obituary by John Pietaro

I was heartily saddened by the sudden unexpected phone call: downtown’s unsung hero of Free Jazz, Will Connell Jr, was hospitalized and non-responsive. Immediately the jazz and new music community rallied and the outpouring of love for Will was apparent. We’d all been preparing for his big moment at the front of the stage, his week-long residency at the Stone, set to occur in December. None of this made sense yet one day later, November 19,  the hush of mourning closed out all else; the little giant was lost to us.   
Though Will and I only came to know each other several years ago, I connected deeply to him: both in music and politics. When he hired me this past September to serve as publicist for his long-awaited residency at the Stone, we shared long conversations and Will spoke of how deeply this music, the once-New Thing, was born enmeshed in radicalism. When the music and the movement are divergent, the soul, the fight, withdraws.  It touched me when he commented, in his characteristic style, "Hey maaaan, you are the most revolutionary cat I‘ve known in many years. You might be the most revolutionary cat I ever met". Coming from this giant of Free, this cohort of Black Arts and comrade of some very heavy activists, this was indeed a prideful moment.
More than anything, Will was elated about this Christmas-week residency at the Stone. It was a major acknowledgement of his many years of creativity---in his own adopted ‘hood of nearly forty years. This series of concerts was a retrospective of his musical career as well as a focus on his current performance. He asked me to craft a publicity campaign to highlight the residency’s widespread reach: Will’s own music and that of Horace Tapscott, whom he was most closely associated with, but also many of the NYC friends with whom he'd made music over the decades. Wisdom of his age, Will recognized that he might not get this chance again---so this had to be a performance of the highest level. We discussed his vision for the residency and particularly his ideas for the premier of "World Peace, With or Without People--the Legacy of Horace Tapscott”, which he was most excited about. Here, the sounds and the activism would indeed converge.
Will had called me on November 12, a week before his transition, and I immediately heard something in his voice other that the sing-song greeting I'd grown used to. There was anxiety and urgency. He explained he needed to go into the hospital on Friday for same-day surgery and even as he down-played it, I heard the fear. We spoke about this and he told me that he’d only told three people about the procedure he needed: he'd based this on the old adage that in an emergency, "you only call three people: your doctor, your lawyer and your publicist". We laughed over this but he asked me not to speak of it to anyone and I assured him that I would not and that I would check in with him over the weekend. When I called him next, the call went right to voice mail--and I never got a call back. I suspected there'd been complications and considered whom I should call to inquire. And then the grim reports began to come in.
As of this writing, the musicians slated to be a part of the week-long residency are hell-bent on keeping Will’s vision alive. Several have been in touch with Will’s daughter Safiyah in this hard time. Our thoughts are with her and the rest of the family. Though details need to be ironed out with the Stone, the current plan is that the week of December 23-28 shall serve as a celebration of Will’s life, a feature for his music, his artistry and the visceral socio-political heart of it all.


 Will Connell Jr was introduced to music by his father, a violin prodigy. Deprived by racist politics of a career in the classical world, Connell Sr contented his musical longings to avid listening. But music was central to African American family life and jazz served as a vehicle of both art and great pride over the generations. Will Jr became acutely aware of the sounds of Jazz and all music from his earliest memory and was immersed in it even before: “I was told by my parents that Art Tatum played the little piano at my grandmother's house when I was an infant”, Connell recently recalled.
As soon as Will Jr was old enough, he began accompanying his father to LA jazz clubs and concert halls where most of the greatest jazz artists of the 1940s and 50s were performing. He became immediately drawn to the saxophonists but elements of the music offered a visceral response that was life-changing: “I heard Billie Holiday at 17. Tears ran down my face like Niagara Falls”, Connell offered in retrospect. That same year, 1956, he was inducted into the Air Force, where he remained for some nine years. Between tours of duty, Connell purchased an alto saxophone and it accompanied him to Okinawa. Performances in bars followed but Connell didn’t become serious about music until a suffering a profound experience wherein he was blinded for several days by a chemical blast. Connell pondered his future in the darkness. He vowed then that if he regained his eyesight, he was going to formally study this art that had driven him so deeply. This promise, as well as his growing outrage about the military’s treatment of Black servicemen and people of color around the world, saw him leave the Air Force forthwith.
In 1965 Connell studied at LA City College (Eric Dolphy’s alma mater) while he worked evenings at the local Post Office; during breaks Will studied harmony. Around this time Connell became acquainted with Horace Tapscott, then in the process of building a powerful community-based organization inspired by both the early Black Arts Movement and the Watts riots: The Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA) and the Pan African People’s Arkestra (PAPA). Almost immediately, Connell took a central role in both the organization and ensemble; he was the latter’s librarian. Tapscott urged Connell to learn the craft of music copying and he took tutelage with copyists at the Motown label, now transplanted to LA. Through this association, he began working as a copyist for a wide variety of R and B artists, including Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Michael Jackson, as well as pop artists outside of Motown, Simon and Garfunkel among them.  He also worked as copyist for Tapscott’s large ensemble, writing out the parts for diverse instruments even as he performed with it and the smaller groups that sprang from it.
Connell credits Tapscott with his political education as well: a young Angela Davis was a frequent guest at the organization’s gatherings and they had a close association with the Black Panther Party and played its theme song, “Seize the Time” in the regular repertoire. The Tapscott bands also played regular gigs at various college Black Student Unions, high schools (at one of these they played opposite Sun Ra’s band) and community events. Almost immediately after Angela Davis’ arrest, Tapscott’s band served as the pit band of a new theatre work by Jack Wilson, ‘Free Angela!’. Connell recalled that while the actors were hesitantly preparing for the premiere, Tapscott took charge and led the band in a lengthy set of explosive music which saw the crowded house quaking with jubilance. The movement was thriving.

By 1975, Connell would ultimately leave LA and Tapscott for New York City, which would remain his home. Residing on the Lower East Side, Connell encountered the fading jazz loft scene and the edge of the Beat Generation poets’ waning days. But he was already an elder statesman of the new jazz which became vital as 20th century composition melded into free jazz and the legacy of the blues; this “new thing” crossed culture and encouraged inter-racial creativity through its celebration of radicalism. The music was immediate and vital and Will happily submerged himself into its center.
After arriving here, Connell sought out Arthur Blythe, who’d been a part of Tapscott’s band and was now playing with noted drummer-leader Chico Hamilton. Brand new to the city, Will sat in the control room as Hamilton’s band recorded a largely improvised score for a Fritz the Cat cartoon film and he immediately grabbed some manuscript paper and sketched out the music notation as the band played. Presenting it to Hamilton, the impressed leader hired Will to write out the scores for other performances, committing to paper what had previously been lost to the air. Connell was added to the band as multi-reeds player, where Paul Horn, Dolphy and others had preceded him.
A year later, Connell was a part of William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and made an immediate impact downtown. Over the next three decades, he became an integral part of bands led by Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, Pharaoh Sanders, Roy Campbell, Sam Rivers, Steve Swell, Billy Bang, Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake, Daniel Carter, Frank Lowe and many others. Somehwere in there he toured with Philly Joe Jones too. He also engaged in extensive projects as music copyist, the most famous of which was Ornette Coleman’s ‘Skies of America’; Will’s work allowed Ornette to see a conductor’s score of this celebrated piece for the first time. He also did the music copying for David Murray's Big Band, the Craig Harris/Seku Sundiata Project for Brown University, and the World Saxophone Quartet, including their Jimmy Hendrix Album.
Connell co-founded the band Commitment with Jason Hwang, William Parker and Zen Maatsura in 1978. The band would perform at the Kool Jazz Festival and Moers Jazz Festival during its first year. But in the same period, he began creating music with the newest residents of the East Village, punk rockers and no wave artists. These included James Chance, as well as the bands Minor Threat and Black Flag when they came through town. Other LES jazz musicians who found this genre welcoming included Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen. Don Cherry also spent significant time with members of Talking Heads and in this period Ornette Coleman lived on Prince Street and grew Prime Time. There was fertile ground for powerful cross-pollination . Connell saw the connection between the ‘70s-‘80s punk movement and the 1960s’ special brand of openness, acceptance and need to break with convention. Through this circle he became acquainted with singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, with whom he’d perform on TV’s David Letterman show some years later. 
Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, when downtown became Downtown, the music was celebrated and played globally. Will Connell was there to give it street cred. And he continued on this path to serve as a genuine artifact even as he offered a kind of youthful enthusiasm to the moment. Into this century, the vitality was there and an aging Will Connell apparently knew no bounds, never had the want to slow down. He led a series of combos that included such names as Tomas Ulrich, Anders Nilsson, Thurman Barker, Ras Moshe so many others and thrived in his work with the quartet Sadhana, co-led by Vincent Chancey and powered by the young energy of Max Johnson and Jeremy Calstedt. Will was a charter member of the Jazz and Poetry Collective and a series of other bands he was only happy to be a part of if the vibe was there. He served as guest curator at the Stone in 2012, which brought him some note, and his renown among the musicians only grew as he encountered still newer music adventurers and visitors along the way. Yet popular acclaim continued to elude him. Will was a featured performer earlier this year in an  Arts for Art concert dedicated to Tapscott’s legacy. He was also a member of the at least a couple of all-star bands for events that this author produced including the ‘Drums For Warren’ benefit concert in support of Warren Smith, and the ‘The Tribute to New York Eye & Ear Control’ concert this past June and the 2014 Dissident Arts Festival of which he was the headliner.
Though rarely in the spotlight over the decades, Will Connell was a deeply relevant part of this rather unclassifiable musical genre which prides itself on free improvisation as much as post-modern composition, the expansiveness of world sounds and the bite of revolutionary politics. And yet his message, at the close of each warm encounter, remained “peace”. That was Will, the rebel who extended an open hand, never a fist. Usually preferring to be a member of a band as opposed to its leader, often seen as “a section man” in larger ensembles and a “background” guy though a powerfully screaming soloist, Connell may have been the last of the modest greats. And oh, how this quiet giant is missed.

peace, Will....


John Pietaro is a musician, writer and cultural organizer from Brooklyn, New York -

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Report on FLOOD WALL STREET action



Photo by John Pietaro

By John Pietaro

On September 22, one day after the 350,000-strong People’s Climate March, another environmental justice event occurred in New York City. But this one received few of the news cycle's time as it hit a little close to home: the wallet. Forget Columbus Circle, this demonstration targeted the singular place most see as the heart of the problem: the financial district. ‘Flood Wall Street’ couldn’t count the mayor or celebrities among its supporters but then this group wasn’t necessarily seeking approval. It surely wasn’t extending a hand to the captains of industry either.

Clad in shades of blue to illustrate the wave of action to come, the activists of Flood Wall Street gathered first at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park for a rally, teach-in and breakfast. Naomi Klein was one of three guest speakers. This event was small on pomp but Klein’s statements were profound to say the least. By 11AM, the group, increasing in size seemingly by the moment, began moving in concert. Carrying placards reading ‘Capitalism is Climate Chaos’, one thousand commandeered the streets to tell the corporate beast that it must become responsible to our planet. Tight, shadowy lower Broadway was shut down all the way to the water's edge. For the stock and hedge fund people, it must have felt particularly confining. And this is the place where the brokerage houses on this winding road already hunker down about the sidewalks.

Quickly, street traffic was halted by the sea of bodies. Among the vehicles blocked were two sight-seeing double-decker buses, a city bus and a truck. To a soundtrack provided by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and varied chanting, colorful blue tarps were held aloft above huge sections of the demonstrators. One of these was stretched over the cab of the stalled truck as the driver sat motionless looking out. Harried New Yorkers had to sit tight as the mass crowd swelled, blocking out the black-top. Without breaking up the proceedings, the NYPD cleared a path after an hour and let the traffic through; the tourists up on top of the bus cheered and gave the raised fist sign to the protestors. As soon as the vehicles were moved out, the human Flood moved back in, securing the ground, sharing again in song and chant.

Though there was a mood shift by evening that involved arrests, these first hours of Flood Wall Street were non-violent in every sense of the term. And while a large segment of the group had already decided to risk arrest by engaging in civil disobedience, the opportunity never arose. In contrast to the police response under Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, the NYPD tactic for this event was to simply arrest no one. There was no need as the order to vacate never happened. So the people reveled.

The mass crowd communicated via the Occupy Wall Street "people's mic" with multiple relays carrying the message outward. Some of the speakers came from points around the world. And one young man, a self-identified IWW, climbed up on top of a pay phone and spoke about the cause of all oppressed peoples. The police stood by close, seemingly unaware of what to do next. He held his ground but was arrested while descending from his make-shift podium.

With the majority of the huge demo further south, the action thinned as one walked northward up Broadway. All of the adjoining streets were closed to traffic but Wall Street had a small squadron of police guarding against any entry, as if preparing for the action they’d see later that evening. Behind the barricades stood several annoyed brokers in European suits trying to get back to work after lunch. NY's finest were standing guard over the institutions of profit and no one was getting by. "Show me yer ID please". Fumbling for their wallets, they did.

The irony was unique to the moment: Occupy kids, aging hippies, radical feminists, anarchists, Marxists, enviro-socialists and assorted progressives were enjoying a sit-down on lower Broadway with police protection as men with $600 haircuts were being carded.

Just then, a group of visitors intent on taking selfies on the steps of the Stock Exchange were stopped too. "But, officer, I just want to see Wall Street", a blonde traveler beseeched the officer.

The cop's response was, of course, the key phrase of the entire event: "I am sorry but Wall Street is closed today".

The Street would later report that it held its own but if you looked closely, you could almost see it cringe as the echo of chanting soared through the canyons of capital.

Monday, August 18, 2014


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



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.




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
 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
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.
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.

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

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 soon. Maybe twice a year?
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. 
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...
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..
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. -------

" 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.
RAS MOSHE: Aug 18, 2014 1:25 PM

Serious fun.
All the music/words/art was off the hook.
Right on.
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.

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




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