Mid-Shore Arts: Bennett Bean on Being Careful

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While his first major piece of art sold to the Whitney Museum in 1967, it could be said that Bennett Bean’s art career actually started in 1981.

That was the year Bennett permanently ended teaching at Wagner College in New York and left the city for the New Jersey countryside and focus exclusively on his artwork.

That was a good bet on his part. Since that moment in time, he now has his artwork in the permanent collection of such esteemed museums as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Southern California.

But as Bennett explains in his interview with the Spy at the Academy Art Museum from last week, it was due to this newly found freedom, which he calls a “romantic involvement,” that has produced the extraordinary pottery and colors now on display in a major exhibition or his work entitled Be Careful What You Fall in Love With this fall at the AAM.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum and “Bennett Bean: Be Careful What You Fall in Love With” please go here.

CFF Preview: Kurt Kolaja’s Wild Ponies of Chincoteague

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As with the case with most documentarians, who tend to need very long production times to make their films, the Spy had not heard from Kurt Kolaja for a few years. The last time was when we interviewed Kurt was in connection with the hugely successful and charming documentary on the Kent County Marching Band in 2011.

Audiences found that film to be extraordinary in sharing the humor and the fun that goes hand in hand with local community marching bands, but also the very real, and sometimes complex, personalities of the band members themselves. Six years later, Kurt has used those same skills to capture another part of Eastern Shore culture with his new film entitled the Wild Ponies of Chincoteague. While the theme of this new production is certainly putting a well-deserved spotlight on the extraordinary habitat of these wild horses, it also drills down into the community itself and those unique individuals that play a critical role in a historical legacy that is found on the lower Eastern shore.

The Spy caught up with Kurt at the Bullitt House in Easton last week to talk about the film which will be premiering at the Chesapeake film Festival in late October.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here 

PigPen Theatre Returns to Garfield

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On September 30th, the musical/theatrical sensation, PigPen Theatre Company, returns to the Garfield Center for the Arts. The Garfield has once again joined forces with The Mainstay, Rock Hall’s home for live music, to bring this incredible group to Chestertown for a one-night only concert performance.

The self-proclaimed “band of storytellers” began creating their unique brand of theater, music, and film as freshmen at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. They have since produced their original plays in New York City and toured the country – earning them critic’s picks from The New York Times, Time Out New York, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, and many more, ranking them in the top ten theatrical events of 2011, 2012, and 2013. They were the first group to win the NYC Fringe Festival’s top honor for a play two years in a row (2010/11) and have gone on to win IRNE (2012, 2015) and Jeff Awards (2014) for their theatrical productions. In 2016, Sir Trevor Nunn invited PigPen to be a part of his first American acting company for a production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles”.

PigPen’s debut album, “Bremen”, was named #10 album of the year in The Huffington Post’s 2012 Grammy preview, sending PigPen on tour playing to sold-out crowds across the country. American Songwriter premiered their follow-up EP, “The Way I’m Running”, in 2013 while the band was playing a series of concerts that became one of the most popular residencies of the past decade at the legendary Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago. In 2015, PigPen released their sophomore album, “Whole Sun.” performed at Mumford & Sons’ return to the Gentlemen of the Road Festival, and made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash” starring Meryl Streep.

Co-sponsored by The Mainstay and The Garfield Center for the Arts, the concert on September 30th is at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online, over the phone by calling 410-810-2060, or in person at the Garfield Center box office. Get your tickets early! This concert was nearly sold out in 2016 and you don’t want to miss them. The theater is located at 210 High Street in Chestertown.

Swingin’ in the Park!

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Come hear the big-band sound of Swing City on Sunday, Sept 24 at 3:00 pm.  This will be the last of the summer concerts in Fountain Park in downtown Chestertown.  Originally scheduled for July, the concert was postponed due to a torrential downpour on the day.  Note that due to scheduling issues, this Music in the Park concert is not on the usual Saturday evening.  Instead, Swing City will perform on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm in the usual location in the park. There is no charge for any of the Music in the Park concerts but donations will be gratefully accepted.

Led by trumpeter Elmer Dill, Swing City performs all over the eastern U.S., with occasional ventures as far afield as Canada. The 35-member band has been a hit with Music in the Park audiences, drawing large crowds for its appearances in the open-air concert series. Before the evening is over, there have usually been several couples dancing on the bricks around the fountain.

Elmer Dill, founder and director of Swing City, led his first band while still in high school. He attended the University of Delaware, where he played with the university’s stage band, the Delmodians. After college, he joined the U.S. Navy and played in bands all over the world. Several other Swing City regulars share Dill’s military band background, and nearly a third are current or retired musical directors. Most of them live in the Delmarva area, though a few come from as far afield as western Maryland, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. Members have ranged in age from students in their teens to musicians in their eighties.

Ann Morris of Swing City

The band’s repertoire includes both swing era classics from the likes of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller and stylish, big band arrangements of more modern material. The set list for Sunday features sax and trumpet solos as well as popular songs  such as “In the Mood,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and a six-trumpet arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird.”  Ann Morris, a favorite from previous Swing City concerts, returns as the band’s featured vocalist.

Sunday’s program begins at 3:00 p.m. and will end at approximately 4:30. Admission is free. Audience members should bring something to sit on. Only limited seating is available. Note that there is no rain date.  In case of rain, the concert will be canceled. This concert marks the end of the 2017 Music in the Park program. The summer 2018 series will begin in mid-June after the National Music Festival which is the first two weeks of June in Chestertown.

The Music in the Park series has brought a variety of musical styles, including jazz, swing, bluegrass, klezmer, folk, gospel and more, to Kent County audiences since it began in the mid-1990s. The concerts are sponsored by the town of Chestertown with support from the Kent County Arts Council and many community contributors. To help make these free programs possible, send donations payable to the town of Chestertown and designated for “Music in the Park,” to 118 N. Cross St., Chestertown, MD 21620. Donations may also be made at the concert.

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“Doubt, A Parable” Final Weekend at Church Hill Theatre

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“This production of Doubt is a must-see for anyone who enjoys serious, thought-provoking drama.” says local reviewer, Peter Heck.  Doubt, A Parable, the Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning drama by John Patrick Shanley, has one final weekend at Church Hill Theatre.

Sister Aloysius (Kathy Jones) listens as Sister James (Kendall Davis) voices concerns about the students in their school.

Since the play runs without an intermission, the director, Michael Whitehill, offers audiences the unusual opportunity to linger after each performance in order to discuss the production with the cast and crew. These sessions have been lively and well attended so far, with at least half the audience remaining at each performance.  Dramaturges Christopher Wallace and Patrick Fee have assembled a great deal of information that can be viewed at http://doubt.churchhilltheatre.org/ before the performance.

At its core, Doubt asks audiences to ponder the many meanings of truth: factual, moral, situational, cultural and generational. The immediate question is whether a Catholic priest acted inappropriately toward a child in his care, but the drama digs deeper, investigating issues of race and class and asking how far a person may go to achieve justice.

Barbi Bedell plays Mrs. Muller in Church Hill Theatre’s production of Doubt, A Parable.

The story takes place in a Bronx parochial school in the 1960s. John Haas plays Father Brendan Flynn, a progressive parish priest who favors racial integration and more liberal social attitudes. The school’s principal, Sister Aloysius (Kathy Jones) is rigid, conservative and deeply mistrustful of her colleagues, her students and the whole of modern society. A young nun, Sister James (Kendall Davis) is caught in the middle when she observes – or misinterprets – an interaction between Father Flynn and the school’s first African-American student. While the boy’s mother, Mrs. Muller (Barbi Bedell) sees nothing wrong with the alleged contact, Sister Aloysius confronts the priest and escalates the conflict. The audience is left swinging from argument to argument, debating each character’s motivation, searching for the truth, but encountering only more doubt. Heck noted that director Michael Whitehill, “has assembled a strong cast, and they make the most of the challenging script.”

Doubt, A Parable will run through September 24th, 2017 with performances at 8 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, with special prices for groups of ten or more. Reservations can be made by calling the box office at 410-556-6003 or online at www.churchhilltheatre.org.

Jazz Review: The 2017 Monty Alexander Festival by John Malin

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Labor Day weekend in Easton has become established over the last eight years as a great destination for Jazz lovers as the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival (MAJF) has grown in stature and popularity.

Friday, September 1st, marked the start of this year’s festival in the Avalon Theatre with a magnificent performance from Bria Skonberg and her band. Bria drifted onto the stage trumpet in hand, saluted the audience and blew up a storm with a version of Louis Armstrong’s “Swing That Music.” Supported by the “holy trinity” of piano, bass and drums, Bria played a range of jazz styles from traditional New Orleans through to modern Jazz and Blues, playing numbers from Dizzy Gillespie, Django Reinhardt and Hoagy Carmichael before moving on to Nat King Cole’s “Revenge” and the beautiful French song “I Am Alone Tonight” by Lucienne Delyle. Listening to Bria singing in perfect French I imagined a young Brigitte Bardot with a voice like a honey glazed stiletto purring and cutting through lyrics with a surgeon’s precision. The support piano work of Matisse Picard was both original and technically outstanding, providing a perfect complement to Skonberg’s trumpet.

The second set included some of her own original work including a haunting swing number “Wear And Tear” featuring a beautiful muted trumpet solo. The set concluded with a moving delta blues style vocal “I Love You But I Can’t Have You” with Bria singing in a soulful rich voice and playing ever ascending horn riffs in a question and answer style vocal and instrumental. The Avalon audience loved it. Bria Skonberg was fabulous…watch this space Jazz fans.

Saturday’s events began with a wall of sound from the U.S. Navy Band Commodores, led by Bill Mulligan. We usually listen to amplified individual instruments but to hear an 18-piece band in a small theater is an unforgettable experience. The band played an eclectic range of jazz classics with instrumental solos from most all of the players and a selection of songs from Ella Fitzgerald, celebrating the centenary of her birth. Kristine Hsia, the vocalist, finished with an original and beautiful arrangement of “Georgia On My Mind.” Bill Mulligan, bandleader and a virtuoso sax player, produced a fabulous big band sound with these world-class musicians and the Avalon is still shaking.

Brunch at the Tidewater Inn with the Washington D.C.-based Conservatory Classic Jazz Band has become a tradition of the festival and the seven-piece band played their repertoire of New Orleans, Chicago, and small group swing as customers feasted on Bloody Marys and crab cakes.

Jazz trumpeter Sean Jones, with drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Luques Curtiss, and pianist Orrin Evans

Sean Jones, the young and very talented former lead trumpet player with Wynton Marsalis, kicked off Saturday afternoon in a packed Avalon Theater with Obed Calvaire on drums, Luques Curtiss on bass, and Orrin Evans on piano. Starting with a tribute to Ella with “Come Fly With Me” and moving to “Two Or Three,” a slow haunting trumpet and piano arrangement, the quartet then played a selection of classic and original numbers that demonstrated not only their technical excellence, but their ability to create an atmosphere of cool, smooth jazz that seemed like we were all sitting in a small, intimate, dark and smoke-filled club. The original snow scene inspired by “Gretchen” raised emotions of Christmas carols and “Nomo” showed the fabulous drumming skills of Obed Calvaire. The finale, an emotional trumpet solo by the gentle giant Jones playing an arrangement of “Danny Boy,” had not a dry eye in the house and received a standing ovation.

Grammy-award nominee René Marie made her second appearance at the MAJF to lead the Saturday evening show with her very

Jazz vocalist René Marie (left), with pianist John Chin and vocalist Dee Daniels

creative and original songs that are intensely personal and probe the most elated and depressed emotions of human existence. With pianist John Chin, drummer Quentin Baxter and bassist Elias Bailey, René roamed through a selection of her own material like “If You Were Mine” and classics like Arty Shaw’s “Moonray.” At times René proudly stood at side stage watching her band deliver fabulous solos urging them on to even greater things. John Chin was just magical as he stared upwards, trance-like, playing absolutely inspired piano. The second set had a surprise appearance by Dee Daniels, another favorite of the MAJF audiences. Dee, with her four octave vocal range, and René sang an amazing duet arrangement of “What A Difference A Day Makes” with the two great voices making exquisite harmonies. A version of Nina Simone’s “Oh Nina” finished the concert with John Chin again showing his tremendous musical influence to René Marie’s most original style of music.

Monty Alexander headlined the final concert of the Festival on Sunday. The concert was dedicated to the memory of Beth Schucker, one of the original supporters of the MAJF, a lifelong Jazz fan and a dear friend to so many Eastern Shore folks. Monty, with his regular bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Jason Brown, struck a very melodious but spiritual theme with classics like “I Have A Friend In Jesus” and “The River.” Monty shared some of his most challenging life experiences, including his battle with cancer, that inspired his composition “Renewal,” featuring his unique piano string plucking technique as an introduction to his inimitable keyboard skills. The music flowed seamlessly from Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and Nat King Cole with some wonderful solo interludes, including one where Monty walked off stage for several minutes leaving Hassan Shakur playing a most creative selection of tunes including “The Pink Panther,” using his amazing multiple string chord strumming techniques.

Nat King Cole was born again as Allan Harris (Tony Bennett’s favorite singer) joined the ensemble to sing the Presley song “I Believe.” Harris has a deep rich and resonant baritone voice and when you close your eyes Nat King Cole is in the room. Dee Daniels joined the group to sing “Someday We Will All Be Free.” The mood changed with a fast rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” with Monty confirming his dominance as one of the pianos greatest virtuosos. The set ended community singing style with Monty in cowboy gear playing a jazz/calypso version of “Home On The Range” to a standing ovation which drew an encore with Daniels and Harris singing the Duke Ellington classic “Come Sunday.” A wonderful show and a marvelous memorial tribute to Beth Schucker.

The MAJF has evolved over the last eight years into a very classy small town Jazz Festival and probably the best in the USA. It is classy without being pretentious or exclusive and is attracting a diversity of audiences. The caliber of the performers is world class and with such great young and creative performers like Bria Skonberg and John Chin the future for Jazz looks very rosy.

Mid-Shore Arts: Carla Massoni on Fragmentation and New Beginnings

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The Massoni Gallery in Chestertown has always had a tradition of connecting contemporary art to contemporary issues. From climate change to race relations, the curatorial eye of owner Carla Massoni has been exceedingly successful in allowing her artists and their work help educate and encourage positive action to cure some of society’s most pressing problems.

That sense of mission was thrown into doubt as the political repercussions of the 2016 presidential election started having its impact on American life. The feeling of groundlessness, or to use Massoni’s word, “fragmentation,” has caused many artists to push through this challenging time and find new ways to use their art to heal, recover, or just make sense of this new normal reality.

Eight of those artists are now on display at the Massoni Gallery for a few more weeks, and the Spy caught up with Carla for a short introduction this remarkably uplifting body of work.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information on the Massoni Gallery and “Frag-men-ta-tion: please go here

John Rimel and Tom Proutt at The Mainstay Sept 23

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John Rimel and Tom Proutt

Virginia songwriters and singers John Rimel and Tom Proutt will be in concert at The Mainstay in Rock Hall, MD on Saturday September 23, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. Admission is $15 if purchased in advance and $18 at the door. Information and advance ticket sales are available at the Mainstay’s website. Reservations to pay at the door can be made by calling 410-639-9133.

John Rimel and Tom Proutt are Virginia songwriters who share the stage for Americana and gospel-influenced performances of their original songs. Their music ranges from folk, rock, country and bluegrass to blues, Cajun, and gospel styles but this is a chance to hear them and their songs as they were written with just guitar, piano and vocals.

John Rimel’s thought-provoking lyrics span a wide range of topics and his musical sensibilities are just as broad. He was a winner in the American Song Festival and the Music City Song Festival. He secured his first of many album cuts on the Statler Brothers’ 1983 release, “Today”.

Since that time, he has had songs recorded on seven Top 10 albums, including a Billboard #1 country album as well as a #1 bluegrass album. In addition to the Statler Brothers, his songs have been recorded by Dailey & Vincent and Jimmy Fortune with whom he shares a number of co-writes including “More Than A Name On A Wall,” a top 10 hit, named the 1990 Country Song of the Year.

An excellent piano player who has done a lot of session work, Rimel has also toured nationally as the keyboardist for the Jimmy Fortune Band and has performed his songs on the Grand Ole Opry.

Tom Proutt was born in Maryland and now resides in Virginia. He has a 40-year career as a singer and songwriter and is a voting member of The Recording Academy (The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) that produces and awards the Grammys. His work was considered for a Grammy in 2015 and 2016. He is in demand as a studio musician throughout the mid-Atlantic region.  His music is frequently aired nationally on NPR and PBS stations.

Kent County’s own Mary Simmons will sing harmony with Rimel and Proutt on some of their songs.

The Mainstay (Home of Musical Magic) is the friendly informal storefront performing arts center on Rock Hall’s old time Main Street. It is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit dedicated to the arts, serving Rock Hall, MD and the surrounding region. It is committed to presenting local, regional and national level talent, at a reasonable price, in an almost perfect acoustic setting. Wine, beer, sodas and snacks are available at the bar.

The Mainstay is supported by ticket sales, fundraising including donations from friends and audience members and an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council.

The Mainstay sells advance tickets online through Instant Seats. Information and advance ticket sales are available on the Mainstay’s website. Follow the Buy Tickets link to buy tickets at the advance price. If you would rather pay at the door, you can make a reservation by calling 410-639-9133 and pay by cash or check at the door.

Upcoming Mainstay performances include:

September 23 John Rimel and Mike Proutt

September 25 Joe Holt welcomes Van Albert

September 30 Michel Nirenberg Quartet

October 2  Joe Hold welcomes Barbara Parker

October 7  Tom McHugh with Bill Matthews, Tom Anthony and special guest Guthrie Matthews

 

A Perfect Day for Jazz!

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It was a perfect day – temps in the low 70s with the occasional light breeze and fluffy white clouds that came and went in a blue sky.  Some sat on folding chairs in the big tent where they were closer to the musicians.  Others brought canvas chairs or blankets and sat out on the lawn, enjoying the music and watching the ships sail by.  All in all, about 300 people came to the big tent by the Chester River for the 2017 Chestertown Jazz Festival.

Andy Bienstock, the jazz DJ of WYPR, was an ideal choice as master of ceremonies for the festival. A regular visitor to Chestertown, Bienstock relaxed and enjoyed the sun in between introducing acts. Before the final act, he was presented with a basket of Kent County goodies — including wine from Crow Vineyands and a hand-made cheese board from Bob Ortiz — by festival impressario Dr. Mel Rapelyea and Leslie Raimond of the Kent County Arts Council.

Mel Repelyea and Andy Bienstock

Founded and chaired by Rapelyea, the festival is co-sponsored by the Kent County Arts Council and the Garfield Center for the Arts. The first Chestertown Jazz Festival was held in 1996 though there has not been a festival every year.

The festival started at 11 a.m. and ran til 6 p.m. with a total of six acts in a wide variety of jazz styles.  Something for everyone.  There was a focus on youth this year with two of the groups featuring young musicians, one only 13 years old, but he played a mean upright bass that could be the envy of many professional musicians three or four times his age.

Friends of Faith

 

 

 

 

 

Starting out the day was the gospel group Friends of Faith. With six singers backed up by piano, bass, and drums, they brought high energy to the stage with their rendition of modern gospel songs.

Next up was Capital Focus Jazz Band, a group of young musicians playing traditional New Orleans style jazz.  It was impressive that musicians so young – several teenagers and no one over 25 – had such a strong feeling for music nearly a century old.  They played tunes from King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton along with some Swing standards and an original by one of the band members. Maya Collings, a high school student and the newest member of Capital Focus, played piano and sang “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” with the accompaniment of the whole band.  See their website for more information and to hear some of their music.

Capital Focus Jazz Band

Maya Collings of Capital Focus Jazz Band 

The John Thomas Quartet played a high-energy set of modern jazz standards including “Stella by Starlight” and “Solar”.  Tenor saxophonist Thomas was inspired by Joe Henderson, but he is equally adept at jazz and classical styles.  He has taught the saxophone at the college level and is currently the Director of Jazz  Ensembles at the Baltimore School of the Arts.  Thomas has also appeared with such popular groups as the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Glen Miller Orchestra, Ben Vereen, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

John Thomas

The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet  brought hip harmonies reminiscent of Manhattan Transfer or Lambert, Hendricks and Ross with their scatting interpretations of tunes like “Cloud Burst” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” 

The Washington-based Jazz Academy of Music is a big band consisting of high school students under the leadership of Paul Carr. The group of about twenty musicians appearing at the festival was only half of the whole band but it produced a fully-authentic big-band sound with impressive soloists. The other half of the full ensemble was performing at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival the same day.

Jazz Academy of Music

Gabriella Capizzi belts out “Angel Eyes” with the Jazz Academy of Music

The closing act was the Joey DeFrancesco Quartet featuring DeFrancesco on Hammond organ,  vocals, and trumpet.  Jason Brown on drums, Dan Wilson on guitar, and Troy Roberts on tenor sax covered the stylistic range from Thelonious Monk to Sam Cooke — but the focus was on funky, hip-shaking numbers that had the crowd on its feet. A perfect way to end a perfect day for jazz!

Photography by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell.

Joey DeFrancesco at the organ

Carolyn Jewell, WYPR Director of Membership, shows off new WYPR T-shirt.

MC Andy Bienstock is one of the founders of WYPR (Your Public Radio) and this year marks the 15th anniversary of the station.  They had a booth with a collage of photographs depicting the shows with their hosts and guests over the 15 years.  Attendees also got to see a preview of the new member gifts that the radio station will be offering in the coming year.  (They weren’t for sale; if you want one, you’ll have to wait for the next pledge drive!)

Big Red Bull

Walker Family

Several vendors and organizations were on-site to provide food and souvenirs.  There was delicious pit beef and pork from Big Red Bull catering while the Walker Family food truck offered a range of food and beverages. Crow Winery was there as well as Lockbriar Farms.  Lockbriar’s ice cream was one of the most popular items of the day.

Lockbriar Farms

Carol Mylander of Chestertown and Karen Fazekas of Annapolis enjoy the festival.

Nehemiah Williams – festival assistant

Chestertown Jazz Festival staff

The Sultana sailed regally by while the music played.

View of  the Chester River from the Jazz Festival at Wilmer Park in Chestertown, MD.

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