Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Green/Pizzarelli at Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

After hollering through three baseball games in four days, I welcomed the chance to quietly witness one of the sweetest interludes of music at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant.

John Paul "Bucky" Pizzarelli and Benny Green played together for the first time at the Dakota in August this year. It was such a great experience for them and their audiences that they have returned for a two-day set of performances and CD recording sessions for the Dakota Live label.

Pizzarelli, a renowned, classical jazz guitarist from New Jersey, resembles, at 82, the late Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy with his white hair and benevolent face. Pianist Green, whose wavy chestnut locks and slight, youthful build belie his 45 years, was born in New York and grew up in Berkeley. Both have enjoyed prolific performing and recording careers.

Their 75-minute set on Sunday included a variety of classical favorites, including "Green Dolphin," "Body and Soul," "If I Had," and "Easy to Remember, So Hard to Forget." A lengthy medley of Ellington and Strayhorn tunes included "Satin Doll," "Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me," "Mellow Tone," and "Sentimental."

The two played in joyful synchronicity, Green deftly touching the Yamaha keyboard in harmony with the tone, tempo, volume, and spirit of his elder partner. Theirs was a gracious and generous collaboration between generations that more than lived up to the billing for "satisfying" music.

According to Lowell Pickett, the Dakota's impresario, Pizzarelli and Green may tour together. Watch for them at a venue near you.

Benny Green & Bucky Pizz
arelli continue at the Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 7pm & 9:30pm, Mon., Sept. 29. 612.332.1010 or

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Minnesota Twins: Metaphor for arts, life

Minneapolis, Minnesota

"[My team] is hoping to win instead of playing to win." – Orlando Cabrera, shortstop, Chicago White Sox

Yes! Yes! Yes! The Chicago White Sox can come back to Twins Territory any time!

On Tuesday this week, the Minnesota Twins stood 2-1/2 games behind Chicago in the American League Central Division standings. Tonight, after sweeping Chicago in three games at the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis, they hold first place – for the first time since Aug. 23 – by 1/2 game.

The Twins have served as a metaphor this year for working in the arts and living life: mix a wild and (pretty/)ugly inconsistency with teamwork balanced by experience and youthful energy, then power it with endless persistence to achieve success. In one of the best games ever, tonight's 7-6 Twins victory was as good an example as any.

After scoring one run in the first inning, the Twins gave up six demoralizing runs and earned two more in the fourth, then clawed another out of the sixth inning, two more in the eighth, and a final tie-breaker in the 10th. They did it with seven pitchers, 15 hits to Chicago's seven, and a stronger set of individual and collective batting averages.

Fans did their part to keep hope alive with nonstop waves of thunderous ovations. Few exited the dome able to hear or speak.

The season is not over. Starting tomorrow, the Twins face Kansas City in three games at the Dome while the Sox return to Chicago for three final games against Cleveland.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

They are holding the annual Minnesota Sage Dance Awards at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis tonight. I have been asked for days whether I plan to attend. I do not.

I extend good wishes to the organizers and participants, and will congratulate the awardees as I see them after they are known. However, it is just a simple fact that the Sage Awards hold no compelling relevance for me and the work I have done in Minnesota's dance milieu for more than 25 years.

The stated purpose of the Sage Awards is to recognize outstanding achievement of the past year in six categories: Dance Performance, Dance Performers, Educator, Design, Special Citation, and People's Choice. It puzzles me that for four years so little outstanding achievement has been found either for nomination or recognition among the state's most visible and traditional dance companies, particularly for Dance Performance.

Members of an anonymous panel of up to 18 jurors attend countless performances and bi-monthly meetings during a year before hammering out a consensus about the nominees and "winners" for each category.

Camille LeFevre, a long-time dance writer and critic, has written a post for in which she muses about a perceived insiders' game among Sage Award jurors.

Truly, it puzzles me that in four years, little or no outstanding work has been identified as emanating from Arena Dances by Mathew Janczewski; Ballet of the Dolls; Black Label Movement; Beyond Ballroom Dance Company; Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum; Live Action Set; Minnesota Dance Theatre, Raga
mala Music & Dance Theatre; Shapiro & Smith Dance; James Sewell Ballet; Zenon Dance Company; and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, to name just some of the overlooked Twin Cities companies. We also have the Minnesota Ballet in Duluth, which seems to have enough artistic mojo going for it to license works by George Balanchine and Agnes DeMille.

Although it appears that something is amiss in this juried process, I do not believe that anyone is manipulating the outcomes, consciously or not. Nor do I believe that anyone else thinks so.

What I do believe is that many people in this dance milieu have limited their dance experiences, expectations, and judgments to small areas around their comfort zones. I also suspect that some allow their likes and dislikes of various personalities to cloud their judgments. Where true, all of this affects the decisions of jurors and, to inject the requisite p.c. disclaimer, none of this makes anyone a bad person.

I try to congratulate everyone who works in dance on a regular basis. So, to all of you who may be reading this: "Thank you and congratulations!"

ADDENDUM [09/25/08]: Morgan Thorson, a choreographer, has posted her thoughts about the Sage Awards on the Walker Art Center's blog:

ADDENDUM [09/28/08]: Caroline Palmer, a longtime dance writer and critic, has crafted In Defense of the SAGE Dance Awards on the City Pages website:

Keeping score a day at a time

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Chicago White Sox really hate playing the Minnesota Twins at our HHH Metrodome. The Twins' record against Chicago at the Dome is 6-1 this season and 50-26 overall. Each such encounter usually means a humdinger of a game. That was the case for the Sox's last visit in July, and it definitely was the experience last night.

I was there. With 35,224 others. Row 29 behind the 3rd base line. A game not to be missed – or lost.

Entering last night, Chicago held a 2-1/2 game lead over Minnesota in the American League Central Division. With six season games left to play, it was make-or-break for the Twins. Lose last night, and a path to the division title was gone. Allow Chicago to sweep the three-game series, and they would spill champagne on the Dome's artificial turf while celebrating their clinch.

Ha! Tonight, the Twins stand 1-1/2 games behind the Sox following their 9-3 rout/romp 12 hours ago.

Of highlights there were many, led by seven innings of strong Twins pitching by 27-year-old Scott Baker. First baseman Justin Morneau set a club record by reaching his 47th double. For those of us who looked close-and-quick from the chaos in the stands, the back-to-back homers by Jason Kubel and Delmon Young in the Twins 7th provided the best moments. The only bleck-note occurred when the Twins gave up two runs in Chicago's 9th; shouldn't have happened.

The Minnesota Twins conclude their 2008 season with five games at the HHH Metrodome, Minneapolis: vs. Chicago, Sept. 24 & 25 @ 7:10pm; vs. Kansas City, Sept. 26 @ 7:10pm, 27 @ 2:55pm, 28 @ 1:10pm.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cheers for young people, jeans, and scuffed shoes

Minneapolis, Minnesota

They held the annual Ivey Awards in downtown Minneapolis last night to celebrate our 68 professional theaters and to recognize artistic excellence among organizations large and small and people old and new.

es began with a VIP pre-party at Seven on Hennepin, followed by the main awards show at the State Theatre. The red carpet post-party took place at Mission and its spill-over "patio," the IDS Crystal Court. Thanks are due to the financial sponsors.

Melissa Gilbert and Steve Blanchard, lead actors in the Guthrie Theater's production of Little House on the Prairie, served loosely as emcees of the tightly-run State Theatre proceedings, attended by 2,000 of the onstage, backstage, and front-of-house people who make the theater community tick.

Performers from several organizations provided entertainment throughout the 90-minute production, including members of the Brave New Workshop, Buffalo Gal Productions, the Guthrie Theater, Nautilus Music-Theater, Theater Latte Da, and Cantus.

Awards for overall excellence were presented to Open Eye Figure Theatre for Prelude to Faust, and to Workhouse Theatre for 'Night Mother. Recognition also was bestowed upon Frank Theatre for the emotional resonance of The Pillowman; Interact Center for the innovative concept and idea behind Broken Brain Summit; Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for costume design, scenic design, and choreography of Cabaret; Gremlin Theatre – and Gary Geiken, Katie Guentzel, John Middleton, Carolyn Pool, Matt Rein, and Alan Sorenson – for ensemble acting in Orson's Shadow; and to Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Tamara Kangas for choreography in 42nd Street.

The Ivey Awards recognized three actors for individual performances: James A. Williams as Troy Maxson in the Penumbra Theatre production of Fences; Kate Eifrig for her portrayal of nine characters in 9 Parts of Desire at the Guthrie Theater; and Jarius Abts for his performance as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Jungle Theater.

Matthew Amendt, a 26-year-old actor, received the Emerging Artist Award for writing The Comedian's Tragedy, presented at the Theatre Garage last summer.

A 90-something-year-old Don Stolz was summoned to the stage to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Diana Pearce of KARE TV and from the Guthrie's legendary – and last year's lifetime recipient – Sheila Livingston. Stolz founded Minnesota's Old Log Theater 67 years ago, pre-Guthrie, pre-Children's Theater, and pre-all-the-rest. According to the couple next to me, Stolz was still giving pre-show curtain talks as recently as Sunday night.

I had a blast and enjoyed every minute of the evening save one. Following his introduction by Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, I joined whole-heartedly in the standing ovation that greeted Dominique Serrand's arrival to present an award. He could and should have made the presentation and dispensed with his lament for the demise of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the organization he co-founded 30 years ago that crashed and burned earlier this year, following a recognition that years of financial mismanagement and accumulated debt necessitated closure.

"The angels we hoped for have not appeared," he mourned. "The powers that be have spoken with their silence." Invoking Samuel Beckett in blessing, Serrand concluded, "Go on failing. Only next time, try to fail better."

I appreciate that Serrand has a background in European traditions where generous and indulgent support for the arts is a given and carries the character of an entitlement. While I laud the sensibility of that approach, my sympathy has its limits. Enough!

Too many of us work too hard to convince our fellow citizens, of all political stripes, that the arts merit even a pittance of public support. At our best on this side of the pond, we offer investment in artistic endeavors that require the reciprocity of good stewardship: pursuit of artistic excellence, good governance, and fiscal responsibility. Ultimately, Jeune Lune failed on the latter two points.

Several young people took the stage to receive awards last night. Unable to afford fancy suits, in their jeans and scuffed shoes they represented all the starving artists who seek only a chance to create and present their work. The tears they choked back bespoke their disbelieving amazement that, for a brief moment, the community in which they labor had lifted them from the ashes of their chimney hearths and welcomed them to the ball.

Serrand and his colleagues burned their tickets to the dance on the altar of organizational dysfunction and inattention to business basics. In this, they were abetted by what I call "the collective we" that looked away when deficits became chronic, plans became unrealistic, and the ties that bound them to the community frayed beyond repair. Finally and, perhaps, unfairly, we acknowledged that we owed no more and, in the tradition of Minnesota Nice, we kept the angels at bay and allowed the silence to speak for us.

I believe in second and subsequent acts, however, and hope that in his next adventures Serrand will be able to "fail better," if fail he must.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Review: Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra opened its 16th season for an audience of 300 at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, Sept. 20, with a competent and accomplished rendition of four compositions that are performed rarely on the concert stage.

The music of Bedrich Smetana, represented by Three Dances from The Bartered Bride, was new to me and opened the evening. The full work received its premiere in 1870, its composition marked by the ferment of political turmoil and rising Czech nationalism that permeated the composer's native Bohemia at the time. Three excerpts – Polka, Furiant, and Dance of the Comedians – offered a musical picture of the milieu into which John and Lena Tapper, two of my paternal great grandparents, were born.

Playing from memory, guest pianist Paul Kovacovic displayed full control of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major by Camille Saint-Saëns, composed in Egypt and premiered in Paris in 1896. The motifs of the second movement form the basis of "Egyptian" as the concerto's nickname. To my ear, the upper register piano hammers that were supposed to represent the sounds of chirping crickets were less than tunefully bright. Kovacovic's many domestic and international projects included a collaboration earlier this year with Live Action Set at the Southern Theater.

If her skills as a registered nurse match her facility with the flute, then the patients of Hamsa Isles are well-served at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. This native of Cleveland and founding member of the orchestra displayed her artistry in Voyage for Flute and String Orchestra, a small gem from 1988 by John Corigliano.

The program closed with the Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major, an unflashy but solid and satisfying work composed by Franz Joseph Haydn in Vienna in 1793.

Under the direction of Joseph Schlefke since 2001, the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra and its 53 members have become an articulate ensemble of individually strong, often exceptional, players, prompting no embarrassment and requiring no apology. The opportunity to see and hear them at the Ted Mann Concert Hall was a welcome change from their traditionally smaller and less formal venues. But.

They hold in their grasp the readiness to kick it up a notch artistically. Their collective posture and stage presence reflects an unwarranted reticence and a lack of visible esprit and conviction. Rather than owning the stage, they appear as shy and uncertain visitors. As the organization's front man and most public face, Schlefke could inspire his troops with a more practiced and self-assured persona. His years of experience and accomplishment should have banished his verbal and physical insecurities long ago.

If it chooses the pursuit, this group is ready to stretch itself into the big-time of higher visibility, greater artistic accomplishment, and heightened public scrutiny and support.

The Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra's 2008-2009 season continues: Dec. 5-6, 7:30pm, Hopkins High School Auditorium, Minnetonka; Mar. 14, 7:30pm, Hamline University, St. Paul; and May 30, 7:30pm, Hamline University, St. Paul.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A political discourse with substance

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Edge Foundation, Inc. was formed in 1988 to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, and to work for what it calls the intellectual and social achievement of society. It is a nonprofit, private operating foundation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The Foundation's website posted an academic discourse this month by Jonathan Haidt, What Makes People Vote Republican? One should not be put off by the presumption or apparent bias behind the title of what is, essentially, a fascinating exploration of why liberals and conservatives have trouble getting along. The article presents a meaty alternative to the vapidity of our anointed political analysts in the media.

Haidt is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Edge also posted several responses to Haidt:

The Ties That Bind
, by Daniel Everett, linguist; chair, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Illinois State University; author, Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle.

by Howard Gardner, psychologist, Harvard University; (currently) Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professor, New York University; author, Changing Minds.

The Conscience of the Conservative, by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American; author, Why Darwin Matters; and How We Believe.

How Religion Creates Moral Society, by Scott Atran, anthropologist, University of Michigan; author, In Gods We Trust.

Why do People Vote at All? by James Fowler, political scientist, University of California, San Diego; coauthor, Mandates, Parties, and Voters: How Elections Shape the Future.

The Morality of Childbearing, by Alison Gopnik, psychologist, University of California, Berkeley; author, The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds tell us About Trust, Love and the Meaning of Life (forthcoming).

Brain Science and Human Values, by Sam Harris, neuroscience researcher; author, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

Essay, by James O'Donnell, classicist; cultural historial; provost, Georgetown University; author, The Ruin of the Roman Empire (forthcoming).

Report From Florida, by Roger Schank, formerly professor, Stanford, Yale, and Northwestern; latest projects:; and an alternative to the existing school systems described on

Allow at least an hour for a first read through, including the responses.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

There is an election on Nov. 4th. It does not take much to get people talking about it.

An account executive for my cell phone service provider called today. She thought that I might not know that 53 text messages had been sent to my phone recently or how much I would be charged for them. I assured her that I knew where most all of the messages had originated and how much they would cost, and that I believed there would be no more of them.

"How can you be sure?" she asked. "We have a low-cost plan designed for such volume."

I thanked her for the expression of concern and told her the messages were from my Libertarian brother who disagrees with my Democratic affinities. "He hopes to convert me," I said. "It would not matter if I was a Republican; my thinking would still be misguided and wrong."

"Well!" she responded. "I am on the phone with people all day long and let me tell you–– No,
I really should not. I mean–– Well, let me just say this: There are an awful lot of people who tell me that they are not going to vote!"

"That's terrible!" I said. "We may not like the choices we have, but we do have a choice and we need to honor that."

She wasn't having any of it, and I suspect she may be one of those who has resolved not to vote. If so, that's most unfortunate.

I give my brother his due. While he may not like his choices, he does choose and he does vote. So should we all.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Minnesota's Primary Election

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tuesday, Sept. 9, is primary election day in Minnesota. Vote!