Sunday, January 31, 2010

Metro arts grants exceed $1 million, 2010 to-date

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, based in St. Paul, announced the award in January of 21 Organizational Development grants totaling $190,405, and 24 Capital Grants totaling $190,139. MRAC guidelines require grantees to secure matching funds for their projects.

The January announcement raised to 165 the number of grants made in fiscal year 2010, totaling $1,197,819. Earlier announcements named grantees in the first rounds of the MRAC Community Arts, Creative Intersection, and Arts Activity Support programs.

Year-to-date grants exceed the $1,007,491 total for all of fiscal year 2009. MRAC makes grants to organizations with budgets less than $300,000 located in the seven metropolitan counties of greater Minneapolis and St. Paul. MRAC operates on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30, and receives its grant funds from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and the McKnight Foundation.

Organizational Development grants to 21 organizations in January totaled $190,405, an average of $9,066 each.    

Hennepin County: Art Shanty Projects, $10,000; Frank Theatre, $10,000; Fresh Air, Inc. (KFAI FM), $10,000; JazzMN, Inc., $3,840; Kulture Klub Collaborative, $9,640; Minneapolis Pops Orchestra Association, $6,480; Morris Park Players, $10,000; Off-Leash Area, $5,000; Open Eye Figure Theatre, $10,000; Plymouth Christian Youth Center, $10,000; Rainbow Rumpus, $6,225; Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater, $10,000; West Bank School of Music, $10,000.
Ramsey County: Nautilus Music-Theater, $10,000; Sample Night Live!, $10,000; Skylark Opera, $9,220; TU Dance, $10,000; Zeitgeist, $10,000. 
Suburban Hennepin County: Katha Dance Theatre, $10,000.
Suburban Ramsey County: Rosetown Playhouse, $10,000.
Washington County: ArtReach Alliance, $10,000.

Capital grants to 24 organizations in January totaled $190,139, an average of $7,922 each.    
Carver County: Chaska Valley Family Theater, $3,312.
Dakota County: Caponi Art Park, $10,000; Dakota Valley Symphony, $8,480.
Hennepin County: Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, $10,000; Hollywood Studio of Dance, $7,738; Kairos Dance Theatre, $8,916; Minnesota Freedom Band, $9,038; Old Arizona Collaborative, Inc., $8,120; Rain Taxi, Inc., $8,000; Red Eye Collaboration, $8,700; Walking Shadow Theatre Company, $6,813.
Ramsey County: ArtStart, $8,700; East Side Arts Council, $6,080; Minnesota Brass, Inc., $10,000; Sounds of Hope, Ltd., $6,125; Irish Music and Dance Association, $10,000; Scott County River Valley Theatre Company, $8,500.
Suburban Hennepin County: Continental Ballet Company, $4,697; Discovery Arts Council, $7,552; Theater Or, $9,750..
Suburban Ramsey County: Ashland Productions, $10,000; Lakeshore Players, Inc., $9,550.
Washington County: Masquers Theatre Company, $8,905; Music St. Croix, $1,163.

Within its guidelines, MRAC permits organizations to receive more than one project grant in a fiscal year. Of the 165 grants made through January, 13 organizations have been awarded grants for two projects and two organizations have been awarded grants for three.

Organizations receiving two project grants in 2010 include the following (C=Capital, CA=Community Arts, OD=Organizational Development):
Ashland Productions ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA); Caponi Art Park ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA);  Continental Ballet Company ($4,697 C; $5,000 CA); Dakota Valley Symphony ($8,480 C; $5,000 CA); East Side Arts Council ($6,080 C; $10,000 CA); Frank Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); JazzMN, Inc. ($10,000 CA; $3,840 OD); Minnesota Freedom Band ($9,038 C; $2,500 CA); Off-Leash Area ($10,000 CA; $5,000 OD); Open Eye Figure Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Plymouth Christian Youth Center ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Red Eye Collaboration ($8,700 C; $10,000 CA); Walking Shadow Theatre Company ($6,813 C; $10,000 CA).

Organizations receiving three project grants in 2010 include the following:
Katha Dance Theatre ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); TU Dance ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD). 

MRAC is one of 11 regional arts councils serving the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota State Arts Board makes grants statewide to organizations with budgets exceeding $300,000.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Channeling music at the Liberace Museum

Minneapolis, Minnesota

As Philip Fortenberry tells the story, one day when he was four years old, while playing with his trucks under a tree in his yard in rural Hub, Mississippi, a sudden inspiration led him to drop everything, run into the house, sit down at the family piano, and begin playing all of the songs he had ever heard, and some that he had not. He had never played the piano before that day.

A prodigy, by age seven he played regularly at the Edna Baptist Church, a service he rendered, without pay, through high school, and continued at the Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg while attending William Carey College. After moving to New York City, Fortenberry earned a Master of Music degree from New Jersey City University, and was an adjunct faculty member at New York University.

In his early career, Fortenberry became the musical director for Forbidden Broadway, the off-Broadway revue, and musical supervisor for the show's London production.

His later Broadway and touring performance credits include Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Saturday Night Fever, Ragtime, The Lion King, and many more. In 1990, Fortenberry and the mezzo-soprano Frederica Von Stade performed at the White House for two presidents, Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and George H. W. Bush of the United States.

Since becoming a resident of Las Vegas, Fortenberry has played for several theater productions, including his current gig as a performer in Jersey Boys, the story of four kids from Newark, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. He also has worked with the Faith Community Lutheran Church and the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church.

Three afternoons a week, Fortenberry takes the stage in the 75-seat Cabaret Showroom at the Liberace Museum. There, at the keyboard of a mirrored, Baldwin grand piano used by Liberace at the Las Vegas Hilton, Caesars Palace, and Radio City Music Hall, Fortenberry holds forth with "Liberace and Me," an acoustic, cabaret style performance. The program serves as a vehicle for telling his own story while preserving the legacy of Liberace's music and style of entertaining. Audience members array themselves around small tables where they can nosh from a selection of light items from the cafe nearby.

Opening his act with Liberace's signature arrangement of Chopsticks, Fortenberry then wends his way through a mix of Liberace classics and Broadway show tunes, channeling the former master in all his harmonic brilliance. Each performance includes an improvised "Portrait of Music" for a member of the audience to honor Liberace's spirit of spontaneity. On Dec. 16, this gift was bestowed on a visitor celebrating her 87th birthday. The set closes with the audience joining Fortenberry in a sung rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You."

The boyishly handsome musician lingers afterward to engage visitors with an affable, though somewhat guarded, Southern charm, closing an experience that provides visitors with a pleasing prelude to an evening in the clubs and showrooms on the Las Vegas Strip. 

Philip Fortenberry plays The Cabaret Showroom at the Liberace Museum each Tue., Wed., and Sat., 1pm. 1775 East Tropicana Avenue (at Spencer), Las Vegas. 702.798.5595. Fortenberry on MySpace and YouTube.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Travel and study grants for Minnesota and New York City artists

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Jerome Foundation 2010 Travel and Study Grant Program will award grants to emerging creative artists (choreographers, film and video directors, poets, spoken word artists, fiction and creative nonfiction writers) for activities that lead to individual exploration and growth. Informational workshops will be held in February. More information is available at Application deadline: March 8, 2010.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jottings as one ends, one begins

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Saturday, Dec. 19, 3:04pm – The absence of open water matches that of geese, ducks, and gulls from Lake Calhoun today. 23º with low, dark-gray clouds portending snow. The snowed-over pedestrian path means that walkers, runners, skaters, and cyclists share the vehicular path in both directions – with signs telling all but walkers to yield. A lone, hatless fool skis Nordic style across the ice ("fool" being relative viz brisk walkers on solid ground). Rifle volleys somewhere west in St. Louis Park suggest military honors, but whoever heard of a 33-gun salute? If not a funeral, then an odd place to practice. A mind trick of Minnesota winters: bulky-attired runners retain allure and sex appeal. Some of them, anyway. Two, in particular. Wind bites only while rounding the southeast bend. Two women bundled as in burqas (with only eye slits), descend steps at the 32d Street Beach talking excitedly about prospects for some kind of Bush Foundation grant. North of the beach, two clumsy skaters collide, kiss, and continue out to where the ice does not yet support snow. One hopes not to reach Christmas Day news items of divers searching for bodies. A windboarder tows his sailboard toward two companions waiting just offshore from the boat launch. Frozen pavement amplifies the sound of Lake Street traffic between lakes Calhoun and Isles. Nonbermed areas sound like Daytona Speedway, relatively. 

Sunday, Dec. 20, 12:09am – Spent a great evening with Chari, friend of 43 years, at Medina Entertainment Center to see and visit with Dennis, friend of 42 years and member of the Rockin' Hollywoods band!

Monday, Dec. 21, 4:35pm – Solstice. 17º. Two days' snowfall blankets all. Seven walkers, five runners, two cyclists, and no partridges in trees – nor other aviators. Optimists: nine canoes and kayaks still chained in place on north shore of lake. So very Calhoun quiet save for occasional vehicle on parkway or plane above clouds. 

Wednesday, Dec. 23, 10:31pm – So, the new, late-20-something guy next door moved here from Texas with his family in October to assist his elderly uncle and manage the apartment building. He never saw snow before last week. As we completed our second shovel-out of today, he was horrified to hear that it could snow for four more months. Told him: "If this doesn't send you back to Texas, nothing will!" 

Thursday, Dec. 24, 11:31am – Tonight: Christmas Eve Services at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral - religious service, cultural ritual, artistic production. 10pm - Be seated to insure a place. 10:30pm - Congregation/audience caroling. 11pm-12:45am - Midnight Mass with choir, organ, brass. 

Saturday, Dec. 26, 11:01am – The Young Victoria is a perfectly lovely film. The best line in a preview trailer was spoken by Chrisopher Plummer's character to Helen Mirren's, in The Last Station: "You don't need a husband, you need a Greek chorus!" 

Tuesday, Dec. 29, 12:54pm – Back! The crash-and-burn by, a primo-must-have for Minnesota theater, is fixed! Check 'em out! 

Thursday, Dec. 31, 9:24am – Minnesota Public Radio reports that the mood is jubilant as fireworks welcomed the new year over the harbour and opera house in Sydney, Australia – folks happy to leave 2009 behind. My Facebook Live Feed reports that not everyone has cause for jubilation today. Nonetheless, as the bitter matches the sweet, a blessed 2010 to all! 

Thursday, Dec. 31, 10:53am – The Nuclear Cowboyz present a motorcycle ballet – a motocross spectacle – in 15-city tour. 

Thursday, Dec. 31, 11:36am – Happy New Year wishes to the four fabulous artistic founders of Live Action Set! 

Friday, Jan. 1, 1:50pm – The 189-seat Commonweal Theater in tiny Lanesboro, Minnesota, drew 20,283 in 2009. With great work, others can too! 

Friday, Jan. 1, 2:04pm – Where I-35W enters downtown Minneapolis, across from Central Lutheran Church and one block from Convention Center (and five blocks from home), Hilton Garden Inn offers neighborhood discounts on breakfast buffet, seven days a week (hours vary). Today, that discount was 32%. The discount for evenings is 25%. It's off the beaten track but appears to be a quiet wine hang-out for evening.

Friday, Jan. 1, 7:53pm – A waning full moon over Lake Calhoun. Last night, this was the Blue Moon. –1º and clear, with the mildest of breezes at the lake tonight. Two runners moving briskly on their rounds. 

Friday, Jan. 1, 11:42pm – Deborah Howell, former editor at Star Tribune and Pioneer Press struck and killed by a car in New Zealand. Husband, C. Peter McGrath (former U of M president), with her at the time. 

Saturday, Jan. 2, 2:20am – "With or without you!" Felt 28 again, closing up the 331 Club in NE Minneapolis, listening to Venus spin 95% real vinyl tunes. Just like 28, however, after thinking I was making eyes with the cute – but wasted – breakdancer, excitement at his approach died as he instead, in slurred manner, asked my partner if he had been his history professor at St. John's University four years ago! Had to laugh uproariously at all of us!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Quintessential Minnesota jazz at Bennett's in St. Paul

St. Paul, Minnesota

For three magical hours, Dec. 29, members of the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band and their audience of dinner customers journeyed through the quintessence of Minnesota's jazz traditions. At its end, the cornetist Charlie DeVore observed "We haven't had such a wild evening here in years."

Exceptional music – and the occasional wild evening – happens whenever the group plays Bennett's Chop and Railhouse in St. Paul, providing the nondescript establishment with a cachet matching those of the Twin Cities' more visible jazz venues: the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul, the Northrop Jazz series at the University of Minnesota, and Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion broadcasts.

Situated where neighborhood-meets-city near an old railway on West 7th Street and Victoria Avenue, Bennett's features a weekly menu of American food specials, along with performances by some of Minnesota's best, home-grown jazz musicians on the second and last Tuesdays of each month.

The six members of the Evans ensemble enjoy prominent mindshares among Minnesota's jazz fans, while three have become living legends. DeVore can recount tales of playing at Brady's Pub in the 1960s on Block E in downtown Minneapolis. He, trombonist Evans, and pianist Mike Polad also are longtime veterans of the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, across the Minnesota River south of the MSP airport. I saw and heard them there during forays with my law firm colleagues in the 1970s.

Members of a younger generation round out the ranks: clarinetist Tony Balluff, bassist Steve Puttell, and drummer Chuck DeVore, son of the cornetist. Balluff also plays with the Southside Aces, a jazz group he founded in south Minneapolis, and he annually pulls together the 34th Street Irregulars to march in the city's May Day Parade.

As a part-time sports bar, Bennett's best-of-both-worlds setup includes a flat screen television above the musicians. This allowed diners to bop along with the Evans band while watching Flomax commercials and the Wisconsin Badgers kick the Miami Hurricanes' collective backside, 20-14, in the Champ Sports Bowl. On days of Vikings home football games, Bennett's runs a shuttle bus to and from the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The weekly menu specials include half-price apps and bottles of wine on Monday, walleye dinners on Tuesday, T-bones on Wednesday, half-price burgers on Thursday, all-you-can-eat crab on Friday, prime ribs on Saturday, and kids free on Sunday.

Jazz night clientele includes a man attired in a jacket from the American Legion Post in Inver Grove Heights; a couple who heard their first jazz music concert outdoors at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis, then attended the Emporium for many years, and soon will embark on their 15th annual jazz music cruise; and a man whose last cruise took place in 1945 when a 20mm gun was positioned above his bunk in the North Atlantic.

Bennett's eclectic ambience, decor, and patronage remind me of Jimmy Hegg's Restaurant, a former destination spot on Second Avenue South in downtown Minneapolis. For lunch and after work, lawyers and business people worshipped at St. Hegg's, ushered to their seats by Jimmy's wife, Jeannette, and officiated by Jimmy from his stool at the cash register. Late nights, the place became the town's central theater hangout, a place where the late Mike Steele, the theater critic, could appear in person to read aloud his review that would appear in the next morning's newspaper. Hegg's closed in 1982.

A similar feeling of communal ritual pervades the jazz night at Bennett's. On the 29th, the BENOJB offered three sets within three hours, separated by breaks not exceeding 10 minutes. The group performed many tunes from the 1930s, including "Algier's Street," "Honey Hush," "Bugle Boy March," and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Tom Steele, a diehard fan of 83.

Throughout, the elder DeVore maintained a two-way conversation with the audience between numbers. "The music sounds great!" someone said.

"I don't know what happened," he replied.

In-town for the holidays, two guest musicians sat-in for the second and third sets: clarinetist and vocalist Andy Moore, and soprano saxophonist Henry Blackburn. Moore is a son of the late Dave Moore, the pioneering news anchor for WCCO Television in Minneapolis.

Blackburn's sax and Moore's voice sang sweetly and sonorously through Sidney Bechet's "Promenade Aux Champs-Élysées." Hearing it reminded me of another sweet experience with Bechet, that of seeing Danny Buraczeski's choreographed "Blue On The Moon," performed by Zenon Dance Company in 1989 at the Ordway in St. Paul and the Joyce Theater in New York.

Moore also vocalized Fats Waller's "If It Ain't Love" from music Polad found in a music store in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Other tunes included "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like New Year's," "All the Wrongs You've Done To Me," and "Just a Little While to Stay" – this last an audience sing-along.

Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call" opened with three clarinets and later featured a sublimely sweet clarinet solo by Balluff. ("Tony: Call me!") For "Shake and Break," two women of a certain age danced among the restaurant tables, one spinning a lavender parasol as she moved. Charlie DeVore provided the vocals and scat from "Why Don't You Go Down to New Orleans." The audience provided vocals for the closer, "Auld Lang Syne."

Over the years, I have spent time at the Blue Note in New York City with Buraczeski, at Yoshi's in Oakland, California, with former ballet dancer and jazz musician John DeSerio, and numerous evenings at Twin Cities jazz venues.

The evening with the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band at Bennett's in St. Paul ranks with the best of them. The group returns there Tuesday, Jan. 12, with Sonny Leland on the piano.