Virtuoso Vibes: Gwilym Simcock at Kerrytown Concert House


Ever since Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in 1700, virtuosos have found ways to leave distinctive marks on the instrument's 88 keys. Over the past 15 years, Gwilym Simcock has earned the virtuoso description through a series of recordings, concerts, and compositions that explore the full harmonic and percussive spectrum of the piano.

Simcock blends classical elements that can be traced to the instrument's inception alongside modern improvisational acumen that recalls the harmonically dense but intensely lyrical jazz of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau. It's an intensely personal but inviting sound: Even as your brain does flips trying to figure out what Simcock's playing as his hands blaze over the keys, your toes still tap in time to his undeniable grooves.

The pianist is an important part of working bands led by guitarists Pat Metheny and Wolfgang Muthspiel, but it's Simcock's solo performances that have brought him the greatest acclaim, including being nominated for the UK's most prestigious music award, the Mercury Prize, in 2011 for the Good Days at Schloss Elmau album.

Simcock will play solo at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, June 24, and we talked to the British pianist about his work with major guitarists, the way he connects to audiences, how he discovered jazz, and what he teaches classical pianist students about improvisation.

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Red Scare: Glenn Frankel's "High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic"

Glenn Frankel, High Noon

Glenn Frankel's book recounts the Red Scare surrounding High Noon.

Each year we hear about how political the Oscars are, but this may have never been truer than in 1953 when High Noon scored big with critics and moviegoers the year before (and earned seven nominations), but also found itself in the crosshairs of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

“There was a campaign to make sure (High Noon screenwriter Carl Foreman) didn’t win, because that would be too embarrassing,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel, who just published High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.

Frankel will talk about his latest book at the Westgate branch of the Ann Arbor District Library on Friday, June 23 from 7-8:30 pm.

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When Hitsville Hit Zimbabwe: Music scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda


Joyce Jenje Makwenda

Music scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda is studying Motown's influence on Zimbabwean music.

It’s approximately 8,000 miles from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Detroit, Michigan. But music and culture scholar Joyce Jenje Makwenda feels like Motown’s daughter.

“Motown raised me,” she said. “I’m a child of Motown music.”

Makwenda owns one of Zimbabwe's largest archives of music-related documents, from newspapers and photos to vinyl records and instruments. The Joyce Jenje Makwenda Collection Archives allows scholars to research the rich history of Zimbabwean music, from folk music played on the mbira (thumb piano) and the township jazz that dominated much of the mid-20th century, to the modern protest sounds of Thomas Mapfumo’s chimurenga music.

She's also the 2017 Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit research resident -- in partnership with U-M's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series and Harare's Njelele Art Station -- which is why she's in Michigan this summer investigating the influence of Motown music on her home country.

Makwenda will discuss her research with EMU’s Dr. Melvin Peters on Thursday, June 22, at 6 pm at Cultivate Coffee & Tap House, 307 N. River St., Ypsilanti.

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Hunger for Life: Roxane Gay at Hill Auditorium


Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay shows strength via her ability to be vulnerable in her writing. Post-It crammed book photo by Sherlonya Turner.

Roxane Gay is an endurance performer.

She is a professor, essayist, fiction writer, and cultural critic. Any pair of these things could fill or even overwhelm a professional life, but she does not stop there. As a person who at times fetishizes achievement, I am awed by the sheer quantity of pages that she has loosed into the world. And that is before we consider her Twitter presence or the volume of reading that she does, evidenced by the book giveaways that appear on her Tumblr from time-to-time.

I know that Gay’s smarts help fuel her accomplishments as do her talents, but when I think about her -- like, big picture her -- I just think, "Damn, she works hard. She hustles."

At Gay’s reading for her new book, Hunger, on June 16, I took a seat toward the back of Hill Auditorium and watched the audience file in. I've never been someone who needs an excuse to gawk at and examine other women’s bodies, and I was wondering who would join me to hear excerpts from Hunger, which tells the story of Roxane Gay’s body.

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O say did you see the Ford Library's “Banner Moments: The National Anthem in American Life”?


The Star-Spangled Banner

Jimi Hendrix plays the "Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.

“O say can you see” takes on a whole new meaning at the Gerald R. Ford Library’s Banner Moments: The National Anthem in American Life.

Part of the presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Ford Library collects, preserves, and makes accessible a rich body of archival materials focusing on the Ford presidential administration. The Library also hosts a series of temporary exhibits that focus on American history.

This exhibit -- curated and organized by University of Michigan musicologist Mark Clague and Bettina Cousineau, exhibit specialist at the Ford Library and Ford Museum -- traces the 200-year history of America’s national anthem through 10 interpretive panels and four display cases filled with historical documents.

And what a busy 200 years it has been.

In a recent interview, music professor Clague dispelled a number of common myths about the anthem as well as a clarification of the anthem’s place in American history.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #640 & #641



Fabulous Fiction Firsts #640

Winner of the prestigious Prix Renaudot in 1988 and available for the first time in English (translated from the French by Kaiama L. Glover), Hadriana in All My Dreams * * * by Rene Depestre, combines magic, fantasy, eroticism, and delirious humor to explore universal questions of race and sexuality.

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Penny Seats' light and funny "Renaissance Man" is a theatrical amuse-bouche


Penny Seats Theatre Company, The Renaissance Man

Toil and trouble mixes with fun and weird love in Penny Seats Theatre Company's The Renaissance Man.

The resistance wears elf ears.

At least, it does in Joseph Zettelmaier’s Renaissance Man, now having its world premiere via Penny Seats Theatre.

A riff on Macbeth and staged outdoors -- at West Park, in front of the band shell -- Renaissance tells the story of behind-the-scenes unrest at a fictional Renaissance festival called Gloriana. Longtime knight Martin Mackabee (Patrick Loos) and art school dropout/face painter Emma Murtz (Kelly Rose Voigt) connect partly through their shared frustration that the fair is not more historically accurate, and bristle against the inclusion of anachronisms like drench-a-wench, elves, leather corset vendors, gypsy fortunetellers, and turkey legs. Gloriana’s benevolent, permissive “king,” Chuck Duncan (Robert Schorr), earns the pair’s scorn, and Emma takes action, entrapping Chuck so that he must resign from Gloriana.

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Rhiannon Giddens brought tough truths and stunning songs to the Power Center


Artists have a long history of transforming pain (communal or personal) into something beautiful -- and right now, no one does that better than celebrated roots musician Rhiannon Giddens, who played an Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage show at the Power Center on Wednesday night.

Giddens, who first drew mainstream attention as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and now appears on the TV drama Nashville, opened Wednesday’s two-hour set with her haunting take on Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Mary,” during which Giddens’ gorgeous vocal storytelling countered the song’s heavy, thumping drumbeat; and “The Love We Almost Had,” a jaunty chronicle of longing and regret that Giddens concluded with some grade-A scatting.

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From "Lumberjanes" to Chad's Mom: Carolyn Nowak | A2CAF


Carolyn

Carolyn Nowak sits at the desk where all the magic happens.

Ann Arbor-based cartoonist Carolyn Nowak may have reached a larger audience with her work in 2015 on the critically acclaimed and award-winning comic series Lumberjanes, but it’s her funny, introspective self-published comics, such as Lazy and Girl Town, where Nowak truly shines.

Last year, one of those works, Radishes, received the Ignatz Award (named for the character in George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat comic strip) at the Small Press Expo for Outstanding Minicomic, and Nowak herself was nominated for Promising New Talent. Radishes was a shift for Nowak into fantasy comics and tells the story of two teenagers, Kelly and Beth, who play hooky from school to visit a wondrous market filled with mysterious shops and a tiger hairstylist. Nowak’s follow-up from late last year, Diana’s Electric Tongue, is set in a futuristic society where people purchase androids for companionship, is her most mature work to date, and possibly her best.

Nowak will be joining over 50 other comic creators who are displaying, selling, and signing their work on Artist’s Alley at this weekend’s Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). The A2CAF is a free event starting on Friday, June 17, and running through Sunday, June 19, at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch. Nowak partnered with AADL to create the all-ages comic Chad Agamemnon for the recent Free Comic Book Day, and you'll also be able to get a gratis copy at A2CAF.

Nowak was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail for Pulp ahead of the festival.

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From Lunch Ladies to Wookies: Jarrett J. Krosoczka | A2CAF


Jarrett

Jarrett J. Krosoczka sits at the desk where all the magic happens.

Like many illustrators, Jarrett J. Krosoczka set course on making his dreams come true at a very young age. His maternal grandparents, who had been raising Krosoczka since he was three, saw a desire in him to create, so they enrolled him in art classes at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. In elementary school he wrote his first books, and as he got older his work began to be influenced by comic books, leading to him writing a comic strip for the school newspaper, and eventually being accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduation.

While still working on his degree at RISD, Krosoczka started submitting picture books to publishers, and after two years of rejection letters, Random House published Good Night, Monkey Boy in 2001. Over the past 16 years, Krosoczka has published numerous picture books, created the Lunch Lady and Platypus Police Squad comic series, and was recently tapped to replace Jeffrey Brown on Star Wars: Jedi Academy with his second book in that series, The Force Oversleeps, set to be released next month.

Krosoczka’s plate always seems to be full, but he still finds time to visit schools to promote literacy and creativity. He has also established the School Lunch Hero Day, which annually asks students to recognize the work done by their school’s nutrition staff, and the Platypus Police Academy, a community read-aloud program for police officers at their local libraries.

As the keynote presenter for this weekend’s Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF) at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown, Krosoczka will continue to be busy. On Saturday, June 17, from 3-4 pm he’ll demonstrate his story-making process, followed by a Lunch Lady event and signing. On Sunday, June 18, he’ll be making an appearance from 12:30-1:30 pm at Vault of Midnight on Main Street, and will have a signing later at 4 pm at the downtown library.

Krosoczka was nice enough to answer some questions via e-mail for Pulp before this weekend’s A2CAF.

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