Jazz pianist, Juno Award winner, and U-M professor Andy Milne guides us through his new album, "The reMission"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Andy Milne

Photo by Chris Drukker

When jazz pianist Andy Milne moved to Ann Arbor in 2018 to become an assistant professor of music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation at the University of Michigan, he didn't know he would win the 2019 Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year by a group for The Seasons of Being record with his Dapp Theory ensemble. 

But Milne did know he had survived prostate cancer in 2017, so winning Canada’s Grammy equivalent was a nice side note to, you know, being alive.

After recovering from cancer but before moving to Michigan, Toronto-area native Milne, who had lived in New York City since the early 1990s, also started the Unison trio featuring drummer Clarence Penn and bassist John Hébert, composing stripped-down music that is the opposite of Dapp Theory’s fractured-funk polyphony, which features a multitude of instruments and voices. The trio released its debut album, the contemplative The reMission, in April and had planned a tour for May, which the coronavirus pandemic wiped out.

While Milne was disappointed he wasn't able to promote The reMission, he's used the downtime to get acquainted with Ann Arbor now that his wife, the singer and Oberlin College and Conservatory educator La Tanya Hall, was finally able to join him in Michigan.

Plus, he looking forward to diving into what the University of Michigan has to offer in terms of combining his interests in pairing music with science and research.

“I realized when I came here, my primary focus was like, ‘Oh, I’m coming to Ann Arbor to take this teaching position and really embrace a role in the university community,’ both within [the school of] music, theater, and dance and just exploring where my path and where my place would be in the university,” Milne said. “So, I’ve been collaborating with faculty and researchers in different areas of the university for public health and these kinds of things. I’m finding where my zone will be inside of that.”

Combining music with other disciplines has long informed Milne’s work, including Dapp Theory’s The Seasons of Being, which coalesced around ideas he learned while treating his cancer with homeopathy, and the documentary soundtracks he’s composed for Capt. Kirk himself, William Shatner. (The reMission’s “Vertical on Opening Night” is named after something Shatner said in one doc.)

Being at a large research university like Michigan means Milne can continue to explore cross-disciplinary creativity, all in a town he finds welcoming and easy to navigate.

“I think it’s probably just the proximity of everything,” Milne says of Ann Arbor. “The fact that I’m living close to my work, and people are super-friendly here, and there’s great restaurants. I mean, it’s a really livable city, and I’ve been able to get out and enjoy riding my bike and exploring neighborhoods and things like that. I like the feeling here.”

While Milne wasn't able to go out and promote The reMission, he did give us a song-by-song tour of the new album, which you can listen to below on Spotify as you read his commentary.

Diane Cook's novel "The New Wilderness" envisions a world after extreme climate change

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Diane Cook and her book The New Wilderness

Author photo by Katherine Rondina.

Imagine being dropped off in the wilderness, uninhabited except for 19 people with you and rangers who patrol the land. Modern amenities are nonexistent, but the upside is that the air quality is much better than the polluted city. You live nomadically and hunt, fish, and gather to survive. This is not an extended camping trip. It is your new way of life. 

This intense scenario forms the premise of Diane Cook’s new book, The New Wilderness, a speculative novel involving relationships and the environment—and how the latter influences the former. The novel has landed on the long list for the Booker Prize. Cook has taught for the University of Michigan, is a U-M alum, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

In a joint virtual event, both Cook and Karolina Waclawiak, whose new novel Life Events was just published, will read and discuss their new books through the At Home with Literati series Monday, August 31, at 7 pm.

The characters of The New Wilderness, including Agnes, her mother Bea, and her mother’s husband Glen, go to the wilderness as part of a research experiment to determine whether this lifestyle is sustainable. Bea joined to save Agnes’ life. Agnes was five years old when they arrived and gravely ill from the effects of pollution. Despite learning how to stay alive in the wild and improving Agnes’ health, the characters’ memories of their former life, their love for one another in all its forms, and the burden of subsisting clash and inform their individual choices. 

Early on, Bea’s concerns emerge when considering their next journey to a ranger post farther than they’ve had to go before: 

Glen hooked his arm around her neck and pulled her close. “Now, now,” he murmured. “This will be fun.”

She knew that a big part of Glen believed this. But no part of Bea did. She pictured the map in her head again and saw all that unknown land, that beige parchment, all that nothing. They would be changed on the other side of it, that much she knew. Not knowing how was only one of the things that scared her.

The New Wilderness calls into question what the natural world is and should be, while also showing how vast the wilderness within and between people can be. 

I interviewed Cook about this book and her writing.

UMMA opens three new exhibitions online featuring works from its collection

VISUAL ART

Titus Kaphar's painting Flay (James Madison)

Titus Kaphar, Flay (James Madison), 2019, oil on canvas with nails. Museum purchase made possible by Joseph and Annette Allen. 2019/2.184. From the UMMA exhibition Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism.

Like a lot of museums, the University of Michigan Museum of Art shifted exhibitions online as it became evident the pandemic would be dragging on for the foreseeable future. But versions of both exhibits UMMA posted had already been produced for its galleries: Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs, which ran in Fall 2019 (Pulp review), and Cullen Washington Jr.'s The Public Square, which ran from January 25, 2020, to March 13 when all of Michigan shut down.

And because the coronavirus crisis looks to drag on ad infinitum thanks to the federal government's gross abdication of responsibility, UMMA just moved ahead and produced its fall exhibitions with both online and in-person versions in mind. While there are no in-person opening dates for the three exhibits -- UMMA is working on some kind of staggered, socially distanced protocol that it will announce later -- you can check out all of them right now at umma.umich.edu.

The three exhibits:

Michigan Theater welcomes films and conversations with two Ann Arbor natives

FILM & VIDEO

Logos for the films The Fight and Vinyl Nation

New films by or featuring two Ann Arbor-ites -- and conversations with both of them -- are landing at the Michigan Theater.

Writer and filmmaker Kevin Smokler seems more comfortable in a different era; maybe one from 30 to 40 years ago. Or at least Smokler's really comfortable covering a different era -- and we liked his book Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies so much we interviewed him twice (October 2016 and June 2017).

Smokler's new film, Vinyl Nation, is about the past decade-plus revival of LPs, which no matter their cult popularity now, are still totems of the pre-CD '80s.

As an Ann Arbor native, Smokler was blessed with numerous fantastic records stores here while growing up, and he's lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years, another place where vinyl records never truly went out of style. Vinyl Nation is co-director and co-producer Smokler's love letter to the vinyl format, and the film is coming to his hometown starting Friday, August 28, at the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room

Smokler and Vinyl Nation co-director and co-producer Christopher Boone will also do a virtual Q&A about their documentary on Wednesday, September 2, 7 pm (Facebook event link).

The Fight documents the frontline lawyers for the ACLU fighting for abortion and trans rights, as well as trying to fight for the children and families who have been locked up thanks to the current administration's draconian immigration policy. You can also rent this movie from the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room, but first you can listen to an interview with one of the stars of The Fight, Brigitte Amiri, an Ann Arbor native and deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom ProjectAmiri talks to the Michigan Theater's Behind the Marquee podcast about the ins and outs and ups and downs of her profession and being the subject of a documentary.

Check out the trailers for both films:

Please Don't Yell at David Zinn

VISUAL ART

Sidewalk chalk drawing of Sluggo the frog with Nadine the mouse sitting on his head.

Photo by Rich Retyi.

Interesting things learned during two hours of socially-distanced outdoor conversation with acclaimed illustrator and street artist David Zinn while he created Nadine Hypnotizes a Frog on a commercial property in an undisclosed location within the city limits of Ann Arbor.

PEOPLE YELL AT DAVID ZINN
In our pre-interview text exchange, Zinn revealed that people yell at him sometimes when he’s doing his thing. I think yell might be a strong word for the reaction a security guard or stickler-for-the-rules public servant or art-loathing property owner might throw his way. What’s the word for when someone locks eyes with you after staring curiously at you doing strange stuff on a sidewalk accompanied by a mysterious wooden case full of colorful things and a long pole next to you?

“Having a name on the internet doesn’t mean anything when I’m crouching on the ground,” says Zinn, whose work has been shared throughout social media and covered by Huffington Post, Graffiti Art Magazine, Bored Panda, and more. “I’m lucky a lot of people have a blind spot for weird things happening.”

What Zinn does is technically graffiti. But when it’s done on Ann Arbor city sidewalks, it’s completely legal.

Chapter 106 of Ann Arbor’s city ordinances titled NUISANCES mentions graffiti, along with outdoor storage, trash, dangerous structures, abandoned refrigerators, and parking in a drive-thru lane without making a purchase.

But there’s a sweet, sweet caveat:

“Any mark or marks on any surface or structure made without the prior permission of the property owner and made in any manner, including but not limited to, writing, inscribing, drawing, tagging, sketching, spray-painting, painting, etching, scratching, carving, engraving, scraping, or attaching. Chalk marks on sidewalks are NOT graffiti.” (ALL CAPS mine)

Zinn says Ann Arbor’s specific absolution for chalk is pretty unique. Still, technically, graffiti—and I feel like we’re damn near outlaws.

Jazz From Ann Arbor by Mark Stryker

MUSIC PREVIEW

Bassist Robert Hurst - Jazz From Ann Arbor

Bassist and U-M professor Robert Hurst makes the case for being the cover star of a future book.

This story originally ran September 16, 2019.

Mark Stryker will talk about his new book "Jazz From Detroit" at AADL's downtown location on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 pm. We asked him to recommend some jazz from Tree Town.

Ann Arbor makes a number of cameo appearances in my book Jazz From Detroit. Several recordings highlighted in the text were taped live in Ann Arbor, and a number of the musicians featured in the book have ties to the University of Michigan. (The book itself was published by U-M Press.) Here’s a playlist that takes its inspiration from the Detroit-Ann Arbor jazz connection.

The Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY) moves online Aug. 20-22

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

IFFY 2020 graphic

Back in January when the inaugural Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY) was announced, the plan was to hold it at the Riverside Art Center, April 16-18.

We all know what happened next.

But rather than cancel the event, filmmaker Donald Harrison, who runs 7 Cylinders Studio, and multimedia artist Martin Thoburn did what so many others have had to do: moved the festival online.

Between August 20-22, numerous short films curated by Juliet Hinely and Hafsah Mijinyawa will stream each evening at iffypsi.com, though the kick-off evening will be free on Facebook or your can go to the the Normal St. parking lot at Cross by the Ypsi water tower for a drive-in screening.

Here's the schedule and links to trailers for the films in IFFY 2020:

Michigan Art Gallery's virtual exhibit "Leon Makielski: Intimate Views" shows the portrait giant exploring Midwest landscapes

VISUAL ART

Leon Makielski's Broadway painting, featuring Broadway Street in Ann Arbor, looking south.

Leon Makielski, Broadway, depicts Broadway Street in Ann Arbor, looking south toward downtown.

Leon Makielski is perhaps best known for his 1923 portrait of poet and fellow University of Michigan colleague Robert Frost. An Ann Arbor resident since 1913, Makielski was also known for the hundreds of other portraits -- from paintings to charcoals -- he did of other university bigwigs, from Michigan to Pennsylvania, as well as politicians, architects, engineers, conductors, and other members of the creative and ruling classes.

But the Michigan Art Gallery's virtual exhibition Intimate Views primarily features the kind of impressionistic landscape paintings that brought a young Makielski to study in Paris at the Academie Julian and Academie Grande Chaumiere in 1909. When Makielski died in 1974 at the age of 89, his family found 400 works in his studio, and 22 of those paintings are in Intimate Views.

While all the pieces in Intimate Views are viewable online as of 6:30 pm on August 14, you can also make appointments to see the paintings in person through September 26. While these visits might be more enticing to potential buyers of the paintings more than casual viewers, the appointments are available to all -- and it's an easy way to fill that gallery-sized whole in your art-loving heart.

Below are some of the images from Intimate Views, along with some articles from The Ann Arbor News archive on Midwest master Makielski.

"Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" documents how the Detroit-born publication rose to the top

MUSIC FILM & VIDEO

Iggy Pop on the cover of the April 1974 issue of Creem.

Iggy Pop on the cover of the April 1974 issue of Creem.

Creem magazine was the 1970s dirty rock 'n' roll branch of The New Journalism practiced in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. The magazine's salty, raunchy prose and passion-first stance helped crack the egg of music journalism, scrambling it into a form that had as much attitude as the music Creem was covering.

Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine is a new documentary by Scott Crawford -- director of the essential Salad Days chronicling the D.C. punk scene he grew up with -- that captures the mag's spirit of chaos, tracing Creem's rise and fall with open-eyed honesty. 

Started in 1969 from Detroit's Cass Corridor, Creem spent 20 of its 30 years publishing out of Michigan and helped launch the careers of influential music journos Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, documentary co-producer Jaan Uhelszki, and more. The Creem documentary treats Bangs, Marsh, and cantankerous publisher Barry Kramer as the heart of this dysfunctional band of misfits, many of whom not only covered rock 'n' roll but also lived the lifestyle. Kramer and his wife, Connie, were no exception, and the film's co-producer JJ Kramer deals with his parents' issues with grace during his on-camera interviews.

Before he became a documentary filmmaker, Crawford published numerous fanzines and magazines, including the well-known indie/roots/rock mag Harp, which was influenced by Creem and featured many of its writers. Crawford and I worked for the same company that took over publishing Harp for a few years, and I caught up with Crawford about his latest movie, which is currently available to stream at the Michigan Theater's virtual cinema. This chat was edited for length and clarity.

Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Welcome to Commie High

This article originally ran March 25, 2020.

We're rerunning the story to highlight the launch of the "Commie High" archive at aadl.org/commiehigh

This site serves as a supplement to the independent, feature-length documentary about Community High School in Ann Arbor, MI—produced by 7 Cylinders Studio—providing extensive extra content available for public viewing and research. Additional materials and development are anticipated in future editions.

There are video extras, historical and making-of-the-film photos, a music database documenting the school's numerous bands and musicians, digitized yearbooks, and news articles.

 

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.

But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.

Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.

But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream. 

Until now. (Kinda.)

A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.

Welcome to Commie Higha new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.

The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.

Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.