The Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series has existed since 1998, presenting some of the world's greatest creatives and thinkers. Since 2013, the talks have been recorded and most of them posted to YouTube for those who couldn't attend the free events in person at the Michigan Theater.
But now that nobody can attend any events, the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series is cutting to the chase and broadcasting its events live in partnership with Detroit Public Television and PBS Books.
The fall 2020 series kicks off Friday, Sept. 18 and continues through Dec. 4. All the talks begin at 8 pm and can be viewed on dptv.org and Penny Stamps Series' Facebook page. The talks will continue to be put on YouTube as long as the speaker as given permission.
The fall 2020 season includes:
Ken Fischer makes the case for collaboration and connectivity in his book "Everybody In, Nobody Out"
This post contains two sections: a book review and a brief interview with Ken Fischer.
On June 1, 1987, Ken Fischer became the sixth president of the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan.
That date marks the beginning of 30 years of transformation, innovation, and collaboration.
Fischer’s Everybody In, Nobody Out: Inspiring Community at Michigan’s University Musical Society written with Robin Lea Pyle is a book of many parts. It is a memoir, an insider’s view of some of the leading performance artists who come each year to Ann Arbor and, perhaps most important, a guide on how to operate a non-profit by reaching out to and connecting with the community at large.
The title comes from Patrick Hayes, a mentor to Fischer and former head of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Hayes had developed a policy for art presentation that emphasized inclusion at every level. His policy was "Everybody In, Nobody Out" and it became Ken Fischer’s mantra.
“It was about making connections and forming partnerships for everyone’s enrichment,” Fischer writes. “The great thing about collaboration was that it could be the foundation of everything we needed to do as an organization: secure outside sources of funding, raise our visibility in the community, expand our audience, gain new insights, and build enthusiasm for working on new projects.”
Fischer’s book is a short history of those collaborations with the university, with world-class performers, with other local arts groups, and with local and national businesses and philanthropists.
But first a prelude.
Edgefest, the annual explosion of avant-garde jazz in Ann Arbor centered on Kerrytown Concert House, was in its final planning stages when Covid-19 shut down the world. The festival was canceled soon after and it looked like Edgefest's 24th year would have been a lost one—just as 2020 has been for everyone.
But it turns out, Edgefest will happen this year—and it will last six months.
Beginning October 23 and continuing through March 26, the Edgefest virtual concert series will be a once-a-month show streamed on the Kerrytown Concert House website featuring some of the artists who were supposed to play the 24th edition of the fest, which had a brass-heavy theme.
Each concert will begin with performances by Michigan-based musicians, followed by national artists. All the concerts will be free to view but links to donate to the festival and artists will be provided.
"The local opening sets will be streamed live from the Concert House (artists from the SE Michigan area) with no live audience except the KCH staff/crew, but the national artists will stream from their location," wrote Abby Dotz, administrative liaison and events manager at Kerrytown Concert House, in an email. "We're trying to bring the atmosphere of KCH to the screen, but still respect what is safest for everyone during these times."
The Edgefest 24 virtual concert lineup includes:
Area stages have gone dim to protect audiences, actors, and theater workers during these uncertain times.
But that doesn’t mean the show can’t go on.
Are you a parent who just went through a week of trying to work from home while also playing IT consultant to your children as they tried to learn online?
Are you a teacher who just went through a week of teaching other children from home while also playing IT consultant to your own children as they tried to learn online?
Are you a human being who likes music made with electronics?
Are you human?
If you grunted in the affirmative to any of the aforementioned questions, then the five artists below have something good for you to hear.
Check out recent synth-based music by local musicians Fred Thomas, John Beltran, and Doogatron, as well as a new one from former Ann Arbor-ite Heathered Pearls, and an EP by a young German producer that came out on none/such, a burgeoning electronic-music label out of A2.
What do you do?
It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.
When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).
Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:
…were you trying to paint the sea? A place
for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring
friend who brings you cookies and iced tea
and listens to you without judging…?
This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.
Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”
Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.
Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius,
will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.
Ann Arbor trio Towner created the terrific power-pop album "This Is Entertainment" during quarantine
The Ann Arbor trio of bassist Jason Horvath and guitarists Kris Ehrig and CT James recorded 12 songs for the LP and every tune could be single. Towner originally intended This Is Entertainment to be an EP, but the musicians were so happy with the results, they just kept recording at home, with Ehrig programming the drums. This Is Entertainment isn't exactly lo-fi, but there's a distinct bedroom-pop ambience to the record and that intimacy and warmth serves the band's songs perfectly.
"We had plans to record the 'normal' way in a studio in April," Ehrig wrote in an email, "but that got canceled for quarantine. At that point, I started recording a few songs on my own that weren't going to be on the record just to pass the time and keep myself sane. Then our drummer [Alex Molica] dipped to Vermont and everything got thrown out the window. Instead of scrapping it and starting over, or quitting altogether, we looked at a recording process that was working and switched to the material we had originally planned."
Towner's combined sound is reminiscent of the most melodic Guided By Voices songs, with Ehrig's tunes edging more toward those of The Only Ones -- mainly because of his slightly snarly singing, though he's a much stronger traditional crooner than Peter Perrett -- and James' compositions yanking out the catchier aspects of Weezer's music and leaning into them while discarding the annoying stuff (basically, being Weezer). I say this with peace and love as a Weezer non-fan and as someone who was knocked out by This Is Entertainment, but the way Towner plays with doo-wop-y harmonies and 1950s and 1960s rock 'n' roll vibes under its modern, hazy, indie-rock top layer frequently reminded me of the sorts of things Rivers Cuomo toys with in his songs.
Ehrig answered some questions about how Towner put together This Is Entertainment.
Over the past year, University of Michigan student and Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) member Jordan Stanton has put together three smart, stylish videos: one traced the history of electronic music in the city (Impulse Ann Arbor), another documented the work of one of the genre's most important local artists (58AAFF Artist Spotlight: Tadd Mullinix), and a new music video features the two recent artists on the scene, producer Scary Steve (Steve Klingbiel) and rapper by A.N.G.E.L.I. (Kamryn Thomas).
The video blends computer-generated landscapes and real-world places -- a Michigan forest in the fall, an Ann Arbor alleyway, Club Above -- along with the deadpan delivery of A.N.G.E.L.I. delivering a speedy rap over Scary Steve's skittering beats.
The song and video are both excellent, so have a look and listen.
Like most musical groups, the Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble spent much of 2020 in quarantine due to the pandemic.
But Crozier managed to keep the creativity flowing by digging into live recordings the group made at Grosse Pointe’s Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in February 2019, and the result is the Ensemble's first live album.
Live is a nice mix of funky fusion, straight-ahead jazz, and world music, featuring tunes from Crozier's last two studio albums, Tall Trees (2017) and Ocean Blue (2018), plus a couple of new songs. For this album, the Ensemble consisted of bassist Crozier, Rafael Statin on reed instruments, pianist/keyboardist Keaton Royer, drummer Rob Avsharian.
Crozier and Co., who were always active playing area stages and festivals before the pandemic, recently started performing again to socially distanced crowds as part of the ongoing series Jazz After Dark at Weber’s Restaurant.
In advance of the album’s release concert at Weber's on September 5, I emailed with Crozier about Live and how he stays creative during the pandemic.
Jazz pianist, Juno Award winner, and U-M professor Andy Milne guides us through his new album, "The reMission"
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.