Jesse Kramer's "Antinous as Osiris" interprets Roman passion and New York jazz through the lens of a Washtenaw County upbringing

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jesse Kramer by Jeff Dunn

Jesse Kramer photo by Jeff Dunn.

This story originally ran June 12, 2019.

For roughly half a decade, the Roman emperor Hadrian was in love with a man who was not his spouse. Between 125 CE and 130 CE, the Greek youth Antinous became a favorite of Hadrian, and for the final two years of the latter's life they were side by side touring the Roman empire.

After Antinous' surprise death on the Nile, Hadrian was devastated and, in his grief, proclaimed his lover a deity, In turn, priests connected Antinous to the Egyptian god Osiris, lord of the underworld, afterworld, and rebirth.

Et voilà:

Nearly 2,000 years later we have Antinous as Osiris, the latest album by Ann Arbor jazz drummer Jesse Kramer.

Open to all 9-12th graders, U-M's Girls in Music & Technology summer camp goes virtual this August

MUSIC

U-M's Girls in Music and Technology

Summer camps, like the rest of society, were put in disarray due to the Covid crisis.

But some summer camps were able to recast their normal activities into virtual ones and stay open.

The University of Michigan's Girls in Music and Technology (GiMaT) runs August 17-28 is one of those camps, and because of its focus, GiMaT will likely be one of the more successful transitions to the virtual world. After all, who better to run a virtual tech and music camp than actual tech experts?

GiMaT is for students in grades 9-12, and the "camp is open to students of all gender identities, and is designed to encourage and support campers who wish to explore musical applications of technology."

U-M Faculty Director Dr. Zeynep Özcan, who makes brilliantly brainy electronic music, will guide students in understanding the musical applications if technology, with help from U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance Department of Performing Arts Technology faculty. The program overview includes:

Legendary Ann Arbor luthier Herb David passes away

MUSIC

Herb David, 1978

On Their Way - Local instrument maker Herb David (above) proudly shows the ornate harp he created over a three-year period. David and his harp are on their way to the Smithsonian, which has selected the harp for a year-long show of musical instruments by American instrument makers. News photos by Larry E. Wright. Published in Ann Arbor News, January 29, 1978.

On July 26, David Siglin, the former director of The Ark, announced on his Facebook page the death of legendary Ann Arbor luthier Herb David:

I am very sad to report that Herb David died last night. Herbie was one of a kind, unique in every way. He was a very important influence on me and my love for folk music. I feel strongly that, if not for Herb and Herb David Guitar Studios, The Ark would have come and gone in the late 1960s or early 70s. But more than anything, he was a dear friend and I'm going to miss him greatly.

David was 89. (His birthday was April 11 and a February 1991 Ann Arbor News article lists him as 59 then.)

Originally from Chicago, David learned his trade at age 25 from a Detroit shoemaker named Sarkis "Sam" Varjebedian, who also repaired stringed instruments in his shop. They met because David had taken his own guitar there for repair. When Varjebedian died, David bought his tools, some of which were more than 300 years old and passed down generations in the family. Remarkably, David grew up playing the trumpet and never touched a guitar until a fellow soldier gave him a few lessons in the Army, which he enlisted in after graduating from Michigan State University.

According to this 1963 "local man" article in The Ann Arbor News, David left his career as a research psychologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at the age of 30 to begin his career as a luthier. David told the News:

U-M professor José Casas' "The Imagination Place" is a play to be performed by families at home

THEATER & DANCE

Jose Casas

Have you ever wanted to direct a play? Have you ever wanted to cast your kid in the leading role? Have you ever wanted to stage the whole theatrical event in your living room?

If your answer to every question is "no," that's reasonable because directing is a lot of work, nepotism is bad, and who wants to mess up an adequately clean living room?

But perhaps the Covid crisis has you saying "yes" to things you would've never considered before since you're running out of things to do in the adequately clean house you've been cooped-up in for five months.

Well, then, perhaps the idea of directing a play in your living room starring your kid is back on the table.

If you don't know which play to produce, you're in luck: U-M professor José Casas joined seven fellow playwrights who wrote commissioned scripts for California's La Jolla Playhouse. The works are free to access online for everyone and are aimed, respectively, at elementary, middle, and high school students. The plays can be performed with two to six people, depending on the story, with no requirements for costumes, props, or sets -- since we all know the set will be your adequately clean living room or even your mostly maintained backyard.

Saturday Looks Good to Me discovered some live gems during lockdown

MUSIC

Saturday Looks Good to Me

Back in April, Saturday Looks Good to Me singer/songwriter/guitarist Fred Thomas was using some of his quarantine lockdown time to explore piles of cassettes he had featuring all manner of music from his various projects.

"I found this cassette that simply said 'Mar 11 2005' and was amazed to discover it was a show from one of Saturday's dreamier configurations during our peak touring times," Thomas wrote on the Bandcamp page featuring the live recording now titled March 11, 2005 • Champaign.

The "dreamier" Saturday sound on this tour -- compared to its more typically rollicking indie rock -- happened because Thomas didn't remember that drummer Steve Middlekauff couldn't come along for the tour until the night before. But rather than try to rope in a percussionist at the last minute, the group switched gears and adapted to the drummerless tour on the fly.

Strike Up the Bands: New music from Washtenaw County artists and labels

MUSIC

Washtenaw County map

I had originally titled this post like I did the previous eight in this series: "New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine."

That headline implied quarantine was for a limited period of time, but with the pandemic mishandled every step of the way by the federal government, there is no timeframe for the end of lockdown. <Insert 40,000-word diatribe>

The time of quarantine is now and for the foreseeable future.

It's how we have to live in order to stay alive.

Artists are resilient and they create because they have to, no matter the circumstances. So, this post is highlighting new music made by or released by Washtenaw County artists and labels -- the same as they did during normal times. Because our current time is our normal time even if it doesn't look like it did in the past.

Shoutout to the creators persevering through this mess.

Nevertheless Film Festival persists during the pandemic, goes virtual for 2020

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Nevertheless Film Festival 2020

Stills from three 2020 Nevertheless Film Festival features, clockwise from top: Asking for ItWaging Change, and First Vote.

This time last summer, Meredith Finch was in the final stages of debuting her Nevertheless Film Festival, held at the Michigan Theater July 11-14.

"I have my fair share of stories of being the only woman or underrepresented person on a film crew," Finch told Pulp last year. "To combat this lack of representation, film festivals around the world have announced their own initiatives to increase representation in their programming within the next few years, but what I found myself thinking a little over a year ago was, 'Why not now?'"

The inaugural Nevertheless Film Festival featured 26 movies -- narratives, documentaries, shorts -- and the 2020 edition, which runs July 9-12, will include a similar mix by womxn creatives. But you'll have to imagine sitting at the Michigan Theater while at home viewing the films.

Gutman Gallery reopens, features artists who were supposed to be in the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair

VISUAL ART

Gutman Gallery exterior

Photo courtesy of the Gutman Gallery.

The Gutman Gallery opened just in time to close.

The Guild of Artists & Artisans’ showcase spot at 118 N. 4th Avenue in Ann Arbor debuted in mid-February with the Amor: Looking Through the Eyes of Love exhibition, highlighting its creative members' takes on all things lovey-dovey.

A month later, the Gutman Gallery closed like everything else due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Guild that runs Gutman Gallery also produces the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, which is canceled this summer. So the group is opening its doors three days a week with limited hours to display works from 38 of the jury-selected 2020 Art Fair artists.

The Gutman Gallery has an online shop and offers virtual art classes, but the Art Fair show is its first physical exhibition since the shutdown.

Below are the participating artists and some examples of their creations.

Open Your Eyes: SculptureWalk Chelsea trusts viewers to cut through the clutter and take in the art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

sankofa-m-saffell-gardner

M. Saffell Gardner, Sankofa, steel, 12’ x 8’ x 4. Photo by Christopher Porter.

The 12th annual SculptureWalk Chelsea launched recently, and I spent a steamy Friday afternoon strolling through the downtown in search of not just art but a sense of calm and normalcy in a year that’s been anything but.

I’ve been in Michigan for almost four years, and I’ve been to Chelsea before, but I never made it to SculptureWalk. Or more accurately, since the sculpture is on display for a year, I never noticed there was sculpture on my walks.

This is a common thing with public art installations: they blend into the areas in which they’re placed, becoming part of the background with the trees and buildings. This doesn’t devalue these creations, or the communities who put in the work, time, and money to commission and display these pieces of art; it’s just a fact and one that must be overcome with purposeful viewings.

As I walked around Chelsea, I spent several minutes with the 14 creations featured in the 2020-2021 SculptureWalk, first considering them against their backgrounds -- whether a building, telephone, or the Jiffy plant -- and then narrowed my vision to the pieces themselves, ultimately finishing by focusing on the smaller details in each work.

But my mind kept returning to considering how the sculptures related to their backdrops and their placements along the walk, which stretches from M. Saffell Gardner’s Sankofa next to the Mobile Station at the corner of Main Street and Van Buren to Jeff Bohl’s Early Bird near the parking lot at Main and Buchanan Street, with several side-road stops along the way.

I guess I was less concerned about evaluating all of the sculptures -- which, reductively speaking, range from pleasant to excellent -- but rather my reactions to purposefully looking at the works after the three previous years of not even noticing them. These are some of the sculptures and scenes that stood out to me the most.

School of Music, Theater, Dance, and Jams: U-M SMTD faculty have been compiling mixtapes during quarantine

MUSIC

Cassettes photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels

Photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels.

Late winter and early spring is usually a busy time for the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). Students have started working on their final projects, music performances fill the auditoriums of the Earl V. Moore Building, and theater and dance events abound. 

But since the coronavirus pandemic shut down all activity, the SMTD started engaging its audience by offering livestreams of discussions, archived performances, and even yoga classes.

My favorite SMTD offerings are the faculty-compiled mixtapes on Spotify.