NYC Bodypaint Day 2015



I went to NYC Bodypaint Day with the obliged sense of a dutiful fan but I came away with a sense of a movement and its importance.

NYCBPD began in 2014 when artist Andy Golub organized 25 likeminded artists who painted more than 50 models  in the Columbus Circle corner of Central Park. This was followed by a raucous parade to Times Square then a bus ride around the city then a party. This year it was bigger but more tightly organized. There were 50 artists and 100 models, but the painting took place in a controlled area near the U.N. There was a brief march to the U.N., where after some photo ops, they models and painters boarded a bus for a tour of the city where they were photographed around various NYC landmarks. It felt less like a party and more like an event.

I became a big fan of Golub’s in 2012 work when I saw photographs of his painting of Randi Robinson in Times Square. I fell in love with the photo of her atop a taxicab, looking far less like cheesecake than like a wild primal beast, who no longer acknowledged routine propriety. It was then I realized that in Golub I had an ally in my conception of nudity (even though it should be acknowledged that Robinson was wearing a thong in those photos). I’m a big believer that we need to lose the reflexive association between nudity and sex. First of all, for me, being nude is far more likely to be a prelude to taking a shower than it is prelude to sexual intercourse, and I suspect that I’m like most people in that regard. Secondly if we lose the reflex that binds nudity to intercourse then a much richer and realistic set of interpretations become available. For me, it’s a route to a more primal and responsive state that particularly when outdoors makes us far more receptive to nature and the world around us. And, it is a triumph over inhibition and self doubt, something that should be practiced and celebrated, not shunned and shamed. In the photos and some writing associated with Golub, I began to sense that he shared at least the first part of my point of view.

2013-06-20 19.30.07In 2013 I attended three of Golub’s events, each giving me a greater admiration of his art and the poise of his models. In the first, Dylan Spellman Hall, an artist who frequently models for Golub, was painted near The Highline and I was as mesmerized by her ability to withstand the scrutiny and keep her boyfriend engaged as I was by the intricate design of Golub’s work. I felt similarly about a model named Lilith who showcased extraordinary athleticism in a painting event in front of the Guggenheim Museum a few days later. I was particularly impressed by how involved she became in the process, evaluating angles against the Frank Lloyd Wright structure, and I loved that upon completing the photography, she simply gathered her belongings and piled into Golub’s car for the ride home. In other words her nudity wasn’t part of a job, but part of who she was that day. 2013-06-23 17.55.11The third event was a precursor for the Bodypaint days. Golub painted more than a dozen models across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater (yes, the Letterman show was being filmed inside). Afterward, the models paraded to Times Square for more photography.

For these Bodypaint Days (and NYC is only the beginning, there will be one next month in Amsterdam), Golub partnered with Young Naturists and Nudists, who helped craft the messages that countered conventional body shaming tactics that are somewhat reinforced by the TV body paint shows, Naked Vegas and Skin Wars. Instead, in 2014, there was a banner that read “All Bodies are Good Bodies.” I think this year’s banner read “All Bodies are Works of Art,” and as was the case last year, the models were a diverse group in nearly every way, body type, age, gender, and probably several others.

I simply sat outside the paint compound, taking in the cathartic energy from the painting, but two things made me realize the importance of Golub’s work. For one, a friend texted me and when he found out I was at Bodypaint Day, he asked if the eye candy was good. For another a group, two men and a woman, passed by where I was sitting after spending an hour or so taking in the paintings in progress. As they walked one of the guys walked up behind his female companion and tried to pull her dress up. It left me wanting to lecture my friend and the guy. If a woman is naked in public or in a dress or in shorts, running shoes and a t shirt, or in a police woman’s uniform, or whatever, she deserves the same level of respect, the utmost. I don’t grasp the sense of male entitlement to female bodies, but I do grasp that recontextualizing how we view the body is an increasingly urgent bit of cultural work. And with each new event, Andy Golub, YN&N and his allies have rolled up their sleeves to do projects of great significance.

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At WSJ on the Duke Ellington/Conny Plank Sessions

Good stuff again!!

‘Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Conny Plank Session’ Review

A new album with four previously unreleased tracks shows that Ellington remained eclectic in his musical endeavors late into his career.

Duke Ellington in 1971. ENLARGE
Duke Ellington in 1971. Photo: Getty Images

During the final 12 years of his life, Duke Ellington (1899-1974) was notably eclectic in his musical endeavors, but a new recording “Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Conny Plank Session” (Grönland, July 10 release) shows the maestro working an even broader range of musical territory.

The recording feature six tracks, four previously unreleased, from a 1970 session in Cologne featuring the Ellington Orchestra with Plank at the helm. Plank (1940-1987) was an up-and-coming producer at that time, but his work with a wide variety of performers including Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Devo, Killing Joke, Neu!, A Flock of Seagulls and Eurythmics made him a pioneer of both synthesizer-based rock as well as ambient music. Yet, he too was eclectic in his musical pursuits. In 1969, he produced “The Living Music” (Atavistic), by the pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and “Nipples” (Calig) by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann; they are seminal recordings in the European free jazz canon.

Connie Plank in his studio in 1982. ENLARGE
Connie Plank in his studio in 1982. Photo: David Corio/Getty Images

The tapes were discovered by representatives of the label who were perusing the Plank estate. Stories vary about how the session came about and even the date of the recording. Ellingtonia, the online discography of Duke’s work, cites July 9, 1970, but the tapes say April 27 of that year. One version of the story is that the Ellington band was looking for a place to rehearse and Plank volunteered his studio in exchange for recording the proceedings. The other version is that Ellington hired Plank to make the recordings. Either way, great music was made by these men with contrasting specialties.

The recording features only two tracks but unlike vintage jazz reissues where alternate takes offer only subtle tweaks on the original, these pieces show Ellington making substantial revisions to each performance. The 29 minute program begins with three takes of “Alerado,” a piece by Wild Bill Davis. The first rendition is a smooth up-tempo number highlighted by vibrant solos by a flutist and trumpeter (both uncredited) and the composer. The second take is slower, almost a walking tempo, and the solos are pithier. The third version of the tune is slower still, with harder rhythmic accents and a different mood; the piece is more somber and it features an uncredited saxophone solo and a longer more complex solo by the composer.

“Afrique,” the other piece, is indicative of Ellington’s restless creativity. The piece begins with an array of horns accenting a percolating rhythm by an uncredited drummer. With impressive solo work by Davis and peppery work by the horns, the piece sounds like the Ellington classic “Daybreak Express” given a modernist approach. The second take features a duet between a reserved, probing tenor saxophonist and Ellington, who takes an arch, minimalist approach to the song. The third rendition features vocalese, big organ swells from Davis, and an abstract tenor saxophone solo. According to Ellingtonia, saxophonists Paul Gonsalves and Harold Ashby are on the date, but the solos aren’t credited. There seems to be little connection between these recordings and the synth pop that Plank produced in the ’80s, but in the live, you-are-in-the-studio sound of these tracks with Duke it is easy to see the influence that these sessions had on Plank’s work with Mr. Eno.

The brevity of this album notwithstanding, it makes a solid argument for reevaluating the late phase of Ellington’s work. On his live recordings of this period, he is the stereotypical aging master cranking out the hits, but his studio work tells a substantially different story. These six tracks are consistent with the work of a man who invited two modern jazz masters, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, to record in a trio that released “Money Jungle” (United Artists) in 1962. He also probed the connections between jazz and American vernacular music in his “New Orleans Suite” (Atlantic, 1970), and his three Sacred Concerts from 1965, 1968 and 1973. In addition, recordings like “The Far East Suite” (Bluebird, 1967) and “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (Fantasy, 1971) reveal Ellington’s pioneering efforts to blend jazz and international sounds. Finally, the latter recording also displays an Ellingtonian take on rock.

During the final years of his life, jazz was quickly changing, but a close look at Ellington’s studio work shows that he was staying ahead of the times.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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At The Root on Five Summer Red Wines

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At The Root on the new Nina Simone documentary

Good film, good interview.

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Father’s Day and Baseball and Pullman Porters

I don’t have any pictures of my father to share, but I have stories. This is one I’m fond of.

In the late ‘60s, when my family still lived in Chicago, my father would often go into the office on Saturday morning as it enabled him to get stuff done without being bothered by his coworkers. Sometimes he took me with him. One Saturday when I was nine, I was about to accompany him to work and of course I was dressed like a miniature businessman in a suit and tie. My Dad was adding some polish to my “hard” shoes when he looked up and said “I don’t have anything pressing this weekend, let’s go to the ballgame instead!”

I was a big enough baseball obsessive to know that it was one of those rare weekends that neither the Cubs nor White Sox were in town, so I was perplexed and asked which ball game he had in mind. He told me that the Twins were playing the Senators and we had just enough time to get to Minneapolis to catch the game.

I thought I was pretty sharp for a nine year old, but I sure didn’t see that coming.

We went to the train station and bought tickets on a Milwaukee Road train to the Twin Cities. As a youth my Dad had ridden the trains alone frequently between Chicago where he lived and both Atlanta and Mississippi where his family was based. He learned to rely on the Pullman Porters for guidance and protection. This time he wanted to rely on them for stories. He chatted up several of the veteran porters and they regaled me with anecdotes about people I’d only heard of. Suddenly Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Satchel Paige came to life in their vivid recounting (actually Satchel became larger than life). We got to Minneapolis with just enough time to check into a hotel and race off to the ballpark. The game was great. My Dad wanted to insure that I saw all of the best players in person and the Twins at the time had perennial all-stars Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, but he was especially interested in the Twins young second baseman Rod Carew who was having a stellar year. Carew sat out that game, in the end we didn’t mind. Killebrew hit a massive home run and the Twins, who were a championship contender, won handily.

Sunday morning we walked around the city in the morning then got a train back to Chicago. I don’t recall the porters being as talkative, though one told us a story about Willie Mays that jibed with his image of being humble and soft spoken.

I went to dozens of ball games with my father. In fact, when I was little we lived in Lake Meadows, a housing complex not that far from Comiskey Park, I have few memories of being at home with my Dad, but several of being at a White Sox game.   In fact, I may have been a budding foodie even then. As far as I was concerned, the difference between the Cubs and White Sox was that Comiskey Park had cotton candy, while Wrigley Field had individual pizzas with really good Italian sausage.

Yet none of my memories from the Chicago ballparks could top the journey to Minnesota.

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At The Root on Mikey Likes It Ice Cream

Artisanal Ice Cream from an ex-con on Avenue A.

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Ornette R.I.P.

I wrote on Ornette a lot, including beating lots of journos to the punch by previewing Sound Grammar in New York magazine before a lot of folks were aware of it. But this is my favorite. In the interview that produced exactly one quote, Ornette told lots of stories about L.A. in the ’50s and NYC in the early ’60s, but he was never nostalgic, he was eager for the shape of what would happen next.


Bluesy and Achingly Beautiful
Coleman’s ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ lived up to its title
By Martin Johnson
Updated April 18, 2009 11:59 p.m. ET

As years go, 1959 was a landmark for jazz recordings. Miles Davis created his “Kind of Blue” and John Coltrane made his “Giant Steps.” But the most influential jazz album made in 1959 came from Ornette Coleman, then an outcast in that musical community. It was called “The Shape of Jazz to Come.”

The record lived up to its title. Mr. Coleman’s innovations are often called “free jazz,” but that’s an oversimplification. While he did loosen the existing rules in an attempt to bring harmony, melody and rhythm into a more equal relationship within the music, Mr. Coleman was no finger-wagging modernist. Nor did he advocate musical anarchy (though to some ears his music still sounds like noise). He wanted to give musicians the freedom to play in accordance with the emotion of the tune, rather than limiting them to the notes and sequences dictated by chord changes, the progression of notes that create the harmonic structure of a song.
Ornette Coleman ENLARGE
Ornette Coleman Jimmy Katz

On “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” Mr. Coleman’s quartet made music that was bluesy and often achingly beautiful. His followers established an avant garde that has grown in the past half-century into one of the most consistently vital wings of jazz.

Back in 1959, Mr. Coleman seemed an unlikely source for one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. He was playing sporadically in Los Angeles, where he moved from his native Fort Worth, Texas, earlier in the decade. Born in 1930, he had grown up with a group of likeminded innovators, such as the trumpeter Bobby Bradford and the clarinetist John Carter, who sought to open jazz’s harmonic structure to allow a deeper expression of the blues. These concepts met with an often hostile reception on the Texas jazz scene and within the L.A. mainstream.

Mr. Coleman was shunned at jam sessions in both places; one angry Texan broke his saxophone. Unable to make a living as a musician, Mr. Coleman took a variety of odd jobs, including elevator operator. But he found several allies in California. Trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Charlie Haden met him and were excited by his innovations. Pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet heard one of Mr. Coleman’s performances and persuaded Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records to sign him to a deal. Mr. Lewis thought that Mr. Coleman’s music was the first significant step forward in jazz since the advent of bebop in the early 1940s.
Tune In

Listen to clips from the influential 1959 album “The Shape of Jazz to Come” by Ornette Coleman:

Lonely Woman

Mr. Coleman is soft-spoken and rarely expresses rancor about his past. He recalled his West Coast stint during a telephone interview in December. “It was a very active jazz community,” he said. “There were a lot of good players in a variety of styles; it was very enjoyable to be a part of it.”

He had recorded twice in California, but both sessions compromised his ideas by matching him with conventional musicians. Atlantic Records gave him the chance to record with a trio of players who shared his convictions — Messrs. Haden and Cherry, as well as drummer Billy Higgins. The music they made still sounds astonishing and fresh today.

The recording opens with “Lonely Woman,” a ballad that has deservedly become a jazz standard. It doesn’t sound revolutionary, however. That comes on the next track, “Eventually,” an up-tempo number that features a soaring, jittery solo from Mr. Coleman that sounds exhilarating today but probably left many listeners bewildered 50 years ago. It’s followed by the sweet, reassuring “Peace,” another tune that has found its way into the repertoire of many jazz groups. The album’s remaining three tunes feature ensemble portions that are familiar and melodic yet highlighted by intoxicating solos that have little to do with the harmonic structure of the piece. Mr. Coleman’s quartet liberated jazz from some musical restraints, yet it made music that was urgent, compelling and accessible.
Ryan Inzana

“The Shape of Jazz to Come” was released in October 1959 and immediately created a firestorm in the jazz community. Miles Davis told Joe Goldberg, in his 1983 book “Jazz Masters of the ’50s” (Da Capo), “Just listen to what he writes and how he plays. The man is all screwed up inside.” Bassist Charles Mingus told Downbeat in 1960: “It’s like organized disorganization or playing wrong right. It gets to you emotionally like a drummer.”

Mr. Coleman and his bandmates moved to New York, and in November 1959 they made their debut at the Five Spot, one of Gotham’s most renowned jazz clubs. The intensity of the response in the New York jazz world made the gig one of the most famous in jazz history.

Although the performances intensified the vitriol of some of Mr. Coleman’s detractors, he said he was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception. Compared to what he normally encountered in Texas and Los Angeles, the New York naysayers amounted to a minor nuisance.

Coltrane and Sonny Rollins came to several shows, and both went on to make recordings with Coleman sidemen. (Mr. Coleman said that Coltrane even visited his house to play.) Many younger musicians began to build on Mr. Coleman’s style, and by 1963 a full-fledged jazz avant garde had formed.

The Five Spot engagement was originally scheduled to last two weeks; it was extended for 2½ months. “The Shape of Jazz to Come” sold extremely well, and a few months later Mr. Coleman released a disc whose title made it clear he was aware of his impact. The recording is called “Change of the Century.”

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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