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Well, the eighth annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival, on a tiny island in Down East Maine, was an unqualified success -- a presentation of the beauty and intensity of New Orleans music within a larger context of its social and political implications. The festival itself has been a labor of love for me, as volunteer producer since its start. This year, it blended with my commitment to and passion for New Orleans -- a city I adore, am concerned about, and miss right now, as I sit and write in Brooklyn.

Upon arriving on the island, I headed to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, where saxophonist and Congo Nation Big Chief Donald Harrison is serving through this week as musician-in-residence. Haystack is a gorgeous waterfront compound of cabins and artist studios, where painters, potters, glassblowers, metalsmiths, and all sorts of craftspeople gather for intense workshops. Harrison's Mardi Gras day suit from this year's Mardi Gras, resplendent with ostrich and turkey feathers dyed golden yellow, leopard-print fur and an intricate beaded portrait of his father Donald Sr., a late Big Chief, was on display in Haystack's exhibition space. At 4pm each after of his residency, Harrison gives hourlong sessions that take a variety of forms. The first day, I was told, he ran through somewhat of a history of American jazz as distilled through his saxophone. On the day I attended, he sat a dozen of us in a circle, each armed with a homemade percussion instrument (tin cans, ersatz wooden frame drums, PVC tubing...) and ran through a variety of rhythms -- African, Brazilian, Cuban, and others. At one point, he broke down the components of the trap-drum rhythm of James Brown tune, assigning snare and bass-drum and hi-hat parts to groups of two or three each. (I thought I nailed the snare beat.) Meanwhile, Harrison was lured into a ceramics workshop during his off time, throwing clay to create what he calls "my wobbly bowl series."

On Thursday night at the Stonington Opera House -- the circa-1912 former vaudeville theater that sits atop a hill overlooking a working waterfront and is the festival's main venue -- we screened Royce Osborn's wonderful documentary, "All on Mardi Gras Day." This was the first chapter in a weekend-long immersion in New Orleans' black culture.
July 30, 2008 1:04 PM | | Comments (1)

It's almost time for the Deer Isle Jazz Festival in Stonington, Maine. For eight years, I've helped bring great jazz to this tiny Down East Maine island. In that time, both the fest and I have grown. This year's event is a New Orleans blowout (more on that in my next post). Here's a recent piece I wrote for Jazziz, about my experiences as volunteer producer.

MAINE ATTRACTION

by Larry Blumenfeld

"Condoms. Tampons. Excess hair. SMALL AN-I-MALS!"

So sang the dozen folks forming a circle within a tiny cabin last July, holding that last syllable until Arturo O'Farrill dropped his right hand with a conductor's authority. I'd just made the nine-hour drive from Brooklyn, New York, to Deer Isle, Maine, but my bleary eyes found strength to widen. I laughed.

I'd walked in on a rehearsal for Haystack, The Opera: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Odyssey -- and it was no joke. O'Farrill's wife, Alison, sat at a keyboard, his eldest son, Zack, before a set of conga drums. His youngest, Adam, held a trumpet, awaiting his cue. Soon various rhythm instruments -- hand drums, cowbells, guiros, clav├ęs -- were handed out.

Before long, O'Farrill had these painters and potters and sculptors, all of whom had come to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for a summer session, creating four layers of rhythm and sounding pretty damn in-sync.

O'Farrill had come to Maine to headline at the annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival, for which I've been volunteer producer since its inception, in 2001. Each summer, one festival musician serves as artist-in-residence at the Haystack School. O'Farrill, a celebrated pianist and bandleader, the son of a legendary Cuban composer, met this challenge by bringing his whole family and creating an opera, with lyrics drawn from Haystack Director Stuart Kestenbaum's work -- not his celebrated poetry, but his school manual, the part about "what not to flush down the toilet."

July 11, 2008 9:11 AM |

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