music: July 2008 Archives
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.
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, clavés -- 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."