At Haystack, Summer 2016

IMG_0213I’m still unpacking from my recent trip to Deer Isle, Maine.
The clothes are long out of suitcases, and all that. Still, with newspaper deadlines and daily life rushing back in I haven’t yet made sense of the ideas newly swirling in my mind or unpacked the feelings that got stirred up inside me.
Deer Isle, a gorgeous island off the coast of Down East Maine where photos sometimes end up more like paintings (see above), is distinguished in obvious ways by its tidal coves and its luscious lobster and in less obvious ones by distinguished craftsmanship of all types and an open-minded fascination with the arts.
The latter two qualities owe in good measure to the presence, on the far end of Stinson Neck, of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Haystack, which was founded in 1950, is a summer camp—if, that is, all the campers were ceramic and textile artists and glassblowers and woodworkers, and the campgrounds designed by a world-class architect (in this case, Edward Larrabee Barnes) to flow gently into the wooded cliff overlooking Jericho Bay, which feeds the Atlantic Ocean.
For more than decade, I’ve connected the musicians I’ve engaged for the Deer Isle Jazz Festival (another good story) with Haystack for two-week residencies. These residencies have brought memorable moments: pianist Arturo O’Farrill organizing artists on homemade instruments for an improvised Afro-Cuban opera; pipa player Min Xiao Fen leading a similar performance on traditional Chinese instruments; bassist William Parker, in concert at the Stonington Opera House, playing the glass bells a Haystack glassblower designed for him; guitarist Dave Tronzo, using the custom slides made at Haystack during another concert; poet and saxophonist Roy Nathanson mining local oral histories of lobstermen for lyrics, and leading Haystack students in an original song cycle.
Strangely beautiful stuff happens if you hang around Haystack long enough. Now it was my turn. Continue reading “At Haystack, Summer 2016”

On Improvisation, Form, Sunsets and Lobster: Off I Go to Maine Again

photo by Larry Blumenfeld
photo by Larry Blumenfeld

I’m packing up my things to head off to Deer Isle, Maine, for two weeks.
It’s a Down East island I know well. First, it was an escape valve for my wife Erica and I—a place to shut off, eat lobster, paddle a canoe and do  little else.
Then, it became the site of a labor of love—through my role for the past 16 years as founding curator for the Deer Isle Jazz Festival, at a lovely century-old former vaudeville opera house overlooking a working lobster dock.
Magical stuff has happened there (I took the picture above, just before showtime several years ago.)
Soon enough, we had a willing partner in the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, a renowned center for sculptors and potters and glassblowers and weavers and poets; each year, one festival musician would serve as musician-in-residence.
You can find some personal history related to all that here.
This year, I have the honor of being writer-in-residence. (Scroll down here.)
I’ve decided to call the 2-week workshop I’m leading, “Jazz and the Abstract Truth,” which I do with apologies to saxophonist and composer Oliver Nelson, who titled his landmark 1961 LP “The Blues and The Abstract Truth.” Continue reading “On Improvisation, Form, Sunsets and Lobster: Off I Go to Maine Again”