Marsalis’ ‘The Jungle’ creates mosaic of ‘American truths’

Conductor Cristian Măcelaru directs the combined Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for Music Director Wynton Marsalis’, “The Jungle,” during the concert on Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“The Jungle,” Wynton Marsalis’ Fourth Symphony, is a shock effect of sound and ideas, as authorities around the country continue to close what is home for many, closing in Ithaca, Seattle and San Jose. Colorful, dense parcels of land, poached by men and women and children with nothing, these hard-scramble places are still sites for stories and the music of freedom, as they have been since the end of the Civil War; places for disposed and the subsequent waves of immigrants, near the docks or the tracks or the raw meat market historically recorded in book-length by journalist Upton Sinclair in Chicago.

In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt called Sinclair “a crackpot.” Later, Sinclair won the Pulitzer Prize.

Maestro Wynton Marsalis, also a Pulitzer medalist, awakens the ear’s mind with vision that follows history’s Jungle into our time. It begins with the genocide of Native Americans, and through the horror of slavery and into the struggles of Americans since. The music of “The Jungle” is inclusive of these painstaking times, their manners and means of expression, from hand-clapping to a wailing, free-wheeling jazz.

Marsalis is an American genius, a juggler of ideas and a poet. He is a family man who plays a trumpet like no one else. He is a leader, who, with his music, models for a higher ground. His book, among others, is heartfelt and smart: Moving to a Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life.

Marsalis describes “The Jungle” as “a dense mosaic of all kinds of people everywhere, doing all kinds of things.” His launch for music is New York City, where he lives and directs Jazz at Lincoln Center and its orchestra, performing at Chautauqua on Tuesday with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. The symphony was under the baton of Cristian Măcelaru, director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and now the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany. He is a frequent guest conductor at Chautauqua and a frequent collaborator with Marsalis, a leader in realizing complex new work.

“The Jungle” may sound as a quiet sax on a rooftop at night, or as a scream, city-wide. It changes tempo and key suddenly, startling quotations from ragtime, bebop and the blues, a symphony that calls forth from these expressions the linkage of racial and ethnic inequality, prejudice, corruption and survival of the fittest. Yet such suffering, these denials of human rights, harvests joy as well, told by the urban legacies of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Les Brown, and other greats. 

Black Elk, a 19th-century Oglala Lakota medicine man, conveys another legacy Marsalis cites from outside the cities, a bequest from the plains. Black Elk knew the secrets of the Ghost Dance, and at 13 years old, fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and subsequently survived the Wounded Knee Massacre. Black Elk told his story to his son, who shared it with John Neihardt, the Nebraska poet laureate, who wrote, in 1932, the book Carl Jung admired, Black Elk Speaks. Marsalis also listened.

“The Jungle,” in its first movement, calls out Native tradition, and over an hour, divides into six varied movements a powerful scatter shot across the bow of American truths. The composer names them:

“The Big Scream (Black Elk Speaks),” which comes on suddenly, with a driving beat — plucked strings, a hard piano, relentless horns and any clangorous device hidden in percussion. The horror right up front, and soon drums summon a Native voice, a call for presence. The reeds are scat singers at 1/16. They could eat violins but are restrained. Someone shouts. Someone has created a crow’s call. Someone is going to bite their reed. Oh piccolo, how can you sound so tough? Bells ring. Oh jazz ancestors, remember players on this Amphitheater stage.

“The Big Show,” and cymbals announce. A flute takes it to the air. Sounds like a hustle, then soft violins for Big Band musical theater or a Blue Book formal dance. A changing palette of memory. Was that Show Boat passing? Calling on bebop, ragtime, early century immigrant dances.

“Lost in Sight (Post-Pastoral).” This is personal, withal one man’s lens and ear. Post-Pastoral is in Marsalis’ city. That solo from a rooftop, so sweet it could be movie music, and the cellos add a haunt from a European tradition, a classical remembrance. A siren brings startling recognition; a reminder of troubles, the homeless everywhere, disposed, beaten down and out. How can it be so in the midst of unimaginable wealth? This is lost in sight — the reason for that doleful trombone from some lonely place. The everlasting blues upon which jazz takes shape and draws its breath with hollow sounds from the piano and insouciant interruptions: The wah wah of a capped trombone. Skeletal.

“La Esquina,” a street corner meeting place for the deep spirit of an Afro-Latino neighborhood. A huge cymbal interrupts, and a sax solo brings on dissonance, the blues and a hammer of wood on wood, knocking, a vulgar interruption. Violins attempt to bring order from another place.

“Us”: This is for all to hear — phrases from Les Brown and his Band of Renown’s “Sentimental Journey.” The words do not need to be sung: “Gonna take a sentimental journey / Gonna set my heart at ease …” The trombone stands for a solo. Action is before us all, Marsalis wrote, “with, against, and up against …” We stand on an edge of transformation; pay attention, jazz proclaims.

“Struggle in the Digital Market,” a hot wire in high register, a quickened pulse brought into mid-tones by winds and reeds, still with loosened edges on a shifting margin. In his notes, Marsalis declares that the struggle questions us: “Will we seek and find more equitable, long-term solutions?” There is false ending, a climax and a pause and the audience begins applause. Then a single instrument brings it back, the voice of an individual.

This ending solo by Marsalis is from the middle of the stage, seated as the fourth trumpet, a humble position. His improvisation begins as a scream, returning to the opening movement, but within a framework established in the 2016 premiere in New York City. An improvisation declares a personal freedom, while searching for a common ground with its listeners

This solo will be sustained as a masterpiece of sound and wisdom, built upon the call of an anthem and hints of New Orleans, then upon a subtle bed of strings and a challenging duel with the tambourine. Marsalis sits in his chair, virtually hidden. The bell of his instrument is capped, handheld, opened like a valve.

I interrupt in the spirit of “The Jungle.” Let me be personal.

I have heard the sound of a dying fawn, the cries from deep in her throat, under attack by a neighbor’s dog, just outside our window. I have not heard such a sound since, until Marsalis’ penultimate phrase. I will not forget that sound: Sharp, hard, guttural cries that chill to the bone. Where did this sound come from? Where does it lead?

It leads to an awful silence, Marsalis answered, leaving open the trumpet’s valves — his instrument registering only the sound of his breath. A series of three: Breath. Breath. Breath. And repeat. Again.

Then a long silence, audience composing its witness and standing gratitude.

Dr. Anthony Bannon is a critic who served as a newspaper and magazine journalist and as a director at George Eastman Museum in Rochester, and the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. His recent book, Portraits: William Coupon, features a commanding image of Maestro Marsalis. A launch and discussion about the book, published by Damiani Editore, will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 26, at the Burchfield Penney.

Morning panel examining race, culture to conclude Week 9


A cure to the social and cultural ills of 21st-century American life lies within its people — at least, so says Wynton Marsalis.

The only catch? Each of us has to help find it.

“We’re ultimately responsible for the well-being and vision of our nation,” said Marsalis, a world-renowned trumpeter, composer and the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “There’s a lot of it to go around. If enough people think there shouldn’t be this type of prison population, there won’t be. If enough people think there shouldn’t be housing discrimination, there won’t be. And no one person is going to decide that.”

At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Marsalis will close Week Nine discussions on the state of race and culture in the United States as part of a panel that includes Iliff School of Theology’s Miguel A. De La Torre and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Curator of Latinx Studies Ariana A. Curtis. Robert Franklin, president emeritus of Morehouse College and former director of religion at Chautauqua Institution, will moderate.

“With Robert as our guide, we want to unpack Thursday night’s (‘Ever Fonky Lowdown’) performance with Wynton, but also hear reflections on the performance — and the week — from two of our other contributors to the weeklong examination of race and culture in America,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “As we close our week, and our summer assembly season, we also want to consider what work and conversations we carry with us as we return to our home communities.”

Marsalis considers the music and tradition of jazz to be inextricably linked with the national conversations on race that have happened throughout U.S. history.

“The music was a cause,” he said. “People like Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and later Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, that generation of musicians, they knew it was a cause. And the white musicians who played knew it was a cause, too. Bix Beiderbecke knew it was a cause.”

According to Marsalis, early 19th-century jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman was another particularly significant example of a white musician who advocated for racial justice.

In 1936, Goodman hired pianist Teddy Wilson as a member of his group, one of the first times a black musician performed onstage with a white band.

“Even white people had a consciousness about it,” Marsalis said. “Now that’s decreased as the time has passed, because white consciousness has basically gone away in jazz. But it used to be there.”

Nowadays, white jazz musicians don’t advocate enough for racial justice, according to Marsalis.

“Who’s a white jazz musician today that’s really conscious of civil rights and a champion of them like Dave Brubeck was, or Benny Goodman?” he asked. “Name them, and what is their body of work?”

But the real question, the one Marsalis said he’s been asking himself since the 1980s, is why that development has taken place in music that has its own roots in slavery.

“There’s a reality out here of apathy,” he said. “Why? I don’t know. I’m not indicting people because they’re not (a champion of civil rights), I’m just saying there’s a paucity of figures.”

Claims of ownership over jazz — and music in general — are false when they are based on race, Marsalis said.

“Black and white are constructs for America, and we use them because it helps us negotiate what it is,” he said. “But music is beyond that. I would not relegate our racial problems to our music. John Coltrane said that in the book Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music by (Frank) Kofsky. I read that in the ’70s, and I thought, ‘Damn, they put Trane on the cover of this, and he’s refuting the premise of the book.’ ”

For Marsalis, jazz is about joy. about things coming together — a process that he compared to the experience of a kid asking if they can play basketball with local players.

“After you start scoring baskets, (the players) are like, ‘Oh, shit, this is my man,’ ” he said. “Based on your ability to play, now your relationship with them has changed. You don’t even know the guys. Well, there you go, that’s jazz. It’s very natural. Nobody’s hanging up a sign, there’s no philosophers out there. If you know the rules, you can play.”

With ‘Masterworks of Duke Ellington,’ JLCO to explore jazz giant’s oeuvre

Music Director Wynton Marsalis plays the trumpet alongside the combined Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in playing the National Anthem before playing Marsalis’, “The Jungle,” during the concert on Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Chris Crenshaw began playing the piano at age 3. At age 11, he earned a perfect score on his school’s musical aptitude test, and so was granted the privilege of selecting an instrument of his choice from the array provided by his school’s band program. He settled on the trombone.

“I looked at my long arms and said, ‘I can do that,’ ” Crenshaw said.

Thirteen years later, the trombonist joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. In 2007, he received his master’s degree in jazz studies from The Juilliard School.

Crenshaw, along with saxophonist Victor Goines — who first picked up a clarinet as a kind of therapy for his childhood asthma — and the rest of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform “Masterworks of Duke Ellington” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater to conclude Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

After a week of “digging into and unpacking deep issues and conversations,” Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, said she is excited for a “celebratory” finale for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s week at Chautauqua Institution. 

“We planned ‘Masterworks of Duke Ellington’ for Friday evening because we knew it would be a celebratory and joyful way to end the residency,” Moore said. “We wanted to end the conversation with music.”

Although, according to Crenshaw, the orchestra will not have a specific setlist solidified “probably until the night of,” Chautauquans can expect to hear a wide variety of pieces from Ellington’s expansive career — more than 50 years of music covering everything from his early Cotton Club era, to the recordings from the ’40s featuring bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, to 1968’s Grammy Award-winning Far East Suite, an album inspired by a State Department-funded trip to countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Exploring the span of the composer’s oeuvre material requires agility, Crenshaw said.

“You have to get into different mindsets,” he said. “You have to be prepared for anything.”

For Goines, a composer with more than 50 original works to his credit and a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Septet since 1993, Ellington “embodies everything that American jazz represents: celebration, swing, the blues, democracy and collaboration inside the music.” 

“There are very few people who have studied (Ellington) as well as we have,” said Goines, who grew up with Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis. “It’s important to keep that thread alive. To be in that legacy is a tremendous opportunity.”

While Goines described Ellington’s work as all “extraordinary masterpieces” that are fulfilling to play, Crenshaw is partial to “The Mooche,” a jazz song that features the atypical “jungle style” that Ellington pioneered. 

“In the ’20s, people heard a lot of hot jazz and sweet jazz,” Crenshaw said. “Duke had a way of combining the two (to develop ‘jungle style’). It was just a different color — Duke was really about colors. He was a painter, after all.”

As the leader of his own quartet, Goines admires Ellington’s democratic approach to producing art. The band was Ellington’s instrument, he noted, yet he gave his musicians the opportunity to impact the music.

“Duke Ellington was the master of originality,” Goines said. “You had to strive for independence and individuality — always be yourself and personalize your part.”

By featuring different members of the band with individual opportunities to ad lib, “Masterworks of Duke Ellington,” is a sparkling salute to a force of American music.

“Everyone will like it,” Crenshaw said. “You get most of what Duke was about, no matter what time period.”

Annual ‘5 Giants’ program to close Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series


Chautauquans give back to the Institution in different ways — whether it’s financially, spiritually, emotionally or physically — and each season, five “great Chautauquans” are recognized for their positive impact on the community.

“I think it’s a nice thing to recognize the people who have made a contribution, but also to have a wide range of people who do that recognizing,” said Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua Institution’s archivist and historian. “The people chosen can be living or dead, they can be well-known or unknown — they just have to be perceived by someone to have been making a significant contribution to Chautauqua.”

At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Schmitz will lead the presentation of “Five More Giants of Chautauqua,” to close out the 2019 season of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series.

The presentation, now a Chautauqua tradition, started in 2006 when five Chautauquans were each asked to talk about someone they felt made a positive impact on the community.

This year’s outstanding Chautauquans are: Jeffrey Simpson, presented by Sylvia Faust; Norman and Nancy Karp, presented by Suzanne Aldrich; Anna Shaw, presented by Joana Leamon; Mark Russell, presented by Bill Bates; and Bob and Carole Reeder, presented by Robert Selke.


Simpson, who passed away in August 2018, spent every summer of his life in Chautauqua. He was the author of several books, including his memoir, An American Elegy, a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection in 1997, and Chautauqua: An American Utopia, a CLSC selection in 1999.

“Many people buy (Chautauqua: An American Utopia) as an introduction to Chautauqua,” Schmitz said. “(Simpson) represents a period of Chautauqua’s history, so when he died, it was significant. It was like a passing of an era for many of us, so I think it’s important that we remember him.”

Simpson’s involvement in Chautauqua ranged from being a member of the CLSC Class of 1974, an honoree of the CLSC Class of 2009; serving on the Institution’s board of trustees; the program committee; education and youth recreation committee; and the marketing and planning committee.

“I hope the attendees will come away with an appreciation of his influence in reporting the history of Chautauqua,” Faust said.


Nancy and Norman Karp have been very active in the Chautauqua community through the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, PFLAG and CLSC. The Karps are year-round Chautauquans who have also been instrumental in maintaining a year-round readers program.

“I think there are a lot of individuals who quietly contribute to Chautauqua; (the Karps) do it quietly without a lot of fanfare, but are definitely a real core of the success to Chautauqua,” Aldrich said. “We know about the important folks, but the day-to-day, year-to-year works sometimes don’t show.”

The Karps donated furniture to the Smith Memorial Library, a place in which they spend lots of time through the year, as they thought Chautauquans could benefit from more seating and created a space to make people feel more welcome when they get there.

Shaw was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States.


Schmitz believes that Shaw is the most important suffragette at Chautauqua, even though she is often forgotten, and emphasized the importance of remembering her — especially with the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaching next year.

“Shaw’s exceptional oratory has endeared her to us as a teaching institution,” Leamon said. “Her regular visits to the several Chautauquas around the nation was an important part of the Suffrage Movement and should be celebrated.”

Russell, American political satirist and comedian, who is best known for his parody music, concluded his 60-year career in 2010 with a performance at “one of his favorite venues”: the Chautauqua Amphitheater.

Schmitz, whose family loves Russell, said the star has been “extremely involved” in Chautauqua over the years, and while Russell has been featured in the Heritage Lecture Series before, Schmitz said his contributions made him well worth another highlight.

Both Bob and Carole Reeder have been involved in various Chautauqua-based organizations, with their main focus being the PFLAG group; though Bob passed away in July 2018, Carole remains active in the Chautauqua community. More than their physical involvement on the grounds, Schmitz said the couple will be remembered for being “genuinely kind” people. Schmitz recalled Bob’s generosity in particular, such as when he framed archival material for Schmitz to assist in preserving it for future Chautauquans. 


“(Bob) always insisted on doing it for free, even though I tried to convince him to at least let us buy supplies or materials,” Schmitz said. “He did an excellent job framing things in a way that they would be protected.”

Schmitz experienced the couple’s collective generosity himself before he even became an Institution employee. Schmitz said the Reeders opened their home for him during his Chautauqua interview process.

Selke, who has worked with the Reeders within PFLAG, is excited to pay tribute to some “wonderful Chautauquans,” who he feels lucky to be able to call his friends.   

“There are people that really put their heart and soul into this Institution — either financially or emotionally or work-wise,” Selke said. “For the Reeders, it was work. They always had their door open. Carole has this thing, if you go by (her house) she bakes chocolate chip cookies every day and leaves her door open. So I lived in a house in Wahmeda and we would walk by her house every day.”

According to Selke, these “five giants” embody some of the best ways to give back to the Chautauqua community and create friendships with the people one will, hopefully, spend summers with for the “rest of their lives.” And Schmitz said that is exactly why the presentation is a perfect fit for the end of the season.

“It’s nice to be able to thank everybody,  recognize a few people, and I know a lot of people appreciate it,” Schmitz said. “I think it’s a good way of ending it.”

In final Interfaith Friday, Candler to bring liberal Christian perspective


The Very Rev. Samuel Candler is contemplative.

“I appreciate the presence of God in silence and in the outdoors,” said Candler, a lecturer and the dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “I grew up on a farm, so I still appreciate being outside. To me, there’s something about the early morning darkness that speaks of God’s power.”

And God’s power is exactly what Candler will speak on today.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Candler will conclude Chautauqua’s Interfaith Friday lecture series with another unique Christian perspective on the problem of evil in religion. Candler will be joined in conversation by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and senior pastor.

“It’s a familiar problem,” Candler said. “And it gives me a chance to collect one of my most provocative talks on that subject.”

Candler has included his liberal view on Christianity and his sense of optimism in lectures all over the world, including in England, Costa Rica and Canada.
“A lot of times, people want to hear from a different culture,” he said. “There are a lot of different attitudes towards the United States these days, so I consider myself a spokesperson for the progressive Episcopal Church.”

One message Candler champions in his preaching and lecturing is the importance of interfaith relationships.

“I enjoy interfaith relationships,” he said. “I believe the future of spirituality is to understand and to appreciate different faith traditions.”

Along those lines, Candler is a member of The Faith Alliance, the interfaith network of the City of Atlanta.

“That group was especially active after 9/11,” he said. “It was important for people from different faith traditions to appreciate each other, especially during accusations of violence. We went on some trips with Christians, Jews and Muslims together: 10 Christians, 10 Jews and 10 Muslims living and traveling with each other.”

Candler said that those relationships are critically important “to understand people and to understand people’s sense of faith, so that when issues come up, we have a sense of something in common — as opposed to antagonism.”

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis to Present Second-Ever Performance of ‘Ever Fonky Lowdown’

Music Director Wynton Marsalis, center, plays the trumpet alongside the combined Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in playing the National Anthem before playing Marsalis’, “The Jungle,” during the concert on Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER



To Wynton Marsalis, playing jazz is like playing basketball: Anyone can put the ball through the net if they work at it, the same way anyone can solo over a blues progression so long as they practice their scales.

These pursuits don’t belong to any single person or group; the only barriers to entry are the ones people put on themselves.

“You say, ‘Hey, man, can I play with y’all?’ ” said Marsalis, an American trumpeter, composer, educator and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “You see people with a ball standing around, but you don’t know them. But you want to play. So you ask them if you can, and after you play, they try to assess: Can you play?”

Marsalis’ comparison of an art form to a game is one he returns to in his full-length composition, “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” which had its world premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2018.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Amphitheater, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform “Ever Fonky” for the second time ever, as part of the Week Nine theme “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“(‘Ever Fonky’) features four soloists and a spoken word portion by Wendell Pierce, the actor,” said Damien Sneed, a pianist, organist and conductor who worked with Marsalis on the piece. “It has three female soloists: Camille Thurman, a young singer named Ashley Pezzotti and Christie Dashiell, who was featured on the NBC television show, ‘The Sing-Off.’ ”

Pierce will play a character named Mr. Game, a musical master of ceremonies and self-described hustler, who serves as one of the vehicles for Marsalis’ critiques on culture and society.

While not performing in the piece himself, Sneed said he has helped Marsalis as a coach for the “Ever Fonky” vocalists.

“It’s very interesting because the fourth soloist is the guitarist, Doug Wamble,” Sneed said. “So he’ll be singing some of the songs, like ‘I Wants My Ice Cream.’ (‘Ever Fonky’) deals with a lot of issues that people don’t talk about, such as not liking people who are fat or black or Jewish. The words in the libretto could be considered politically incorrect.”

The work is a continuation of a decades-long tradition by Marsalis to compose pieces that deal with issues like race, democracy and social consciousness.

“Each time it’s a different configuration or theme,” Marsalis said. “ ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown’ uses an abstract version of the language from my album Black Codes. It’s a kind of funk baseline, something that uses funk principles, with really abstract melodic language on top of it.”

Marsalis said he looks to his past compositions, like his Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields, in order to find inspiration for his newer works.

A major theme in “Ever Fonky” is the rejection of pinning all of society’s ills on one group or person.

“Why does (President Donald Trump) come to make the whole trajectory of a nation different?” Marsalis asked. “We were better before him. All the problems we see — the housing problem, the segregation of our schools, Bush’s technological eavesdropping, which Obama maintained — they don’t have anything to do with Trump.”

Marsalis said “Ever Fonky” — which will also feature dancers Ian Klein, James Cabrera and Muata Langley — is highly complex.

“It’s by design that it’s like that,” he said. “I have a bunch of postcards that I put the (opera) on, like 70 of them. It’s still a little long, but I don’t know what to cut. I went through it time after time — I was looking at the chords last night. Even the notes I have for it are extensive.”

Marsalis said he “doesn’t know if (Chautauquans) will learn anything” from “Ever Fonky,” but that he’d like to provoke them to “think that we have to participate in the future of our country.”

“It’s going to cost us,” he said. “It won’t be free. It won’t just be getting online. It’s going to cost something.”

In Final 2019 CLSC Lecture, Poet Laureate Joy Harjo Finds Poetry in Grief



Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts, invited poet Joy Harjo to speak at Chautauqua Institution long before Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden appointed the award-winning writer and musician to the United States’ 23rd Poet Laureateship, a role that counts Louise Glück, Natasha Trethewey and Tracy K. Smith among its alumni. All Atkinson knew was that the collection on which they had asked Harjo to speak — Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings — was “extraordinary.”

“She is considered by many to be the greatest living Native American poet,” Atkinson said. “We can look to the recent anthology, New Poets of Native Nations, which takes as part of its framework (the question), ‘Who are the poets who came of age and started publishing after (Sherman) Alexie and Harjo?’ as evidence of that (belief).”

Harjo, who is of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, is the first Native American to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate. She will commence her official consultant duties in the fall, marking the beginning of the Library’s annual literary season with a reading in the Coolidge Auditorium in Washington, D.C., four weeks after closing the CLSC’s 2019 programming with a reading from Conflict Resolution, her 10th collection.

As the final CLSC author of the 2019 season, Harjo concludes a season of “Collaborations” at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Hall of Philosophy. Inside a final week interrogating the intersections of race and culture, led by Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Harjo — who is herself a vocalist and saxophonist who has toured with the Arrow Dynamics and Poetic Justice bands — reminds the American public of the crucial role that Native Americans play in the history of jazz.

“I think it’s exciting any time you are able to hear from a U.S. Poet Laureate in person,” Atkinson said. “But (the collection and the week’s theme) have come together to make it a triply exciting occasion. The very best part of all is that living at the center is a poetry collection that I would recommend any Chautauquan to read, regardless of CLSC selection.”

Stephine Hunt, manager of the CLSC Octagon and one of the leaders of this week’s Brown Bag conversation on Conflict Resolution, has read the collection twice, most recently in a one-hour sitting before Monday’s discussion on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. She described the book as a convergence of poem, song and prayer — a slim book that “isn’t dense” but still encompasses everything from a “strange pastiche of hurt and rain” to an island “formed / from desire and fire.”

Divided into four parts — a number with sacred significance for the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, Hunt noted — Conflict Resolution subverts popularly held conceptions of jazz and the blues, considering the latter as both a genre and a color reclaiming the synergistic relationship between song and poetry.

“Traditionally, poetry and the performance and production of poetry was musical,” Hunt said. “(Harjo) challenges those connections by adding an indigenous element; she strays away from Western canonical notions of poetry, and reshapes it through conversations about indigenous ceremonial pieces and through indigenous structures and lyricism.”

In the poem, “In Mystic,” Harjo writes, “There is still burning though we live in a democracy erected over the burial ground. / This was given to me to speak. / Every poem is an effort at ceremony.” It is within this effort that Hunt finds a “stunning” intertwined history of the human and more-than-human world.

“There’s a very prominent line of conversation and thought (in Conflict Resolution) that’s addressing the idea of coming home and finding home both spiritually in the soul, in yourself and as an indigenous person who’s been displaced from her homeland … through physical displacement or, historically, through genocide,” Hunt said. “So what does that mean to come home, to seek a home if it may no longer exist in some capacity? That (idea) is just peppered throughout this collection.”

The collection’s title piece advises readers to remain connected to ceremony and to home, and to avoid enacting violence on the world and the beings who inhabit it.

“(Harjo) is really saying that the resolution for these human conflicts, and conflicts beyond the human, is to listen and to listen broadly,” Hunt said.

Like Atkinson, Hunt hopes that one day, Harjo’s band will play the Amphitheater stage.

“If you ever get the chance to listen to some of her music on YouTube, do,” she said. “It’s worth it. There’s a small part of me that really hopes she brings her saxophone.”

Bird Runningwater Spotlights Importance of Indigenous Filmmakers and Stories

Bird Runningwater, director of the Sundance Institute Indigenous Program, delivers his lecture “Indigenous Perspectives on Cinema” Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, N. Bird Runningwater travels the world in order to amplify indigenous stories. Ultimately, he wants all Americans to see these stories on their movie screens, as well as in their textbooks.

“I really feel like there’s still a lot of history, a lot of wisdom, a lot of culture and a lot of perspective — especially from those of us coming from matrilineal, matriarchal societies — that can contribute to the learning and ongoing development of our country and society,” Runningwater said.

At 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday in the Amphitheater, Runningwater gave his lecture on “Indigenous Perspectives on Cinema” as part of Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“At this point, what I call my life’s work has been dedicated towards really dismantling this notion of invisibility that we, as indigenous people to North America, seem to exist within in our larger American media and popular culture system,” he said.

His work has also been dedicated to exploring representation, but also “dismantling the history of misrepresentation.”

Before introducing Chautauquans to generations of indigenous filmmakers and artists, Runningwater began his lecture with a background of his ancestry, with a geographic range that spans the entirety of North America.

On his father’s side, Runningwater’s Chiricahua great-grandfather was born as a prisoner of war in Vernon, Alabama. Upon release in 1930, the Chiricahua were told they could share land with the Mescaleros in New Mexico, but they could not return to their ancestral land. In a similar vein, Runningwater’s maternal great-great-grandmother, White Buffalo Woman, was forcibly relocated from Colorado to the Cheyenne land in Oklahoma.

Runningwater was raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, and grew up speaking Cheyenne and Apache. Recently he returned, for a 12-day, coming-of-age ceremony, to sing young women into womanhood.

“We sing all of our songs going back to the creation of the universe and the Earth from the Apache perspective, going back to our first person who was created, … White Painted Woman,” he said. “These young women basically reenact her life, and they’re given that honorary title during that ceremony.”

According to Apache belief, White Painted Woman’s two twin sons told the Apache to migrate south from Alaska, to where the tribe settled near the present-day U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think under today’s immigration policies, we probably wouldn’t be let into the country, even though it’s our own land,” he said.

Unfortunately, Runningwater said that this Apache story is not communicated in American education systems or in cinematic history.

Runningwater’s desire to communicate indigenous stories is shared with his boss and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, who purchased the land in Utah that would later host the Sundance Resort after he was asked to audition for a Native American television role.

“(Redford) was particularly appalled by that, and so it kind of led him on a personal quest,” Runningwater said.

Redford began inviting Native filmmakers, writers, directors and actors to meet and discuss filmmaking. Together, with Chris Spotted Eagle and Larry Littlebird, among other collaborators, the Sundance Institute was born.

For the first 20 years, Runningwater said Sundance struggled to gain traction with indigenous work.

“It was around 1992 when they finally brought on Native staffers who had relationships with Native communities to carry out the work,” he said. “That’s when it really took off with creating very specific workshops and labs to support Native filmmakers.”

Now, Sundance has cultivated four “generations” of Native filmmakers.

The first generation, which includes Spotted Eagle and Littlebird, largely focused on documentaries because filmmakers could secure funding from the Public Broadcasting Service and other organizations.

“They all had aspirations to eventually work in fiction film,” Runningwater said. “Of all these people, only one, Merata Mita from New Zealand … she’s the only Māori woman in New Zealand to direct a dramatic feature film.”

The second generation of Native filmmakers saw more fiction films, such as “Grand Avenue” by Greg Sarris and “Smoke Signals” by Sherman Alexie and Chris Eyre. The latter’s script was rejected six times before Sundance finally agreed to film and finance the project. “Smoke Signals” went on to become the second-highest-grossing independent film of 1998, and won the Filmmaker’s Trophy and Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival.

“Smoke Signals” served as a major inspiration for the third generation of Native filmmakers. As members of this third generation began their filmmaking journeys, Runningwater joined Sundance and broadened the Indigenous Program to support more filmmakers from around the world.

Two notable filmmakers from this third generation are Seminole-Mvskoke director Sterlin Harjo, who directed “Four Sheets of the Wind” and “Barking Water,” and Māori director Taika Waititi from New Zealand, who directed “Eagle vs Shark” and “Boy” before being tapped by Marvel Studios to direct “Thor: Ragnarok” in 2017.

“These two scenarios are ideal for us in terms of our position as filmmakers,” Runningwater said. “We can identify them at the short film stage, give them an interesting script, put them through the Sundance writer’s lab incubation process, spit them out the other end with a feature film and then, ideally, the industry would take notice.”

Another example from the third generation is Sydney Freeland, a Navajo, or Diné, trans woman who directed “Drunktown’s Finest” and recently directed episodes of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“That’s a major accomplishment, I think, to have a Navajo director have two prime time episodes of episodic TV on a major network,” he said.

The fourth generation of Native filmmakers has been focusing on short-form content and has pushed Sundance to explore immersive media projects, including virtual reality storytelling.

“They’ve grown up with technology, but they’re also balancing a commitment to their culture, a commitment to language, but also a commitment to technology,” Runningwater said. “They’re really unlike any generation, I think, that has come about, so we’ve really been able to create some great work.”

The fourth generation is also the first, Runningwater said, to predominantly feature women.

Among these female filmmakers are Amanda Kernell, a Southern Sami director from Sweden; Peshawn Bread, a Comanche director who is currently working on a film about a Native dominatrix; and Ciara Lacy, a Native Hawaiian director whose documentary “Out of State” examines how Native Hawaiians have reconnected with their culture while in prison in Arizona.

While Sundance has helped foster greater indigenous representation in film, Runningwater said there is still a long way to go to combat a canon of misrepresentative cinema.

“Our indigenous filmmakers carry much more of a burden than other filmmakers do, because we have 100-plus years worth of cinema that we have to deconstruct in our work,” he said. “But then we also have to create something authentic and innovative and new.”

According to a study conducted by IllumiNatives, a nonprofit dedicated to authentic depictions of Native communities in popular culture, between 0% and 0.4% of all characters in prime time television are Native American. Furthermore, 87% of state-level history education standards fail to cover Native people in a post-1900 context. 

“So basically, we’re erased from history books, and we’re also erased from the screens,” Runningwater said. “I fan the flames of creativity, and I’m cheerleading and encouraging our young talent to keep going and fighting against the system, (so they know) there are these opportunities that they can really create something new and help contribute to the cultural fabric of this country.”

Another challenge for Native filmmakers, he said, is convincing film distributors that there is an audience interested in Native stories.

“A lot of times they’re part of those people who have come from this education process where we haven’t been represented, and so they look at an indigenous film and are at a complete loss,” Runningwater said.

Fortunately, Runningwater said digital platforms like Netflix have helped Native filmmakers somewhat circumvent this hurdle. Additionally, Runningwater was recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; in the role, he would be granted an Oscars voting position, as well as a voice in the nomination process.

“I think I’ve had seven filmmakers that have come through my program that have also been invited to join the Academy, so the steps are incremental,” he said. “They’re small, but we’re all on the same page. It’s kind of a given value that so many of our indigenous filmmakers, not only in the United States, … continue to fight to be represented in our own countries.”

The Rev. williams Talks Myth of Race and ‘Social Madness’ of Whiteness

Author, teacher and founder of Center for Transformative Change Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams speaks about how culture and a social construct uphold racism in America as part of Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture theme of “Exploring Race, Religion, and Culture” Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 at the Hall of Philosophy. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“This is at least 2.0, if not Advanced Placement,” said the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, prefacing her afternoon discussion on the intersection of race, religion, history and culture.

A multiracial, black and queer Zen Buddhist teacher, williams delivered her lecture, “Race in America: Myths, Madness, Redemption & Belonging,” at 2 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Hall of Philosophy, continuing Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “Exploring Race, Religion, and Culture.”

“We often think about race and racial justice in terms of the law and … advocacy,” williams said. “But we all know that, actually, human beings don’t shift so much around the law as we do around hearts and minds. We have never had a conversation about race in America; we’ve had a lot of talking at it, we’ve had a lot of talking about it. … A conversation is where hearts and minds get changed.”

Heralded as “the most intriguing African American Buddhist” by Library Journal and “one of our wisest voices on social evolution” by “On Being with Krista Tippett,” williams has been transforming society through transforming individuals’ inner lives for over 20 years.

“Love and justice are not two,” williams said. “Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.”

America, williams said, rests upon myths deeply embedded in institutions, which leave out marginalized people who — metaphorically and physically — built this nation.

“We leave these people out of our history, and so we are left with the myth of an America that is and has been founded upon meritocracy,” she said. “The myth of our country is a country that has come about as a result of meritocracy, the hard work of people — a limited number of people — most often defined and relegated to a small corner of heterosexual, white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon males.”

With a nearly 400-year history of oppression in this country, williams said that these myths are blindly supporting ideas of opportunistic nationalism and freedom in the United States. This renders people confused and dazed by ignorance, she said, wondering: “What is wrong with people that are not able to take advantage of those opportunities?”

However, the metaphorical “race” — as williams put it — was never equal. People who are slow to cross the finish line are deemed incapable, ill-equipped and untalented; conversely, those who win the race, are dubbed talented and “endowed with great capacity,” she said.

“We have this enormous gap, not just in our sense of a race divide, but actually in our imagination of who each other are and what it is we are capable of — no one acknowledging the fact that, actually, the race began and the firing gun went off and a certain set of people were allowed to run and run, and run further,” williams said. “But before they were allowed to run and run further, they tied up the other folks. … They got to tie them up first, bind them, leave them behind the finish line and start running — 200 years, give or take.”

The result is a narrowed view of the “fruits of the meritocracy”; the success of some is to the detriment of others, she said. This is now imprinted in American culture, and “culture is not so easily unsettled,” she said.

The remnants are left in U.S. institutions like the justice system and even the U.S. Constitution, which intended to exclude women, people of color and immigrants — nearly 30% of Tuesday’s Hall of Philosophy attendees, she argued.

“(The Constitution) certainly didn’t intend for us to be in this space together,” she told the crowd. “And it certainly, certainly didn’t intend for me to be up here in front of you. We continue to reference this document and pin all our hopes and prayers, our sense of possibility and potential, on a document and the system and the myths, as if that does not … degrade us.”

Such a circular approach created a sense of madness for williams — that she continues to participate and pin her hopes and optimism in a system set out to belittle nearly 50% of the population. Such a system positions “whiteness” as the “height of human achievement,” she said — an unscientifically supported claim that has indoctrinated a population.

“It has created, for my white siblings, a reduced inability … and induced them into a kind of social madness, so that we’re not able to actually see and recognize that the brokenness in our society is — and not primarily a brokenness that affects people of color — a brokenness that affects all of us. … This is a large-scale social illness that has kept us from each other and kept us from being able to recognize and relate to each other with a … capacity for humanity that is our birthright.”

Comparing this phenomenon to taking a pill that would remove all feelings of empathy, compassion and humanity, williams said that “pill” has been passed on for generations, and such emotions are now obsolete. The pill has been so prolific, she said, that society can’t remember when it was “seduced” into the idea of whiteness.

“We no longer recognize, even though it’s written in the history books, the ways that laws were set up to induce us and participate in a system of enslaving human beings and treating them as property to be traded like currency,” she said. “We no longer, therefore, recognize that we have reduced our collective humanity to a system, to an idea, to a myth, that exists for no other reason but for profit or gain.”

But dismantling these myths is greater than tackling racism — it’s about attacking a culture rooted in celebrating whiteness, she said. Above the scholarly works, historical evidence, media, lectures and seminars, williams said the answer is an internal conversation.

“If we’ve been seduced into an idea of who we are …  or who we are not, I don’t know how it would be possible to be the fullest expression of ourselves or step into the fullest expression of our humanity, if we don’t actually know who we are,” she said. “If we’re happy with the pill that has induced us into this myth, then we should just carry on. But if we’re just a little bit curious as to what it would be like to not have the myth of race obscuring our vision, our sense of possibility, our sense of promise, … then we owe it ourselves to ask these questions, be in these conversations and redeem ourselves and generations behind us.”

The Beach Boys to Bring Good Vibrations to Amphitheater


Make sure you have a surfboard today, because Chautauqua is going to be “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

The Beach Boys last performed at Chautauqua Institution in 2017, and the group — with original vocalist Mike Love and Bruce Johnston — returns to the grounds at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, August 21 in the Amphitheater.

The year was 1962; the place, Hawthorne, California. Three brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson; their cousin Mike Love; and friend Al Jardine formed The Beach Boys, which has presented its tight vocal harmonies with varying members ever since. Born as The Pendletones in a California garage-rock style, The Beach Boys released their first album, Surfin’ Safari, in 1962.

With the elements of founder and multi-instrumentalist Brian Wilson, the band went on to release monumentally acclaimed records, including Surfer Girl, and their 1966 Pet Sounds, the latter of which was ranked as the second-best album of all time by Rolling Stone.

Reflecting on The Beach Boys’ evolution of sound and Brian Wilson’s role in the band’s style, Love told Rolling Stone in 2018 that the beauty of The Beach Boys is in its diverse capabilities.

“One of the things about The Beach Boys’ music — and probably because Brian is a Gemini — is that everything is different from the last one,” Love said. “It’s not just a copy of a former single. That was the beauty of The Beach Boys catalog — the diversity: Different lead singers, different tempos, different keys, different arrangements and chord progressions. Nobody was more masterful at chord progressions than Brian — and the harmonies.”

Now more than 50 years into its expansive career, the band continues to put out music, briefly reuniting with Brian Wilson in 2012 for a tour and the 2012 studio album That’s Why God Made the Radio, which brought together the surviving members of the group.

With the band’s sound and message embroidered into the tapestry of the American ethos, it’s easy to understand The Beach Boys’ popularity. Anthemic songs like “God Only Knows,” or earworms such as “Wouldn’t It be Nice,” are timeless classics that never age past the day they were first played.

Over the years, The Beach Boys have amassed a number of accolades, including a 1988 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

So get ready, Chautauqua, because The Beach Boys are bringing some good vibrations to the Amp tonight, and everyone is invited to join in the celebration.

Harvard Professor Sarah Lewis Examines Representation in, and Power of, Art and Images

Sarah Lewis, author of “The Rise” and guest editor of Aperture’s “Vision & Justice” issue, speaks about the power of images in the history of racial identity and justice Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 on the Amphitheater stage. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

When Charles Black Jr. was 16 years old, he went to a dance at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. It was there that, instead of socializing with young women as he intended to do, Black became so transfixed by one trumpet-player that he would later describe the performance as an encounter with “genius.”

The man he saw perform that night was Louis Armstrong, and Black — who would join the legal team of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, as well as become one of the preeminent constitutional lawyers of the United States — cited that evening at the Driskill Hotel as the day he “began walking toward the Brown case, where (he) belonged.”

Sarah Lewis, an award-winning scholar, best-selling author, and professor at Harvard University, offered this anecdote during her 10:45 a.m. Tuesday lecture in the Amphitheater as an example of “what aesthetic force can do.” For the second morning lecture in a week titled “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center,” Lewis distilled for the Amp audience the “Vision & Justice” course she teaches at Harvard — a class that the school incorporated into its core curriculum after the Aperture issue of the same name, guest edited by Lewis, garnered nationwide acclaim in 2016.

Among the individuals Lewis thanked at the beginning of her lecture — including a former Harvard student who attended the talk even though, as Lewis noted, he is “not being graded anymore” — was her grandfather Shadrach Emmanuel Lee. As a junior at a Brooklyn public high school in 1926, Lee asked his teacher why the representations of excellence that filled his history textbooks were exclusively white. His teacher told him that African Americans had accomplished nothing to warrant their inclusion. Lee refused to accept that answer, and was later expelled for “impertinence” after asking again and again.

“He went on to become a jazz musician, playing bass, and a painter,” Lewis said. “And here I am, two generations later, teaching at Harvard University about the very topics that he was expelled for asking about. I’d like to just think it’s a testament to what is still possible in this country.”

Images are integral to the affirmation of humanity’s dignity, Lewis argued, adopting the framework her grandfather employed in the early 20th century. She recalled a question a Chautauquan had asked Wynton Marsalis during the question-and-answer period after Marsalis’ 10:45 a.m. lecture on Monday in the Amp: “At the age of 70, what can we do to improve this country, besides voting and donating?”

After acknowledging that both voting and donating are important acts of citizenship, Lewis introduced another action the audience could perform in the service of racial justice and freedom in the United States — “To question what you see, why you see it, and what it means.”

“I’m going to ask you to do this because we are in an urgent, almost perilous moment,” Lewis said. “This country has been in such moments before, yet this particular one has a distinct character. It offers near-daily reminders that the fragility of American rights has not only been secured by norms and laws, but by how we judge — how we quite literally see each other. And how we refuse to see each other.”

Art can help overcome “the blind spot around our privilege shaped exactly like us,” Lewis said, by not only illuminating “what we already know,” but also “what we don’t know we don’t know.” This was the central question of a trip Lewis and her students took to Washington, D.C. In preparation for their visit, which included a tour of the Capitol Rotunda, Lewis showed her students a short clip in which a diverse group of Americans read an excerpt of the Declaration of Independence. The video reveals that each person gathered in that room is a living descendant of one of the original Declaration signers, all of whom were white men. It pauses on the still of these contemporary Americans positioned like their ancestors in John Trumbull’s 1818 painting “Declaration of Independence.” The image, in Lewis’ words, looks like “the world has rushed in.”

Around the time of the creation of this painting — one of the pieces currently showcased in the Rotunda — citizenship necessitated that one had to be white, male and own property.

“What is the definition of the journey between 1790, and the current day?” Lewis asked. “Has the enlargement of the idea of citizenship — of who counts and who belongs — just been a legal narrative, a series of amendments? Or has it been a cultural one?”

As an art historian, Lewis admitted her bias for the latter portrayal, and spent the remainder of her lecture arguing for culture’s role in determining the “health” of a representative democracy.

“Representative democracy has also meant measuring life through representation itself,” Lewis said. “What we put on stages becomes our collective currency to assess who we are.”

She characterized the story of Black and Armstrong as an example of art as a catalyst for justice, and the detailed plan of a 17th century slave ship, “Description Of A Slave Ship,” as “evidentiary proof of slavery’s inhumanity.” NASA and William Anders’ 1968 photograph, “Earthrise,” helped galvanize the environmental movement by “(having) enough coalescing force to do what rational argument alone could not.”

In December 1861, Frederick Douglass — who was the most photographed man of the 19th century — made the case for the role of images in advancing society. At the beginning of the Civil War, an age during which the new science of photography was weaponized to cement racial hierarchies, Douglass contended that it is inside the gap between “the fact of life” and “the ideal” where “moral imagination” can emerge.

By sitting for photographs, Douglass “was subverting the stereotypes that were being hardened through these images with his own body,” Lewis said. According to her, he is “one of the earliest art historians focused on racial justice in this country.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was an artist too, Lewis claimed, as she shared a copy of his seminary transcript, which documents the C+ and C grades King received for two public speaking classes.

“It occurred to me that we would be nowhere in this country without the power of the arts to overcome collective failure,” she said. “And here, of course, the arts include the power of oratory and the style, distinctive as it was in the body of King.”

In 2015, the photography magazine Aperture asked Lewis to guest edit an issue. Initially, she declined. She agreed when Aperture allowed her “to focus on this understudied nexus of vision and justice.”

“The centuries-long effort to craft an image, to give honor to the full humanity of black life is, in and of itself, a corrective task for which, as Douglass knew, the camera has been central — even indispensable,” Lewis said, before exhibiting a few chosen images from the Infinity Prize-winning issue, including Awol Erizku’s “Girl with the Bamboo Earring” and photos by Pete Souza, chief official White House photographer for President Barack Obama. 

“Understanding that relationship of race and the quest for full citizenship in this country requires an advanced state of literacy,” Lewis said. “It’s especially important today as we’ve been able to witness injustices in a firsthand fashion on a massive scale, via technology that would have been unimaginable decades ago.”

The viral dissemination of Eric Garner’s 2014 killing by a New York City Police Department officer, as well as Dylann Roof’s self-styled portraits before murdering nine African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, are significant spaces of potential visual analyses, Lewis said. Such considerations become all the more important, she argued, when we know that every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were made in the entire 19th century.

“How many went to Selma because they were moved by an image of injustice on the television?” Lewis asked. “How many figures like Charles Black Jr. were struck still by the power of the arts to deliver a message that rational argument could not?”

Turning to art censored by the U.S. government as a testament to the image’s capacity to inform society, Lewis displayed photographs that chronicled the internment of Japanese Americans. One, a 1942 photograph by Dorothea Lange, framed a large sign placed in the window of a store. The sign reads, in all caps, “I am an American.” The store belonged to Tatsuro Matsuda, a man forced to evacuate Oakland, California, as a result of Executive Order 9066.

“Although the sign was hung as a public plea to his neighbors, the empty street suggests that no one was listening,” Lewis said, reading from a short essay one of her students wrote about the photograph. “The photograph’s impartiality mimics the distance between former neighbors and fellow citizens. The sign, too, functions as a memorial — what was once a proud statement of presence, of ‘I Am,’ now becomes a somber lesson in the futility of Japanese Americans’ fight for citizenship.”

In the final portion of her lecture, Lewis shared images of Thomas Crawford’s sculpture, “The Indian: The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization,” and a wall of jars of soil — an aspect of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice — that honors victims of lynching in every county in Alabama. Circling back to her field trip to D.C., Lewis spoke about standing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and looking out to see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in the distance.

“My colleague Tina Campt reminds us that, in the context of race, possibility comes with an examination not just of the future tense — ‘what will be’ — or even the future perfect tense — ‘that which will have happened’ — but what she refers to as the future real conditional — ‘that which will have had to have happened,’ ” Lewis said. “It is, as she argues, an orientation towards ‘what should be true.’ It involves living the future as an imperative, rather than a subjunctive. As a striving for the future you want to see right now, in the present.”

To conclude, Lewis played a video created by her students — a series of images set to a recording of John F. Kennedy’s eulogy for Robert Frost, a speech that is often titled “Power and Poetry.”

“I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens,” Kennedy narrated, as photographs of James Baldwin and Serena Williams flashed on the screen. “And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world — not only for its strength, but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity, but also for personal distinction.”

History Hidden in Plain Sight: Debby Irving Speaks About her ‘Waking up Process’

Debby Irving, author of the book, “Waking Up White,” speaks to her chautauqua audience about her experiences realizing that there was more she could, and should, be doing to make the world more equal for people of color and minorities during her afternoon lecture on Monday, Aug 19, 2019 in the Hall of Philosophy. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

U.S. history, at times, can be a distorted history. Everybody knows that Martin Luther King Jr. “had a dream” — that one day, all people would be free of race-based judgment. It’s a “beautiful aspiration,” according to Debby Irving, but it’s also one that is advantageous to white people.

“This is all I heard, that he had a dream,” Irving said. “And I could say it: That one day we would judge each other by the content of our character and not the color of our skin, which is a beautiful aspiration — and that’s also really convenient for people who want to be colorblind.”

Growing up, Irving, racial justice educator and author of Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race, never knew about King outside of how he was portrayed by white people.

“What I didn’t know about, for instance, with Dr. King was his incredible body of work around power,” Irving said, “and his power analysis, called the ‘triple evils,’ in which militarism, racism and poverty cycle together — it’s kind of a three-part synergy holding racism in place.”

Irving spoke to Chautauquans about her “waking up process” on Monday in the Hall of Philosophy. She began her process after the first inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009 — a time when she saw people in her “white circles and spaces” who were “clinking wine glasses to being a post-racial country.”

For reasons she couldn’t explain at the time, this didn’t feel right to her. As someone from the Norman Rockwell-esque suburb of Winchester, Massachusetts, she would need to build the necessary understanding and vocabulary to unpack this feeling.

Irving described herself as the U.S. “poster child” of the uninformed, and “waking up white” is how she describes her process of becoming more attuned to race and racism. As a child, she formulated ideas about race without anyone even uttering the word “race” — Winchester was an affluent suburb north of Boston, where talking about racism was considered rude.

“Now, imagine somebody coming to my town and saying to me, ‘Oh Debby, this is where you grew up? My God, all I see is racism,’ ” Irving said.

Had she chosen to respond, Irving would have said something like, “It’s comments like that, that keep (racism) alive. If you would stop talking about it, racism would go away.”

Her childhood normalized Irving into whiteness — everything and everybody around her resembled what she had learned to be all-American, from figures like Rockwell, a white illustrator whose work was regularly featured in publications like The Saturday Evening Post.

“I’m seeing these images, and how convenient for me that what I’m being told is all-American looks exactly like my house — and my neighborhood, and my parents,” Irving said. “Everywhere I go, I’m having my own version of the all-American life being reflected back at me.”

Irving never asked, “Mom and Dad, where is everybody?” She never asked why all her parents’ friends were white, why all her friends were white, why all the teachers and the doctors were white. Not asking these questions is what it means to be normalized into whiteness.

“When I use the term ‘whiteness,’ I don’t just mean the optics of whiteness,” Irving said. “I mean all of the cultural behaviors; the beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s appropriate and inappropriate. Who’s beautiful, who’s not. All of those norms are being baked into me and my belief system, without me knowing it.”

And like many children, she was taught to be polite, to never complain or be unpleasant. Talking about politics and religion, which are foundational to the perpetuation of racism, in polite company was, and still is, considered taboo, which severs any and all pathways to discussing racism.

“These are ways that I remained in an information vacuum my entire childhood,” Irving said.

This was the post-World War II era, amidst prevalent rhetoric about the possibilities of people from all over the world coming to America and seeking refuge. The United States was portrayed as a safe harbor for all people — those willing to put in the hard work necessary — to pursue the American Dream.

Because of her surroundings and environment, Irving unconsciously bought into the idea that one particular type of person — a white, cis, Christian man — was naturally, or biologically, more valuable than others.

“I think we need to meet the times where we are, and we are in a very tense time,” Irving said. “I am not going to mince words — I want to give you what my definition of ‘white supremacy’ is.”

Despite being raised by loving people, she believes that she was raised in a white supremacist household; a household that upheld the ideology that all people are not created equal. That white people are superior to others. And the modern era continues to uphold the idea that certain people have more value than others — Irving told Chautauquans to “merely look at the currency” in their wallets.

From day-to-day interactions, like Irving standing up at book signings to shake the first white man’s hand that she encounters, to the whitewashing of important historical moments and information, white supremacist ideology runs deep in American life.

The chosen narrative of King is just one example. Other aspects of American history, such as “Black Wall Street,” a thriving and affluent black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 20th century where numerous successful businesses existed, have been left out of the American historical narrative.

If people, like Irving, don’t understand Black Wall Street’s proliferation and ultimate disintegration as a result of white rage, in addition to the hundreds of situations that have disadvantaged black people, then they are “sitting ducks” in the level of discrimination present in the United States.

“The other thing that I am a sitting duck for is not even seeing the systems that have been structured all around me to advantage families like mine,” Irving said. “I don’t know anyone who had a harder time wrapping their heads around systemic racism than me. The thing that finally helped me understand it has to do with the G.I. Bill.”

Officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the G.I. Bill was designed to benefit World War II veterans in a number of areas, such as housing and education.

“I want to focus on the housing portion of the G.I. Bill,” Irving said. “Black and brown veterans were largely cut out of the G.I. Bill, even though it said nowhere in it that it was a white-only bill, because there were already barriers all through U.S. systems that made it nearly impossible for black and brown returning veterans to access it.”

These preexisting barriers stem back to the Great Depression, when the New Deal took a heavy focus on erecting new housing and infrastructure across the country.

“(The suburbanization of the U.S.) is all happening, and the FHA, the Federal Housing Authority, and also a loan-arm of the government, got created because, ‘How do we get people coming out of a depression to buy a home?’ ” Irving said. “We have to make a loan, and that loan gets named the mortgage.”

With the mortgage, the FHA needed a set of risk guidelines to assure the government and banks didn’t lose out on their loans.

“The FHA decides — and writes this into their document — that the presence of even one or two non-white families can undermine real estate values,” Irving said. “And so with that government warning in mind, private banks all over the country lay out maps of their cities and towns, and they engage in a practice known as redlining.”

Black neighborhoods were the ones redlined, or the ones whose residents were systematically denied financial services, leaving white neighborhoods to be advantaged.

Filling in these historical gaps, Irving said, allows people to change their perceptions on economic inequality, which didn’t result from white people working harder than others, but rather four centuries of governmental policies that have “intentionally and unintentionally diverted wealth to white, wealthy people again and again and again.”

History has been hiding in plain sight, according to Irving.

“It’s a horrific history,” Irving said, “and the longer we deny it, I believe the more horrible it becomes, and I’m all for leaning into that now.”

Irving said she believes in shifting resources, and that reparations have to be “both material and psychological.” But she also said there’s more internal work that white people can start now and continue to work on every day: to normalize talking about race in a productive and progressive manner; to understand the prejudices and social normalization that not only live within society, but also oneself; and to understand that this work is a layered journey.

“I have come to love the truth, no matter how painful — and it can be incredibly painful — because of that old adage that ‘the truth will set us free’; there’s also something about when the truth gets told,” Irving said. “It unleashes a kind of energy that propels us to the next layer.”

Guest Critic: In Rossen Milanov’s Final Concert of Season, CSO and Michelle Johnson Give Strauss Works ‘Life in Death’

Review by Anthony Bannon:

The footing is difficult; the way to death is not easy, or clear. Art in its first, unique moments is difficult — as if finding one’s way into a new night.

A small end-of-season and under-threat-of-rain audience heard Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra first-class music filling the empty seats and the humid air of the Amphitheater’s huge space and beyond. 

The concert awakened dogs.

Soprano Michelle Johnson suggested, when she last performed here, that the CSO interpret Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” among the most extraordinary in the repertory of concert music, in good measure because of what it asks of the fragile relationship between orchestra and soloist, each to their roles, each in ensemble, each truly caring for the art of the other. It was a masterful, unforgettable experience.

Yes, it was, as billed, “Sensational Strauss,” though the two works at play summoned cerebral ideas of the first and the last: The beginnings of ideas and their last breath. The composer’s “Four Last Songs” were indeed Strauss’ last compositions, with lyrics for three by the poet with whom he shared so much of life’s direction, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962). The fourth song is by the deep Romantic Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857), who spares no fine words within his “At Sunset”: 

“The great peace here is wide and still / and rich with glowing sunsets: / If this is death, having had our fill / of getting lost, we find beauty — No regrets.”

This review is not about the waltz king from Vienna.

The German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) sought profound guides to aid his passage, sought poets, wise men, even a prophet. Zoroaster, the Persian thinker from 1500 to 1000 B.C.E., was a selected prophet, discovered in the novel of a fellow traveler, Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philosopher whose recognition of the complexity, the contradictions and the shifting understandings in life had great influence. The two men — Strauss and Nietzsche — realized Zoroaster’s call for a self-aware search for truth, not rule-bound, but free.

A history of ideas cites Zoroastrianism as among the prototypical philosophies. One finds it in the Greeks, where an actively examined life is engaged by thought, word and deed as keys to an often contrary search for truth. This much also was central for such as Voltaire, William Butler Yeats and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Strauss had been moved by one of Nietzsche’s novels, written between 1883 and 1885. And Strauss responded by using the same title for his influential work, fully entitled “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Tone Poem (Freely After Fredrich Nietzsche) for Large Orchestra, in 1896. It holds a good bit of complex wisdom but does not presume to illustrate the philosopher’s poetic voice. Strauss had plenty within his own voice. Sometimes too much.

Strauss had entered the stride of his creative life. He had heard Johannes Brahms and was moved by the emotional depth of a powerful romanticism. He abided by the work of Richard Wagner, particularly in its interpretive referencing to nature. Aware of the dissolution of his time, Strauss responded in voice with Hesse and Nietzsche, expecting the hero, an Overlord, to overcome uncertainty.

For “Zarathustra,” Strauss created huge entrance, the sunrise theme that now is iconic. It has become a sign of a transformative higher power, that dawning moment memorialized in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as well as in its conclusion, when “Star-Child” was born. 

The Massey Memorial Organ, a symphonic instrument within the Amphitheater, holds more than 5,600 pipes. Its estimable presence, a resonant voice that is felt as much as heard, created a base to venture toward such a heroic understanding.

The performance was Saturday evening, in the last hour of Sabbath. The orchestra performed with ringing clarity, crisp enunciation from the crucial trumpet call that is so well-known, and a knockout summation. 

Plucked strings harshly, and a call of crows from beyond the Amphitheater, the audience freshened for the following ascendant grace, a passage called “The Great Longing,” proclaiming the good, as well as anticipating a countering discord. Such is the repeated challenge for the 33-minute-long tone poem. Heard with focus upon Strauss’ era, uncertain about its direction — with its new technology and its industry yet finding balance — “Zarathustra” asserts a will to persevere and struggle, manifest in the warrior spirit of a leader Nietzsche named “Overman.”

And outside the Amp, the sounds of a flight of geese. A great longing in the strings, and the yap of a small dog.

The orchestra’s work is to order the jagged narrative of the work. A sample of eight topics shows “The Great Longing,” followed by “Joys and Passions,” whereupon “The Song of the Grave” giving way to thoughts “Of Science and Learning.” Then at the last, “The Dance Song” and “Song of the Night Wanderer.” A swirling complexity of learning, shrill, painful experience, a repose, the sounds of birds and a darkness of doubt. An awful lot is managed, and under the baton of CSO Conductor and Music Director Rossen Milanov, a standup, learned performance.

“Zarathustra” requires both elation and pain. Music has its right to require a world from its listeners, including promise of confusion and quiet; chaos with calm. Solutions may be hidden, riddles especially about sequence and development. And the puzzle may be repeated another way. At least opened, the poem then comes to an end. Extraordinary.

Michelle Johnson, the returning soprano, had opened the evening with death’s development. Strauss was notoriously opportunistic and loathsome. But his selection of Hesse’s poems “Spring” and “September” point toward a finally tranquil understanding of time’s passage. From “Spring”:

“I feel the healing touch / Of softer days, warm and tender/ My limbs tremble — happily, too much — / As I stand inside your splendor.”

And from “September”:

“With a final glance at the roses – / too weak to care, it longs for peace – / then, with darkness wherever it gazes, / summer slips into sleep.”

Then, in “When I Go to Sleep”:

“Now that day has exhausted me / I give myself over, a tired child …”

The majesty of the CSO with Ms. Johnson cites the miracle of spring with the miracle of the soprano’s voice. It finds openings to emerge from the orchestra, to counterpoint an instrument or to play as one with a section. The listener finds her within the violins, within the woodwinds, and then rise above and locate a beat or a breath as a time to emerge, and the orchestra swells.

Nietzsche spoke of his understanding of Zarathustra’s teaching as if it was “All,” or it was “Nothing.”

An orchestra, a team, is all, with each its recognized part. Or it is nothing. With the CSO’s fine work, this death cannot be proud, for there remains life, surely a life of art, within it. Ms. Johnson’s voice never forces its play, it sounds through its appearance a moment with all of its possibilities, always in company with the orchestra, never without. 

Ms. Johnson stood center stage with head slightly lifted, slowly regarding the curve of the space. She came to her part, entered, and gave it presence until completed, just 24 minutes.

There is an aesthetic to duration. Few, artists included, know how it works. But these songs were perfect. How much time is necessary to suggest there is life in death? The artists and their director had the answer.

Dr. Anthony Bannon received his undergraduate degree from St. Bonaventure University, and his advanced degrees in media studies and cultural studies from the English Department at the University at Buffalo. He is director emeritus at George Eastman Museum and the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. His new book, Portraits: William Coupon, features collected photographs from the artist’s long career with TIME magazine, and thereafter with tribal and countercultures around the world. It will launch at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 in the Burchfield-Penney.

Incoming Board Chair Candy Maxwell Talks Hopes for Tenure and Strategic Plan Work

Candy Maxwell, shown Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, is the incoming chair of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Chautauqua Institution is opening a new chapter led by new faces, new initiatives and new plans. Helping to spearhead this new direction is incoming Board of Trustees Chair Candy Maxwell, who, in October of 2018, completed eight years of service on the board. 

Maxwell is a strategic adviser by trade, with more than 30 years of experience in business, leadership, governance, policy and strategy. Most recently, Maxwell served on the Strategic Planning Working Group, a 13-member committee who worked for 18 months to formulate the 150 Forward strategic plan.

Maxwell’s tenure marks the first female board chair in the Institution’s nearly 150-year history. Her term begins Oct. 1, when she’ll take over for outgoing, term-limited Chair Jim Pardo.

How did you discover Chautauqua Institution?

My husband and I started coming here in 2001, actually. He introduced me to the Institution — he actually worked here while he was in college. So we started coming here, and like many people, we came first for a week and then two weeks, and just kept on building up over time.

I just almost instantly grew to love the place for everything it has to offer. It’s really become a red thread that has been part of our life since that time. It was a place that, for me, gave me all the opportunity for lifelong learning, but also a place where I could really relax and unwind, reflect on and examine how I wanted to show up in the world.

It’s been a very important part of both of our lives for a number of years.

What’s your elevator pitch to people who have never been to Chautauqua?

Chautauqua is a unique place that brings together important conversations around essential issues of our day, but explores them in a way that engages all learning and experiences of the four pillars, taking a look at it through thought, leadership and debate and discussion through the arts, through recreation and even religious studies.

It’s a multidimensional, multifaceted way of thinking about the world, experiencing the world and, at the same time, a place in which you can connect with family and friends in a very meaningful way — just the environment itself lends itself to that kind of an experience. You slow down and can be with the people that really matter to you.

What does being board chair mean to you, and how would you describe your role?

I’m incredibly honored to be serving in this role. I, just last year, completed eight years of service on the board of trustees and have an enormous amount of respect for the work that we do and the importance that we play in the overall functioning of the organization and the strategy of the organization.

Coming in as board chair, for me, being able to continue much of that work and to do so in an expanded leadership position in a time that’s very important for the Institution, is deeply meaningful. We have a robust, dynamic strategic plan that is really future-looking and that really examines the role of the Institution as we move forward. I was fortunate enough to have a role in that work that led up to the final strategic plan.

I think as board chair, I think of there being two major responsibilities: to establish and to support an effective and well-working relationship with President Michael E. Hill and to make sure that there is that communication and partnership with the board and with senior leadership within the organization. I think also it’s to ensure that we exercise good governance with respect to our oversight function and that we fully leverage the talents — the extreme talents — around the board table with respect to the trustees, and that we really use all of that in a unique way of guiding the Institution forward, overseeing the strategy and strategy implementation and making sure that in the president, we have great leadership that’s going to bring the organization to that point where we see success as we’ve outlined in the plan.

How have you been involved with the strategic plan prior to your appointment to board chair, and how will you be involved with it during your tenure?

I was involved in a group that was put together by current Chair Jim Pardo to work in great detail on the strategic plan itself, so a lot of that was taking everything that we heard from the community last year from the forums and using that, as well as our own assessment of the environment and the unique attributions of Chautauqua, to come up with a strategic plan. So I was on the working group that was heavily involved with that and finally brought the plan to the board for approval back in May.

As I look forward, one of the things I’ve been doing this summer is chairing a working group that looks at the way in which we’re going to implement the strategic plan, specifically acting as advisers to the president’s team. Particularly, we’re working with Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner, who will be closely involved in the implementation of the strategic plan to make sure that there will be appropriate mechanisms and overall approach in the way we’re going to identify strategic initiatives, evaluate them in their context of the plan and monitor and oversee their implementation.

That’s been a major effort of my own, as well as this group, during this summer. Our work will continue into the fall with respect to the way in which the board should oversee that implementation. Again, this is not to look at specific initiatives — it’s really to make sure that an infrastructure and an approach is in place in the organization that will yield effective initiatives as we move forward.

In the fall and into my first year, the implementation itself is obviously one of the highest priorities; and in that context, we’re really looking at how initiatives are going to be coming to the board for consideration, how we’re going to make decisions around those initiatives in terms of prioritization and sequencing and funding, and then how we’re going to actually monitor them and maintain oversight of them on an ongoing basis. That will be a major effort as we get into the fall and into early next year.

In addition to that, one of the areas that I’ve been focused on quite a bit is making sure that we have effective infrastructure and effective governance around the addition of the development function within the Institution. Specifically, we have a development council, which is, I think, a very important group on the board — it’s made up of trustees, as well as Foundation directors; and then myself and Tim Renjilian, (incoming chair of the Foundation board of directors), who I very much look forward to working with, will also be part of that group.

I foresee a lot of effort going into this first year of really working through the steps that are necessary to establish good governance, good oversight of the development function and also the fact that it’s such an important objective within our overall plan. I see that as really being a major area of emphasis in this first year as well.

What are your hopes and goals for your first year?

I think, for me, what’s important is that we have a board that fully leverages the talents of the board members, that people are able to contribute in ways that are meaningful for them, but also really important and essential for the Institution. That includes empowering committees to do the work of the board, establishing good relationships between the board and the staff and establishing good mechanisms for overseeing the work of the Institution and practicing our role as trustees in that. That includes what we need to see as a board to believe we’re practicing good oversight. How do we function as committees, how do we preserve and build upon the successes we’ve had in the past several years and the financial stability we’ve been able to achieve?

That means that the board as a whole, and then each individual trustee, is going to need to be attentive to those dynamics, particularly as we move into the implementation phase of the strategic plan. That’s really my hope — that we are able to build on, what I think is, a highly effective board and continue to strengthen our contribution to the Institution through our oversight and governance.

How do you hope to see the Institution evolve over your tenure?

It really is reflected in the strategic plan; I really do hope that we can continue to improve upon the summer assembly experience — through the guest experience, through the programming, through the offering of our other pillars — to be the best we can be and, of course, to look at ways we can share the experiences of Chautauqua as a convener out in the broader world. I think if we can become known, in no uncertain terms, as that convener, as that party that can bring together diverse views and have a conversation, … I will consider us to have made increasing significant mark in the nation.

I think that at the same time, I would love to see increased diversity in terms of intergenerational diversity, as well as racial, ethnic and other types of diversity — that’s such an important element of who we are and something that’s obviously very important for us. As we move forward,  I think (we need) to be able to reflect upon on the sustainability of this place, the ability to be able to find our support — not only from our own revenue from the summer assembly season — through increased philanthropy of all sorts, as well as other earned revenue sources that we have only begun to pursue and to look at. My hopes are really not different from those outlined in the strategic plan. I think we have a very aggressive set of goals by 2024, and so we have a lot of work to do and we need to get to work in order to make that a reality.

What does being the first woman board chair mean to you?

I really appreciate and honor this role I’m playing as the first woman chair of the (board of trustees) and I have also been so grateful for the excitement that’s been expressed by the community in terms of my election. The support I’ve received already, before I’ve come into this role, has oftentimes been overwhelming for me, in a very positive way. I take this role as the first woman very seriously and also feel that I am prepared to take on this work. I celebrate with the community. I think this is a really important development, and of course, I fully intend to live up to those expectations.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I think for me — obviously, like many people —  making a difference, but in a way that I can experience it largely through other people and through place and through working with and through others. I really enjoy that — that’s one of the things I really enjoy about coming into this position, is that the work that is to be done, is to be done through the expertise of others. For me, it’s about a constant zeal for learning and also a desire that I have to do that in community, through and in partnership with other people.

As far as this new role that I have, the ability to engage and to create and to dream and to make things happen with and through others is really what motivates me.

Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and CSO to Explore ‘Asphalt Jungle’ of New York City

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform “I’ve Got Rhythm” at 8:15 P.M. on Thursday, August 25, 2016, in the Amphitheater. The band played to a packed house. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

Just 300 miles from Chautauqua, New York City is growing and changing. Tonight, two orchestras will bring the city to the Amphitheater.

In its last concert of the year, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will be joined by jazz composer Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru to perform “The Jungle” — an intense, wary exploration of New York City, at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Amp.

“The Jungle” premiered in late 2016 with the New York Philharmonic, and has since seen only a handful of performances. Tonight, the piece will be performed in full for the first time in 2019.

Marsalis is a New Orleans-born composer and conductor. He is the winner of nine Grammy awards, and is the only musician in history to receive both jazz and classical Grammy Awards in the same year — which he accomplished twice.

For Marsalis, New York City is a place like no other — a huge, shifting, high-pressure city.

“New York City is the most fluid, pressure-packed and cosmopolitan metropolis the modern world has ever seen,” Marsalis wrote in his notes for the original program.

The city of almost 9 million is a hub for culture, trade and information of all sorts. Marsalis wrote that its social connections pass along ideas at lightning speed.

“The dense mosaic of all kinds of people everywhere doing all kinds of things encourages you to ‘stay in your lane,’ but the speed, freedom and intensity of our relationships to each other — and to the city itself — forces us onto a collective superhighway unlike any other in our country,” Marsalis wrote.

And any superhighway can be dangerous. Marsalis wrote that “The Jungle” is darker than some of his previous compositions, drawing from inequality and violence in the city — ills that could stunt an evolving society.

“It considers the possibility that we may not be up to overcoming the challenges of social and racial inequality, tribal prejudices, and endemic corruption,” Marsalis wrote. “We may choose to perish in a survival-of-the-fittest, asphalt-jungle-style battle for what is perceived as increasingly scarce resources, instead of coming together to create unlimited assets and to enjoy the cultural ascendancy that our form of democracy makes conceivable.”

“The Jungle” is Marsalis’ fourth symphony. Like some of his previous compositions, it features what he describes as “blues-tinged melodies,” “jazz and fiddle improvisations” and a variety of different musical styles and forms.

Like Marsalis’ metropolitan muse, “The Jungle” is a mosaic of different characteristics: various styles of blues and swing fused with the classical symphony. For New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini, Marsalis managed to “for the most part (find) the sweet spot.”

“The vernacular elements sounded freshest when Mr. Marsalis folded them into passages of symphonic mass, with thick, pungent chords and boldly fractured phrases,” Tommasini wrote. “Reflective passages full of poignant melodic turns and blues-tinged, plushly orchestrated harmonies alternate with vibrantly jazzy, fidgety episodes.”

Măcelaru will return to Chautauqua to conduct “The Jungle.” He said the piece is exciting on multiple levels, from its technical elements to emotional sound.

“In (‘The Jungle’), I find a world of contributing voices that together form a unique tapestry of sounds, emotions, feelings,” Măcelaru said. “I am looking forward to immersing myself again in this vast world of musical gestures that span centuries of musical forms, from fugues to shuffles, and passacaglia lines to the blues. It is truly a remarkable work of art, not just in its technical aspect, but also on a deep emotional level, a spiritual journey of sorts.”

Măcelaru is the music director and conductor of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. For him, contemporary compositions like “The Jungle” are built from the same timeless motivations as their classical counterparts.

“I conduct Marsalis for the same reason I conduct Alban Berg and Beethoven: I am interested in their narrative,” Măcelaru said. “Music is simply the language we use to communicate these deep, unique emotions, which cannot be expressed in words. To limit ourselves in experiencing every voice is to deny our most basic human desire — connecting with each other.”

Marsalis is the music director and conductor of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Chris Crenshaw, a trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, says performances of “The Jungle” change with every orchestra.

“We’ve performed it with other orchestras around the world, and it’s different every time,” Crenshaw said. “Every orchestra we’ve performed it with has their own approach — their own take. We’re looking forward to performing it with (the CSO) and hearing their interpretation, and for them to hear our interpretation.”

R&B Artist Alex Harris to Perform as Part of Family Entertainment Series


For Alex Harris, music is more than a form of entertainment.

Since he was 7, the rhythm and blues artist has had a passion for the way that music can speak when other words fail. Whether it’s through his chart-topping soul songs that soothe the spirits of his listeners, or through efforts like founding the Arts Conservatory for Teens — which seeks to improve the lives of young artists throughout his home state of Florida — Harris has wielded music as a tool for good.

Now, Harris is bringing his musical stylings and soulful energy to Chautauqua Institution as a part of the Family Entertainment Series, in partnership with the African American Heritage House. He’ll be taking the stage at 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in Smith Wilkes Hall, and providing audiences with an assortment of songs in his smooth, Southern style.

As an artist who is well-versed working with young people and performing for a crowd, Harris will fuse his two passions to bring Chautauquans a family-friendly show aimed at feeding the soul.

In one of his behind-the-scenes videos on his website, Harris said his music draws inspiration from his experiences growing up around church music.

“What I like to express is my own, personal experience,” Harris said in the video. “That experience runs deep with my roots in gospel; growing up in church, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, tambourine, shouting, ‘Amen, hallelujah.’ ”

He went on to say that the community-building hymns of churches share some similarities with the R&B and soul music he makes now.

“It’s just great music that ‘feeds’ the soul of anyone who listens,” Harris said in 2016, ahead of a performance at the Palladium in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Having opened for performers like Al Green and Aretha Franklin, Harris’ music has been enjoyed across the country by young and old alike. He’s capable of covering famous pieces like the works of Otis Redding and Ray Charles, while also producing original songs that have topped the American Blues Network Charts and landed in the top 20 songs nationwide.

Harris said being able to mix existing work and personal experience is part and parcel of an artist’s job.

“As artists, we are re-creators of what’s already been created,” Harris said in his behind-the-scenes video. “We’re taking words, we’re taking experiences and we’re observing and participating.” 

Those interested in seeing Harris perform are in for an evening of rhythm, blues and tapping their shoes.

“Expect to experience something you have never experienced before,” Harris said before his 2016 Palladium show. “It’s fun, it’s magical, it’s soul.”
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