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About Town Featured People

About Town: Irv Williams

A good sax player, over long years of playing ought to become known for range, deft handling of ‘the axe’, mellow tone, and skillful phrasing.

Irv Williams has mastered all these skills and more to attain a revered status, certainly among local jazz fans.

I’ll always remember Irv – not just for his skillful musical phrasing, but for one, very telling phrase. I was hosting an event at the University Club in the early 90s where he and his trio were hired to play. The crowd had assembled and, many of them having gotten their cocktails, started to have that ‘what now?’ look that crowds get.

Irv was sitting serenely in a chair at the far end of the room near the piano watching the crowd but showing no signs that he was on the verge of producing the mellifluous tones he’s known for. Although he came highly recommended, I’d never met the man before or heard him play so I walked over to introduce myself. We chatted briefly before I was able to bring myself to the key question: “When do you plan to start?”.

He looked me in the eye, paused for a two count, and let me have it:

“I play when I get a scotch and I’ve been paid.”

My eyes locked with his, I snapped my finger for a waiter and pulled out my checkbook, scribbling out Irv’s payment with a wry smile all the while taking his words to heart. The evening clicked along beautifully from there and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since.

In the years that followed, I’ve trekked all over town to hear him play. There were the gigs at the old Bristol Cafe in St Anthony Main and that lounge at the Doubletree Hotel in Minneapolis in the late 90s.

Recently, the LSW and I sat through a couple of Irv’s sets at Il Vesco Vino, the Italian restaurant that replaced The Vintage. Ably accompanied by pianist Peter Schimke, Irv is clearly as comfortable as ever blowing out a range of tunes, mostly mellow and gentle but with occasional bursts of energy. As always, too, he welcomes the audience request but will adjust the range and tempo of these standards to his liking rather than play them as we might be accustomed to hear them in what we might think of as their definitive, recorded versions.

Irv is a gentleman and a generous performer, but, in keeping with the best tradition of jazzmen, make no mistake – it’s his world and you’re just passing through it.

Williams and Schimke perform Saturdays from 8-10 at Il Vesco Vino and have just released a new CD called “Duo”

People Theater | Music

Steven C Releases ‘Signature’

Writing about music is difficult. Actually, writing meaningfully about music is difficult. So if you don’t care to watch someone struggle in the effort, stop here.

For those of you still reading (and now I know who slows traffic just to look at a crash) let me say that some people do it very well. Stanley Crouch, for instance. has a gift for helping the reader feel the jazz in his words. I’m not talking about reviews of performances or events. That’s something altogether different.

Speaking about music is maybe a bit less difficult but only a bit. When doing so, you’ll likely get the sense of your audience’s understanding of music and the piece or artist under discussion. But a person is still constrained to the use of words that, musical though they can be themselves, at best only approximately describe the beauty of sounds using words. Also it’s best to avoid phrases like ‘tumty-tum, dah, dah, dah’ if you wish to be taken seriously. Again, those who do it well stand out clearly. Karl Haas and Leigh Kamman were two of the best at this.

Often the person best able to discuss the music is the composer/artist herself. You’ll know this yourself if you ever listen to Marian McPartland’s conversations with her fellow musicians.

Steven C does it well, too. Very well. Hosting a series of free concerts celebrating the launch of his new CD “Signature” over the weekend, Steven unwittingly showed his skills as a potential lyricist as he discussed the inspiration for his new work.

Playing to a full house on Sunday afternoon (Well, not nearly full, really. You should see the place – it’s  huge. But there were only as many people there as he would allow in), Steven spoke of inspirations – of his daughter Chloe dancing in circles; of Sunday evenings as the ‘compressed weekend’ of a busy performer; of hymns; of 114 years of life speaking to him through his house; of nature; of explorations; of journeys.

Nuance and emotion comes in the music as well as the words. The George Winstonesque ‘Deep Within’ is a lush and mellow tribute to musical roots. ‘Secret Circle’ managed to communicate the joy of family and a hint of melancholy. But ‘Signature’ is upbeat and suggestive of sunny afternoons.

The result of Steven’s inspirations is thoughtful and genuine. Think of it all as words, then music, by Steven C. But think of the whole thing as one delightful conversation.

People Politics

On Katrina

I have a friend who is unquestionably one of the smartest and typically self-confident people I know, who starts many of his observations with “Now I’m not a very smart guy, but… ” often enough to be noticeable, anyway. I also know him well enough to say that he’s serious. It’s not self-deprecating shorthand nor is he seeking empty compliments. I don’t know why he says it but there it is.

Near the conclusion of what had been a humorous, well-presented, and interesting speech, Jonah Goldberg pronounced the speech to be ‘terrible’ and I thought of my friend.

Jonah visited the University of Minnesota at the invitation of CFACT, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, to give a talk ‘On Katrina’, as the flyer indicated. Knowing a little of Jonah’s off-beat humor, I half expected the speech to be ‘On, Katrina!’, but never mind.

Jonah framed the topic of Katrina nicely as a package of stories that the MSM is most comfortable covering: natural disasters, the plight of poor minorities, in a nice global warming box tied up with a ‘get Bush’ bow. As evidence, he cited a decent string of unchecked-but-checkable rumors reported as fact: New Orleans sniper gangs, rapists roaming the Superdome, and others.

The irony is that the MSM holds up the Katrina story as a model of reporting – motivated by public service, uncovering government ineptitude and corruption. Whereas in reality the breathless reporting of outlandish stories (later to be proven indisputably false) while trying to lay the whole blame on W’s doorstep is a model of all that’s wrong in the modern mainstream media. A classic of ‘world about to end – minorities and women hardest hit’.

Jonah made sure to point out that Bush is far from blameless in the whole affair, citing Bush’s penchant for cronyism, (where FEMA appears to be a fertile landing ground) and FEMA’s role as a post-disaster check-writing organization rather than a first-responder.

Much of the most interesting portion of the evening came during the Q&A with a discussion of the philosophical underpinnings and motivations of modern environmentalism and the paganistic religious motivations of the movement’s founders and, knowingly or not, of its modern adherents. Without going into a detailed account, let me just say both the words ‘theodicy’ and ‘theotropic’ were used properly in complete sentences.

So in my mind, Jonah’s speech was good and interesting, replete with his characteristic humor (with a few forgettable ‘laff-lines’, to be candid) my favorite being a throwaway about New Orleans police corruption being part of a the city’s ‘rich, European tradition’.

I’m not a very smart guy, Jonah, but that was anything but a terrible speech.