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Showing posts with label Artist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Artist. Show all posts

Monday, September 28, 2020

Miles Davis – Musician, Bandleader, Artist and Knight

 I purchased my first jazz album in 1986, Round Midnight by The Miles Davis Quintet.

 

I had been encouraged to listen to jazz by a man named Howard who I met Uptown, in Minneapolis, and who has remained a friend throughout my life.

 

I had a couple of other Miles Davis albums in a collection of records I shared with my friend Josh, Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue, it was through these albums that my eyes were opened to this uniquely American art form, and to Miles Davis, who remains its greatest practitioner, having transformed the genre numerous times throughout the course of his life.

 

I saw him play at the Orpheum theatre in Minneapolis, in 1988. My mom and I went together with my Josh, outside of the venue we talked with a couple of other friends of ours from the neighborhood Sean Pike and Greg Fox

 

Even though this was not my favorite era of his music, it was the greatest performance I have ever seen and I regret that I missed an opportunity to see him play a second time, in 1991 shortly before his death.

 

In 1993 I was on a flight from L.A. to D.C. and the man who had been his bass player, Joseph “Foley” McCreary sat next to me on the plane. I was wearing a T-shirt with Robert Johnson printed on the front, Foley’s had a depiction of Miles. I told him that I had seen him play, he told me that he was on the stage that night, we talked for a couple of minutes before he tuned me out, but he gave me a copy of his recent release, Seven Years Ago, Directions in Smart Alec Music, which featured a tribute to the memory of miles and some unbelievable guitar work by Prince, and he got off the plane in Ohio.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w0PnAwW9Tc

 

During that trip I picked up a copy of Miles’ autobiography, co-authored with Quincey Troupe. It was fascinating.

 

Miles dished up all the good stories on everyone he ever played with, it was a deep lesson in American history. He didn’t pull many punches, including critical reflections on himself.

 

By 1993 time I had fallen in love with the album, Sketches of Spain, I was not surprised to read that Miles considered this the most difficult album he had ever recorded. He offered an anecdote about it in his biography, saying that an old Spanish cattleman had listened to it, and when it was finished he felt compelled to go out into the field and fight a bull, that is how deep this music spoke to the Spanish soul. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSS5p9BdNGU

 

In 1988 Miles Davis was knighted by the King of Spain, inducted into the Hospital Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights of Malta and Rhodes, and two months before his death he was knighted in France and inducted into the Legion of Honor.

 

In his biography he mused that being knighted allowed him to enter seventy some different countries without having to pass through customs.

 

In 2008 I was taking classes at Saint John’s School of theology, in Collegeville Minnesota. I was in the kitchen early one morning when one of the monks was coming through the tunnel from the monastery, which is famous for its music studies program.

 

The monk was humming the tune for Bye-Bye Blackbird, one of the songs from that first Miles Davis Album I ever purchased. I caught the tune and named it as the monk was passing by me.

 

He gave me a questioning look, and I informed him about my discernment. He had no idea what I was talking about, informing me that it was the tune of a song written in the era of the troubadours, between the 10th and 12th centuries, and was associated with the Cathar Heresies of Central Europe...that made me smile.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vQuPIjK1Ks

 

 


 

Given First - 2020.09.28

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Michelangelo de Caravaggio – Artist


I was a teenager when I discovered Caravaggio.

Beginning in the seventh grade, when I was twelve years old, I spent a great deal time immersing myself art, wandering the halls of the Minneapolis Institute, our grand museum, when I should have been in school. There are none of Caravaggio’s work in the MIA’s permanent collection, but there was enough from the late renaissance to enable me to be conversant with those masters who were the precursors of his style.

I did not encounter Caravaggio there, I encountered him at my neighborhood art-house cinema, the Uptown Theatre at Hennepin Avenue and Lagoon.

It was the 1986 film by Derek Jarman, starring Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean that made me aware of his work and influence.

It was a lovely movie, somewhat surreal, and it familiarized me with Caravaggio’s great achievements in the history of painting, the foremost being his mastery of foreshortening, which allowed his images to leap from the canvass, and in the second place his development of the  chiaroscuro style, the sheer beauty of bringing light from the darkness which was his signature.

In 1990 I stood in front of a Carvaggio canvas for the first time. I was at the Chicago Institute of Arts and I was amazed at the dramatic realism in his work.

From that point forward if somebody were to ask me who my favorite painter is, I would say Caravaggio, without hesitation.

The more I learned about this masterful artist the more this remained true.

The 1986 film captured a great deal of his story, including the character of his life, its irreverent nature, which endeared me to him.

It wasn’t until I took an art history class as an undergraduate student at the University of Saint Thomas, in 1995, that I discovered what a rebellious spirit he had, and for that spirit I consider him a man of heroic stature.

As an artist his principle patron was the Church, and the most common subjects he was commissioned to paint were scenes of religious devotion.

He was imprisoned for his depiction of The Death of the Virgin, because he used as his model the bloating corpse of a prostitute he had fished from the river, painting Mary in a state of corruption and decay, which was an act of heresy because Mary was considered to be inviolate and incorruptible, even in death.

When he was commissioned to paint the Conversion of Saint Paul, seventy-five percent of the canvass he painted was taken up by the ass of the horse Paul fell from when he was blinded on the road to Damascus.

It was another great joke Caravaggio played on his patron, for which he is now well loved.




Given First - 2020.07.18

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Leonardo Da Vinci, Engineer, Artist - A Reflection



Leonardo Da Vinci was one of kind, a genius out of time and a man of heroic stature.

I will not take up space in this short-reflection to talk about his famous paintings or his fabulous designs, we all know this stuff already, and they are less important than the spirit with which he pursued them.

Understand this: Leonardo did not really consider himself an artist, he thought of himself as an engineer.

He was a scientist and a problem solver.

He was more than a man of his time, slightly older than Michelangelo and Raphael, a little younger than Donatello, he studied with all of them at the bodega under the tutelage of Verocchio, and he set himself apart.

Leonardo was a heroic visionary, he studied, experimented and practiced his craft with a determination that made others shy away from him.

He was reclusive.

He painted as a means of funding his other projects, often taking the money from a wealthy patron, never to deliver the canvass they had commissioned.

He was famous in his day and was invited to take up residence at the court of many royal personages, most of which he declined, though he did take up with the King of France, Francis I.

He was happiest when he held the title of Military Engineer for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke Milan, in whose service he encountered the infamous Nicollo Machiavelli.   

Leonardo’s genius was heroic, not so much through his personal habits and social skills but in his capacity as a problem solver, theoretician, scientist and engineer. He outshone all of his contemporaries.

He failed at many things, and his biographers say that he died a lonely unhappy man, but history holds him peerless, and an example to us all concerning the potency of the human spirit.


Given First - 2020.05.02

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Prayer


Listen to my prayer, hear it echoing in the dark chamber of my heart

Take me from this island, free my shadow beneath a shower of light

Listen to the music, the harmony of the spheres, the rolling wave beneath the tranquil sea

Remember me, the forgotten, the poetry of Anonymous

The greatest philosopher who never was, the poet of graffiti artists

Pray for the travelers, trudging through this life, marching forward with their doubts

Listen to the forsaken, the wailing of the self-defeated, stretched and thin

Enlightenment reaches everyone, in the end; like the sun-going super nova, small comfort

Pray for the release of the captive, the deliverance of the addict, I pray for you

Say a prayer for me, for mercy on the sinner, broken from the first breath I drew

Pray, as I pray for you