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Posts Tagged ‘piano’

Painting with Fire: A Visit with Betsy Eby

March 10, 2014 | by

77. 2009 Sanguine II

Sanguine II, 2009.

Encaustic means “to burn.” The ethereal quality of Betsy Eby’s encaustic paintings belies the labor-intensive process of their making—an ancient method involving heated wax, damar resin (the sap of a Southeast Asian pine), and pigment applied in translucent veils with brushes and knives. Using a blowtorch, she liquefies the wax and fuses the layers with fire.

Eby’s solo show, “Painting with Fire,” is now at the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia. Eby is also a classical pianist, and many of her works are titled for musical pieces; her delicate compositions often seem to possess fluttering rhythms reminiscent of piano music. Eby is steeped in the Romantic era’s exploration of the interplay of senses. In a new book, Betsy Eby, art historian David Houston contributes an essay about synesthesia in her work, exploring the connections between sound and image. He mentions Baudelaire’s idea of correspondence, “anchored in the belief that sensory experiences can correspond to common emotions.” One of the surprising benefits to viewing Eby’s work in person is the engagement of another sense—smell—in the presence of natural beeswax. Drawing from poets and philosophers, composers and visual artists, her paintings resonate as much with history as they do modernity.

I recently spoke with Eby from her studio in Columbus, Georgia, where she lives with her husband, the Realist painter Bo Bartlett, in his childhood home. (The Morris Museum is also hosting a concurrent show of Bartlett’s work, “Paintings from Home.”) Read More »


The Soloist: Jason Moran Live at A Gathering of Tribes

June 8, 2011 | by

“It’s actually nice to play on this piano because it’s got the funk,” said the virtuoso jazz pianist Jason Moran. He was seated at an old Kurtzman upright piano and had just finished playing a lush, hard-swinging solo version of “The Sheik of Araby,” a tune he recently learned for his Fats Waller dance party at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. His comment elicited nervous laughter from the crowd of fans who’d crammed themselves into the main room of a suffocatingly hot Lower East Side apartment late last month—some of us seated on fold-out chairs, others on the floor—to hear him play two unaccompanied sets. Moran, one of the most celebrated young jazz artists of the last ten years, seemed right at home in this intimate, makeshift performance space, aptly named A Gathering of Tribes. Although he has been justly praised for his sometimes cerebral approach to jazz, the no-frills atmosphere of the venue, which attracts players of every school and listeners of every stripe, accentuated the earthier side of his style.

A Gathering of Tribes is the home of author and educator Steve Cannon, a man the writer Paul Beatty, who dropped by for Moran’s second set, once referred to as “professor emeritus of the Lower East Side.” For the past twenty years Cannon has used his apartment to stage public readings, concerts, and art exhibitions. The venture reflects his devotion to the local community and his desire to preserve its vanishing bohemian character, which he came to know firsthand upon moving there from New Orleans in the 1960s. Cannon has made Tribes a particularly important site for contemporary jazz music. It boasts an impressive roster of past performers, including Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Butch Morris, and Matthew Shipp.

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A Week in Culture: Elizabeth Samet, Professor and Writer

March 23, 2011 | by


What better way to launch this diary than with a little detour, en route to meet some friends, along the street of pianos? I love the Sunday morning silence of this short stretch of West 58th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue: all those Steinways, Bechsteins, and Bosendorfers asleep inside their showrooms. Outside there’s only the light jingle of the collar on a small but imperious terrier, its owner dragging sleepily behind. The terrier—preferably Fox or Welsh—is my ideal virtual dog. I can admire one in passing; then someone else can take it home. The canine’s playful condescension always calls to mind my favorite couplet, Alexander Pope’s epigram, which the poet had engraved on the collar of a puppy he once gave the Prince of Wales: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew/ Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?”

My Piano Street Strut concludes a musical weekend. Let’s start in reverse order: Lucinda Williams, Webster Hall, Saturday night. Webster Hall has its own time zone: doors open at 6; show starts at 7; or maybe 7:45, as they inform you at the door; or, in fact, a little after 8, when Lucinda Williams steps onto the stage saying, “Sorry.” The hall is packed, and the crowd can’t get enough. Many are obvious veterans of her shows; they keep screaming, “Lu!” and lifting their beers in tribute. My favorite Williams recordings are bundles of bitterness, but I’m just not hearing it this night1.

But what chance did anyone really have after Ann Hampton Callaway at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Friday? I raced home from a late night at work to meet friends in from D.C. for the show, which was delayed a bit because of some water problems at the club. Never underestimate the cosmic force of a diva: Callaway can conjure the elements. Water flowed again. And then Tony Bennett appeared. Yes, he did. Callaway improvised a song of tribute to him. It’s that capacity for improvisation, that singing on the precipice, I so admire about Callaway’s artistry. She often speaks of the importance of “live music,” and then she lives it right there in front of you.

The first time I saw her she improvised a song using whatever unlovely, unmusical words the audience happened to suggest. I attended that show in the company of Callaway’s father, the great Chicago journalist John Callaway, who died in 2009. He interviewed me once and quickly became a friend. John was the most delightful correspondent: we wrote to each other about politics, sports, and books. (He was a fan of Henning Mankell mysteries.) And when he came to New York, I looked forward to dinner and stories of the old City News Bureau in Chicago. How is it that we can feel so deeply the loss of people we’ve known but a short while? Maybe it’s because there are so many stories left to tell.

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  1. Confession: we leave early, narrowly avoiding (thanks to my peacemaking skills) what was sure to be some unpleasantness over a jostled elbow and a spilled beer, threading our way past some very unhappy-looking patrons sprawled on the stairs, departing before (I learn later) Williams sings “Change The Locks,” which may well have offered all the bitterness anyone could crave. By the way, were those pieces of the ceiling that kept falling into my drink?