Category Archives: Arts

“Highway 61 Revisited” — Revisited

Harvey Brooks — the legendary bassist who played with Miles Davis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, and Phil Ochs — now lives in Israel.

But for many years, he was a Westport resident. Before that, however — perhaps most famously — he was in the studio with Bob Dylan. They recorded the groundbreaking album “Highway 61 Revisited” exactly 50 years ago today: July 28, 1965.

Today, Brooks posted this story on Facebook. It’s one his many Westport friends — and countless Dylan and Brooks fans around the world — will enjoy.

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It was July 28, 1965. I was playing a gig in Manhattan. During a break, I went next door to eat at the Burger Heaven, when I got a phone call from Al Kooper. I’m playing on this album with Bob Dylan and they need a bass player – are you doing anything?

That phone call would change my life.

The next day — 50 years ago today — I drove from Queens to Manhattan. I was soon in an elevator on the way to play for Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album at Columbia Studio A at 777 Seventh Avenue. I opened the door to the control room, took a deep breath and entered.

Highway 61 Revisited

The first person I saw was Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager. Grossman had long gray hair tied in a ponytail and wore round, tinted wire-rimmed glasses. I thought he looked like Benjamin Franklin. A thin, frizzy-haired guy dressed in jeans and boots was standing in the front of the mixing console listening to a playback of “Like a Rolling Stone.” I assumed it was Bob Dylan, though I didn’t know him or what he looked like at the time.

When the music stopped, Albert said, who are you? I told him who, what and why. Dylan said “hi” and went back to listening. Al Kooper then came in to make the official introduction. It was all very cryptic and brief.

I walked into the studio, took out my Fender bass and started to tune it. My instrument was strung with La Bella flat wounds which I still use. I plugged in the Ampeg B-15 amplifier which was provided by the studio. It sounded warm and percussive. The B-15 was my gig amp as well.

Though I was only 21 years old, I had already played many club gigs with a range of performers. I had worked with varying styles and felt I could adapt to about anything on the fly. So I was comfortable in the studio, and ready for anything Dylan could throw my way.

Suddenly, the studio door burst open. In stormed Michael Bloomfield, a moving ball of energy. He wore penny loafers, jeans, a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and had a Fender Telecaster hanging over his shoulder. Bloomfield’s hair was as electric as his smile. It was the first time I had met or even heard of him.

Harvey Brooks and Mike Bloomfield - recording Highway 61

Harvey Brooks (sitting) and Mike Bloomfield (lying on the floor).

At the first session, Joe Macho Jr. had played bass. He had been replaced by Russ Savakus who Dylan didn’t like either. Dylan wanted someone new for the rest of the sessions. Kooper recommended me to Dylan. Dylan needed to be comfortable with his bass player. Kooper knew I had a good feel and adapted quickly.

For Dylan, it was not enough to be a skilled studio musician. He wanted musicians who could adapt quickly to his style. I admitted to him that I hadn’t heard any of his music before the session, but was really impressed by “Like a Rolling Stone,” which I first heard when I walked into the studio.

“Well, these are a little different,” Bob responded. I assumed he meant from his past work, but Bob was bit vague. He gave me a crooked smile and then lit up a cigarette.

New producer Bob Johnston, a Columbia staff producer from Nashville, was already producing Patti Page when he got the Dylan assignment.

Johnston had a “documentary” approach that allowed him to capture fleeting moments in the studio. Frustrated by the technical bureaucracy at the Columbia studio, he ordered several tape machines brought into the control room, so he could keep one running at all times in order to capture anything Dylan might want to keep. That tactic worked quite well.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager.

Though the first session for “Highway 61 Revisited” had been only 2 weeks earlier, a lot had happened in the interim. “Like a Rolling Stone,” recorded at the first session, had been released and caught on like fire.

Only 4 days earlier, Dylan had been booed when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. It was a pivotal time in his career. He was beginning the transition from being a “pure” folk artist to a rock and roll performer.

Now we were at the 2nd session, my 1st, uncertain of what was on Dylan’s mind. In a few minutes he came out of the control room and started to sing the first of 3 songs we would work on that day.

Dylan sang the first, “Tombstone Blues,” a few times. There were no chord charts. It was all done by ear. As a habit, I made a few quick chord charts for myself as I listened to him perform. Everyone focused on Dylan, watching for every nuance. Then, the band went for it.

As we began recording, Dylan was still working on the lyrics. He was constantly editing as we recorded. I thought that was a really amazing way that he worked. His guitar or piano part was the guiding element through each song. Every musician in that room was glued to him. We would play until Dylan felt something was right. His poker face never revealed what he was thinking.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield, when they played together in Electric Flag (a few years after the Dylan session).

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield, when they played together in Electric Flag (a few years after the Dylan session).

It might have taken a couple of takes for everyone to lock in. There were mistakes of course, but they didn’t matter to Dylan. If the feel was there and the performance was successful, that’s all that mattered. In real life, that’s the way it is. If the overall performance happens, there is always something there. Bob would go into the control room and listen. Johnston may have been the producer keeping the tape rolling, but it was all Dylan deciding what felt right and what didn’t.

Bloomfield’s fiery guitar parts accented Dylan’s phrasing. He was a very explosive guitar player and didn’t settle back into things. He was aggressive and a little bit in front of it. My goal is finding a part that makes the the groove happen. Dylan set the feel and direction with his rhythm. My bass parts reflected what I got from him.

Most of my early playing experience had been in R&B bands that performed Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson tunes, or songs by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Playing with Dylan created a totally new category. I call it “jump in and go for it.”

We recorded “It Takes a Lot to Laugh” and “Positively 4th Street” the same way. Masters for the 3 songs were successfully recorded on July 29. (“Positively 4th Street” was issued as a single only.)

At the close of the session that 1st night Dylan attempted to record “Desolation Row,” accompanied only by Al on electric guitar and me on bass. There was no drummer. This electric version was eventually released in 2005, on “The Bootleg Series Volume 7″ album.

Our producer had a love of and even a bias toward Nashville musicians. It became an underlying topic during the session about how good they were. He kept talking about how cool Nashville is. I felt his comments were disparaging to us. I felt Johnston thought of us as New York bumpkins in a way.

This Nashville bias played into “Desolation Row.” I thought the version without drums that I did with Al that night was slower and definitely more soulful. We really liked it. Clearly, Johnston thought otherwise. On August 2, 5 more takes were done on “Desolation Row.” However, the version of the song ultimately used on the album was recorded at an overdub session on August 4.

When I left the studio after the final session, I didn’t have a sense of whether or not we had created a hit record. I did know, however, that all the songs felt good. They felt solid. I now understand that’s why “Highway 61 Revisited” was a successful record. In all the takes Bob chose, he made sure he got what he wanted from each song. He knew what he wanted. It’s an amazing talent that really knows what they want.

Harvey Brooks today.

Harvey Brooks today.

Art And Artois

After sketching Bridge Square yesterday, Jim Chillington prepared to relax.

Jim Chillington - Bridge Square

Down By The River

It’s a beloved tradition: In mid-July, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association  hosts a Fine Arts Festival on Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island.

Across the Post Road, the Westport Library fills a jinormous tent with over 80,000 items, for its annual books (and much more) sale.

Part of the tradition: It’s always held on the hottest day of the year.

Today marks a nice break from that tradition. Rain did not keep 300 folks from lining up before the book sale opened. Every artist, sculptor and photographer was good to go too.

By mid-afternoon the clouds lifted. Over 3,000 books-and-more lovers hauled boxes and bags to their cars. A similar number strolled along the river, admiring (and buying) artwork.

The 42nd annual Fine Arts Festival continues tomorrow (Sunday, July 19) 10 a.m.-5 p.m..

The “Bookstravaganza” continues tomorrow and Monday (July 19-20), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. It ends Tuesday (July 21), 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Scores of artists invited art-lovers to admire their works.

Scores of artists invited art-lovers to admire their works…

...like this painting...

…like this painting…

...and this piece of glass.

…and this piece of glass.

Parker Harding Plaza is a great location for the art show. The river provides a welcoming backdrop -- and permanent art lines the walkway.

Parker Harding Plaza is a great location for the art show. The river provides a welcoming backdrop — and permanent art lines the walkway.

Living art was on display too this afternoon.

Living art was on display too this afternoon.

Noted art patrons Bill Scheffler and Ann Sheffer enjoyed the show today, with Ann's daughter Betty Stolpen (she works at the Whitney Museum) and her friend Matt Glick.

Noted art patrons Bill Scheffler and Ann Sheffer enjoyed the show today, with Ann’s daughter Betty Stolpen (she works at the Whitney Museum) and her friend Matt Glick.

Meanwhile, at the Westport Library book sale, there was something for everyone...

Meanwhile, at the Westport Library book sale, there was something for everyone…

...no matter what your taste in books ... (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

…no matter what your taste in books … (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

... or magazines. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… or magazines. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

New library director Bill Harmer does not officially begin until July 27. But he was at the book sale today, checking out the legendary event.

New library director Bill Harmer does not officially begin until July 27. But he was at the book sale today, checking out the legendary event.

One satisfied customer, among thousands.

One satisfied customer, among thousands.

 

 

“Godspell” Spills Across The Staples Stage

“Godspell” is no stranger to Staples High School.

But Players’ 2 previous productions of the parable-based musical were performed as student-directed studio theater pieces.

Next week, “Godspell” spills across the main stage.

Part of

Part of “the tribe” of “Godspell.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Over 50 students — all between ages 14 and 18 — present the vibrant show July 23, 24 and 25.

A cast that big presents challenges, notes director David Roth.

The original production includes only Jesus, Judas and 8 followers. Roth and co-director Kerry Long expanded that core group, then added an ensemble. They listen to Jesus’ words, and join in the celebration.

This production is also special because “Godspell” enjoyed a major Broadway revival in 2012. It featured new vocal arrangements, and script changes with plenty of modern references. There’s rapping, puppets — even a game of Pictionary.

This year’s Staples version includes those additions, along with a song not previously used on stage, “Beautiful City.”

Caroline Didelot and Jack Baylis share a duet. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Caroline Didelot and Jack Baylis share a duet. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth says he grew up loving the show. Its upbeat message of love and tolerance make it a great summer choice.

“Some of our recent productions, like ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Sweeney Todd,’ were very moving, but also very dark,” Roth adds. “‘Godspell’ is equally poignant, but in a joyous and exuberant way. It’s also a great show for the entire family, regardless of your religious beliefs.”

With opening night near, Players are working hard to make this the best summer production ever — day by day.

(“Godspell” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 23, 24 and 25, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 25. Tickets are available at www.StaplesPlayers.com, and at the door.)

Howard Munce Turns 100!

Westport’s famous artists — and Famous Artists School — have come and gone.

The “Mad Men” era — the real 1950s and ’60s ad agency scene, and the TV show celebrating it — are both just memories.

But Howard Munce endures.

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — and, above all, longtime and beloved civic volunteer — Munce turns 100 on November 27.

The Westport Historical Society — one of the many organizations he’s served so well for so long — has the perfect gift: his own show.

“Howard Munce at 100: A Centennial Celebration” opened June 29. A gala reception is set for this Sunday (July 12, 4-6 p.m.).

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

It’s hard to capture a century of life — and 8 decades of professional work and life in Westport — in the walls of one building. But the WHS tries.

The exhibit is curated by Leonard Everett Fisher, Munce’s longtime friend. In his 90s himself, he’s the perfect choice to organize the show.

There are 2 parts. The Sheffer Gallery showcases Munce’s paintings, drawings, illustrations and sculptures.

The Mollie Donovan Gallery chronicles his Westport connections as a young artist (he first came here in 1935); his military service, when he sent illustrated letters to his Westport artist friend Stevan Dohanos; Munce’s Pulitzer Prize nomination for his essay on the folly of war; his role in a legendary ad campaign for Rheingold beer, and his community involvement.

The exhibit includes documentary films, interviews, photographs by Laurence Untermeyer, and a lenticular photo of Munce by Miggs Burroughs.

It’s dedicated to Munce’s wife Gerry. She died in November, but her memory is vivid to all who knew and loved her.

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry's)

Howard Munce has worn many hats. (Photo by Brian Ferry for Harry’s)

Munce’s resume is beyond impressive. Trained at Pratt Institute, he was a Young & Rubicam art director beginning in the late 1940s — after World War II, when he saw action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

Munce is professor emeritus at Paier College of Art; honorary president of the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library, and — with Fisher — co-curated the black-and-white drawings by Westport artists in its McManus Room.

But those are facts. Far more important is Munce’s humanity.

Whenever he is asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the WHS; mentoring young artists — he always says “of course.” With a sparkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and a handshake as firm as a 20-year-old’s.

Until a couple of years ago, he clambered up ladders to make sure every exhibit he oversaw was properly hung.

At 99, Howard Munce no longer climbs ladders. Then again, he doesn’t have to.

He long ago reached the top.

BONUS FACT: In 2008, Howard Munce was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. Here’s his speech: 

 

Harold Levine: Westporters Must Help Bridgeport

Harold Levine emailed me recently. He’s 93 years old. But the famed  advertising executive — who is also chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, an after-school, weekend and summer music, arts and dance program for Bridgeport students –is as passionate as ever.

Frustrated, too. The longtime Westporter writes:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

(To donate to Neighborhood Studios, click here.)

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Cynthia Armijo: New Arts Center Director Boasts Intriguing Background

Cynthia Armijo has a degree in biology. She spent most of her career in financial services. She’s been a management consultant, a director with regional and national Boys Town organizations, and CEO/executive director of the Norwalk YMCA.

WACThat may seem an odd resume for her new position: executive director of the Westport Arts Center.

On the other hand, the San Francisco native has prepared for her new gig all her life.

A Weston resident for 10 years, Armijo and her husband —  he’s also in financial services — “jumped at the chance” to move east. They knew New York well from work, and their oldest daughter thrived at Weston High.

Growing up, Armijo saw her family constantly give back through service to non-profits. She’s been a board or committee member of various organizations since her 20s. (Her first volunteer effort was with San Francisco’s Sisters of Mercy; she ended up as board chair.)

Starting in 2007, she’s leveraged her financial and management skills in the non-profit world. (That’s where Boys Town and the Y come in.)

“I look for premier organizations wherever I work,” Armijo says. “And the Westport Arts Center has the potential to be the premier arts center in Fairfield County.”

Armijo ticks off its pluses: a passionate base of supporters; an active, engaged board; broad, wide-ranging programs; strong leadership under artistic director Helen Klisser During.

Cynthia Armijo (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Cynthia Armijo (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Armijo saw the executive director position posted, applied, and was “hooked right out of the gate. There’s a great strategic vision to continue bringing great art to the community.”

Of course, there are challenges.

“The gallery is in a nice location, but the size limits us,” Armijo acknowledges. “I’d love to have a larger, more accessible venue.”

Her office looks across the river, to the Levitt Pavilion and Westport Library. “We need to be there too,” Armijo says.

But that’s ahead. Right now she’s happy to talk about programs like children’s after-school and summer offerings (“I have to close my door, or you’d hear 50 kids”), and inspiring outreach at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Center, and Bridgeport’s Homes for Heroes.

She’s also looking forward to meeting the heads of important Westport organizations — many of whom (the library, Y, Staples High School) are or will soon be new, like her.

Cynthia Armijo's office in the Westport Arts Center overlooks the river -- and the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Cynthia Armijo’s office in the Westport Arts Center overlooks the river — and the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

As for Armijo’s own artistic bent, the biology major/financial services professional/management consultant is a huge fan of impressionism. Another corner of her home is filled with 16th-century engravings.

“I dabble in oil too,” she says. “But you will never see anything of mine exhibited publicly.”

Britt Hennemuth Breaks A Hip

Britt Hennemuth starred in great roles as a Staples Player — Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast,” and The Wiz himself, to name 3.

After graduating in 2008, he studied theater and film at Pepperdine University.

But school is school. No matter what he did, his fellow actors were all his age.

Hennemuth stayed in Los Angeles. Now he’s starring in “Break A Hip,” a web series set to debut Tuesday (June 30) on Vimeo on Demand. He plays a young, out-of-work actor who takes a job as a houseboy for an older actress. She uses him to get revenge on Hollywood directors, former co-stars and others who wronged her. Hennemuth calls it “a funny, outrageous but tender love letter to this sometimes strange industry town.”

I’ve seen it before its official release. I call it “clever, hilarious, warm, truly well-written, lovingly acted, and definitely worth downloading.”

Christina Pickles and Britt Hennemuth.

Christina Pickles and Britt Hennemuth.

His co-star is Christina Pickles, the 80-year-old actress known best as Judy Geller on “Friends.” Older TV viewers remember her as nurse Helen Rosenthal on “St. Elsewhere,” which earned her 4 Emmy nominations.

The Vimeo series — based on actor/writer/director Cameron Watson’s own Hollywood experiences — also stars Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Peri Gilpin and others. Working with veterans like those has been a great experience for Hennemuth.

But he’s bonded most closely with Pickles. They hang out often (he is often mistaken for her son, to the delight of both).

The 8 episodes — each 8 to 9 minutes long — were shot last year. It was a fantastic experience for Hennemuth, who had never acted on camera before.

Hopefully, “Break a Hip” will prove to be a great break for Hennemuth. He’ll have this fine web series on his resume, as he heads out for more auditions.

And, he hopes, he’ll never have to be houseboy in real life. Even for his good friend Christina Pickles.

(“Break a Hip” is available this Tuesday, June 30, through Vimeo on Demand. For the “Break a Hip” website, click here.)

Quintessential Compo

It’s been a hugely eventful week. The Supreme Court handed down 2 momentous decisions; President Obama delivered a spectacular eulogy.

I’m not sure why, but Betsy P. Kahn’s photo of Compo seems a fitting way to end this emotional Friday:

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Samantha Flint: A Stage Manager Comes Home

Countless students discover a passion for theater in Westport.

Many find themselves on stage. Others prefer to work in the wings.

From a young age, Samantha Flint — whose mother was in actor Christopher Lloyd’s class at Staples, and whose grandparents also attended the school — danced. At Bedford Middle School, director David Roth cast her in shows. When he and she moved on to Staples together, she joined Players.

At the end of freshman year she tried stage managing. That’s where she found her true love.

“You’re part of the process at every point, from the first auditions to the closing performance,” she says. “And there’s so much to do.”

Roth challenges every Player, at every level. Flint’s last show at Staples — “City of Angels” — was “incredibly difficult, technically,” she recalls. “When I tell people I did it in high school, they’re floored.”

Samantha Flint, hard at work.

Samantha Flint, hard at work. (Photo/Matt Pilsner)

She heard about DePaul University — Roth’s alma mater — from the director. There were only 4 students in her year in the stage managing program. “It was like working in regional theater, but getting a degree,” she says.

A good stage manager must have many skills, she explains: organization, communication, flexibility, sensitivity. All contribute to creating a “safe environment, where actors feel they can create art.”

After graduating magna cum laude from college, Flint returned east. She’s served as production assistant, assistant stage manager and production stage manager on Broadway, off Broadway and in regional theaters like Williamstown and Hartford Stage. Her credits include “Venus in Fur” in its Broadway debut, “Camelot” (with director David Lee of “Cheers” and “Frasier” fame), and “Barefoot in the Park.”

She spent 2 summers at Shakespeare in the Park, working with William Shiner and Michael Greif. Flint calls it “an amazing experience. When everyone was on the subway dressed for the office, I was there in shorts and a t-shirt, headed outdoors to make theater.”

At the Adirondack Theater Festival, she helped bring “Avenue Q” and “Next to Normal” to an area that is starved for shows. “They embrace what we do,” Flint says. “A lot of audience members come back more than once.”

Flint does not forget her roots. Recently, she taught 2 master classes in stage management for Weston High School’s Company.

Samantha Flint (right) with Weston Company stage manager Lilly Fisher.

Samantha Flint (right) with Weston Company stage manager Lilly Fisher.

This month, Flint was back in her home town. She was assistant stage manager for the Westport Country Playhouse production of “And A Nightingale Sang.”

It was a homecoming of sorts. At 15 years old, Flint had apprenticed there. The building has changed, but the “lovely people” and thrill of helping produce a show were the same.

On Thursdays, Flint shopped at the Farmers’ Market, and brought fresh food for the cast. “They were amazed — they never knew it was there!” she laughs.

After “Nightingale,” Flint heads to Bucks County Playhouse, for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

“That’s the beauty of what I do,” she says. “I never know what’s ahead.”

Though she also never forgets Westport, and what is behind.