Richard Brewer

 

Richard Brewer 30 July 2014, Kalamazoo County MI

 30 July 2014, Kalamazoo County MI

Richard Brewer is a biological scientist and author.

Perhaps his best-known book is Conservancy:  The Land Trust Movement in America, published in October 2003 by the University Press of New England under the Dartmouth College imprint. It is currently available as a paperback and an e-book.

Other books include the first breeding-bird atlas of Michigan and a text book of general ecology.  He has broad interests in ecology, conservation, and ornithology.

A recent article is Conservation Easements and Perpetuity: Till Legislation Do Us Part.  It is in the fall issue of Duke University Law School’s journal Law and Contemporary Problems (vol. 74, no. 4), which consists of a symposium, Conservation Easements, New Perspectives in an Evolving World.  The fall issue with its eleven articles (Brewer’s is next to last) was published online 12 October 2011.

On 22 February 2012 Brewer was the first recipient of the Nancy Cutbirth Small Distinguished Service Award established by the Kalamazoo Area Chapter of Wild Ones, Native Plants, Natural Landscapes.

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A Problem Solved: WMU’s BTR Park Downtown on Arcadia Commons

 

The following was submitted to the Kalamazoo Gazette on 8 June. The next day the Gazette’s Community Engagement Specialist informed me that it would be published as a guest column within the next few days.  This has not happened as of 15 June so I decided to post it here in a slightly expanded version.

Solutions may not show up until long after a problem arises. For example, smallpox appeared as a new disease in humans thousands of years ago, but vaccination wasn’t invented till 1796.

A quicker match has appeared for one of Western Michigan University’s problems. WMU needs a substitute site on which to build a new BTR park. Currently, the school plans to use the Colony Farm Orchard, a largely natural wooded site adjacent to Asylum Lake Preserve.
The group Save the Colony Farm Orchard has suggested that this development is a bad idea because–among other problems– it would destroy the historic orchard with its varied flora and fauna, would have a harmful influence on Asylum Lake Preserve, and would intensify the already-unpleasant urban sprawl of this region where Kalamazoo and Oshtemo Township meet.

More than a few people have pointed out that brownfields or other vacant lands in downtown Kalamazoo avoid all these problems and are the logical place for WMU’s new BRT park.

And now comes the Gazette for 4 June 2015 with its front page headline
“Developers sought for Arcadia Commons.”

The story begins, “A task force is looking for someone to help it decide what to do with the undeveloped Arcadia Commons property in downtown Kalamazoo.” It goes on to describe the four-block property bordered by Kalamazoo Ave, Park St, Water St, and Westnedge Ave. The site is slightly more than 6 acres, and WMU already owns half of it.

This is one of those rare situations in which two individual problems: (1) Where should WMU’s BTR park go? and (2) What is a viable use for the area northwest of Kalamazoo’s central business district? each forms the solution to the other.

Clearly, the stars have aligned to tell us that WMU’s BTR park should go on the Arcadia Commons land.

Land that once, a few years ago, was being considered as a place to house some combination hockey arena/assembly hall we now see is meant to hold the second stage of WMU’s BTR park.

Possibly the rich assortment of medical resources downtown, including WMU’s new medical school, is pointing to the area of emphasis for the new BTR park.

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Tuesday Noon (26 May 2015) Nature and Art at KIA

A program coming up at noon Tuesday (26 May) at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art sounds promising for people interested in art and nature. Here’s what the KIA’s website says about it:

 

From the Darkness: Light: What an Ecologist and a Poet See in the Art of Ladislav Hanka 

Presenters: James Armstrong, Kim Chapman and Ladislav Hanka

Ecologist Kim Chapman and poet Jim Armstrong, authors of the upcoming book Nature, Culture, and Two Friends Talking, a collection of essays addressing our complex relationships with the natural world, will present an in-depth look the work of Ladislav Hanka.
Working loosely from their book, the two will engage in a wide-ranging discussion about how Hanka’s work creates a dynamic confrontation between art and science, wildness and civilization, beauty and ugliness, darkness and light. As a special feature of this talk, Hanka will be present to join in the conversation.

All three–Kim, Jim, and Lad–have a strong local connection, to Kalamazoo and to one or both of our local institutions of higher learning. They also all have strong conservation credentials and are skilled writers with distinctive voices.

Lad–Vladislav R.–Hanka is a resident of Kalamazoo, well known as an artist, especially as a print-maker. He recently published a remarkable book In Pursuit of Birds, A foray with field glasses and sketchbook, Drawings and etchings of birds with some stories of birding in exotic places. Among his other activities, he has been a recent critic of Western Michigan University’s development plans for the Colony Farm Orchard (as he was also in 2009-10).

Kim Chapman studied the native grasslands of Michigan while at W.M.U and later did a Ph.D. in conservation biology at the University of Wisconsin. He spent several years saving land with The Nature Conservancy chapter in Minnesota.  Currently, he lives in St. Paul and directs an ecological consulting firm.

Jim Armstrong earned a Ph.D. at Boston U. in American literature. and is on the faculty of the English Department at Winona State University in Minnesota While in Kalamazoo, he wrote a series of articles for the Gazette that dealt with local land conservation. The series contributed to the  current that led to the formation of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

From the KIA description, it sounds as though Kim and Jim are going to talk about some of the themes in Lad’s new book, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Kim and Jim have collaborated before, notably on a critique of the Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their approach was ecological; the title was What Laura Saw: Making a Little Home on the Extreme Great Plains. I talked a little about their paper (which had been presented at an environmental conference at WMU) in a post to this website on 10 February 2011.

The Tuesday program is in the KIA’s ARTBreak series. Bring your brownbag lunch; coffee will be provided.  Free parking in the KIA lots.

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Earth Day 2015 Colony Farm Orchard Protest

The Save the Colony Farm Orchard group held a second protest rally at the Orchard on this day (22 April 2015). Three speakers made brief remarks. The following is approximately what I said plus a few things that I left out for brevity or that I should have said but didn’t.

My topic was What would be the ecological effects if Western Michigan University develops the CFO as it proposes and turns it into another BTR park?

A quick answer is that everything currently there would be obliterated.

What in particular would be lost? Two things: the history of the land and the natural history of the land.

The CFO is land that was once part of a tall-grass prairie, the Genesee Prairie, surrounded by a bur oak savanna. The CFO was probably mostly in the savanna.   In the 1800s what’s now the CFO was part of private farms that included orchards.  Later it was the orchard part of the Colony Farm of the state mental hospital. The Colony Farm ceased its agricultural operations beginning in the 1950s and the CFO was all but abandoned by about 1970.

The CFO as it stands could provide information, in the plants and in the ground, of the history of the site from Paleo-Indian times to settlement, on through the 20 century. Mark Hoffman, the historian of the Colony Farm, can tell us that Neil Hindes had an orchard in the area, consisting of 100 apple trees plus others, in 1844.

Apple trees are long-lived.  Could  the apple trees there today be the same ones?

Will we find out the age of these trees when we count tree-rings on the stumps after WMU cuts them down?– Just before the bull-dozers move in?

Of many specifically ecological effects, I’ll mention three.

(1)The first is speeding up return of the sequestered carbon of the site to the earth’s atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Included will be the carbon in the living and dead trees–many quite large–in all the rest of the living vegetation including a very dense understory, and in the thick, long-undisturbed soil–the leaf litter, the humus. The stored carbon will go into the atmosphere and contribute to global climate change. Of course, in the global scheme of things, the carbon from only 40 or 50 acres is small. Somebody should calculate how many more LEED certified buildings WMU would have to build to save enough energy to achieve a balance.

(2)The second is the loss of the plant-animal community of the CFO. The CFO is an odd, interesting site. It has gone nearly 50 years with minimal direct human influence (except for the devastated southern end where the electrical substation was put in in 2001).
The CFO is a site of surprisingly high diversity, both as to species number and also in patchiness. There are patches dominated by native plant species (such as bur oaks and other species of the primeval prairie and savanna. Other patches are dominated by non-natives, including some considered invasives. There are lots of species of plants that flower at different times making it good habitat for honey bees–and probably also native, solitary bees.

Much of the CFO land has a thick understory–head-high and taller–making it excellent cover for many smaller mammals and ground-inhabiting birds.

The thick understory also makes it slow walking for people. This is not a park; visitors have to zig-zag their way along, following the route of least resistance.

Animal species diversity here is high too, partly based on the small human presence and partly based on vegetational diversity.  A morning bird walk here in most seasons would probably produce as many or more bird species as a walk of the same length through the woods on Asylum Lake Preserve.

(3)The third effect and probably the one of greatest ecological consequence, is the effect on Asylum Lake Preserve. Loss of the CFO is another step in the ecological pauperization of the supposedly protected Asylum Lake Preserve. The CFO  is, functionally, 54 acres of complementary habitat added to the scant 274 acres of the preserve. Coyotes, red foxes, and deer slip back and forth between the Asylum Lake Preserve and CFO. Many bird species, including ground-nesters such as as American woodcock and wild turkeys can nest here, probably including ones that forage on the Asylum Lake Preserve. And there are many other connections.

It’s a well-established conservation principle that bigger is always better where preserves are concerned. One important reason is that the rate of local extinction of species is lower in bigger preserves. With a lower extinction rate, species diversity tends to be higher, and higher species diversity usually is accompanied by greater ecological stability.

Besides these connections, the CFO serves as at least a partial buffer for the noise, fumes, lights, and so forth coming from what’s in and around Stadium Drive, 131, and 12th Street. Even a little BTR Park like the CFO would  yield will, with its roads and parking lots and business operations, bring noise, lights, and chemical emissions just across the road from the Asylum Lake Preserve.

The WMU administration has reminded us repeatedly that they have
no intention to harm Asylum Lake Preserve. Where I come from, making a big deal of  the fact that you’re promising to do what you’re legally required to do would prompt sarcastic comments.

But the claim is a sign of a serious problem. WMU administrators apparently think that only direct assaults on a site can harm it. That the structure and functioning of Asylum Lake Preserve would be damaged by interfering with the Colony Farm Orchard seems to be beyond their ken.   We’ve listed a few of the connections between the plant and animal populations of the two sites, and the list goes on. Connections are what ecology is.

 

 

Posted in Birds, Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Spring Wildflower Walk at Brewer Woods

 

Under the auspices of the Southwest Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club, I will lead a field trip at the Michigan Nature Association’s Brewer Woods Sanctuary on Saturday 2 May 2015. It begins at 10:00 AM at the woods, located in Pavilion Township.

The 41-acre preserve is mostly beech-maple forest, or southern mesic forest. On the west edge it grades into slightly wetter forest, including some vernal pools. It has a remarkably rich display of spring-flowering herbs. I’ve written about in often in posts of earlier years.

Here are the directions for getting there, as provided by the Botanical Club:

Please  car pool at the I-94, Oakland Drive Park-and-Ride, and to leave there no later than 9:15 A. M. From there drive East on I-94 and exit South on Portage Road. Turn left ( East ) on Bishop Road. Drive East about 3.9 miles ( thru Sprinkle road, continue East, then Southeast, then East again) Bishop road becomes East P-Avenue, then East P.Q.-Avenue). At the T-intersection with 29th Street, turn Right ( South), about 1.5 miles to East R-Avenue. Turn Left ( East) about 0.7 miles to 8297 East R-Avenue ( the entrance to Brewers Woods preserve). At the driveway turn left ( North) about 1/4 mile to the house and garage. Someone will be there to guide you as to where to park.

I would only add that car-pooling is essential. Space for parking within the sanctuary is very limited, and no parking is available on the driveway or on the street (R Ave.).

Early May should be a good date for a spring wildflower walk this year. The season so far is quite late. A friend and I visited Harris Sanctuary just about a week ago (6 April) and in a quick walk around found almost nothing above ground as yet.

We did see the leaf tips of a couple of wild garlic clumps and a very few just-emerging plants of toothwort, Dentaria laciniata (which, as my friend noted, is now given the name Cardamine concatenata). We also saw a few widely scattered,very small plants of cleavers, Galium aparine.

So it’s a late season, presumably related to the cold and snow-covered  February and March.

We do have bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, in bloom here in Oshtemo Township as of today (12 April) The bloodroots were transplanted; they are growing well enough here among the oaks but probably were rare or non-existent in this habitat in pre-settlement times.

There is a patch or two of bloodroot at our field trip destination in Pavilion Township, but they were transplanted there too. However, their source was Myrtle Powers’ place just north of Scotts, only a few miles to the east of Brewer Woods. Myrtle was in the Biology Department at Western Michigan University when I arrived.

Katy pointed out the bloodroot flowers to me and mentioned that she had seen leaves of hepatica above ground–no flowers. But, spring is coming. and by May 2 there may be a good representation of early, middle, and late spring flowers.

The bloodroots in Pavilion probably won’t still be in bloom. The flowering period of bloodroot is very short. But the single leaf each plant has will still be there, as will fruiting stalks with the capsules that are a good indication of bloodroot’s membership in the poppy family.

Today (13 April) around noon I noticed that the bloodroot flowers were still closed from their usual night-time closure. It’s a cloudy, dark, rainy day.

The night-time closing behavior of plants has the technical name nyctinasty. Just so you know.

Another sign of spring, the shadbush in our yard (Amelanchier) as of this morning has swollen flower buds.

Two last notes on the bloodroot. The sun came out and by late afternoon, the flowers were fully open, but by the time I got back from a meeting, around 7:30 PM, with the sun still shining but low in the sky, the flowers were nearly closed again.

See you at Brewer Woods Saturday, May 2.

Posted in Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Must the Colony Farm Orchard Be Developed?

 

Between 1959 and 1977, Western Michigan University (WMU) received gifts of  land–the Colony Farm–that had been acquired by the state with tax-payer money several decades earlier. The land came to WMU with a restriction that it was to be kept as open space for public use. The gift and the restriction were mostly the work of two Kalamazoo brothers, Jack and Bob Welborn, who were serving in the state legislature.

In 2009, at the instigation of WMU, claiming that it would soon need to enlarge its BTR Park (Business Technology Research), the Michigan legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bill removing the open space/public use restriction on one parcel of the land, the Colony Farm Orchard. This happened following a long battle that involved an unprecedented outpouring of grass-roots opposition to the action, in the media, at local gatherings, and in letters, phone calls and personal visits to legislators in Lansing.

Now, about 5 years later, WMU is trying to move forward with the invasion, and destruction, of the Colony Farm Orchard for a BTR park expansion, as threatened in 2009.

Some local residents, remembering the long battle and the loss in Lansing, resulting in the removal of the open-space covenant, have concluded that the land must now be developed.

This is not the case. Even though the restriction is gone, WMU is not compelled to expand the BTR park onto this land. The Orchard land is still perfectly available for permanent protection.

It is a fact that the original language of the bill that WMU gave to Kalamazoo Representative Bob Jones to carry to Lansing called not just for removing the open-space restriction, but also for replacing it with a new one. The new one would have required that the land be used exclusively for expanding and improving the BTR Park.

But not even the 2009 Michigan legislature would buy that.

The finished version of the bill had only one restriction–that any “aboriginal antiquities” found on the site belonged to the State.

So, the open space restriction is gone. As far as the law is concerned, WMU can now do whatever it likes with the land. This means that the life of Colony Farm Orchard is in the hands of President John Dunn and the eight members of the WMU Board. Thumbs up or thumbs down.

The president and the board at most universities have a lot of power over property, programs, and positions. Mostly, it seems to me, universities behave pretty decently and not as arbitrarily as they could behave.

One reason is respect for their constituencies–alumni, current and future students, local citizens, faculty–present, past, and potential– patrons of concerts, sports fans, donors of many sorts, and so on down the list of people who are watching and forming opinions.

But I suppose universities may also listen to other constituencies , ones whose interests run more to corporate, mercantile, commercial and political matters, tax-sharing and such, and not so much to  things like science, history, or art.

Will the Colony Farm Orchard be developed? The answer depends directly on the president and the board.

It could also be said that the answer depends on who of its constituents WMU chooses to listen to.

 

Posted in Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Uncategorized | Comments closed

April 1, 2015, the Frogs are Calling

 

Winter had a long tail that ran all way to the end of March, but mid-afternoon today when Katy and I pulled into the driveway here in Oshtemo Township we could hear the clatter of the wood frogs calling without having to lower the car windows. We had heard nothing when we left early in the day, but temperatures had been above 60 degrees most of the time since.

We pulled a little farther down the lane and stopped at the second pond. Wood frogs were calling here too but we could also hear another voice. I ran  the window down and we listened to the piercing cheeps of the spring peepers added to the wood frogs.

In the early evening, I walked down the lane to the two ponds. The night was mild and bright; full moon is only four days away.I didn’t have to get very close to the ponds to tell that a third voice had been added to the wood frogs and peepers. The chorus frog had added its distinctive call. Every description of the chorus frog ever written compares its call to the sound of a finger or thumbnail run over the teeth of a comb. It’s a good description; however, considering how loud the calls are when you’re standing next to the pond, it would have to be a big comb and a strong thumb.

I don’t keep anything like a full phenological record, but I can tell you–by looking back at my posts from past years that 2013 was even later–the first wood frogs were calling on 4 April. In 2012, spring was remarkably early; the wood frogs called first on 12 March.

Today, also, Katy heard the calls of the first Eastern Phoebe for the year.

Welcome to Spring, One and All.

Posted in Birds, Michigan (including Kalamazoo) | Comments closed

Petition to Save the Colony Farm Orchard is Available to Sign

Western Michigan University has once again renewed its attempt to demolish the naturally occurring vegetation and fauna of the Colony Farm Orchard (CFO). The purpose, it is claimed, is to expand WMU’s Business, Technology, Research (BTR) Park.

 

Many of us will remember the battle between WMU and the pro-environment opponents that occurred in 2009-2010.  For anyone who doesn’t remember, this website has a few dozen posts from 15 July 2009 to 23 July 2010 concerning that battle.  It was too complicated to summarize quickly, though I may take a shot at it in a later post.

 

The object of this post is to point out for those of us who would prefer that the CFO remain as natural open space rather than be turned to some unknown BTR-type use, a petition to that effect has been started by a bunch of WMU students, a few faculty (mostly retired as far as I know), and assorted local residents.

 

The petition asks that WMU live by the original restriction and consider the Colony Farm Orchard a part of the Asylum Lake Preserve.  It also asks that Oshtemo Township and Kalamazoo County refrain from joining WMU’s  plans to develop the land.

But any interested parties will need to read the petition, which can be done here:

 

http://www.change.org/p/a-campus-community-wide-appeal-to-western-michigan-university-wmu-that-development-plans-for-colony-farm-orchard-be-abandoned-to-reflect-wmu-s-values-of-sustainability-and-our-status-as-a-level-2-research-university

The petition was put up for reading and signing sometime Thursday night (26 March 2015).  By 3:45 PM 27 March, 109 people had signed. When I looked in on the website about noon today (30 March), the number was about 450.

The more the better, of course, so check it out soon and sign if you agree with the cause.

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February 2015, California and Kalamazoo

Katy and I gave February in Kalamazoo a miss for 2015, as did a few other people we know.  The Polar Vortex of 2014 was what prompted our and others’ decisions. And away to warmer climates was the right direction to take: The vortex was operating this year too.  Here in Kalamazoo, the daily low temperature  was below the long-term average low for the date  for 23 of the 28 days of February.

Unfortunately, we came back a week too early; the first seven days of March also had low temperatures below the long-term averages, culminating in  Friday  7 March when the low was -2 degrees Fahrenheit, to be compared with the long-term average low for that date of 24 degrees.

Snowfall for February 2015 wasn’t so bad, but  at the end of January there was already plenty of snow here in Oshtemo Township from the snows of  November.  In fact, I can still see a fair amount of that same snow as I look out my window today (20 March).  For the first couple of weeks we were back, driving through the parking lots of the big box stores  was like navigating among icebergs.

We spent February in California, in the Bay area, most of the time in Silicon Valley. The temperatures were mostly 50s at night and 60s during the day.  We saw a lot of birds, especially shorebirds and water birds in the Baylands around Palo Alto.  We  also saw a version of the future for a lot of other parts of the US , if we don’t change our ways.

In the next few weeks, I’ll try to write a little about California and also, of course, about what’s going on around here.

For example, I’m supposed to lead a field trip to the Brewer Woods Nature Sanctuary in Pavilion Township on Saturday 25 April to see–among other things–the spring wildflowers.  The SW Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club  is the sponsor. I’ll say a little more about the field trip closer to the date.

That’s on the pro-environmental side.  On the anti-environmental side, the Colony Farm Orchard is once again threatened by WMU expansion.  The Kalamazoo Gazette is only a shadow of what it once was, but is still the main way most of us have for keeping up with the local atrocities.  The print version as well as the on-line version, Mlive, carried the 18 March story about the Colony Farm Orchard and Western Michigan University’s renewed attack on this  preserved land.

I’ll have a little more to say about Colony Farm Orchard too.

As I finish this short post today, Saturday 21 March, 2015, the sun is shining.  Almost all the snow is gone–not quite, not here in at the east edge of the snow belt.  With a temperature of 49 degrees. I wouldn’t call it warm. But the sandhill cranes have been overhead, flying north, red-winged blackbirds are back, and the flowers of winter aconite and snow drops are ready to open. The future looks bright.  Except for Colony Farm Orchard.

 

Posted in Birds, Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Uncategorized | Comments closed

In Southwest Michigan, Vote Tuesday November 4 For Paul Clements and Mark Totten

Election day 2014 is coming up.  The Democratic party has some remarkably good candidates. Paul Clements and Mark Totten are two.  Clements is running for US Congress in the 6th district.  Totten is running for Michigan Attorney General.

Here’s a letter I sent to the Kalamazoo Gazette several days ago (published on-line at M-Live) about the first contest:

To the Editor–Citizens of southwest Michigan have the opportunity to improve the world this fall.  All they have to do is vote for Paul Clements. It ‘s time to take the anti-environment bat out of Fred Upton‘s hands. 

Fred’s record is bad enough on other issues, but it is outstandingly grim on environmental and especially energy matters.  As examples, he voted Yes on opening the outer continental shelf to oil drilling and No on prohibiting oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Yes on barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and No on cutting government subsidies for corporate oil and gas exploration. So the Upton record goes, all down the line, on the wrong side all the way. 

Turn out November 7 and vote for the good guy, Paul Clements.

 

Mark Totten‘s opponent is the current attorney general,  Bill Schuette, elected in 2010.  A highlight of the early part of  Schuette‘s political career is that  he was chosen by President G. W. Bush as his personal representative to Australian-American Friendship Week in Australia.

The Detroit Free Press today (October 30) endorsed Mark Totten  in glowing terms (see http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/10/30/attorney-general-endorsement-michigan-totten).  The article provides a good run-down of Schuette‘s failing performance in the past four years.  He has, says the Free Press, “used his office primarily to promote conservative causes and sabotage federal initiatives that he opposes”–such as EPA clean air programs.

Totten is a Kalamazoo native, has a law degree and a Ph.D. in ethics from Yale and teaches at the Michigan State University law school. Early in the campaign, he was  endorsed by former governor William Milliken, probably Michigan’s best governor, at least within living memory.  Also endorsing Totten is Frank J. Kelley, who may have been Michigan’s best attorney general and certainly was its longest-serving one, for 37 years.  (Kelley holds the record as youngest attorney general of the state and 37 years later, the oldest.)  Kelley was a Democrat and Milliken a Republican, though Milliken’s strong environmental credentials might disqualify him from  today’s  Republican party.

Both Paul Clements and Mark Totten are remarkably capable. Michigan will be  lucky to have them serve.

 

Posted in Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo) | Comments closed

A Day at the Elkhart Jazz Festival, 2014

The Bucky Pizzarelli Trio at the Elkhart Jazz Festival, 26 June 2011.  Photograph by Richard Brewer

A Bucky Pizzarelli trio at the Elkhart Jazz Festival, 26 June 2011. Photograph by Richard Brewer

Elkhart, a middle-sized town in northern Indiana, holds a jazz festival every year on the weekend closest to the Summer Solstice. Katy and I drove down for the Saturday afternoon session this year.

Jazz musicians don’t tend to be early risers, so not much was happening until 10 or 11 AM other than high-school jazz bands performing either on the outdoor stage in the Civic Plaza or in the 1500-seat Lerner Theatre (built as a vaudeville and movie house in 1924 and re-opened after restoration in 2011). But the high-school bands that come to Elkhart are worth listening to; they’re well rehearsed, they swing, and they almost always have one or more excellent soloists.

The  jazz groups perform in several venues–the two already listed plus the Knights of Columbus hall (the only venue where alcohol is served),  the New Life Community Church, and a couple more. Performances last an hour. Half begin on the hour, the others on the half-hour.  By careful scheduling combined with fast foot work, it’s possible to hear four or five complete sets and get a good taste of four or five other groups before things wrap up for the afternoon.  There’s usually enough going on that you’re likely to miss 2-4 groups that you’d like to hear if you attend just one session of the festival as we did.

We began with a Dixieland band, the River Rogues. One of the strengths of the Elkhart Festival is that it includes a wide variety of jazz forms, old to new. The seven Rogues are from Grand Rapids, Michigan, so the river is not the Mississippi, the Swanee, or even the Wabash (It’s the Grand). The band provides an energetic, enjoyable romp through the Dixieland repertoire.

About 11:30 we hustled over to Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan, Swing Gitan is the name of the Chicago-based group and Ponticelli is the guitarist leader. Others involved were a virtuoso violin player capable of playing notes so high they resembled the call of the broad-winged hawk, as well as a bassist and a cimbalom player. The cimbalom, a form of dulcimer played with two spoon-shaped hammers, is popular in Hungary.

The Festival program identifies the musical style of the group as Gypsy Swing.  In their high-energy, lengthy renditions, the group has what I don’t doubt is a Gypsy sound, but not, to me, a sound very close to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly. Perhaps Gypsy Swing has moved on.

We moved on, to two other guitarists, the duo of Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub. Bucky is 88 years old and has played guitar professionally for 70 years. I don’t remember if he performed at the first Elkhart Jazz Festival in 1988, but I’m pretty sure he’s been here all through the 2000s.  He is, of course, one of the great jazz guitarists, rhythm but also single-string improvisation. Laub, his current partner, plays guitar and sings in a relaxed style.

One of the first tunes they played was Two Funky People which according to Bucky was composed by Al Cohn,  based on the chord changes of Street of Dreams (a Victor Young tune from 1932). One of Laub’s first vocals was a pleasant version of  Then I’ll Be Tired of You, an under-appreciated love song by Arthur Schwartz and Yip Harburg. Harburg also wrote the words for the songs in “The Wizard of Oz”–as well as Brother, Can You Spare a Dime and April in Paris, among many.

A new young singer that we wanted to hear was scheduled to start a half hour before the Pizzarelli-Laub set ended, so we slipped out and moved to the Knights of Columbus Hall, not far away, in time to get good seats for the Lena Seikaly trio.

Ms Seikaly–tall, dark-haired, and striking looking–is a major new talent. Several of the tunes were from her recent CD,”Looking Back”, which features songs mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, especially ones recorded by Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, and Ella Fitzgerald. As far as influences go, I didn’t hear much connection to Ethel Waters or Mildred Bailey but traces of Ella and Billie are there–as they almost have to be in any young female jazz singer. Ms Seikaly did Foolin’ Myself this day, beautifully — a nice tribute to the early Billie. Possibly Ms Seikaly’s scat singing on another couple of songs represent Ella’s influence, though in form they seemed more connected to the modern instrumental jazz of recent decades.

Ms. Seikaly has the vocal equipment, musical education (vocal performance, mezzo-soprano, at U. Maryland), stage presence, and enthusiasm for jazz to do great things.  My only question is whether the America of 2014 cares enough about jazz to support her efforts or the efforts of the many other excellent young jazz musicians that are coming along.

It would be unfair to say that female vocalists have been a neglected  category at Elkhart; there have been a couple  who were regulars for considerable stretches of time.  I’m thinking of Becky Kilgore and Joan Collaso.  Becky Kilgore was the key member of a group that used for its name the acronym BED. It stood for Becky, Eddie (Erikson, guitar), and Barrett (first name Dan, trombone). In later years, a bass player, Joel Forbes, sometimes joined the group, which might then be called the  Rebecca Kilgore Quartet.  Ms Kilgore did most of the singing–straightforward, unadorned readings of the American song book in a clear, persuasive voice. Barrett, a fine soloist, has played in many contexts including the sound-track of several Woody Allen movies. He was the trombonist in the band that Woody took to Europe (in the documentary “Wild Man Blues”) If my memory is correct, Barrett was the only  member of the band–except Woody (on clarinet)–who had a solo included in the movie.

Ms Kilgore is from Portland, Oregon.  The second female singer presented at many Elkhart festivals, including something like the last dozen, is Chicagoan Joan Collaso.  The Elkhart program states that “she blends the textures of jazz, R&B, Blues, and Gospel.” Other than these two women, though, female singers have been few and far between, so I was glad to see Ms Seikaly on the schedule.

About 2 PM, we started back toward the Lerner Theatre but stopped on the way to catch most of the set by the Gene Knific Trio at the outdoor stage in the Civic Plaza. This is probably the largest venue, with vast expanses of folding chairs. Its excellent  sound system  had no trouble with the nuances of the acoustic trio of piano (Knific), bass (Geoff Saunders), and drums (Evan Hyde).  The three young men are talented and well-schooled.  Knific and Hyde have western Michigan connections and all three have Florida connections.  Knific is a student of Shelly Berg, a well-known pianist and jazz educator at the University of Miami school of music–and performer at  several earlier Elkhart festivals.

Like nearly every group,the trio had a new CD for sale at the end of their set.  Their CD (“If I Could Find You”) includes some original compositions, some jazz-tinged classical music such as the first movement of Faure’s Requiem in D Minor, and popular songs such as  On the Sunny Side of the Street and I Hear a Rhapsody.  The trio’s version  of the latter could be named I Hear a Fugue.  The opening contrapuntal section is a refreshing contrast to the florid treatments of the song we usually hear.

After a late lunch at the beer-and-wine-garden tent next to the Lerner Theater, we caught the Pat Mallinger quartet with Bill Carrothers , a fine example of the saxophone-with-rhythm-section instrumentation that was the small-jazz-group model for decades. Mallinger, who plays all three saxophones, lives in Chicago.  Carrothers, the pianist, lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, far from any population center, but spends several weeks every year performing in Europe. At least that’s the latest information I found on the Web.

We finished the afternoon by staying put in the same space to hear the EJF All-Stars. The All-Stars seem to be the 2014 descendant of Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band, which played at the Elkhart festival for many years. For 2014, the group has shrunk from an octet to a septet, and a few long-term members are gone.  But the All-Stars do a fine, professional job of producing the main-stream jazz of the 1930s-1950s. Allred on trombone, Eddie Metz, Jr., drums, and Terry Myers, saxophone, were returnees.

Halfway through, Shelly Burns, wife of guitar and banjo player Bill Dendle, one of the new guys, sat in long enough to sing a couple of songs. One was another entry in the under-appreciated section of the American songbook– I Thought About You, words by Johnny Mercer, music by Jimmy Van Heusen.  The impromptu rendition was nice but not as nice as Karin Krog’s recording of about 40 years ago.

The room filled up. At a little before 5 PM, only one other group was still performing. Things would  heat up again when the Saturday evening session started at 6 PM. One of the two festival headliners would play from 8 to 10.  This was Aaron Neville, a singer of whom I know little.  The other headliner–the Preservation Hall Jazz Band–had played Friday evening at 8 PM.  The festival typically begins around 5:30 PM on Friday and runs to around 4 PM Sunday.

Katy and I moved out to the corridor to help make room for late-comers for the All-Stars. We found a couple of seats and stayed a few more minutes–the end of  a pleasant day at the festival.

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