Jordan Peimer is Vice President and Director of Programs. You're most likely to spot him at Peets every morning, performance showcases, movie theaters, concert venues, and cheap ethnic restaurants. What was the best thing he's seen lately? Quantic's tribute to Cesaria Evora at Grand Performances.
With every new post by Jordan, we'll be updating his profile to share what's the best thing he's seen/heard/participated in lately.
I visited Cuba in December 2011 to attend a major international jazz festival. It was a great chance to view the Havana beaches and cityscape, including the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (pictured above right). Photos by Jordan Peimer.
When I think of Cuban music, I think of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Its grand ballroom has hosted all the greats—from Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas, founded by renowned bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez (1911–1970), to, more recently, members of the Buena Vista Social Club. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel was the center of Havana’s rhythmic culture, a place of glamour where residents and vacationers alike could rub elbows with celebrities, gangsters, and politicians and dance the son. [Incidentally, a large influx of American Jews traveled to Cuba specifically to explore the Latin sounds that had provided the soundtrack to the Borscht Belt’s nightly dance parties. There, in the Catskill Mountains, Latin music had been entertaining Jewish audiences for decades.]
You’ll definitely get on your feet and dance when you hear Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas this week at Sunset Concerts. Here’s a clip of the band performing at Lincoln Center in New York this year.
Paul gave generously of his time and participated in numerous programs with us at the Skirball. Most recently I was fortunate enough to work with him on a 2012 Skirball retrospective of his films, a series we entitled “Through a Glass Brightly.” Continue reading →
A sneak preview of Tales from the Forgotten Kingdom, to be performed by the Guy Mendilow Ensemble at the Skirball on March 27:
Guy Mendilow is not only an incredible musician, he is also quite a scholar of Sephardic culture. He and his ensemble’s concerts not only present the music of Sephardic tradition in a contemporary style, they also share the stories and culture of the Jews of both pre- and post-diasporic Spain. Their concerts become not just an opportunity to enjoy, but also to learn. I invite you to share in my conversation with Guy and then join us at the Skirball for what is certain to be a great evening.
So what is Ladino? How is it an “endangered” language? First off, let’s quickly tackle the question of names. The term “Ladino” is arguable. Although it has become the most common name for the language, the spoken language itself is more correctly called Spaniolit, Yehuditze, Judeo, Judaismo, Hekatia (in Northern Africa), Saphardi, or, as was the case for older generations, simply Spanish. Today, the various dialects are often grouped under “Judeo-Spanish,” an umbrella term used mainly in academic study.
What the language is is a great story. The final expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 marked the start of large-scale migrations in which the Jews eventually settled in communities spanning the vast Ottoman Empire, from Northern Africa and the Mediterranean to the Balkans, and beyond. In each adopted home, the language, food, customs, stories, songs, and musicality that the Jews brought with them mingled with local variants—and cultural and linguistic offshoots eventually evolved. To some extent, each Jewish community adopted words and expressions from the local languages, including Greek, Slavic languages, Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew. The language of Ladino is a beautiful illustration of these broader patterns. Another reason that the language is fascinating is that it keeps alive some of the grammar, words, and even pronunciation from the 1500s. It’s like a time capsule.
Judeo-Spanish is still spoken by pockets of Jews, today primarily in Israel. But the culture has succumbed to many of the same forces of modernity and assimilation to which other cultures have also succumbed. Children stopped learning the language, focusing instead on the dominant languages of the new home, like Hebrew or English. When grandparents passed away, the language went with them.
Why do you think preserving Ladino through song is important? Songs—and other arts—can tell us much about a culture. They are a glimpse into a constellation of values and perspectives, occasions, life cycles, and celebrations. Songs are also an opportunity to hear the language, especially when there are fewer and fewer opportunities to do so, for most of us at any rate. Continue reading →
When the rain is coming down during winter in L.A. (like it is today, finally!), the Skirball takes on my favorite look: wet. Much has been made of Moshe Safdie’s signature materials—glass, steel, and water—and how they reflect the sun, sky, and mountains. [To learn more about Safdie’s design aesthetic, visit Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie.] Those of us who live/work in one of his environments know the special secrets of how the concrete walls look wet, the patterns of raindrops on the pond, the sound of a storm against the glass, and the occasional leaf floating in a puddle.
It is with these moments in mind that I decided to create a spotify playlist—a soundtrack, if you will, for those stormy days, when the archaeology dig is closed and the buildings’ exteriors take on a mellowed hue. I invite you to pick up an umbrella and admire the Skirball in the rain with your headphones tuned to this playlist.
The Taper Courtyard.
“Hljómalind” by Sigur Rós from Hvarf/Heim The organ at the beginning always reminds me of a church organ, but the song is anything but a hymn. It’s written in Hopelandic, the imaginary Icelandic-like language the band has invented to focus their listeners on sounds rather than words, I frequently think that Jónsi is singing “you saw the light” and “you shine on us.” At the same time, for me the nonsense syllables call to mind the interplay of wet flagstone and sky in the Taper Courtyard. The final moments of the song remind me of a toy piano. Follow along with the Hopelandic lyrics, here.
“Eple” by Röyksopp from Melody A.M. (but I most prefer the Black Strobe remix off their Eple 12″ EP)
In Beaux Art architecture, in order to create a successful fountain, one needed to ensure that anyone strolling by would hear the sound of water on water, water on stone, and water on metal. Certainly on a rainy day one can hear that all of that at the Skirball. “Eple” seems to reflect the romance of falling water in at least all three of those states, plus the drama of grey skies. I think here at the base of the mountains and Mulholland Drive we benefit from a very special climate. If you’ve ever watched the clouds roll into the mountains here and become fog, you know what I am talking about. See the Röyksopp music video, here.
“Tinseltown in the Rain” by The Blue Nile
The classic but defunct indie band The Blue Nile knew a thing or two about rain: their home base was Glasgow, Scotland, a city that receives nearly fifty inches annually. While their song is not about Los Angeles but the impermanence of love, I love comparing the idea of the wet Victorian buildings (ubiquitous in Glasgow) to the Skirball’s rain-streaked modern architecture. Plus the song showcases Paul Buchanan’s plaintive voice to brilliant effect. I often sing the song to myself while I walk out the Skirball’s front door towards a rainy Sepulveda Blvd. The repetition of lyrics is a nice accompaniment to watching windshield wipers of cars stopped at the traffic light. Watch it performed live, here. Continue reading →
The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—finish up this week with Dendê & Band, rhythm-heavy Afro-Brazilian music led by master percussionist and composer Dendê Macêdo. Throughout the season, SkirBlog has featured a preview of the week’s upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about this year’s final performance below, then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Dendê & Band, this Thursday, August 29, at 8:00 p.m.
When I walked into New York’s famed S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil) and first saw Dendê & Band, I immediately knew that the mixture of African percussion and Brazilian melodies would make for a perfect addition to Sunset Concerts. Bahia-born bandleader Dendê currently splits his time between the Brazilian state and New York City, and along the way he has collaborated with some of the world’s great musicians, including David Byrne, Zakir Hussain, and Vinicius Cantuária. He has been performing since he was a young teenager, and while he leads a number of combos with slightly different focuses, all his music is about percussion and has been a hit from the Kennedy Center to Lincoln Center and at festivals around the world.
As a bandleader, Dendê exudes the charisma to create deep audience connections and his music easily cajoles even the most reticent onto the dance floor. The sound is a wonderful mixture of traditional Brazilian melodies and Afrobeat with added flavors of reggae, merengue, and other tropical sounds that will sweep you onto your feet. Time Out New York says the music “ought to delight fans of Afrobeat and psych-tinged funk.” Rest assured, when Dendê & Band start playing, you will be out of your seat and on the dance floor.
Watch the official video for “Cafézinho” by Dendê & Band:
Hunter Hunted at our last Into the Night event in July. Photo by Lindsey Best.
Local bands Jenny O., In the Valley Below, and Body Parts as well as sets by KCRW DJ Travis Holcombe, oversized games, live wild animals, cocktails, craft making, a balloon artist, nighttime activities in Noah’s Ark, and screenings of Dr. Seuss’ The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T—that is what we can offer if you join us Friday, August 30 for our end-of-the-summer extravaganza, Into the Night: The Wild Side! For a little insight into the three local bands who will be performing, members of our Programs Department discuss the band they’re most excited about bringing to the Skirball:
Photo by Melanie Bellomo.
When I saw Jenny O. perform at The Echo back in March of this year, along with Harriet (who performed at the Skirball on July 12), the chatting, mingling audience (including myself) was immediately captivated. Jenny has a surprisingly demure yet powerful stage presence, and her band has a warm, old-timey sound that is reminiscent of The Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson, whom Jenny O. cites as her greatest influences. Her latest album, Automechanic (featuring accompaniment by Jake Blanton of The Killers), is full of deeply personal lyrics and interesting harmonies that are a testament to her artistic growth since her 2011 EP, Home. I’m really excited to see the band perform at the Skirball, and am looking forward to hearing some of my favorites like “Automechanic” and “Well OK Honey” live!
—Kasia Gondek, Program Coordinator
I cannot remember how I found In the Valley Below. It might have been one of those Bands-You-Ought-to-Have-Heard lists, or maybe a friend or colleague recommended them. But ever since I played their first EP, I’ve been describing them as my new favorite band. Continue reading →
The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with a world-premiere collaboration between Maria Muldaur, singer of the megahit “Midnight at the Oasis,” and the rock gospel ensemble The Campbell Brothers. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers, this Thursday, August 22, at 8:00 p.m.
For the twelve-year-old boy in me who wrote a fifteen-page paper on the effect of comic books on children during World War II, Superman at 75: A Jewish Hero for All Time is a dream program. Joining together an expert like Larry Tye with Jack Larson (THE ORIGINAL JIMMY OLSEN!!!!), Richard Donner (director of the Christopher Reeves Superman), and Geoff Johns (chief creative officer at DC Comics),means bringing our audience a rare concentration of expertise and celebrity. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare go see the new Superman movie without hearing what the four of them have to say!
I couldn’t even wait ’til the program to grill Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, about his favorite Superman and how he first learned about our favorite superhero’s Jewish roots.
What first drew you to Superman?
Two things: I was intrigued by why we as Americans embrace the heroes we do, and decided one way to explore that would be to look at our longest-lasting hero of the last century, Superman. The other reason was I wanted to be ten years old again, and revisiting my childhood pal let me feel like I was.
What is your favorite Superman plot?
I loved the 1990s series where he fought his most dastardly enemy ever (Doomsday), died in the arms of his beloved (Lois), and, after the requisite funeral and mourning, came back to life. Those stories reminded me that what comic book creators take away, they can give back, and they reminded the world why it loved (and needed) Superman.
How did you become aware of Superman’s Jewish roots?
Partly by reading all the good works on the Man of Steel’s ethnicity that came before, partly by reading Superman creator Jerry Siegel’s unpublished memoir, which no one other than his family and lawyers had seen before. Continue reading →
Reading Hand-Drying in America, please excuse my messy desk.
I first experienced the work of Ben Katchor more than a decade ago when I read his graphic novel The Jew of New York, a wild tale about a scheme to carbonate Lake Erie and pump seltzer water directly into the tenements of New York City. I loved both the creative wit and the spare drawing style that brought this tale to life. I am very excited to finally meet the man behind the many tales when he appears here next week in a rare Los Angeles appearance.
I had a chance to chat on the phone with Ben recently and I asked him how he started doing graphic novels. Here’s what he told me:
I was exposed to comic strips as a child, growing up in New York. They were always something that existed outside of the certified educational system, a kind of forbidden literature for children. By the time I got to high school I outgrew them in terms of stories, but I still liked the drawing. I realized that the drawing was the thing that really interested me. Continue reading →
Just a couple of days before Election Day, the Skirball will be presenting Ameryka. A meditation on democracy, this work-in-progress seemed to me a thought-provoking program to present in association with Creating the United States. Ameryka is written and directed by multidisciplinary artist and 2011 USA Hoi Fellow Nancy Keystone, working in collaboration with her Critical Mass Performance Group.
I recently had a chance to ask Nancy a few questions about the work… and I found out that an election poster in Poland was what first inspired it.
What sparked the idea for Ameryka?
I was in Poland in 2009, which was the twentieth anniversary of the “Solidarity” election. Solidarity was the free trade union in Poland, which sparked the modern democracy movement in Eastern Europe, the first semi-free elections in Poland, and the eventual fall of Communism.
It was during that trip in 2009 that I saw the famous Solidarity election poster. It features a picture of Gary Cooper as Sheriff Will Kane, from the 1950s Western High Noon. He’s wearing a Solidarity badge above his sheriff star, and instead of a gun he’s holding an election ballot. At the bottom of the poster, it says, “It’s High Noon, 4 June, 1989.” I was really taken by this collision of cultures, by the use of this very American image to rally people to vote, by what this meant about the relationship between the United States and Poland. What I found was a vast universe of associations between our two countries going back to the American Revolution, and that’s what sparked the idea for Ameryka.
Your work addresses 200+ years of American history. How did you even begin to tackle this massive span of time and how have you chosen which eras to explore?Continue reading →