Photo by Kenny McCracken.
Alice Russell’s most recent album, To Dust, is a collection of soulful torch songs about unwavering tenacity in the midst of spurned love. Her live shows are raw and gritty affairs—her vocal acrobatics flying effortlessly across funky grooves and R&B beats. In celebration of indie label Tru Thoughts Recordings’ fifteenth anniversary, Russell performs live at the Skirball on October 24, with openers Lost Midas and The Seshen. I asked Russell to share some thoughts about her music career, her songwriting process, and where in L.A. she’ll be visiting while she’s here.
It’s been ten years since you released your debut album, Under the Munka Moon. How has a decade affected your music?
Time has sprinted past. I have opened up over time. Over this decade I toured a lot, and that, bit by bit, forced me to really open up on stage and, in turn, in the studio. I have had the privilege to visit amazing places to perform and record, and these experiences can’t help but affect the music that I am now making. Continue reading
How do we express love? What does it take to have a lasting relationship, friendship, or marriage? What did your parents or grandparents teach you about unconditional love? These were just some of the questions posed to the public by Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) as they explored the meanings of love and commitment for Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, a multi-phase exhibition on view through October 12 at the Skirball. Sorting through hundreds of responses, Fallen Fruit realized that three different voices emerged—representing wisdom, reason, and guidance on everyday actions. The artists then carefully selected and organized these key words and phrases (using three distinct font styles) to create a commitment document called Love Score. The document is a contemporary take on the ketubbah, a traditional Jewish marriage contract. Densely designed in a style reminiscent of visual poetry, the Love Score provides a unique set of instructions on how to love someone.
Fallen Fruit, Love Score, 2014. Co-authored with the public, this dense text piece takes a few minutes to “decode,” but eventually the words form a harmonious statement about how to love others.
Now on view in Fallen Fruit of the Skirball: a selection of portraits of people who love each other, all submitted by the public. In making the selection, the artists looked for candid moments that were personal but also spoke to the broader public—smiles, hugs, hand-holding, kisses, and other gestures of affection that everyone understands. Photo by Timothy Norris.
Since May of this year, the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) has been in residence creating Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, a multi-phase exhibition exploring the meanings of love and commitment. For the central part of this project, the public was invited to submit photographs of themselves with someone they love. A selection of these would then be displayed salon-style over the custom-designed pomegranate wallpaper covering the walls of the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. People from Los Angeles and beyond, including several from our own Skirball community, responded to this call for participation.
With the proliferation of smartphones, with which we can take and post snapshots and selfies on social media at any time, we are able to capture moments with loved ones and express ourselves more easily than ever before. But there are also photographs from old family albums and archives, studio shots and wallet-sized prints. Fallen Fruit embraced all kinds of portraiture to explore complex expressions of love—friendships, marriage, familial ties, and nuanced social messages. They carefully sorted the submissions and chose images to construct a collective portrait of a lifetime, from birth and adolescence through adulthood and old age.
Once the portraits started pouring in, so did the amazing stories behind them. The images portray weddings, both recent and long ago; couples celebrating anniversaries; grandparents sharing special moments with their grandchildren; mothers holding newborn babies; a young dad napping with his toddler children; and a gay couple getting married on the day the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned. Continue reading
“Do you remember?” That’s a question we often ask visitors to the Skirball, be they school kids, adults, or seniors. Skirball exhibitions—both permanent and changing—look back at moments in American history that have served as fulcrums of social and cultural change, encouraging people to trace their own personal stories through history. Through this reflection, our memories connect us to one another.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum, which opened this year in New York City after a lengthy development process, uses personal narrative to describe the history of an event that is still, for many of us, vividly etched in our memories. Most of us remember where we were when we heard the news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center; can recall the frantic phone calls to friends and loved ones; still see the images of the Twin Towers crumbling into dust.
I approached my first visit to the new museum with slight apprehension, worried the imagery might be more than my daughter and mother (my companions for the visit) would be prepared to handle. My mom had been in Manhattan on 9/11 and has strong memories of the panic and the dust and the trauma. And my daughter is only fourteen. But the museum person in me was interested in what emotional resonance the experience would bring. The Skirball likewise makes use—in its Holocaust memorial and in the exhibitions—of first-person narrative, immersive experience, and evocative objects. Continue reading
Torah Orah. It is a memorable phrase, even if you don’t know Hebrew. Torah means the Five Books of Moses, and in a larger sense, all Jewish learning. Orah means light. The words rhyme, and their meanings rhyme, too. Jewish tradition equates the Torah with light. Both give life; both shed light; both enlighten. Like the rays of the sun, the Torah warms and sustains us; like the glow of a candle, it guides our way even in darkness. So the ancient rabbis have taught, and so generations of Jews have believed. Torah Orah, the Torah is light.
Here at the Skirball Cultural Center, enlightenment is our motivating force. Our doors are open wide to learning, knowledge, and culture. We celebrate the ideas and the ideals that civilize society. Civilization begins with education, and education begins with conversation. Every day at the Skirball is just that: a conversation between teacher and student, parent and child, volunteer and visitor, old friend and new friend. Our halls and galleries and gardens overflow with conversation, encounter, engagement. That is our purpose and our passion.
When illustrator and author Maira Kalman spoke at the Skirball to a sold-out crowd, the program concluded like most Skirball lectures do: with a Q&A. This young fan was thrilled to engage directly with the artist.
Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.
Barbara Isenberg reads from and discusses her new book, Tradition!, on Wednesday, Sep. 10.
Shalom Aleichem’s most famous character, Tevye the milkman, is probably more associated with the word “fiddler” than anyone who actually plays the instrument. The Broadway musical about the Everyman in conversation with God and his changing times predicted the turmoil of the 1960s, but it also outlived the tumultuous decade it anticipated—to this day scarcely a bar mitzvah or Jewish (or non-Jewish) wedding has occurred without the inclusion of the strains of “Tradition!” or the father of the bride dancing with his daughter to “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Truly, starting from Zero Mostel, who played Tevye in the original Broadway production fifty years ago—and whose very personality became the template for all Tevyes who followed—the musical has had an unbroken reach. You can literally spend hours on YouTube watching amateur productions, professional ones in other languages (I highly recommend looking for some of the Japanese ones), and much more general weirdness that is vaguely related to Fiddler on the Roof.
Below are some of my favorite clips, because they show the breadth of the phenomenon that is Fiddler. From a performance by Zero himself to marching bands, from foreign whistlers to contemporary casts giving us the “Anatevka Shake,” Fiddler is only halfway through its first century and is poised to remain a part of the cultural conversation for many years to come. And if you’re not convinced of Fiddler’s cultural entrenchment by a series of increasingly bizarre YouTube videos, check out Barbara Isenberg’s excellent new book about the musical’s historic rise, Tradition!, which comes out today. [The Los Angeles Times published this excerpt.] Then be sure to attend a lively talk by Isenberg at the Skirball, Wednesday, September 10. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy some choice Fiddler clips. Continue reading
Before dancing the night away, I took my prom pictures with my track and field teammates inside the Skirball’s Magnin Auditorium (you can tell it’s there by the yellow bands on the wall behind us).
The Skirball and I have a long rich history together. First of all, I attended my high school prom here. I danced the night away with my best friends in the Taper Courtyard. Then, when I was at UCLA, I would see it off the 405 as my parents drove me back to campus after weekends back home in Palmdale. When I spotted the Skirball during those car rides, I knew that I only had fifteen minutes (or forty-five with traffic!) to finish the reading I should have completed before I went home for the weekend. And now, this past summer, I have interned in the Communications and Marketing department, an awesome opportunity thanks to the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program. I have done other marketing internships during my undergraduate years, but never have I felt so much joy in coming to work as I did while walking through the doors of the Skirball each morning. It’s because each day I helped the team get the word out about exhibitions and programs, I knew I was sharing with my Los Angeles community the amazing experiences that are possible here at the Skirball.
During my internship, the exhibition The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats was on view, and to me, it illustrated a lot about the mission of the Skirball. It showed how the Skirball stands as a place where people of all different backgrounds can meet and feel respected.
I love Keats’s use of marbled paper in his artwork. This piece, from the book entitled Dreams, is my favorite from the exhibition. Ezra Jack Keats, “It was hot. After supper Roberto came to his window to talk with Amy.” Final illustration for Dreams, 1974. Marbled paper and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.
One of the best parts of my job is that I have the privilege of working closely with the musicians we present. When preparing for our concerts, I like to listen to each band and familiarize myself with the history of the music they play as a way of getting to know them before I work with them in person. This Thursday night at Sunset Concerts, I’m thrilled to meet with and see a performance by Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys, Louisiana’s Creole zydeco innovators. But before I get into Broussard’s indelible contributions to the Creole and zydeco traditions, let’s take a peek at the history of zydeco music and dance.
A Very Brief History of Zydeco
Zydeco music has its roots in the Creole tradition of rural Louisiana. After World War II, Creole musicians began incorporating elements of blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll that they heard on the radio and jukeboxes into Creole party music, which is referred to by some as “la-la.” Since that time, zydeco has continuously evolved and incorporated influences from myriad musical genres. Yet it maintains its character through instrumentation centered on the accordion and rubboard, the latter of which drives zydeco’s strong syncopated rhythms.
Zydeco’s specific rhythm lends itself to a traditional type of dance, also called zydeco. Reader, now is the time to put on those cowboy boots! Done in either a “closed position” (meaning you and your partner stay connected) or “club style” (done with an “open style” variety of lead-and-follow improvised variations), the music is counted in eights: slow/quick/quick, slow/quick/quick, with accompanying footwork: step pause/step/step. No matter which style of zydeco you prefer, it’s all about having a good time. And what better place to practice your newly honed zydeco skills than at this week’s concert? We’re even laying down a dance floor!
Check out this informative, easy-to-follow zydeco instructional video.
Jeffery Broussard, Innovator and Preserver of the Zydeco Tradition
Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys are one of very few bands who still play traditional Creole music and also seamlessly incorporate contemporary zydeco into their repertoire. Born into a zydeco legacy, Broussard is the youngest son (and one of ten other siblings… I can only imagine what the line for the bathroom was like in the Broussard household) of the renowned zydeco vocalist and accordionist Delton Broussard. At the tender age of eight, Jeffery began playing drums in his father’s band, the Lawtell Playboys.
Yiddish Tango Club bandleader Gustavo Bulgach communes with his clarinet.
The Tango Club is dimly lit, nostalgic, romantic, surreal, magical, erotic, chaotic, unpredictable. A refuge for the soul, a place for the timeless, a melting pot of dreams and reality. . .
Thus begins the description of the Yiddish Tango Club on their Facebook page. Performing at Sunset Concerts this Thursday night, they are a band that seeks to ensnare listeners’ senses with a blend of Jewish soul music and the Argentinian tango of bandleader Gustavo Bulgach’s home country. From what I have listened to online in anticipation of their concert, I believe they will follow through on that promise. The Yiddish Tango Club is a beautiful musical ideal in an age of globalization—an international group of leading artists that is constantly in flux. Bulgach has performed all over the world with varying band members, essentially creating a new tango club at each performance. The approach is so ingrained in their performances that the group has included it in its mission, which promises that at “every show the audience and musicians will co-construct and manifest a unique Tango Club.” Continue reading
It’s been a busy summer at the Skirball’s Sunset Concerts! As the Program department’s summer intern this year, it’s been a great experience to learn what it takes to put on one of these concerts each week. Now that I have four of them under my belt, I thought I’d share a little bit of what takes place in the hours before show time. Here’s a glimpse at what took place on August 7 as we prepared to present The Haden Triplets.
1:25 p.m.: I arrive at the Skirball later on concert days since we will be working late into the night. It is a sunny day with a light breeze and I chat with security staff about the perfect weather for tonight. We might even need to put sweaters on later!
1:30 p.m.: I have eight e-mails and a voicemail waiting for me. All except one are regarding last-minute updates to press parking or artist accommodations. I make all the necessary changes to our databases.