Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Two Bay Area Lives in the Arts

Curator and art history instructor Kathy Zarur (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

It’s funny when two stories I’ve worked on for a good while both wind up publishing on the same day, but that’s just how things work sometimes.  In the case of these two pieces, the first on independent curator and adjunct arts instructor Kathy Zarur and the second on public art muralist Daniel Galvez, it turned out they compliment each other quite nicely.

One of the reasons I interview people and arts professionals is that I like them, they’re my people.  In the case of Zarur and Galvez, it couldn’t be more the case.  Both were extremely generous with their time with me, allowing me to probe into their personal and professional lives. They didn’t have to do that, especially not at a time when artists, professionals and everyday Americans from their respective communities are under extreme pressure.

Muralist Daniel Galvez.
(Ekevara Kitpowsong/CurrentSF)

 

Zarur is a born and raised, second generation Palestinian American who has devoted her life to studying the arts and passing on her knowledge as a college instructor.  She also independently co-curates exhibits and installations.  It’s a precarious way to make a living in San Francisco but she is committed.  An interesting side note which did not make it into this week’s SFLives column but which demonstrates the intersections between all of us who live, work and maybe were even born here in San Francisco: Zarur’s family and my family were likely on the same block at the same time in the early ’70s.  I hope to explore these intersections in a future project but until then, I’m just counting it as more evidence that we are all part of one human family.

Galvez, also native to California but from the Sacramento area, has made his home in Oakland for the last 30 some years. His father was Mexican American and met his mother who was from Mexico; he is the first person in his family to attend college and the first artist among them. Galvez’s public works can be seen coast to coast but there is one mural of his that I pass frequently in the course of my own work in San Francisco’s Mission District:  He recently restored this work titled Carnaval, based on photographs by photojournalist Lou Dematteis. Someday, I hope to visit the Audubon Ballroom where Galvez created a permanent mural depicting the life of the late Malcolm X.

I have to say I feel a bit of pride in our Bay Area for supporting the work of artists and arts professionals, diverse people across generational, gender and cultural heritage lines. But jobs in the arts are becoming more scare here due to extreme gentrification and the high cost of living.  I hope and actually, I pray, that people like Zarur and Galvez can continue to thrive and contribute to the arts and culture communities here so that future generations can enjoy what they and their families worked hard to make possible:  A richer life for all of us.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Latinx culture, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Last Holiday: On Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron and the Dream of an MLK Birthday Observance Made a Reality

150119092427-restricted-02-mlk-0119-super-169Today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. It was a long road to the third Monday in January when all 50 states will observe a federal holiday named in his honor.  Largely owed for making the dream of a King holiday a reality is Stevie Wonder, who back in 1980, wrote the pointed song, “Happy Birthday,” then launched a 41-city U.S. tour (and invited Gil Scott- Heron along) to promote the idea which was first mooted by Rep. John Conyers in 1968. The musical efforts were ultimately the key in collecting the millions of citizen signatures that had a direct impact on Congress passing the law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, declaring a day for MLK. Observed for the first time in 1986, some states were late to the party, however, by the turn of the 21st Century, all were united in some form of remembrance of the civil rights giant. “Happy Birthday,” which served as the Wonder-campaign theme (and is now the “official” King holiday tune) is  the last track on Hotter Than July. The album also features “Master Blaster,” Wonder’s tribute to Bob Marley (he’d been scheduled for the tour until he fell too ill to participate). Stepping into the breach was Scott-Heron whose 2011, posthumously published memoir The Last Holiday, details his own journey with music and activism, and helps retrace the long and winding road Wonder took to bring home the last US federal holiday, with the help of a song.

The Hotter Than July tour brought Gil and Stevie to Oakland, where they played in the name of King, along with Rodney Franklin and Carlos Santana. In a weird turn of events, the concert on December 8, 1980, coincided with the shocking night John Lennon was killed. The musicians and crew learned of the tragedy from a backstage television; the job fell to Wonder,  with Scott-Heron and the other musicians at his side, to deliver the news to the arena of assembled music fans. “For the next five minutes he spoke spontaneously about his friendship with John Lennon:  how they’d met, when and where, what they had enjoyed together, and what kind of man he’d felt Lennon was,” wrote Scott-Heron.  “That last one was key, because it drew a line between what had happened in New York that day and what had happened on that motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, a dozen years before.  And it drew a circle around the kind of men who stood up for both peace and change.”   Scott-Heron devotes the final pages of The Last Holiday  to a remembrance of how the murder of Lennon fueled the final drive to push for a federal observance of an official MLK Day.

The politics of right and wrong make everything complicated

To a generation who’s never had a leader assassinated

But suddenly it feels like ’68 and as far back as it seems

One man says “Imagine” and the other says “I have a dream”

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Black Power,, Blues, Bob Marley, Civil Rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Georgia, Gil Scott-Heron, ,

Wayne Shorter’s Legend and Legacy

88be2d1eb4124206aeb362e8da4e0f22Saturday night’s celebration of Wayne Shorter’s music in San Francisco turned out to be a symbolic passing of the torch by the Wayne Shorter Quartet to jazz’s new leading lights, Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin. The LA musicians and their relationship to tradition, innovation and carrying the music forward is similar to the role Shorter and his close collaborator Herbie Hancock played in the ’70s and beyond.  Read the entire review, my take on the show, in DownBeat online. 

Also, in this week’s online issue of DownBeat, my profile on pianist Joey Calderazzo of the Branford Marsalis Quartet on how he beat cubital tunnel syndrome. The story also appears in the January newsstand issue of the magazine: DownBeat has been publishing since 1934 and I am thrilled to have become a regular contributor there. Look for the February issue on newsstands now.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, California, Concerts, cross cultural musical experimentation, Jazz, , , , , ,

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