Heinen: Jazz’s game

Take a look at Neil Heinen's Jazz playlist
Heinen: Jazz’s game
Photo by Carol Shufro

I was instantly attracted to the first play offered by Forward Theater Co. this season. The supporting themes in Lauren Gunderson’s play “I and You” included Walt Whitman’s poetry and John Coltrane’s music, art that I have turned to for many reasons for 40 years or so. Both added a great deal to the story of “I and You” and to my enjoyment of the play. But while it’s a rare month when I don’t read a few pages from “Leaves of Grass,” I realized I hadn’t listened to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” for several years. And so on the early November Monday following the performance, I slipped the CD into the car stereo and was again transported to places that only certain music can take you.

I’ve gone through similar periods before and I emptied my car of all the Neil Young, Kendrick Lamar, Roy Buchanan, Curtis Mayfield, Beyonce, Pearl Jam and Hamilton soundtrack CDs I’d been listening to for months and replaced them with Coltrane, Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” and Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.” And, well, I felt different–about life.

Music is very important to me and produces emotions that are powerful and memorable. But jazz is different. Jazz makes me feel AND think. Listening exclusively to jazz for the next several weeks helped me deal with the jittery craziness of politics in Washington, D.C., and at the state Capitol. It calmed me. Not calm as in sedated. Sedated is definitely not jazz’s game. Calm as in peaceful and contemplative. And I once again realized that in a time of baffling contradictions, of anti-intellectualism and of rejection of science, jazz (and poetry, the popularity of which is rising in post-election America) can restore a sense of order and awareness of beauty that contribute to the joy of being alive.

As usual, repeated listenings resulted in a focus on the bass, an instrument I’ve long found particularly compelling. And thus a few days later, in an effort to prolong the renewed jazz influence in my life, I added to my playlist a CD compiled by my friend and then colleague, former Madison Magazine managing editor Katie Vaughn. For a Christmas present almost 10 years ago Katie asked another friend, the incomparable bassist Richard Davis, to recommend a list of “favorite songs to share with Neil Heinen.” He picked eight: “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “Body and Soul” by Coleman Hawkins, “Mood to be Wooed” by Johnny Hodges, the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail,” “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, another Johnny Hodges piece “Passion Flower” and “Make This City Ours Tonight” sung by Davis’s dear friend Sarah Vaughan.

I challenge you to compile a more eclectic, interesting variety of songs. I absolutely love it. Adding a really nice touch, Katie created an “album cover” with a picture of Richard and me from a column I wrote about him for the first issue of Spectrum Magazine, which Madison Magazine produced. It’s pretty special.

This year is the 25th annual Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists conference, just one of the extraordinary projects Davis launched during his roughly four decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After his recent retirement, I started feeling Davis’s tenure and his dedication–to education, justice, racial equity and healing and, especially, young people–was and continues to be underappreciated.

His 88th birthday is coming up in April, and he’s dealing with the health issues that come from reaching such an age. But he’s as smart and sharp as ever with an active of mind. The conference is March 30 and 31 at the Pyle Center with a faculty concert on Friday at the Memorial Union and a participants concert on Saturday. If, like me, you could use a little jazz in your world, this might be a nice place to find it. Read some “Leaves of Grass” before you go.

Side Notes

Building a Better Food System
Joining more than 160 cities from around the world, Madison recently signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. Along with Washington, D.C., Madison is committing to developing more just, sustainable and healthy food systems. Additionally, in his role with the U.S. Conference of Mayors Food Policy Task Force, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin will help Madison coordinate efforts with other municipalities to achieve common goals and establish metrics of success on a range of food systems issues.

Twenty Years Being More Than Pink
It’s hard to think of Susan G. Komen Wisconsin without Michelle Heitzinger. She would be the first to say the work of Komen is reflected in the thousands of faces of breast cancer survivors, their families, advocates, health care providers, researchers and more. But for 10 years as a volunteer and then 10 years as area director, Heitzinger has been the face of breast cancer education, activism, fundraising and the Komen Race for the Cure in south central Wisconsin. She has stepped down from the job, but not the mission. She will always be as pink as it gets, and more.