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Twin Towers: Acclaimed novelist Dorothy Allison joins forces with alto-sax man Charles McPherson for an evening of word and music.

Jazz Lit

Writers, poets and musicians intersect at San Jose Museum's five-night series of readings and performances

By Ann Elliott Sherman

FOR THE NEXT FIVE Monday nights, special teams at the top of their game will fire up the crowd at the San José Repertory Theatre. Moved to the roomier venue for its second year, the San Jose Museum of Art's wildly successful Intersections performance series returns. Again coordinated by writer Quincy Troupe, each evening spotlights intriguing match-ups of word and music featuring both those who are and those who ought to be bestsellers and legends of literature and jazz.

Kicking things off on Jan. 17 is fiction writer Russell Banks, whose uncompromising yet generous examinations of American families and society have earned both critical praise and literary prizes. Perhaps best known for his cinematically translated novels Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter, Banks will be joined by his spouse, poet Chase Twichell. Reading her latest book, The Snow Watcher, was described by former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass as "like breathing cold air ... unsentimental poems with a sinewy intellectual toughness."

They will be accompanied by "one of jazz's great thinkers," pianist Andrew Hill, who explores the uncharted territory between avant-garde and free-form jazz with a percussive style in which tempo and meter can and do shift on a dime and leave pocket change.

On Jan. 24, actor and United Nations goodwill ambassador Danny Glover will perform an encore to his Langston Hughes set at Troupe's series in La Jolla and present a dramatic reading. Appearing with Glover will be self-professed "trash femme" Dorothy Allison, who has mined the mother lode of dysfunctional family secrets in bestselling, award-winning novels like Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller.

"I use music to pin down my characters in my own mind, playing the same records over and over as I work on particular characters or sections," Allison says. Bastard was written to a gospel soundtrack; for Cavedweller--the story of a prodigal rock & rolling mother's return--Allison O.D.'d on '70s rock.

It'll be interesting to see what she does with the dazzling bebop of alto-sax player Charles McPherson and his son, drummer Chuck McPherson. Though the elder McPherson is such a master of the style and vocabulary of the late Charlie Parker that Clint Eastwood picked him to supply those parts of the Bird soundtrack not dubbed from actual Parker recordings, the virtuoso has a driving, intense yet lyrical energy all his own.

More than able to step in where stylistic forebears Max Roach and Art Blakey left off, Chuck McPherson has supplied the beat not only for his father's groups, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and other jazz greats, but has also jumped genres to record with Madonna and Kurtis Blow.

THE JAN. 31 SHOW is definitely not for the faint of heart. "Orthodoxy brings out the scatological in me," Rikki Ducornet admits. An imaginative intellectual whose rich language testifies to her perception of "fiction as a species of magic: words engendering worlds," in the fairy-tale realm of her stories, danger underlies the satisfaction and repression of desire in equal measure. Ducornet's latest work is The Fan-Maker's Inquisition, A Novel of the Marquis de Sade.

Also holding forth will be performance poet Sekou Sundiata. Co-founder of Mouth Almighty Records, his Blink Your Eyes from the 1997 CD The Blue Oneness of Dreams bears witness to the NYC version of the national phenomenon known as DWB. "Music is an inspiration, a resource, the way I hear language, and it's a mythology," Sundiata says. Providing the inspiration that night will be musical activist, composer and pianist Jon Jang, who blends traditional Chinese music into contemporary jazz.

The first Monday in February, manifold writer Denise Chavez (Face of an Angel) will hold forth with reedsman J.D. Parran and American-born, Bahamas-bred Trinidadian novelist Robert Antoni. Antoni's Divina Trace retells Caribbean history through its collection of many versions of the story of a black Madonna rooted in the Ramayana myths, and is credited with injecting postmodernism into postcolonial Caribbean literature.

For the series finale on Feb. 14, Troupe sends an aptly bittersweet valentine: writers whose stock in trade is the pain and transcendence of the things people do to one another. Prodigious man of letters John Edgar Wideman, whose works include Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, The Cattle Killing and Two Cities, says he writes "to find reasons to live a rational and ethical life." He will be joined by New York state poet laureate Sharon Olds, known for her clear-spoken distillations of the sacred and the profane hidden in plain sight in the domestic and mundane. SoCal pianist Mike Wofford, accompanist to jazz divas and sensitive interpreter of Jerome Kern classics, is their musical complement.


Intersections runs five nights. Jan. 17: Russell Banks, Chase Twichell and Andrew Hill. Jan 24: Danny Glover, Dorothy Allison, Charles McPherson and Chuck McPherson. Jan. 31: Sekou Sundiata, Rikki Ducornet and Jon Jang. Feb. 7: Robert Antoni, Denise Chavez and J.D. Parran. Feb. 14: John Wideman, Sharon Olds and Mike Wofford. All events are at 7:30pm at the San José Repertory Theater, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $15/$20. (408.271.6840)

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From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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