Resonance by Jim SantellaMore articles about Lisa Thorson
But heralding that particular event is not the reason for this piece. As noteworthy as JAZZARTSIGNS is in terms of making "seeing" and "hearing" jazz possible for the blind and deaf, an effort that warrants our wholehearted praise and financial support, I'm interested in the implications for jazz performance not specifically focused upon those with physical disabilities.
Forty years ago, Thorson's musical and dramatic presentation would have been classified by the Press as a "happening," a term signifying an improvised artistic performance blurring the boundaries among various arts, and between artists and audiences. A curiosity of the free jazz of that period was how rare were ambitious jazz happenings blending free-form dance (which Thorson's ASL interpreters Jody Steiner and Misha Derissaint look like they're doing nonstop), action painting, and projected words and lights. Sun Ra was the pioneer of the jazz happening, and few of even the most intrepid avant-guardists of the 60s followed Ra's lead.
Perhaps the prevailing cultural norms of the jazz club and concert hall, then, and even now, prevent such spontaneously dramatic, genre-busting, jazz happenings. If that indeed is the reason for the lack of jazz happenings in Sun Ra's wake, perhaps it is a paradox that it has taken a wheelchair bound jazz musician like Thorson to teach us how to return to the delight of performing and experiencing improvised music in a carnival atmosphere full of multisensory surprise. Indeed, Thorson and her talented musicians, signers, and caption experts, are reversing the meaning of Sonny Boy Williamson's blues. They are blazing a path where the immobile teach the mobile how to dance in their seats, help the deaf hear, and "give eyesight to the blind." If you think I'm writing metaphorically as well as literally, you've connected with my intent. As Chuck Close, one of the world's great artists, who has been wheelchair bound for many years, answered an interviewer who asked Close what word Close uses to describe those without disabilities, Close wryly commented, "the not yet disabled." Those of us in that broad population, and who care about the future health of jazz, would do well to follow Thorson's ambitious project.
Painting by Nancy Ostrovsky
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