How Judy Collins Found a Mentor

The next Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam is October 31 6-8pm

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Kurt Vonnegut often asked people, at the end of his talks, to turn to the person next to them and say the name of some teacher from your time in grade school, high school or college, who in some way made you feel better about yourself, gave you a good memory of your time in school, encouraged you to do better in your work, or simply brightened your day.

While writing a book on creativity (Creating from the Spirit), I interviewed the singer-songwriter Judy Collins, and learned that she often found mentors in books, in authors whose work she liked and identified with. She liked to do “dialogues” with people who had written about their lives or whose lives had been written about in histories or biographies. She’d imagined dialogues with Socrates, and with Picasso, among many others.

In high school she had worked very hard on a paper in English class and the teacher had accused her of plagiarism. This was so hurtful and discouraging, she thought for a long time she “couldn’t write.” Years after, her friend and fellow songwriter Leonard Cohen read some of her journals and said “I see you’re writing songs.” Collins said “No, I can’t write.” Cohen pointed out that if she set some of the words in her journal to music, she’d have a song! This began her songwriting career. Leonard Cohen was a true mentor!

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Get Knocked Down Six Times, Get Up Seven

“The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam”

Tuesday night, September 25, 6-8 pm at The Jazz Kitchen

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If you’re alive, you’ve been “knocked down” – if not physically, in some of your efforts – in your education, work, career, relationships. It is part of the experience of being alive. Getting “knocked down” is no disgrace – the important thing is getting back up. It was expressed most succinctly in a Nike commercial that showed the basketball star Dwayne Wade getting knocked down on the court – and getting back up. The only words in the commercial were said by Wade:

“Get knocked down six times, get up seven.”

Sophie Faught and Dan Wakefield have told – with music and stories – what it was like to start out as a musician and as a writer in their own distinct eras, and what it was like to experience their first “big break.” Now an upcoming “Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” will feature stories of their own setbacks – and how they “got back up” – with words and music.

Sophie and Dan will be joined by guest vocalist Everett Greene, bass baritone singer, actor, narrator and voice-over talent. His singing roots started in a gospel quartet and he discovered and fell in love with jazz when he moved to Indianapolis fifty plus years ago. He has performed with stars including jazz greats Wes Montgomery and  David Baker, was inducted into the Indiana Jazz Hall of Fame, and recently won Butler University’s inaugural “jazz legend” award.

The experience of getting knocked down six times and getting up seven has been experienced by all artists in all times and places. In fact it is not limited to the arts or sports, but is a part of human survival. The Nobel Prize winning Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, author of “Waiting for Godot,” said it this way:

“Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better. . .”

Winston Churchill, who led England in its darkest hour, and the Allies to beat the Nazis in World War II, put it these words:

“Never give in, never never never never – in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

The same sentiment was stated most succinctly by the great blues singer Bessie Smith, who said:

“picked up my bag, baby, and I tried it again.”

Musician Sophie Faught, writer Dan Wakefield and guest vocalist Everett Greene will bring back this basic message to individual lives, the stories of our everyday experience, in the words and music of “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” at The Jazz Kitchen, Tuesday, September 25, 6-8 pm.

Tickets may be purchased from The Jazz Kitchen:

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“It’s De-Lovely” – Cole Porter in Words and Music!

THE UNCLE DAN AND SOPHIE JAM – TRIBUTE TO COLE PORTER

Tuesday, June 12th 6-8pm

With words and music, by writer Dan Wakefield and saxophonist Sophie Faught. Take a creative journey with Dan and Sophie as they tell through stories and music how they each, in different eras, became a musician, a writer. Their Jams give off the rhythm and excitement as well as the dedication/ inspiration of making artistic dreams come true.

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When author Cathy Day discovered her home town of Peru, Indiana, gave birth to more than the circus [her first novel was the highly-praised The Circus in Winter], she asked her grandmother why there was no statue or plaque or memorial of any kind to its world-famous native son, composer Cole Porter – why didn’t the town celebrate its most famous son?

At first her grandmother said “because he left” – to go to Yale, New York, Paris, and the world at large – and when further questioned, she said it was because he was “different,” meaning not a bi-sexually standardized American man of his time (circa turn of the century, coming of age in the 1920s.)

Small and thin, described as “frisky as a monkey” and “aloof,” Porter wore pink and yellow shirts with salmon ties at Yale and became a Big Man on Campus by writing the school’s  popular football songs (he was elected president of the Glee Club and a member of the legendary Whiffenpoofs.) The stolid biographer William McBrien wrote that “Porter was homosexual but not bisexual – which no doubt diminished the tensions which otherwise might have ruptured the relationship” with his wife, the wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas. Sometimes after their marriage she was known as “Linda Cole Porter.” A friend thought “she was not at all lesbian – she was sexless – but absolutely in love with Cole who adored her.”

Whatever the biological algebra (or calculus) of Porter’s marriage and his many male lovers, he produced some of the greatest love songs – in both words and music – of all time. Just as a sample, try these titles: “Night and Day,” “Let’s Do It,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Anything Goes,” “Begin the Beguine,”  “You’re the Top,” “All Through The Night,” “Love for Sale.” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Easy to Love,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “I  Love Paris,” “C’est Magnifique,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “In The Still of The Night,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Miss Otis Regrets,” “From Now On,” “It’s All Right With Me. . .”

Little wonder that columnist Walter Winchell called him “King Cole Porter” and TIME magazine crowned him “Man of the Year” in 1935, reporting that it was “now considered the smartest thing to know the lyric s [of his songs] by heart and rattle them off when the song is played.”

Asked what he liked, Porter said “Cats, parties, swimming, scandal, films and Peru, Indiana.”

He was often counted out but he always came back. Both his legs were crushed by a horse in a riding accident in 1937, but he endured multiple surgeries to his legs, learned to walk with canes, and wrote more Broadway musicals, Hollywood movie scores and hit songs. In WWII his music made the movie “Hollywood Canteen” a huge hit. He made Ethel Merman a star and discovered Mary Martin for the Broadway stage.

He hadn’t had a hit on Broadway for a few years and again was declared dead in the water; then in 1948 he turned Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” into his biggest hit of all, “Kiss Me Kate.”

There were more hit musicals – “Can-Can,” “Panama Hattie,” and movies “Silk Stockings,” “DuBarry Was a Lady”- studded with hit songs. He lived life to the fullest, sunning on the Riviera with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, traveling to meet the Sultan of Zanzibar, climbing Maccu Piccu, finally being honored by the state of Indiana when “Cole Porter Day” was declared in Indianapolis. This last laurel led Booth Tarkington to observe:  “Of course it’s something to be a Hoosier who became a Hollywood and Broadway celebrity; but when a New York and Broadway celebrity becomes so celebrated that he’s known in Indiana too, he has touched the mantle of fame itself.”

Porter said “if I was born twenty years earlier, I would have been an Indiana banker” – that was his father’s wish, which thankfully for the public did not come true.

What a banquet of music and story to feast on, with our star saxophonist Sophie Faught and her trio playing Porter’s songs, and novelist Cathy Day joining me to tell the story of  Linda and Cole Porter (the French called them “lecoleporteurs”) on Tuesday, June 12, at 6 pm at The Jazz Kitchen.

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield