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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Our Unsung Hoosier Heroine: Janet Flanner: a.k.a. “Genet”

Janet Flanner & Ernest Hemingway

Every good Hoosier knows about our great war correspondent Ernie Pyle, a journalistic hero of WWII.

Few are aware that Janet Flanner, an Indianapolis woman born in 1892, who went to Mrs. Gates’ Dancing Class, swam at The Riviera Club, and attended Tudor Hall, was the war correspondent for The New Yorker magazine in WWII, and broadcast for The NBC Blue Network. From 1944-1947 she wrote from fighting fronts in Belgium, Germany and France, covered the Nuremberg trials, and reported the Nazi’s theft of art in her series “The Beautiful Spoils.” After the war she was awarded The Legion of Honor by France, and wore its bright red ribbon in her lapel the rest of her life.

It was fitting that Flanner was honored by France, for she lived there most of her adult life, writing the New Yorker’s “Letter from Paris” under the pseudonym “Genet.” One of three daughters of Frank Flanner, founder of Flanner and Buchanan mortuary, she attended the University of Chicago for a little more than a year, then began writing on movies for The Indianapolis Star before suddenly marrying Wlliam Lane Rhem, a friend from college and moving with him to New York, later confiding to a friend she had married as a way of getting out of Indianapolis. Their divorce was amicable and they remained on friendly terms.

Soon after, she met and lived with the actress and writer Solita Solano who she moved to Paris with in the legendary decade of the 1920s, and lived with until the outbreak of war in Europe. Flanner came to know and befriend the literary stars of the era – Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, the bookstore owner who used her own money to publish the first two copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses. (That bombshell novel of the literary world was then serialized in The Little Review, an avant garde literary magazine published by Margaret Anderson, another refugee from Indianapolis!)

Flanner had a sharp sense of humor as well as a sense of style, writing of the great dancer Isadora Duncan that she “came as close to founding an aesthetic renaissance as American morality would allow. . .her body, whose attic splendor once brought Greece to Kansas City and Kalamazoo. . .” was never fully appreciated in America.

Flanner lamented that Duncan’s  “ideals of human liberty” were similar to those of  Plato, yet “All they gained for Isadora were the loss of her passport and the presence of the constabulary on the stage of the Indianapolis Opera House, where the chief of police watched for sedition in the movement of Isadora’s knees.” (Paris Was Yesterday)

Flanner wrote with the same wit and grace in profiles of the great painters of the twentieth century –Picasso, Braque, Cezanne and Matisse. She wrote that Cezanne “prophesied that he could astonish Paris with an apple” and it was his paintings of apples that brought him his first fame.

Surrounded by literary luminaries, Flanner established her own niche in that pantheon of writers with her bi-weekly “Letter from Paris,” which appeared in The New Yorker over a span of fifty years. The “Letters” were collected in widely praised hard cover editions like Paris was Yesterday, and Paris Journal, which was published in 1966 and praised as “a unique narrative of a nation in transition” when it won that year’s National Book Award. Her other work published in book form includes Men and Monuments, Uncollected Writings 1932-1975, and her one novel The Cubicle City (now out of print.) Her own life story is told in Genet: a Biography of Janet Flanner by Brenda Wineapple.

“The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” will honor Janet Flanner in our first Bloomington show at The Blockhouse on Thursday, August 30, 7-9. Our guest will be Ball State Professor Rai Peterson, who is writing a book on Solita Solano, who Flanner lived with until the outbreak of World War II.  Sophie Faught will join me with her always incisive questioning of our guests, and we will hope to resurrect our unsung Indiana heroine of Paris in the Twenties to the consciousness of our fellow Hoosiers.

Sophie will play saxophone and lead her musicians with music of the jazz age to accompany the stories of Janet Flanner’s colorful and influential life and work.

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Emmett Till Is Back To Haunt Us

I was speaking to a class of bright students at a good university last March when I began talking about my experience covering the Emmett Till murder trial in Sumner, Mississippi in 1955. The professor, who was sitting next to me, leaned in and explained “I don’t think they know about that.”

I thought “everyone” knew about that. I thought the murder of the 14-year old Negro boy from Chicago who was tortured and killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman while visiting his grandfather in Mississippi was part of American history, like The Gettysburg address. I wrote in my article on the trial for The Nation magazine (“Justice in Sumner”) that as soon as the trial was over the town returned to its silent, solid life “that is based on cotton and the proposition that a whole race of men was created to pick it.”

In those days we thought that racism was a problem of “The South.” We hadn’t yet awakened to the fact that it was and is an American problem, woven into the fabric of our history.

Now I imagine those students I spoke last March know about the murder, since The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson – or anyway its interview with the witness who admits she lied about the boy flirting with her – has prompted the Justice Department to re-open the case. (The book is out of stock now on Amazon.)

The two murderers who admitted their crime years later for a paid magazine article are now dead, as is almost everyone connected with the case. About five years ago I got a phone call from a man who said “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I have to speak to you because I’m writing a book about The Emmett Till murder trial, and you are the only one who was at the trial who is still alive.”

I was twenty-three at the time I covered the trial.

The caller was Devery S. Anderson, who wrote a comprehensive book on the trial called. Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movementpublished a year ago.

The New York Times reported that the case was re-opened by The Justice Department and the FBI in 2004 with exhumation of Till’s beaten body. Joyce Chiles, The Mississippi prosecutor who presented that case to the Grand Jury got no return of indictments and said recently that any truthful new testimony would not have changed the outcome.

The new attention to the case has resulted in one good thing –making the case known again to a new generation, bringing the brutality before our eyes again to match with the current shootings of blacks by police officers who are never indicted. Everyone in the courtroom that sweltering Friday sixty-three years ago knew what the verdict would be, based on knowing the hearts and minds of the jurors. The essence of the ritual drama we were watching was summed up by John Whitten, the last speaker for the defense, when he announced his faith that “every last Anglo-Saxon one of you men on this jury has the courage to set these men free.”

Evidence was not the point.

It took the Anglo-Saxon Twelve just an hour and seven minutes to set the murderers free. It took that long, one of them said, because they couldn’t figure out how to properly fill out the acquittal form to give the judge.

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield