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In ‘Jay Myself,’ a photographer downsizes; Jearlyn Steele at Crooners

Jay Myself
Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories
Jay Maisel in his office at 190 Bowery in Stephen Wilkes’s "Jay Myself."

Moving is a drag. Now imagine if your home is a six-story, 35,000-square-foot former bank building in New York City with 72 rooms, all of them full of stuff. You can no longer afford the annual costs of heating and taxes. It’s time to pack up and go.

When American photographer Stephen Wilkes learned that his mentor, Jay Maisel, had sold the graffiti-covered building in the Bowery where he had lived for the past 50 years, he knew he had to capture Maisel’s world before it was gone. Maisel was a curmudgeonly subject, but he let it happen. Vacating the premises took three months, 35 truckloads and a crew of hard-working, unflappable movers from Moishe’s Self-Storage who didn’t mind being told “This is trash, this isn’t,” when it was impossible to tell the difference.

The move, the man, and Maisel’s eye for images, his skill at capturing them, and his vast imagination are all explored in “Jay Myself,” a documentary that opens Friday at the Uptown Theatre.

Maisel is a brilliant and hugely successful photographer whose work most of us have seen. He shot the cover of Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue.” He shot Marilyn Monroe, Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers and lots of ads. But mostly, he captured everyday life, its colors and gestures, juxtapositions and light. In one scene from “Jay Myself,” Maisel looks out a window he must have looked out a million times before and identifies at least a dozen photographs he would take right then, if he only had a camera in his hand. You can tell from his face that he sees this as a missed opportunity.

Set to a jazzy soundtrack, Wilkes’s film is about a big building, an even bigger personality and the enormous collection of objects Maisel collected over the years and was loath to part with. There are thousands of slides, literal drifts of slides. Stacks of unused boxes of Kodak film. Scores of file cabinets. Rooms full of round things. Piles of panes of glass. Hundreds of table legs. Dozens of porcelain arms and hands. There is nothing Maisel doesn’t find inherently interesting.

For those of us who snap the occasional photo, Maisel becomes our mentor, too. “Before you’re able to see, you have to want to look,” he says. And: “You have to be open to what is in front of you.” And: “Art is trying to make others see what you see.” And “We do not take pictures. We’re taken by pictures.” And especially: “My entire philosophy, in two words: ‘Hey, look!’”

Maisel saw his building as a place to put down roots. “I collected like I was gonna live here forever,” he said. “I had always planned to die here.” When keeping the place going cost $300,000 a year – three times what he paid for it in 1966 – he had to let it go. So he sold it for $55 million, reportedly the largest private real-estate deal in the history of the city. Then he turned around and bought a 10,000-square-foot carriage house in Brooklyn for $15.5 million, the priciest single residence ever sold there. Most of what came out of the bank building is still in storage. You can learn more about Maisel and view many of his photographs here.

André Watts bows out of Minnesota Orchestra’s season opener

A favorite of Minnesota Orchestra audiences, pianist André Watts “with great regret needs to withdraw from his upcoming appearance,” the orchestra announced Friday.

Juho Pohjonen
Photo by Henry Fair
Juho Pohjonen
Watts is recovering from back and neck surgery. Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen will step in and play the same program originally scheduled to open the season on Sept. 19, 20 and 21, including the Grieg Piano Concerto. Pohjonen played for the Chopin Society in the 2017-18 season, but this will be his Minnesota Orchestra debut.

Watts previously canceled performances in February 2018 and July 2016. We hope he’ll be able to return before too long, because he’s magical. We went back and watched his 1963 performance with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, just for fun. Watts was 16 at the time.

For you 20- and 30-somethings

To attract a younger demographic today and build the audience of tomorrow, smart arts organizations offer social groups for young professionals. The Schubert Club’s Theoroi program is still the only one we know that encourages members to experience the arts widely, not just attend its own events. The Schubert Club also views Theoroi as a potential source of new board members. To date, it has recruited six board members from the group.

Theoroi doesn’t just add social components to arts events. It also includes purely social events in its schedule. The 2019-20 calendar includes four get-togethers with no arts strings attached. A few highlights: the regional premiere of Dominique Morrisseau’ “Pipeline” at Penumbra. Mark Morris Dance and “Pepperland” at Northrop. The world premiere of Minnesota Opera’s “Edward Tulane,” based on the best-selling YA book by two-time Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo. And BRKFST Dance Company at the Southern, a mix of breaking, martial arts, and contemporary dance.

Most events include something special — a conversation with the artists, a backstage tour. Seating is VIP as a group. If you’ve ever wanted to attend an arts event and wondered “Who can I go with?” Theoroi’s answer is “Everyone in Theoroi.” Longtime friendships have been formed and some members have returned year after year. TPT made a short film about Theoroi, if you want to take a look.

What do you have to do? Apply. Commit to sharing your experiences on social media. Membership is $175 for the full season; the rest of the cost is subsidized by the Schubert Club. The application deadline is Aug. 31 or when all spots are filled, whichever comes first. Payment plans are available, and a limited number of scholarships. FMI.

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 20) at Crooners: Jearlyn Steele Presents “The Pianist Knows Best” with Rich Dworsky. A new twist on the classic singer-pianist evening. Usually, the singer provides the playlist and the pianist plays it, like it or not. As Steele explained to Emily Reese of Jazz88.FM, “Why not give the pianist a chance to be the one in charge, the one who tells the singer what she has to sing, no matter what? No rehearsals, nothing? We get up on stage, and we start talking, and he says, ‘OK, Jearlyn, the first song on the setlist will be this.’ If I don’t know the song, too bad. I better try to sing it … It gives them a chance to get us back.”  In the Dunsmore listening room. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30). Steele will do this twice more, with two other pianists: Jerry Gray (Oct. 1) and Dan Chouinard (Nov. 20).

Thursday at the Ramsey County Library – Roseville: Kristal Leebrick presents “Thank You for Shopping: The Golden Age of Minnesota Department Stores.” Is a cultural center? Has it ever had a flower show? Can you meet your friends, try stuff on, and have popovers at Etsy, Ebay, or Leebrick’s book is a wallow in nostalgia for those who remember the glory days of Dayton’s and Donaldson’s, Powers and Young Quinlan, and a history lesson for everyone else. The foreword is by Dolores DeFore, who ran the Oval Room at Dayton’s for many years. The book is packed with stories and pictures, with a whole chapter given over to department store dining – with recipes. Presented by the Ramsey County Historical Society. 7-9 p.m. Free.

"French Twist"
Courtesy of Lakeshore Players Theatre
"French Twist" is a trip to a turn-of-the-20th-century Paris nightclub, complete with percussive dancing, storytelling, live music and costumes.
Friday at the Hanifl Performing Arts Center in White Bear Lake: Flying Foot Forum: “French Twist.” We heard about this from composer and percussionist Peter O’Gorman, who is also a member of Mary Ellen Childs’ ensemble Crash and is usually up to something interesting. Directed by and featuring Joe Chvala, it’s a trip to a turn-of-the-20th-century Paris nightclub, complete with percussive dancing (and the Can-Can), storytelling, live music and costumes. “French Twist” premiered in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio in 2008 and had a run at the Park Square in 2018. 7:30 p.m. in the Lakeshore Players Theatre. This performance kicks off a tour; see where else it’s goingFMI and tickets ($23-28).


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