25 years of wine and jazz with the Thorntons

The U-T San Diego went big with its coverage of John ’53 and Sally Thornton’s 25 years running Thornton Winery and its Champagne Jazz Series. According to the piece by George Varga, the couple’s “impact as cultural and community philanthropists in the San Diego area has been enormous.” With their Temecula winery, the article notes, the pair “helped to put this wine region [located between San Diego and Riverside] on the map.”

The piece quotes jazz musician Dave Koz:

“I grew up in Los Angeles and I’d heard about Temecula, but had never been there until we first played at Thornton in 1992,” said Koz, whose June 22 and 23 concerts at the winery both sold out in advance. “Back then, they were pretty much the only game in town. Now, Temecula has become quite a destination for Californians and people from all over the world. And Thornton, with its unique combination of music, wine and food, is the granddaddy of it all.”

The Summer of Turrell

The master of light and space delivered the remark with a smile. “I have a business of selling blue sky and colored air,” James Turrell ’65 told a group of arts reporters after they had previewed his long-awaited retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But if he counts exhibitions as sales, business is extraordinarily good this year. While Dividing the Light, Turrell’s Skyspace at Pomona College, continues to attract students, alumni and visitors to Draper Courtyard, celebrations of his work are popping up from coast to coast. The centerpiece of the “Turrell festival,” as LACMA director Michael Govan calls it, is a trio of major museum exhibitions in Los Angeles, Houston and New York. LACMA’s James Turrell: A Retrospective is a five-decade survey, composed of 56 works, including sculptures, prints, drawings, watercolors, photographs and installations. “This is the largest exhibition of works by this artist assembled anywhere at any time,” Govan says. And it will have an unusually long, 10-month run (ending April 6, 2014), so that the expected thousands of visitors can experience the artist’s mind-bending installations as he wishes—slowly, silently, and singly or in small groups. As the museum director reminds guests, “The slower you go, the more you get.”

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When Brubeck played Pomona


This noteworthy letter from Andrew Hoyem ’57 appears in our spring issue, which will soon hit mailboxes and appear online:

When the great jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck died on Dec. 5, 2012, a day short of his 92nd birthday, some members of the Class of 1957 reminisced about their having sponsored a concert by the Brubeck quartet in Little Bridges 58 years earlier.

This was mainly the doing of our classmate Marvin Nathan, who was a big fan of Brubeck and had gotten to know the members of the quartet the summer after our freshman year, in 1954, when the musicians had a three-month gig at Zardi’s in Hollywood. Nathan went to the club nightly during the vacation and returned to college full of enthusiasm for the new style of jazz played by Brubeck. Marvin recounts: “That Christmas I gave the four of them their first matching set of ties, handkerchiefs and cuff links, which, I think, they wore at the Pomona concert.” He made the arrangements directly with Brubeck, and a committee of the Class of ’57 was formed to produce the concert. Brubeck was the first to play college dates, lifting jazz out of smoke-filled clubs. Those were simpler times: no agent or manager or record company was intermediary. We just asked Brubeck, and later, for another concert sponsored by the class, Andre Previn; they said yes, turned up with their sidemen and played and got paid.

But paying the musicians required a paying audience. Steve Glass ’57 and subsequently professor of classics at Pitzer College, recalls that early ticket sales for the Brubeck concert were going slowly. His classmate and future wife Sandy was in charge of publicity and she was worried. In those days, West Coast/Cool Jazz was a relatively arcane phenomenon. Then, shortly before the concert, the Nov. 8, 1954 issue of Time magazine had Dave Brubeck on the cover, only the second jazz musician to be so featured (after Louis Armstrong), and the place was packed.

For the program I drew caricatures of the musicians: Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Bob Bates (bass) and Joe Dodge (drums). Marvin Nathan wrote the notes. Reflecting on the concert, he writes: “We caught the group at its acme, in the wake of the remarkable recordings of Jazz at Storyville and Jazz at Oberlin, which, for my money, are the two greatest albums Dave and Paul ever did.”

Marvin left Pomona after two years to study jazz saxophone at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music but decided the instrument should be left to the likes of John Coltrane and instead became a humanities professor. All of us amateur promoters remained jazz aficionados. Why, just this morning I refolded my fedora into a pork-pie hat and set off looking the hepcat I wished to be.
— Andrew Hoyem ’57

Another Oscar connection for Pomona

Alexandra Blaney ’09 was an associate productor for Inocente, which last night won the Academy Award  for best short documentary. The film tells the moving story of a homeless 15-year-old undocumented immigrant in San Diego “who refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be caged by her life.”

Blaney watched the awards show and cheered from afar in New York, where today she was back at the office of Shine Global (where she has worked for two and one-half years), happily working amid the post-Oscar buzz. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls asking about showing it all around the world,” said Blaney in a quick phone interview with PCM, mentioning a new call from South Korea. Though the film might seem very specific to the U.S., Blaney notes it’s really “a universal story about immigrants and refugees in every country.” 

 In an online interview for the PRIZM Project, Blaney explained how she made her way into the documentary film world:

I never thought about film as a career option until my last year of college. I double majored in international relations and history with a focus on Latin America and always found myself drawn to the cultural aspect of politics especially as manifested in social movements. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina where there is actually a pretty vibrant independent film community … When I returned to the US for my last year of college I took a Latin American documentary film class where I was introduced to political documentaries and the Tercer Cine (Third Cinema) film movement of the 1960s-70s which decried the Hollywood model of film as mere entertainment and business. Over the course of that class, as we watched and studied documentaries by Lourdes Portillo, Fernando Pino Solanas, Fernando Birre, and Patricio Guzman, I became more and more convinced that I should work in film and documentaries. Specifically, I wanted to work with a non-profit documentary film production company and was determined that if one did not exist I would found one. Luckily I found Shine Global, which was doing the exact type of work I wanted to do.

 Read more on Hollywood and Pomona:
Jim Taylor ’84 wins Oscar for Sideways
Chinatown at 30 (with Robert Towne ’56)
Pomona’s Hollywood Timeline
The Duke on the Quad

Good reviews for Kris Kristofferson’s new album

The new album, “Feeling Mortal,”  from Kris Kristofferson ’58 is garnering good reviews:

— A “stripped-down, emotionally raw exploration of some of life’s biggest questions … leavened by Kristofferson’s sense of humor.” Los Angeles Times

— “.. these 10 original songs are measured and wise, somewhat remorseful, sometimes unapologetic and feisty.” USA Today

— “This is the sound of a legend aging gracefully.” — Washington Times

Finally, you’ll also good quotes and anecdotes from Kristofferson in this piece on the Nashville Tennessean’s blog.

Nat Dunn ’93 offers up new word game that will test your brain, not your luck

Editor’s note: To play the game with fellow Sagehens, follow these instructions provided by Nat Dunn.

With Nat Dunn’s new game, true word buffs will no longer have to rely on luck.  His twist on Scrabble, Words with Friends and the other word games eliminates some of the chance by having everyone play the same letters in every round.

Instead of hoping for better letters than your opponent, you’ll have to rely on all that knowledge bouncing around in your liberal-arts-trained brain. Thus the name: Word Skill.

Dunn, Pomona College Class of ’93, also seeks to speed up play with time limits, and to keep players from getting stuck with loser letters, there are fresh ones for each turn. And there’s a “winner” for each round since fair comparisons can be made with everyone playing the same letters.

“What we’re trying to do is make every move an exciting move,” says Dunn, who grew up playing games such as Scrabble and came up with the Word Skill app with his brother, Dave. (Someone else did the technical development.) Until starting their new venture, Acuity Apps, most of the Dunn’s work has been in educational games through their firm, Webucator, based in New York State.

Why try to break into the market for word games, where, Nat Dunn says, 14 million people already play Words with Friends each month? The answer: because 14 million people already play Words with Friends each month. “It’s a lot of people playing these games,” he says, later adding: “People are hungry for new stuff.”

Word Skill is already in the iTunes app store, and is coming this week to Facebook and Android. While Dunn says beta-testers have liked the game, he concedes the real test is just beginning. We think it’s a great game,” he says. “But we won’t know that the world thinks it’s a great game until the world starts playing.”

Read more on Nat’s blog.

A Radio Renaissance?

Earlier this month, KSPC (88.7 FM) hosted the University of California Radio Conference and, via Jennifer Waits at radiosurvivor.com, we learn that media theorist and keynote speaker Douglas Rushkoff believes that “radio is in a renaissance.”

Rushkoff argued that radio is “emotional” and that it contains a ‘tremendous physical intimacy.’ He contrasted radio with television, saying that “radio is still human,” whereas television is ‘flat,’ and creates a more emotionally distanced viewing experience, making it more aligned with ‘irony’ and ‘snark.’

Read more reporting here from Waits, who worked for a time at KSPC.

Also: The mysterious Leo arrives at KSPC.


Only weeks after his death, painter Karl Benjamin is honored with arts colony mural

Just weeks after the influential painter’s passing, Karl Benjamin’s image can be found painted on a wall in the downtown Pomona Arts Colony. Renowned for his colorful abstract painting, Benjamin taught at Pomona College from 1979 to 1994, and his work is found in collections from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The new mural by David Flores was planned well before Benjamin’s death in July at age 86, and Flores completed it earlier this month. This news comes from an IE Weekly cover story written by Pomona’s very own Chris Michno (of the Financial Aid Office), who calls Benjamin an “artist’s artist.” Writes Michno:

Ironically, Karl Benjamin wasn’t concerned with celebrity; he was simply and resolutely committed to painting. He was engaged in a continuous structural arrangement of shape, color, pattern, space and rotation; he cared more for exploration than notoriety. Yet, his likeness appears on a wall in the Arts Colony. Pedestrians traversing the distance between venues will have ample time to consider the image before them as they pass through the west-end fringe of the Pomona Arts Walk along the row of businesses, studios and galleries. Perhaps some will stop to read the inscription painted on the corner of the mural. Those who know of Karl Benjamin will understand that his final admonishment would be for each one to sit quietly and start coloring.

More about Benjamin today in The Nation, and last month in The Huffington Post.

Finding a John Cage moment on the subway

With this year marking the centenary of composer John Cage’s birth, the New York Times runs a piece about “Cage moments” that “occur when happenstance kicks in, and surprising musical experiences take form, seemingly out of nowhere. They can happen anywhere at any time.” Writer Allan Kozinn found his during a New York City subway ride that evoked the composer’s 4’33”:

Typically, most of the noise you hear comes from the subway itself: its din drowns out conversations, and people tend to stare at their feet, or at whatever they are reading, and listen to their portable music players. But this Tuesday evening just about all the people were talking, and working hard to drown out both the subway and the chats taking place around them …

I would normally have tuned all this out, but instead I sat back, closed my eyes and did what Cage so often recommended: I listened. I made no effort to separate the strands of conversation or to focus on what people were saying. I was simply grabbed by the sheer mass of sound, human and mechanical. It sounded intensely musical to me, noisy as it was, and once I began hearing it that way, I couldn’t stop.

This fall, Pomona College is celebrating Cage, who attended the College from 1928 to 1930, in a slightly less ethereal fashion. The Music Department has organized a series of events that include a 100th birthday party, organ, keyboard, percussion and orchestra performances, and a special Cage-O-Rama performance. The Pomona College Museum of Art, meanwhile, will be showing some of Cage’s watercolors.

Restauranteur Garrett Harker ’89 makes sure his team knows culture as well as cuisine

The Boston Globe recently featured Eastern Standard, the Kenmore Square restaurant owned by Garrett Harker ’89, for his unusual educational program that has staff members take field trips, hold discussions and sometimes even write reports to learn more about topics ranging from Revolutionary War history to neuroeconomics to Major League Baseball. The purpose is to allow for a more interesting rapport with diners:

Writes Globe culture writer James H. Burnett III:

Training for employees of Eastern Standard is not just about how to pronouce “moules Provençales” and the right way to pour wine. It includes a unique repertoire that seeks to make employees fully versed in the culture and politics of our times. How? Think book reports about historical figures and their neighborhood, as well as field trips to other cities to study culture and ambience, and group discussions about the meanings of life. … The idea is for restaurant staffers to be able to be as urbane and well-informed as the customers they serve. …

Read more.


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