Sunday, September 30, 2012

Two signal – & reliable – events that affirm for us that fall is here …

There are two fall events that signal to me – reliably, like clock-work – that summer has ended and fall is just around the proverbial corner, if not here already:  the OSPAC Jazz Festival (Sept. 22nd , 12:30 to 8:00 p.m.) at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center in West Orange, NJ, AND the Brooklyn Book Festival (Sept. 23rd 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) on the Plaza in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall & spread out at various venues throughout the immediate Brooklyn Heights area. Two fall events that (annually) prove reliably interesting, entertaining & diverse!
Vic Juris Quartet
This year the OSPAC Jazz Festival turned 10 and the event proved as rollicking & fine as ever – featuring the likes of Bill Charlap at the solo piano playing a mixture of standards and jazz-inflected show tunes; the guitarists Dave Stryker & Vic Juris, and their bands (the Juris Quartet including Tim Hagans (truly outstanding!) on trumpet, Steve Wilson on sax, Ed Howard on bass & Anthony Pinciotti on drums; a slew of jazz vocalists (male & female), showcasing the imposing & energetic Holly Ross & the soulful, Ray-Charles-inspired Antoinette Montague doing standards (“Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”) & crooning widely from the Great American Songbook in a “Vocalist’s Medley”; Nat Adderley, Jr. and his band, with Don Braden on sax; the idiosyncratic singer Kevin Burke, who can, at will and on demand, craft his voice in a manner depicting trombone & other brass sounds so authentic that you hardly recognize the human voice behind them; the vocalist and  Grammy Award nominee, Ms. Roseanna Vitro, and her “all-star quintet” composed of Mark Soskin on piano, Sara Caswell on violin, Dean Johnson on bass & Tim Horner on drums.
Bill Charlap
Kudos must go to Kate Baker who has, for years, organized, inspired & often participated in this enthusiastically well-attended, diverse & dynamic (annual) jazz fest and to Gary Walker, of WBGO/88.3 (Newark’s Jazz 88), who always seems to lend his support and, in his inimitably large, humorous, generous & avuncular manner, emcees the proceedings from beginning to end.
Nat Adderley, Jr. & Band

Food vendors dot the periphery of the festival grounds for every patron’s convenience … and we, just before our Chinese takeout (purchased at a local resto outside, in Essex Green) was consumed were sold on the Mexican food stand where an absolutely simple & tasty guacamole & chips plate has been available for several years running.

Be on the lookout for the OSPAC Jazz Festival next fall when number 11 rolls around … reliably suggesting the end of summer & commencement of fall!

Another major event – the Brooklyn Book Festival – which, as I indicated just above, was held the very next day … also suggests the end of summer and signals fall a-coming.  Underwritten & “presented” by Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Literary Council & Brooklyn Tourism, the event is growing larger and more in-depth every year. This year’s “cultural & programming partners” included such organizations as BAM, Cave Canem, London Review of Books, PEN America, the Poetry Society of America, The Nation, the New York Review of Books & The Center for Fiction; and, according to the online “Official Program Guide” to the festival, some  280+ authors would be on hand, “more than 104 [free!] panels” offered, and an extremely large number of book & print-oriented vendors – far too numerous to mention even a quarter of them – would be (and, indeed, were!) lined up along the walkways of the Borough Hall Plaza, an almost endless sequence, everywhere, of publishers, journal & magazine representatives, and literary organizations. Among the authors represented were the high-profile and the less-well-known … including the likes of Paul Auster, Joyce Carole Oates, Sapphire, Pete Hamill, Colson Whitehead, Judith Viorst, Gish Jen, Walter Mosley, James Lasdun, Terry McMillan, Christopher Hayes, Billy Collins, Baratunde Thurston, Mark Leyner, Phillip Lopate, Carol Higgins Clark, Philip Levine & Edwidge Danticat.
Ben Lerner

Following a bit of meandering around the Plaza, listening in on author-interviewer conversations, and chatting with various vendor representatives about their wares (mainly books & periodicals), we were able to earmark a couple of hour-long panels that seemed particularly  interesting. Among those we selected (but not, however, in chronological order) were the following:  The Poet Novelist” which would showcase three poet-novelists, including Ben Lerner, a young but relatively prolific & experienced poet whose first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, has been drawing all kinds of attention here in and around NYC and has secured a lengthy (fairly positive) review by Sheila Heti in the London Review of Books (Vol. 34, No. 16; 30th August 2012).  (In her review, though, Heti suggests that … “[t]he book seems less like a novel, a public performance, than an inward-looking text [a poem?] to which we have been given access, something like a diary, or notes towards a future work.”) The panel, which aimed, or so the program blurb stated, to “explore the boundaries, possibilities, divergences, and intersections of poetry and prose,” offered a brief presentation/reading by the poet-novelist Sapphire (The Kid; Push: A Novel) and by Eileen Myles (Inferno: A Poet’s Novel), along with that of Mr. Lerner, reading from the beginning few pages of Atocha Station.  

And, next, we sat in on “Isabel Wilkerson in Conversation with Amy Goodman,” an unmediated conversation during which Ms. Goodman – host & executive producer of NPR’s Democracy Now! – posed a handful of questions to Ms. Wilkerson prompting her (the latter) to speak in some depth about specific (memorable) people and incidents described in her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns. In this volume Wilkerson focuses in very great narrative detail on racial & socio-cultural aspects of the Great 20th Century Migration(s) of Afro-Americans from the rural American South to the northern cities of, primarily, New York, Chicago, Detroit & LA.  The book, praised highly by both readers and critics during the past half-dozen years, or so, is considered “an epic [an archetypal] tale of immigrants journeying to new and unfamiliar lands” much akin to the somewhat earlier journeys of other immigrant groups to the United States from, say, central Europe, Russia, Italy & Ireland. And Ms. Wilkerson, with her numerous stories of pathos and humor made that point strikingly clear!
Curry Heights - Indian Cuisine

Needless to say, as thought-provoking as the panel discussions – and the entire Sunday book festival – proved  to be, by 6:00 pm we were, yep, focusing (yet again) on food ... & rather hungry. We had, fortunately, planned ahead … having arranged to meet our friend, Olivia, for dinner at a local Brooklyn Heights Indian restaurant, Curry Heights, at 151 Remsen St., just across from the St. Francis College Auditorium, a major festival venue. This spot turned out to be well worth our while – what with a solid selection of (imported, ethnic) Indian beer, a wide variety of appetizers to choose from, and three well-prepared entrees to follow.  We each chose a special dinner, from the “two-course deal” menu (@ $13.95/person) … consisting of appetizer, main course, naan bread & basmati rice (quite a deal for food cooked with such delicacy).  We ordered a mix of three appetizers (onion bhajia, meat samosa & chicken pakora), and then our three mains: a very tender & juicy chicken tikka (a Tandoori BBQ entrée); an equally tender lamb vindaloo (with a sauce perhaps too punishingly hot); and a salmon tikka (another Tandoori BBQ dish, also tender & moist).  Each of these plates was presented with care & in a generous portion … and a large bottle of Indian beer proved sufficient to complement our 2-course meal, including an extra order of basmati rice (at no charge) & a very large portion of naan bread.  

We left the resto – which we highly recommend as a friendly & welcoming Brooklyn Heights budget spot! – and the book festival with enough “exotic” Indian comfort food (yes, an admitted oxymoron), books & book talk to wend our way happily back over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan ... and beyond.

A quick note:  If you’d like to receive a poem a day (all kinds of poems, by contemporary, modern & “classical” poets) via e-mail, or simply read or listen to a new poem every day – a service provided by the Poetry Foundation (publishers of Poetry Magazine) – just click into the following web site, scroll down the home page to RSS feeds, and simply sign up: You’ll clearly be glad (on a daily basis!) that you have done so!


  1. Read with interest what Dr. Scheiber says about these two fall "signal" events and really look forward to attending both next fall. Wow, how could I have missed the OSPAC / West Orange Jazz Festival AND the Brooklyn Book Festival ... But, not next year!

  2. Glad I awakened the consciousness of "Carefree Senior" about the two fall events mentioned in this blog post - both great events, of genuine interest & highly important, indeed, to attend ... & this year, this fall, during the same weekend!