Código de Barras

Tina Escaja

Bar Codes

Presented at the 2006 Discover Jazz Festival, Burlington, Vermont

(more content coming soon...)

Listen to those groovy cats wail, man

Brent's Notebook — Brent Hallenbeck — Sunday, June 11, 2006

Burlington Free Press

All right, all you sweater-and-goatee-wearing beatniks out there, dig this wild scene - the JazzLit.Com jazzpoetry gig is still one of the coolest, heppest things during the jazz festival.

It’s always a groovy time, but the third-annual event at the Firehouse Center this afternoon added the one hipster thing missing from the previous years’ poetry and music - visual art. To borrow a hipster’s prefix, it turned a bohemian event into an uber-bohemian event. It might even be tres-uber-bohemian.

Major Jackson, the poet and University of Vermont professor who organizes the aggregation’s performances, arranged for a half-dozen artists to contribute their work, which was transferred to a laptop computer and projected on a screen while the band played. That sounds a little static, but this is the stroke of genius: The artwork was shown as it developed, so a slide show followed the creation of the painting or drawing from vague sketch to completed work. It was like those time-lapsed photographs showing plants growing, only this time we watched artwork grow.

This group is almost too cool, as Jackson’s fellow UVM prof John Gennari noted. “The hip, ironic thing about our group Jazz.Lit.com,” Gennari said, “is that we don’t have a Web page.”

That’s heavy man. Heavy.

There were at least three moments at today’s gig that I found sublime (any day where you have one sublime moment, in my mind, is an outstanding day):

- Tina Escaja, UVM professor of Spanish, reads her poem “Bar Codes” - in Spanish - as the band plays a slow-burning cha-cha piece written by guitarist Geoff Kim. My high-school Spanish fails me - I pick up a handful of words but no full theme, though I think I hear “paz es lindo” (”peace is beautiful”). Doesn’t matter. It all sounds gorgeous, especially as the artwork of UVM grad Todd Brown flashes up on the screen, including a sumptuous piece showing a golden-hued woman painted in streaking brush strokes whose intense, smoldering stare burns holes in my eyes.

- South Burlington cartoonist Harry Bliss, whose best-known work is for The New Yorker, brings some humor to the show. As the band reworks Charlie Hunter’s “Desert Way,” the screen shows a cartoon by Bliss gradually coming to life. An older woman appears, then a young couple, then a boy holding the man’s hand. Books and desks arrive; OK, it’s a classroom. The woman in the couple appears to be talking. Every now and then, a hand and pen presumably belonging to Bliss enter; shading and details are added. Sax player Alex Stewart whips off a solo. The words “parent/teacher conference today” show up on a blackboard. Alex Toth wails on his trumpet. The punch line is finally delivered: “We’re not too concerned about college,” the mother tells the teacher. “Dale and I are pretty sure he’s off to prison.”

- The band performs a serene, pretty piece that Toth created called “Autumn Sketch.” A nature-scene watercolor by Burlington artist Elise Whittemore-Hill unfolds. Toth starts a sweet, slow solo, his raised trumpet silhouetted against the beautiful, impressionistic scene on screen. It’s art begetting art begetting art.

Credits for the Performance at the Jazz Festival
Self-Portrait by Todd Brown
title: Self-Portrait
by Todd Brown