HistNote888-Roswell Jazz

Jim Harris

Roswell Jazz Festival: Great Live 

Music Nearby

            On Saturday, October 19, wife Mary and I drove two hours to Roswell for an event I had heard about for several years but never had experienced.

            That Saturday was one day in the 14thAnnual Roswell Jazz Festival, a five-day celebration of a type of music I learned to appreciate when I was a high school student in Dallas.

            I have heard quite a bit of live music this year, visiting in Austin several times, and at the Roswell Jazz Festival (RJF) I heard some of the best music I have heard in a long, long time, no matter what the genre.

            The RJF put on a great set of concerts by a number of world-class musical artists, and Roswell isn’t that far away from anywhere in Lea County.

            In addition, the admission to the programs is incredibly reasonable, many of the performances taking place conveniently in downtown at the city’s Convention Center, which is adjacent to the Roswell Art Museum, one of the fine museums in all of New Mexico.  A few of the programs were free.

            Often called America’s classical music, jazz is a type of music that originated in the African-American community, and in particular, black communities in New Orleans.  It emerged in the late 19thcentury and early 20thcentury from several other kinds of music present in America at the time.  That root music included blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, and ragtime.

            During the last century, many different types of jazz emerged.  They include hard bop, free jazz, jazz-rock fusion, smooth jazz, and cool jazz, all being variations on a style that included much improvisation by individual members of a band.

            Some music lovers think of jazz as America’s “classical” music.

            Today jazz can be found around the world, and different countries or regions have developed their own variations, such as that found in Brazil, Germany, and Cuba.

            Over thirty musicians and vocalists performed at the RJF. They included Ted Rosenthal, piano; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Rande Sandke, trumpet; Ricky Malichi, drums; Scott Edmunds, clarinet; Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Richard Simon, bass; and vocalist Hillary Smith.

            That last name should be familiar to some folks in Lea County.  Hillary went to high school in Hobbs.  She is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Charlie Smith.  Just before his death, Dr. Smith donated a number of family items to the Lea County Museum.  The Smith-Watson Room is on the second floor of the 1931 Lister Building. 

            Below is the opening sentence of Hillary’s biography on her web site “hilljam.com”:

            ”With a deep soulfulness rooted in the Gospel driven churches of her youth, a classically trained vocal instrument that’s a natural wonder, and a God-given instinct for swinging a lyric, vocalist Hillary Smith has been electrifying audiences across the United States for more than 30 years.”

            Her biography on that site goes on to say that she is “as comfortable with swinging jazz as she is with funky blues.”

            Readers of the History Notebook may not be as familiar with the other performers at the RJF, but many of them are world-renown artists with interesting biographies.  I will mention just a couple of them here.

            Upright bass player Richard Simon was the featured “Guest of Honor” at this year’s Festival.  He was born in Roswell in 1947 when his father was in the Air Force, but he has lived many other places and experienced many other kinds of jobs for being a jazz base player.

            In fact, several years ago he was teaching college English in California when he decided to make music his career.  He Has a Masters degree in English at the State University of New York/Stony Brook.  He taught English in the Los Angeles Community College District.

            Of his discovery of jazz, he says, “I was transfixed and transported by the lush and swinging sounds.  I re-discovered my love for music—left not a few English compositions’ participles dangling unfortunately.”

            The one other musician at the festival I will mention played music with Simon on the evening I was in Roswell.  That is Houston Person, who plays the saxophone.

            Here is a Wikipedia entry about him just to let you see the quality of the musical artists present at the RJF:

            “Houston Person (born November 10, 1934) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist and record producer. Although he has performed in the hard bop and swinggenres, he is most experienced in and best known for his work in soul jazz. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982.

            “Person grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and first played piano before switching to tenor saxophone.[1] He studied at South Carolina State College where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

            “In the United States Air Force, he joined a service band stationed in West Germany, and played with Don EllisEddie HarrisCedar Walton, and Leo Wright. He later continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut.

            “He first became known for a series of albums for Prestige in the 1960s. Contrary to popular belief, he was never married to the vocalist Etta Jones, but did spend many years as her musical partner, recording, performing and touring, and for much of his career this association was what he was best known for. They first met playing in organist Johnny Hammond‘s band.

            “Person has been a resident of Newark, New Jersey.”

            For sure, I will be back in Roswell for the 2020 RJF.

            I wish we could have a music festival in Lea County that could be of the quality found in the UFO city to our west, and I can imagine the amount of work that went into putting on this year’s jazz fest.

            City of Roswell residents, I’m sure, are proud of the kind of quality-of-life experiences offered withIN their city limits.  The list of those offerings are extensive, including two world-class museums, the Roswell Art Museum and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.

            To conclude this History Notebook, in the future I am going to be paying just as much attention to what is happening in Roswell as I am in what is going on in Lubbock.

LastFrontier889—Lea Image

Jim Harris

            Lea’s Image Isn’t Everything, but …

            Back in the early 1990s, the Cannon camera company was running television ads with tennis star Andre Agassi hitting balls and saying, “Image is everything.”

            It’s one of those annoying advertisements that just won’t leave the memory, no matter how hard you try to just forget it, although one of the reasons it stays with me is that about the same time the ads were running, wife Mary and I walked out of an elevator in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and bumped into the high-profile athlete.

            Of course, Agassi was not the only person of note to be connected to the sentence.  Writers have written dozens of quotable lines that say something similar, especially at the end of the last century when most countries were gearing up for the coming digital universe.

            Since I moved to Hobbs in 1974, I’ve been conscious of the image of Southeast New Mexico and Lea County, as seen in other parts of New Mexico and the Southwest, partly because that image seemed in contrast to the image of the state, as touted by chambers of commerce.

            After all, I had moved to the “Land of Enchantment.” 

            Nationally, this corner of New Mexico doesn’t really have an image, other than being the general territory where Billy the Kid roamed during his murderous and psychotic rampages just before he was killed by Sheriff Pat Garret.                   

In some literary and pop culture circles, Southeast New Mexico may be thought of as by the Pecos River valley where Oliver Loving roamed too far from  his herd of Texas cattle and got himself ambushed by Indians just after the Civil War, injuries that led in a few weeks to his death.

            Both of those western narratives took place around 150 years ago.

            Although we won’t know for some decades, there is a possibility that Lea County is currently developing a newer version of another oil-boom image, that is for being part of the productive Permian Basin.

            However, as a cover photo and article in an August, 1985 New Mexico Magazine makes clear, Lea County had for several decades the reputation of being a “cowboy capital” since it produced quite a few rodeo champions.

            The cover photo showed Lea County rancher Fern Sawyer dressed in skin-tight cowgirl gear, including a white cowboy hat, and sitting on her white horse Sloan.

The caption for the cover reads, “Meet Fern Sawyer and Her Horse Sloan From Lea County, The Champion Cowboy Capital of the World.”

            The long story inside the magazine contains three images.  They are another photo of Fern, along with one each of rodeo cowboys Tuffy Cooper and Troy Fort.

            All three of individuals have by now gone on to that great roundup in the sky, and in many ways the image they projected for Lea has passed on too.

            This is not to say that the county does not have some great rodeo cowboys.  As seen each year in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, there are still a good number of them are successful nationally.  And you can see many of them roping in local arenas just about every weekend.

            Here are a few passages from the 34 year old magazine article: 

            “The people of Lea County, for instance—down in the southeastern part o the state, where Indians are few and the natural beauties normally associated with New Mexico are almost nonexistent—aren’t going to let you forget abou their cowboys.

            “Lea County is more likely to be labeled oil country than cattle country, because it seems to a traveler driving through at seesawing oil pumps far outnumber the stock.  But while Lea County cowboys will admit that oil pays a lot of the county’s bills, they still maintain that this is prime cowboy country.  And that’s no idle boast.  They measure and back it up by the number of cowboys who have been bred here on the high plains beyond the caprick and then gone on to be world champion rodeo performers.”

            The author of the Lea County story goes on to visit and quote Fern, Tuffy, and Troy about their lives in Lea.  In addition, he took fine separate photos of the three of them.

            Then here is the last paragraph of the story with the author sitting in the stands of the Lea County rodeo arena as the show was going on despite days of heavy rain:

            “Looking down on what bore a closer resemblance to a front pond than a rodeo arena, I thought that there probably would be some grass on the high plains next year.  And that maybe the cowboy had been right about the tought gittin’ goin’ when the goin’ gits tough—at least it seemed to be true down here in Lea County, the Champion Cowboy Capitol of the World.” 

            Part of our attraction to the cowboy image of Lea stems from the western pioneer narratives that developed when this corner of the state emerged from being one of New Mexico’s last frontiers.  It was at the beginning of the 20thcentury that the first permanent settlers began to create the dozens of small towns which were forming where there had only been ranches.  The ranches, of course, were the economic institutions that ended the occupation of the region by nomadic Native Americans who had passed by here for centuries, ending their forays only following the end of the Civil War and in the last years of the 19thcentury.

            Thinking of the short history of Lea makes me curious about what sort of image Lea land had for the pre-digital Apache, Comanche, and other tribal peoples of what would become Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

And, of course, I am curious about the image of Lea in the future.

LastFront301—Rounders

Jim Harris

Rounders, writers, and round-ballers

            Over the last two weeks, I have found myself inadvertently reading and listening to rounders, writers, and roundballers who have a lot to say about the subject of history, which has occupied much of my thoughts over the last two decades. 

            On October 24, I was at the Governor’s Mansion in Santa Fe to attend the 29thAnnual Rounders Awards presented by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

            Then the following Monday, I was in Lubbock for an annual meeting with my cardiologist, Dr. Mohammed Otahbachi, originally of Syria and now of Covenant Hospital.  As it has become traditional for me to spend some quality time in Lubbock’s Barnes and Noble bookstore, I stumbled onto and bought a small book about writing by the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, a book titled “Inadvertent.”

            Finally, on November 5, I found myself in a packed high school auditorium in Hobbs at a Maddox Foundation lecture listening to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the tallest man I have ever seen, an athletic giant who is described by many sports authorities as the greatest basketball player ever to play the game.  Throughout the program, Abdul-Jabbar sounded to me like he was more interested in the subjects of writing and history than he was in his 20-year basketball career, saying at one point in his talk that his transition from roundball to writing moved him from success to significance.

            I am not sure that is what all of the coaches in the audience wanted to hear from the basketball hero. 

            The Rounders Award was created at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture in 1990 by former New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Frank DuBois.  The purpose of the award is to honor those who “live, promote, and articulate the western way of life,” according to the NMDA website.

            The award was named after “The Rounders,” a classic western novel written by the New Mexican novelist Max Evans, who turned 95-years-old this year and was unable to attend the gathering for the first time in the history of award.

            If readers are not familiar with the term “rounder,” in the ranch community it refers to a drifter cowboy who moves from job to job, tends to enjoy a cold beer, and often has a humorous demeanor.  There are two rounders in the Max Evans novel and in the 1965 movie made from it, the two unlucky cowboys played by Glen Ford and Henry Fonda.

            Max was chosen as the first recipient of the award, and since then two-dozen other writers, historians, and artists have been recognized as Rounders for their part in contributing to and securing the rich culture of the American West.  Your humble local writer of this column was named to the group in 2017 for his work at the Lea County Museum and in writing.

            This year’s recipients are RW Hampton, who lives in Cimarron and Dino Cornay, who lives just up the northeastern New Mexico highways in Folsom.

            RW Hampton grew up in a small Texas town and has drifted across the West working at a lot of cowboy jobs, including punching cattle, breaking and shoeing horses, and even leading trail rides and guiding hunters. Doing most of those jobs he has also spent a lot of time singing cowboy songs, and he has become a popular and award-winning country and western singer.

            As a writer as well as a singer, he has earned awards from The Academy of Western Artists and from the Western Music Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2011.

            Dino Cornay was raised in cow country, and since his childhood he drew what he saw and has without any formal training become a well-known artist who positions Western ranch life at the center of his subjects.  He documents human and animal life connected with ranching and cowboying.

            Cornay works primarily in graphite and in oils.  His art has been featured in several prestigious publications, including Western Horseman, American Quarter Horse Journal, New Mexico Stockman, as well as numerous articles and covers of various other publications.

            Despite the fact Max Evans was not able to attend, this year’s Rounders Award ceremony had nine previous winners attending.

            If a New Mexico rounder could live in Norway and write about Scandinavian life, writer Knausgaard would probably be inducted into the group.  He is an award-winning author whose autobiographical novel cycle, “My Struggle,” spans six volumes that have been translated into more than fifteen languages.

            Before it was published as a book, “Inadvertent” was a 2017 lecture at Yale University and delivered at the Windham-Campbell Prize ceremony which Krausgaard received.

            The subject of the lecture “Why I Write” a question Knausgaard finds difficult to answer.  Just a few paragraphs into the book, he writes the following:

            “Literature is not primarily a place for truths, it is the space where truths play out.  For the answer to the question (why I write)—that I write because I am going to die (for example)—to have the intended effect, for it to strike one as truth, a space must first be created in which it can be said.  That is what writing is:  creating a space in which something can be said.”

            He repeats that idea several times: Writing is creating a space in which something can be said.

            Then Krausgaard writes this about all art:            

            “The contradiction between the illimitable that dwells within us and our simultaneous limitation and earthboundness is the driving force behind all literature and all art.”

            I do not know if Kareem Abdul Jabar has ever read any of Krausgaard novels or his little book on writing, but I think it would make for an informative experience to hear the two men talk about the similarities in their lives that appear on the surface to be about as dissimiliar as two lives could be.

            Although both of their names are very prominent in their native countries, the tall African-American and the diminutive Norwegian have had very different careers.  Each studied in university, but Abdul-Jabar’s focus was on the basketball court and took him to a 20-year career in the National Basketball Association. He is 72 years old.

            Born in 1968, Knausgaard did not publish a book until he was almost 30 years old, his focus until then was to attend college to study literature and the arts.

            However, despite their different backgrounds and the 20 years that separate their ages, both of them think now that writing literature and history are what they were moving towards their entire lives.

            I think both of them would fit right in with New Mexico’s Rounders.

            Come to think of it, it would be three generations of writers if Kareem, Karl, and Max could get together to talk about writing. The three of them would have forty or fifty books written on which to base their ideas to help answer the question Why I Write.

Last Frontier300-Bozena on Fire

By Jim Harris

Several years ago when I first met and spoke with Lea County artist Bozena Kaczan in Hobbs, I came away after only a few minutes thinking, “Here is a woman who is really animated and energized by ideas and objects of beauty.”

            She is an artist who works in several media, from watercolors to pastels, and in the years since our first meeting, each time I have visited with her the initial impression of her ebullience and zealousness about art has been reinforced again and again.

            Bozena is fired-up about art and history, especially of her native Poland.

            Whether she was showing a new pastel she had just finished or a small necklace she made several years ago and has worn many times, Bozena is bubbling with excitement and energy and seems anxious to get to work on new art.

            She’s not only fired-up about art, she’s also wired for the ideas about what makes something beautiful and about objects we think of as expressions of beauty.

            When it comes to the art she loves, I have begun to think that Bozena’s  Polish given name should translate alliteratively as buoyant, ebullient, bouncy, and even brassy. 

            To tell you the truth, after I first met her and she told me she was born and grew up in Poland, I also thought about the many stereotypes of Polish people in Texas where I was raised.  The Polish jokes I heard had characters who were kin to the humorous protagonists among the Irish, the Italians, the Scandinavians, and the Aggies from Texas A&M University.

            In addition, I grew up thinking that all Polish people probably play the accordion and love to dance the polka, as so many of the rural people of Central Texas do at German beer halls on weekends.  Maybe those roadhouses around Fredericksburg and Austin were just as much Polish as they were German.

            Since my days in college, I have been a student of folklore, and after meeting Bozena, I recalled a few legends and myths of Poland, which had to do with supernatural creatures, dragons, giants, and monsters from the deep and from ancient times.

            In addition, and this has more to do with the history of Poland, talking with Bozena made me remember the suffering the Polish people endured before, during, and following the World War II when they were under the oppression of the Germans and then the Russian-Soviets. The armies of those two countries were like heavy hammers on many European countries.

            At times I’ve wondered if I would see any reflection of those dark times in Poland’s history in Bozena’s art.

            However, over the years of visiting with her, Bozena has never appeared to me to be a character in any Polish story, and after meeting her husband Leszek, neither of them fit any kinds of stereotypes from Polish folklore or history.  They both are an incredibly talented and happy couple.

            Leszek’s expertise is in agriculture, and he works for a West Texas/Southeastern New Mexico farmer who operates many thousands of acres of land in our area.  At the Lea County Museum recently, I had the wife of one New Mexico rancher-farmer tell me that Leszek knows more about farming cotton, corn, peanuts, and chilies than anyone she had ever met.

            Leszek told me that he cares for and harvests the fragrant field of rosemary that lies just west of my home on the north side of Hobbs. It’s a beautiful and sweet-smelling green field, especially following a rain or a gentle breeze from the west.

            Bozena and Leszek seem to be one very balanced and compatible couple, she richly talented in art, he in earth sciences.  And Bozena thinks of Leszek like I think of my wife Mary. She’s mighty lucky to have him.             

            Bozena and Leszek were born in Poland where they lived until they moved to the United State in 1988.  They have lived in Hobbs for 30 years.

            She says she loves America, a country where she has the freedom to say what she wants and to create what she wants in her art. She says Poland did not give her that freedom, even in the post-German era following World War II, a conflict that crippled the economies of most European countries, but was especially hard on Poland, a nextdoor neighbor to the Nazi’s.

            Bozena is not shy about exercising her right of freedom of speech.  She could give graduate-level lectures on Polish literature, contemporary life, politics, history, and historical architecture.

            In fact, her one-woman art show at the LCM Art Gallery in Lovington will contain several poster-size contemporary photographs of historic buildings and public sculptures, photos she took earlier this year on a visit back to her birth land. 

             That is another impressive quality she projects.  As it relates to life in general, and art in particular, Bozena’s interests are broad.  Although she especially loves watercolor, she is not wedded or limited to one kind of art. She doesn’t work only in oil, or in one genre.  She is a talented potter, jeweler, and dress designer.

            Her show at the LCM Art Gallery reflects her interests and expertise in a wide variety of subjects and styles.

            Bozena tells me that she has been excited about art since she was a young girl in Poland and one of her teachers told her she has a talent for creating utilitarian and artistic objects.  

            She received her master degree in 1975 from College of Fine Arts in Lodz, Poland, and she has won awards for her work.  For many years she worked as a costume designer in the Horzyca theater in Torun, Poland.

            When she moved to Hobbs, she began receiving honors and praise from residents and other artists.  She has been active in the Llano Estacado Art Association, serving on the board and volunteering to help facilitate programs and shows. She also is a member of the YCAA in Plains, the OAA in Odessa, and the BAA in Brownfield, Texas.

            For several years, she also worked at the Western Heritage Museum.

            She sure does not look or act like she has reached a stage in her life in which she might want to slow down.

            Indeed, she is still on fire for art and for her life in America.

            She may have been born in Poland, but to me Bozena is as American as apple pie, or as the polka that is played and danced in the Hill Country of Texas.

            Her one-woman show at the Lea County Museum’s Art Gallery will open Thursday, Nov. 7 from 4 to 7 p.m.

            She will be there to visit and to answer questions about Poland and about her art.

            Polish refreshments will be served at the opening.

            The show will remain at the Art Gallery through February.

            The Art Gallery is located on Central Street across from the Lea County Courthouse.

            For more information, call the Lea County Museum at 575-396-4805.