​MJQ Redux: Celebrating Jazz at Sewanee

A landmark concert in the history of American music gets long overdue recognition in February. Back in April 1961, eight years before the Woodstock Festival and eight years after Duke Ellington’s last pop hit, the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) was heard for the first time in the South, performing to a rapt audience at the University of the South. At this point the progressive MJQ was not yet the household name it would become later; it had landed in Sewanee entirely thanks to the efforts of the student Jazz Society. The University, lacking a real concert hall, offered up its gymnasium one Sunday afternoon for a superb concert in the round by the MJQ. That gym, named for a segregationist, hosted hundreds of listeners in one of the first integrated events to occur on campus—or anywhere in that region.

At 2 p.m. CST, Sunday, Feb. 11, the University of the South pays tribute to that landmark event by hosting another momentous concert, the Aaron Diehl Quartet in performance, reviving the songs played by the MJQ back in ’61. Aaron Diehl, celebrated for his virtuosity as both jazz and classical pianist, brings the outstanding vibraphonist Warren Wolf along with Paul Sikivie, bass, and Peter Van Nostrand, drums—altogether forming an ensemble exceptionally capable of handling the MJQ book.
In the preceding days, Feb. 9–10, the University also hosts a symposium dedicated to the music of the MJQ. The symposium assembles several leading names in jazz studies, including Gary Giddins, featured expert in Ken Burns’ “Jazz” and author of “Visions of Jazz and Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star”; and George Schuller, drummer with the Lee Konitz Quartet and son of famed composer and jazz advocate Gunther Schuller.
Symposium participants will also hear from Phil Schaap, a fabled New York City jazz personality (curator, Jazz at Lincoln Center, faculty member of Juilliard Jazz Studies, and WKCR jazz host), and Dr. Christopher Coady, the author of “John Lewis and the Challenge of ‘Real’ Black Music” and lecturer at the Sydney (Australia) Conservatorium of Music. Coady will lecture on the significance of the MJQ’s experience in Europe and the impact of that on their lead songwriter in “Jazz Possibilities: John Lewis at Home and Abroad.” Schaap, regarded as the world’s premier jazz disk-jockey, will curate listening sessions of MJQ recordings in the acclaimed Ralston Listening Room on the campus of the University of the South. Aaron Diehl, who at an earlier stage of his career was selected by John Lewis’s widow, Mirjana, to archive the music of her husband, also contributes to the symposium with a performance-discussion on Lewis’s charts from a pianist’s perspective.
The MJQ, referred to as the premier concert ensemble in jazz and even “the world’s finest chamber group in any kind of music,” modeled a rare degree of egalitarian, even democratic, cooperation. In the words of John Lewis, the pianist and primary composer, they “tried to make it a reflection of this country, the ideal reflection that it should be a democracy, where the group takes advantage of the best abilities of each of the participants.” The vibraphonist Milt Jackson gave the group a brilliant soloist, and the drummer Connie Kay and bassist Percy Heath each added personal stylistic elements essential to the mature MJQ sound.
The foursome opened jazz to new audiences at the same time that it expanded the art’s frontiers. Some of their recordings apply jazz inspiration to classical forms and textures, heading in the direction sometimes labeled “third stream,” while others venture towards the cool or bop idioms within jazz. In the late ’60s The Beatles brought out two MJQ albums on the Apple label. Together the quartet recorded, performed, and toured longer than virtually all other chamber ensembles—for more than four decades, from the early 1950s to the mid-’90s. The MJQ members died between 1994 and 2005, but the quartet retains its hold on today’s listeners with recordings like “Django” and “Bags Groove”—and continues to attract attention from leading contemporary jazz musicians, notably Wynton Marsalis, Ron Carter, and Aaron Diehl.
A special attraction of the symposium will be a viewing of Music Inn, hosted by George Schuller, who co-produced the film. This documentary conveys the remarkable story of the School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts, and the superb performers who for three legendary decades graced the stage of its “Music Barn,” including Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, and Pete Seeger. All these artists—among many others—also played on the Sewanee campus in the 1960s and ’70s, sponsored by the student Jazz Society. (Among the first of these was the celebrated 1961 MJQ concert.) These performances were especially notable for occurring in what was a still largely segregated South, and it was here that integration was first possible in the region. Not coincidentally, the Highlander Folk School—well known as a training site for non- violent protest where champions of the civil rights era assembled, including Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Septima Clark—was just a few miles up the road from Sewanee. Some of the same individuals were active in both the Sewanee Jazz Society and at Highlander.
For more information about specific dates, times, locations and registration and ticket charges, visit www.sewanee.edu/mjqinsewanee
Several divisions of the University of the South underwrite these events: the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Lectures Committee, Performing Arts Series, Office of Minority Affairs, Office of Alumni and Parent Programs, Departments of Music and History, Program in American Studies, along with the Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation.

​Walter Recounts Civil Rights Experiences

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Francis Walter, a Sewanee resident and Episcopal priest, was both witness and activist during the civil rights upheaval of the 1960s. He shared scenes from that tumultuous time on Jan. 14, the afternoon before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I’m talking about another world and a lot of you never lived in it and don’t understand it,” he told a chapel peopled with community members and students on the St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School’s campus.
Walter, 85, was in the close company of Dr. King three times in his life, but never spoke to the man because he says he was intimidated by King’s celebrity. Walter also discussed the aftermath following the death of Episcopal activist Jonathan Daniels and described when he feared he himself would be shot by a man named “One-Eyed Jack.”
Part of the Selma Inter-religious Project, a coalition of religious denominations supporting black leaders during the Civil Rights Movement in the South, Walter was also a key organizer of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alabama, a program to generate income for black families from the sale of handmade quilts.
Emmanuel Thombs, 18, an SAS senior who is African-American, said on Jan. 16 that Walter’s story gave him perspective and emphasized the importance to not watch history “but to be active in my world and insert myself into history.”
“My dad lived most of his childhood under segregation and he always proclaims how much different of a world today is,” Thombs said. “It’s hard for me to truly understand the world in the 1960s and the idea that ‘we’ve come a long way’ because I have never experienced the things those living in that time period did.”
A short discussion near the end of Walter’s talk between Thombs, Walter and fellow Episcopal priest Joe Porter, centered on how far the country has come in race relations and the distance left to go.
Racism is more subtle today, Walter noted. Porter said he does not believe strides have been made in the economy, education and healthcare.
“We’ve come far in political democracy but not in economic democracy,” Porter said. “That’s a big thing in this country, the total wealth as a percentage has not risen significantly at all for African-Americans from those days.”
Thombs asked Porter how to combat inequalities, and Porter said as a follower of Jesus and the teachings of Dr. King, having an open heart is the way to reconciliation.
Thombs said on Jan. 16, like many, he does not know the answers to balancing racial inequality.
“People often call me a pessimist for saying that I don’t truly believe there’s any way to fix inequality without erasing the foundations that this country put in place long ago,” he said. “I hope that my opinion will change as I grow older and learn more about the way the world works.”
King, Daniels and ‘One-Eyed Jack’
With his thick twisted cane resembling a deer leg flanking a clear glass of water atop a wooden stool beside the lectern, Walter spoke to the group in a soft Southern tone.
The first time Walter was in the presence of Dr. King was at a speech on New Year’s Day in the 1950s at the International Longshoreman’s Association Hall in Mobile, Ala. Walter and three others were the only white people in attendance and were given a position of honor on the podium directly behind King.
“Exactly the opposite if they (black people) tried to go to white churches —hatred, hate stares, call the police” he said. “I saw this gift of hospitality over and over again in black churches.”
He said “King’s voice went to my bones” during that speech. At two meetings of civil rights activists in the 1960s, Walter also shared a room with Dr. King and he attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, where afterwards area black churches shared “consoling food, served with dignity.”
Speaking both extemporaneously and reading from a forthcoming book about his experiences, Walter also talked about the death of Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist who was shot and killed on the steps of a grocery store in Hayneville, Ala., trying to protect a black teenager, Ruby Sales.
Daniels was supposed to meet with Walter the day before his death to discuss Walter assuming Daniels’ duties, but Daniels was jailed with a group of other activists, and the meeting never happened. He was killed shortly after being released from jail by a white man who objected to their presence at the store—where they had gone for a cold drink.
Some Episcopal bishops and other church leaders were not happy with what Walter, Daniels and other activists were doing. Two splashes of sunlight in the shape of windows decorated the wall behind Walter as he remembered calling area Episcopal churches to invite them to participate in a memorial for Daniels in Selma, knowing that they would be portrayed negatively in the press for their absence from the service and would be risking their jobs to attend.
“I enjoyed sticking it to them,” he said, but added that he struggled with guilt for 45 years for putting the church leaders in “a moral crisis.”
But standing against racial oppression is an imperative for a follower of Christ and with the help of his wife Faye, a clinical psychologist, Walter was able to work through his painful emotions about those phone calls, he said.
It was in the days after Daniels’ death that Walter thought his own life was in jeopardy at a small black church in Greensboro, Ala. Approaching the church, one of many holding memorial services for Daniels, he saw that the parsonage’s porch was adorned with bullet holes.
Inside the church a group of men, part of the Deacons for Justice, were armed with shotguns and plenty of enthusiasm.
“They were the happiest young black guys I’d ever seen in my life,” he said, “…not under the white man’s thumb anymore.”
After the service, as Walter went to the car to leave, a white man began to cuss him, so he returned to the church. Parishioners identified the man as “One-Eyed Jack,” the person who had shot up the parsonage. They provided an armed escort for Walter out of town.

​Divine Re-Designs Repurposes Trash into Treasure

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Derrek and Andrea Plattenburg never intended to open a “repurposing store.”
“Divine Re-Designs is sort of a happy accident,” Andrea said.
The couple started out “flipping houses,” buying run down homes, restoring and reselling them. But their remodeling increasingly took a creative turn, taking an old vanity from a bathroom and using it as a kitchen island for instance.
“We hate to waste anything,” Andrea insisted. They started making furniture from “the leftovers” and their repertoire quickly expanded into “reimagining” whatever crossed their path. Doors became hall trees and corner cabinets; bottles became lamps; barrel hoops became overhead light fixtures while the barrels became sinks; headboards became the backs of loveseats; windows became tables; ladders became towel racks and shelves.
Sometimes customers fail to recognize the original item. One woman mistook a wooden ironing board for a sled, in its new life repurposed as a table.
“Everything is one of a kind,” Andrea stressed. “We use what we have on hand.”
Located in old downtown Decherd at 100 East Main St., across from the historic Powell’s Hardware building, Divine Re-Designs occupies what was the pool hall for many generations of Decherd folks. A backroom serves as a workshop where the Plattenburgs craft their wares. The showroom floor is decorated with the hand and foot prints of their two daughters, ages eight and 12, while the ceiling is tin salvaged from an old barn in Jump Off.
Andrea was born and raised in Sewanee and refers to herself as a “Sewaneean,” although the couple has lived in Winchester for the past seven years. After 26 years as a maintenance superintendant at Nissan, Derrek resigned for a new career restoring old houses, following in the footsteps of his father who was likewise a skilled carpenter.
The Plattenburg’s point to Divine Re-Designs as a cornerstone in the “bring back old downtown Decherd” initiative. Andrea serves on the downtown Decherd committee composed of business owners appointed by the mayor. The committee pursues grant opportunities. Decherd recently made a $15,000 matching contribution for flowerpots, benches, and like amenities to make historic downtown more “aesthetically pleasing.”
Area residents frequently bring doors and other mementos from their childhood homes wanting the Plattenburgs to create something they can cherish as a legacy and pass down to future generations.
The Plattenburgs are open to bartering if folks see something they like. People invite them to visit their old barn or shed to scavenger for “trash into treasure” possibilities. “Sometimes we put things on the floor ‘as is’ if it’s a particularly cool item,” Andrea said.
Divine Re-Designs also features consignments from a few area artisans whose creations are appropriate to the theme: pressed glass bottles re-imagined as serving trays, handmade wooden fishing lures, and a local blacksmith’s crafts. The commission charged artisans is low. “We want to support local artisans, and their wares diversify our offerings,” Andrea explained.
“We felt led to do this,” she said commenting on the name Divine Re-Designs and how the career change to restoring old houses led to a business opportunity neither one of them ever imagined—“We’re border line hoarders. The difference is things get to move on.”
Divine Re-Designs opened its doors in December 2016. “We have a heavy traffic flow, a lot of regular customers,” Andrea noted speaking to the store’s success. In addition to individuals, several area businesses decorate with Divine Re-Designs creations. Branchwater Distillery in downtown Winchester features a Divine Re-Designs’ hall tree fashioned from an old door, railroad nails, and whiskey barrel lid. The minnow basket light fixtures at Lakeside Veterinary Clinic in Estill Springs are Divine Re-Designs creations.
“People are tired of mass produced items. They want something unique with character. But Divine Re-Designs isn’t just for rich people,” Andrea was quick to point out. “We’re committed to keeping prices affordable.”
Divine Re-Designs is open Thursday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or, according to Andrea, “until people stop coming.”

​SUD Commissioner Election: Meet the Candidates

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Two area residents are vying for a soon-to-be-vacated seat on the board of commissioners of the Sewanee Utility District of Franklin and Marion counties. Doug Cameron and Paul Evans are seeking election to the commissioner seat currently held by Karen Singer. Singer is term-limited and cannot seek re-election. Voting continues through Jan. 23 at the SUD office, 150 Sherwood Rd., during regular business hours. All SUD customers are eligible to vote. Brief bios on the candidates follow.
Doug Cameron
Doug Cameron previously served two four-year terms on the Sewanee Utility District board, five of the eight years as president. His last term ended in January 2012. During his tenure, SUD weathered the devastating 2007 drought and built a new water plant.
“I’m fascinated with the SUD constructed wetlands project,” Cameron said, “and with trying to deal with growth, especially drought planning.”
Highlighting challenges faced by SUD, Cameron cited the need for updating and addressing leaks in SUD’s wastewater collection system. He also pointed to unaccounted for water loss as an area that needed additional attention.
“The new, more efficient meters SUD installed a few years ago got rid of some of the problems,” Cameron observed, but advocated further remedial efforts.
Raised in Sewanee, Cameron attended college at Harvard University.
“My dad said we had to leave for college,” Cameron joked.
Although he majored in clinical psychology and social anthropology, he took electives in the physical sciences whenever he got a chance and logged more than 100 hours in biology and chemistry.
After traveling a few years as campground guides, Cameron and his wife Ann returned to Sewanee.
“I’ve been a teacher or run outdoor programs ever since,” he said.
Cameron has been a SUD customer since 1970. He currently lives on Can Tex Drive in the Jump Off community. He is also a member of the Sewanee Volunteer Fire Department.

Paul Evans

Paul Evans’ accounting background led to a career managing a socially responsible investment fund where water technology played a key role. The Adirondack Fund’s mission was to generate economic activity in economically depressed areas while preserving the nature of the place.
“I spent 20 years looking at water technology,” Evans said, “primarily technology that cleaned water and technology used in wastewater treatment.”
A SUD customer for the past five-and-a-half years, Evans lives just four doors down from Sewanee Elementary.
“The potential development proposed by the University’s Sewanee Village Plan has heightened my concern about the cost-effective delivery of safe and clean drinking water,” Evans stressed. “As a business person with experience serving on boards, I think I can make a knowledgeable and responsible contribution to help SUD address the growth challenges it faces.”
Raised in Pittsburg, Pa., Evans frequently visited his mother’s family in McMinnville as a child. He returned to the Plateau several years ago to care for his mother, and met and married Sewanee native Katherine Alvarez.

Evans earned a degree in accounting from Empire State College in New York. An eight-year stint as a documentary film producer for Vermont Public Television taught him about lighting and led to his current career. Evans and his business partner formed the company Adaptive Landscape Lighting, pairing the concepts of energy efficiency, utility and beauty.

​School Board Continues Cell Phone Policy Discussion

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Franklin County School Board members raised additional questions about student cell phone use prior to taking up a request to amend the cell phone policy. At the December meeting, representatives from the Student Advisory Council asked the board to approve a six-week trial allowing use of cell phones in the hallways before school and during class change, as well as during breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, and in class at teacher discretion. The current cell phone policy forbids all student use of cell phones on school premises during the school day.
The students stressed cell phones were an educational tool and cited the more lenient policies of neighboring school districts. As a result of Franklin County’s policy, during the spring semester of 2017, 50 percent of the students in the Alternative School were there for cell phone related violations.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean estimated currently three or four students were assigned to the Alternative School due to cell related incidents.
“The number fluctuates,” Bean said.
Board Chair Cleijo Walker asked for information on the total number of cell phone violators assigned to the Alternative School in the fall 2017 semester.
School board representative Chris Guess asked Bean to consult with school attorney Chuck Cagle about the legality of confiscating cell phones of student violators, one of the punitive practices under the current policy. Guess also requested information on the number of incidents where school resource officers’ intervention was related to cell phone use.
The board deferred further discussion until the workshop scheduled for February before the regular board meeting on Monday, Feb. 12. The board is also expected to address questions related to the proposed consolidated middle school.
In other business, the board approved several budget amendments. The majority of changes designated how to allocate federal grant money received for drug use prevention and intervention. The Opioid Grant allocation increased by $113,000.


​MLK Community Celebration

The 33rd annual Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration will take place on Monday, Jan. 15, at 5:30 p.m. in Upper Cravens Hall at 435 Kentucky Ave. The program will celebrate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The community is invited to come out and take part in the annual potluck dinner.

Vice Chancellor John McCardell will give the opening remarks. Students will host the program and share poetry and dance. The School of Theology Choir, under the direction of Kenneth Miller, will perform musical selections. The Sewanee Praise Choir, under the Direction of Music Professor Prakash Wright, will perform selections from their songbook. Attendees will have the opportunity to join in song.
The evening is always a great community celebration. Attendees will enjoy good company, inspiring music and nourishing food.
The Sewanee Black Student Union, the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace, the School of Theology, the Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs, and the Office of Student Life are the co-sponsors. The event is free, open, and the community is invited.

​David Crabtree to Give Address at Winter Convocation

The University of the South’s Winter Convocation will be held at 4 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, in All Saints’ Chapel. Honorary degrees will be presented and approximately 110 new members will be inducted into the Order of the Gown. Nancy Berner will be installed as the eighth provost of the University. The Rev. David Crabtree, an award-winning broadcast journalist as well as an ordained deacon, will give the Convocation address and will receive an honorary doctor of civil law degree.

Crabtree will give a talk titled “Where is God in the Newsroom?” at 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 18, in Convocation Hall. The public is invited to the talk.
During the Convocation, an honorary doctor of fine arts degree also will be conferred upon costume designer Toni-Leslie James, associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Convocation will be streamed live for those who are unable to attend at .
Crabtree is a news anchor and reporter for WRAL-TV in North Carolina and an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University, attended Vanderbilt Divinity School, and is completing a masters of theology at Duke Divinity School. Crabtree’s awards include 15 Emmys and the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters 2014 Anchor of the Year. He has been awarded the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for his work focusing on migrant workers’ living conditions, and the Gabriel Award from the Catholic Press Association for reporting that uplifts and nourishes the human spirit. Crabtree was ordained in 2004 as permanent deacon in the Diocese of North Carolina, with a focus on end of life care and a particular emphasis on hospice care and North Carolina’s death row.
James is a costume designer for stage, television and film, and an associate professor and head of design in the theatre department of Virginia Commonwealth University. She has designed for Broadway, regional theatre, opera, dance, film, and television. Her Broadway credits include costume designs for “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” “Footloose,” “The Tempest,” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” James has 38 costume design nominations or awards, among them the 2009 Obie Award for Sustained Costume Design Excellence and the 2011 National Black Theatre Festival Outstanding Costume Designer of the Year Award. Her work has been displayed in nine major museum and college exhibitions, and the American Museum of Natural History showed a 2006 retrospective of her career.
Dr. Nancy J. Berner was named the eighth provost of the University in July 2017. She received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Idaho before earning a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford University. She taught in Sewanee’s biology department for 20 years before becoming associate provost in 2012. Berner has also served the University as department chair and as interim associate dean of the College, was elected to two three-year terms on the Board of Trustees, and holds the William Henderson Professorship in biology. As provost, Berner is the chief operating officer of the University, overseeing academic and administrative operations including human resources; information technology and the library; environmental stewardship and sustainability; sponsored research; and risk management.

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