Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mark your jazz calendars for Theo Bleckmann

I've been dying to see Theo Bleckmann live, and here he comes.

From the Macalester College (St. Paul) Events Calendar:

Friday, September 23

New Music Series: Theo Bleckmann, voice

Jazz singer and new music composer Theo Bleckmann will perform. The Grammy nominated Bleckmann makes music that is accessibly sophisticated, unsentimentally emotional, and seriously playful. His work provokes the mind to wonder, but connects immediately with the heart. The Village Voice called him “Transcendent”; The New York Times wrote, “From another planet”; and All About Jazz said he is “Magical, futuristic.” New Music Series guest artists work with Macalester students in classes and master classes and give free concerts, which are open to the public. Sponsored by the Rivendell Foundation.

Macalester-Plymouth United Church
1658 Lincoln Ave.
St. Paul, Minn. 55105
8 p.m. FREE 651-696-6808

This event is likely to be under the radar. If you don't know who Theo Bleckmann is, neither do a lot of people--yet. He's one of Kurt Elling's five favorite jazz singers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jazz tubist leaves town: Interview with Stefan Kac

Stefan Kac by John Whiting 2011
It’s a good move for him, sad news for Twin Cities jazz fans and musicians: On Labor Day weekend, after a final performance at the Nomad on Wednesday, Stefan Kac will pack his tuba and head to CalArts to pursue his master’s degree.

I mean it about the sad news part. Since I first saw Kac lug his instrument on stage at the AQ during a rare jam session, I’ve been watching him with great interest. At first, mainly because he plays jazz on the tuba. But it wasn’t long before the novelty ceded to the musicality, freshness, imagination, and depth (literal and figurative) he brings to each performance.

He gives jazz, especially free jazz, new layers, colors, and sonorities. If jazz is like a sand painting, he’s the dark layer at the bottom. If jazz has colors, he’s the indigo blue and burnished bronze. A tuba changes the physical experience of hearing jazz. Those low notes get you where others can’t reach.

Soon, other musicians were playing with him, and those who weren’t were talking about him and wanting to play with him. I saw him with his groups Pan-Metropolitan Trio and Ingo Bethke, with BronkowVision and AntiGravity, with the Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble, with Bryan Nichols’ We Are Many, with Ann Millikan’s “House of Mirrors” project, and with his own ensembles small and large: trios, quartets, and the Consortium of Symphonic Transients (CoST), often performing his original compositions. I regret that I never heard him with his classical group, the Copper Street Brass Quintet.

On Wednesday at 10 p.m., the Stefan Kac Octet will play the Nomad as part of the weekly jazz series being curated by bassist James Buckley. The octet features Scott Fultz, Chris Kauffman, Shilad Sen, and Chris Thomson on saxes, Geoff Sen on trumpet, Pat O’Keefe on bass clarinet, Kac on tuba, and Nick Zielinski on drums.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to write about the arts, for the Schubert Club's new Theoroi group

Last night, I spoke to the members of Theoroi, a group of young Twin Cities professionals ages 21–35 who have committed to attending a series of arts events over the coming season and spreading the word through interactive social media outlets.

Theoroi is a new initiative of the Schubert Club, Minnesota's first performing arts organization and the place you go when you want to see recitals by people like Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, and Alison Balsam.

We met in the Schubert Club Museum at the Landmark Center in St. Paul (where there's a piano signed by Liszt and a letter signed by Mozart), drank wine, and sat in Ghost Louis chairs. I was asked to speak on "how to write about the arts" and came prepared with a few suggestions. I thought it might be helpful to post them here, with light embellishments.

Thanks to Tessa Rettarath and Paul Olson of the Schubert Club, Matt Zumwalt of the board, and everyone at Theoroi for making me feel so welcome. I look forward to reading what you Theoroi-ists have to say about Cosi and Phantom, plays and ballets and recitals.


Learn a little something before you go to an event. Find out about the play, the dance, the choreographer, the performers. Read the play, if you can, or the story of the opera. (Trust me, enjoying opera does not depend on being surprised by plot twists.) Watch some clips of a singer on YouTube. Check the venue’s website and visit the links included there. Even a little knowledge can give you confidence and help you feel prepared for what you're about to experience.

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonight and tomorrow (Friday–Saturday, August 26–27) at the Artists’ Quarter: Jeanne Arland Peterson and Cliff Brunzell will celebrate their 90th birthdays. It’s rumored that Jeanne, pianist extraordinaire and mother of the musical Peterson clan, and Cliff, the superb violinist and maestro of the Golden Strings, will be joined by Irv Williams, saxophonist supreme, a.k.a. Mr. Smooth, who has a couple of years on Jeanne and Cliff; he’s 92. Irv played with Ben Sidran at the Dakota earlier this week and I hear it was a fabulous night. 9 p.m. ($15)

Tonight (Friday) at the Black Dog in St. Paul’s Lowertown: guitarist Jef Lee Johnson with Johannas Tona and Michael Bland. A recent addition to the Black Dog’s calendar and well worth going out for. Fans of the sorely missed Minnesota Sur Seine festival will remember the amazing and adventuresome Johnson. Bassist Tona has made his mark in the Twin Cities performing with Nachito Herrera and Stokely Williams. Michael Bland has been Prince’s drummer. It will be awesome; it will likely be loud. 8 p.m. ($8 suggested door)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues concert film showings announced

From Jazz at Lincoln Center:
US Movie Theater Event: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues
One night only
Wednesday, Sept. 7, 7:30 pm (local time)
This intimate performance, captured live from Lincoln Center this past spring, brought together an unrivaled cross-generational, cross-cultural collaboration as the pair of musical virtuosos showcased a repertoire of songs selected by Clapton and arranged by Marsalis. The concert film also features a special appearance by blues musician Taj Mahal, who joined the duo for two songs, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage.
Click here for info/tickets.
When you can't go to a live concert, seeing the concert film at a cushy state-of-the-art movie theater is the next best thing--sometimes even better because the cameras go in much closer than you ever could. Plus there's popcorn.

If you click on the link above, enter your ZIP code, and pick your theater, you may discover that tickets aren't yet on sale for that venue. But you can ask Fandango to send you an email when they are. Just don't let Fandango pick your seats for you, if your theater is one with reserved seating (like the Showplace Icon in St. Louis Park, MN). Fandango will pick terrible seats.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonight and tomorrow (Friday–Saturday, August 19–20) at the Artists' Quarter: the Miguel Hurtado Group. Miguel is an exciting young drummer and a recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. His band will include Marquis Hill on trumpet and Christopher McBride on saxophone, both Miguel’s friends from Chicago, and Twin Cities musicians Zacc Harris (guitar), James Buckley (bass), and Joe Strachan (piano; Friday only). Everyone will contribute original compositions. Playing the AQ is a big deal for any young jazz musician—a weekend especially so. 9 p.m. ($12)

On Saturday at Hell’s Kitchen, the Jana Nyberg Group is having their CD release for Fever. I like how Jana sings a song—she’s not at all shy about it, she just steps up and grabs it. And I like how her husband, Adam Meckler, plays the trumpet. The combination of voice and trumpet is one of many reasons to hear this new CD.  Meckler’s arrangement of the title track gives an evergreen a good shake, and Jana's sassy run at “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” tickles and swings. Hell’s Kitchen, 6 p.m. Saturday. No cover.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Take me there

If I had a transporter, tonight I'd go to the Hollywood Bowl, where a jaw-dropping lineup of jazz greats will perform "Joni's Jazz," a program of jazz-based songs by Joni Mitchell.

I've been in love with Joni since I first heard "Chelsea Morning," or maybe it was "Blue Boy" or "Big Yellow Taxi" or "Woodstock" or "Conversation" or "River" (so sad!) or "A Case of You," one of the greatest love songs of all time ("I could drink a case of you/And still be on my feet"--check out Prince's version sometime).

That floating, ethereal voice. Those otherworldly guitar tunings.

And then there's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" from the Mingus album she credits with "kicking her out of the game."

Imagine a concert of Joni's music, arranged by Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd, performed by Herbie Hancock, Kurt Elling, Aimee Mann, Chaka Khan, Wayne Shorter, Cassandra Wilson, Tom Scott, Mark Isham, Blade, Cowherd, Glen Hansard (The Frames), and more. Tonight, 7:30 p.m. To include The Hissing of Summer Lawns in its entirety.

Joni will not perform. Will she be in the house? What will Kurt sing?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amina Figarova: Setting stories to music

Originally published at on September 2, 2009

The lyrical, expressive, passionate pianist/composer Amina Figarova has just been booked at the Dakota for one night only—Thursday, September 1. I interviewed her two years ago, shortly before she played her first Dakota date. Her current tour of eight US cities will begin at the Dakota and go from there to the Fox Jazz Festival in Menasha, WI (Sept. 3), the Detroit Jazz Festival (Sept. 4), the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (Sept. 7), the WDCB Jazz Salon in Oak Brook (Sept. 8), Trio's in South Bend, IN (Sept. 9), the Puffin Foundation in Teaneck, NJ (Sept. 10), and the Metropolitan Room in NYC (Sept. 11). In Teaneck and NYC, Figarova and her band will perform September Suite, her musical response to the events of September 11, 2001. She travels with a telepathic band: husband Bart Platteau on flutes, Ernie Hammes on trumpet, Mark Mommaas on tenor saxophone (three wind instruments!), Jeroen Vierdag on bass, and Chris "Buckshot" Strik on drums. Catch them if you can.

This interview was originally published at on September 2, 2009.


Amina Figarova: Setting stories to music

Visit pianist/composer Amina Figarova’s website and you’ll find the words “Music is a natural not a national language.” This must include jazz, or Figarova’s own life is hard to explain. How else could a girl born in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan grow up trained as a classical musician, start a career as a classical concert pianist, and then, in her mid-20s, switch to jazz?

“My mother loved jazz, and she was always telling me, ‘You have that in you,’” Figarova said by phone earlier this week from her home in the Netherlands. “I was writing and playing classical music, so I never took seriously what she was saying. Every time I went to a jazz concert or festival, I was wishing I could do it but never felt I could.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Grazyna Auguscik brings a Polish accent to Brazilian jazz

Originally published at on Friday, Aug. 13, 2011

The third annual Twin Cities Polish Festival,  to be held this weekend on Main Street SE in Minneapolis, sounds like a splendid time, whether you're Polish or not. (Some 250,000 Minnesotans claim Polish heritage.) You can sip Polish vodka, pat Polish sheepdogs, watch Polish folk dancers, view Polish films, eat Polish food, join the Na Zdrowie (To your health!) 5K Run, listen to some Chopin, and hear a lot of polka.

And sultry, seductive Brazilian jazz, sung by a Polish jazz singer.

Born in Poland, now based in Chicago, where her admirers include Chicago Tribune arts critic Howard Reich, Grazyna Auguscik (gra-ZHEE-na ow-GOOSE-chik) will make her first Twin Cities appearance on Saturday. As festival headliner, she'll perform with guitarist Paulinho Garcia, her musical partner for 14 years, and the Polish-born, New York-based electric violinist Adam "Evil" Baldych. 

In Chicago, she keeps fans on their toes by presenting Chopin's works in unexpected arrangements (with trombones, but no piano), singing in three languages (Polish, English, and Portuguese), and staying unpredictable. She can purr Jobim, put a Brazilian spin on Sting's hit song "Fragile," evoke fellow Chicagoan Patricia Barber, and turn a standard like "Blue Skies" into a sonic trip Laurie Anderson would envy.

On Saturday, she'll stay close to her Brazilian repertoire – perfect music for a summer day. Here's Jobim's "Summer Samba," recorded in Poland. 

I spoke with Auguscik by phone earlier this week.

Pamela Espeland: How did you first become interested in jazz?

Grazyna Auguscik: I grew up in a small town in Poland and didn't have a lot of places to hear jazz. Two music instructors at the cultural center were into jazz. I would participate in different music events, and they were my accompanists. I learned some American standards; I didn't speak English at that time, so it was very difficult. I had to learn them phonetically. That was my beginning. I moved to Krakow and started to play with jazz groups and tour around Poland and Western Europe. From there I moved to Warsaw.

PLE: You came to the United States in 1988. What brought you here?

GA: Music. A friend came first, and he brought a tape of my singing. I got a scholarship from Berklee [College of Music in Boston] and came here. I didn't plan to stay longer than one year – then I stayed four years. I studied at the same time as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Antonio Hart and Roy Hargrove. I had the opportunity to play with a lot of fantastic musicians.

I started to experiment with different instruments and musicians. But I was always interested in bringing folk and ethnic music to jazz. For my first recital, I sang a Polish folk tune, and my band was a guitar player from the Congo, a bass player from Israel, a drummer from Austria, and a keyboard player from California. I'd like to see those guys again.

PLE: From Boston, you moved to Chicago. Why Chicago?

GA: In Boston, I was studying and working at the same time, and I was very tired. In my second year in the States, I took a summer break, came to Chicago, started singing here, and met a lot of musicians. I felt this was a very friendly place for me — much slower than new York, less competition, more opportunity to find music work. The first club I performed at was the Green Mill, and I became part of the Green Mill family. It's one of the great jazz clubs in the world.

PLE: A Polish-born singer, living in Chicago, specializing in Brazilian music: That doesn't happen every day. What drew you to Brazilian music?

GA: Paulinho Garcia. I met him in 1995. He was doing a solo concert in a small place. When I saw him, I said — wow. He sounds so beautiful, and I know I can sound good with him. For the next four years, I kept asking, "Can we do a demo? Can we see how we sound together?" He was so busy. We finally did a demo and ended up with a record. We sounded great together, and that was the beginning of our duo. We have worked together ever since.

He's 100 percent Brazilian, straight-ahead Brazilian. Anything he does becomes Brazilian. He doesn't do what I do — I'm crazy, jumping from one part of the world to another, one kind of music to another, combining everything. What he does is very pure. He always tells me, "The new music, it's just a moment, only for today. But my music stays forever." He's right.

His playing is very percussive. You can hear the bass in his guitar. His voice is like another string of his instrument. It's so easy to work with him. We travel together everywhere and it's never a problem. He's a very good person, one of my best friends, and he makes the best coffee.

PLE: The two of you are bringing out a new CD soon, a Beatles project. Will we hear some of that music on Saturday?

GA: Absolutely. It's called "Beatles Nova," like bossa nova. We arranged the songs for two voices, then added bass and percussion. We harmonize over the tunes. Paulinho is a master of harmony.

PLE: Since this is a Polish festival, will you sing in Polish a bit more than usual?

GA: No, but I will sing some Polish. We don't have a lot of songs in Polish. We sing British music in English with funny accents. We'll do some Chopin, without lyrics, all scat singing. I might do some duets with [violinist] Adam. We'll do mostly Brazilian tunes. Warm, nice music, mostly relaxing. Very happy, very sunny.

PLE: Is there anything else you'd like people to know?

GA: I'm not a complicated person, and I drink straight vodka.

Twin Cities Polish Festival, Saturday, Aug. 13 (10–10) and Sunday, Aug. 14 (11–6), along the Mississippi River on Main Street, across from Riverplace & St. Anthony Main.

Grazyna Auguscik will perform two sets on Saturday starting at 7 p.m. on the Polka Stage. With Paulhino Garcia, voice and guitar; Heitor Garcia, percussion; Brett Benteler, bass; and special guest Adam "Evil" Baldych, violin. Free.

Friday, August 12, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonight and tomorrow (Friday–Saturday, August 12–13) at the Artists’ Quarter, the Atlantis Quartet. Voted “Best Jazz Artist” by City Pages last year, Atlantis is Brandon Wozniak on saxophone, Zacc Harris on guitar, Chris Bates on bass, and Pete Hennig on drums. Modern, creative, very enjoyable music. They’ve released two CDs so far, Animal Progress and Again, Too Soon, and earlier this year they recorded a live CD at AQ, for which their fans are waiting.  Harris is hinting that "unicycles might be a part of the show, clown costumes for sure." 9 p.m. ($10)

On Saturday, the annual Freedom Jazz Festival takes place at Minnehaha Falls Park in Minneapolis. This Twin Cities tradition has a special mission: to present, preserve, and promote jazz as it relates to the Black/African American experience. This year’s lineup includes Urban Cadence, the Capri Big Band, Morris Wilson, Voice of Culture African Drum and Dance, and the Ugandan Orphans Choir. This has always been a people’s jazz festival. Read more about it in Robin James's article for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. The music starts at 1 p.m. and ends at 7, or thereabouts. Free.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New faces at famous jazz labels Verve and Blue Note

Does it really matter anymore who runs the so-called major jazz labels? I like to think it does for people like Jose James and Jef Neve, whose gorgeous For All We Know came out on Verve last year. And Ambrose Akinmusire, who made his Blue Note debut in April with When the Heart Emerges Glistening. (What a beautiful title, by the way.)

Herbie Hancock's latest, The Imagine Project, came out on Hancock Records. After decades on ECM, Dave Holland has his own label, Dare2. The elegant pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, formerly on Blue Note, just released Fe/Faith on his new label, 5Passion. Branford Marsalis has Marsalis Music. The prolific Dave Douglas has Greenleaf. The Saxophone Colossus himself, Sonny Rollins, has his own label, Doxy Records. Anyone reading this could probably name many artists who were formerly with big labels and have either been tossed or have chosen to go out on their own.

Labels probably matter more to jazz fans, who are more likely to hear or read about new releases on Verve or Blue Note, Concord or ECM than self-produced CDs. I'm speaking as a jazz fan when I say that a new appointment at Verve makes me glum, but I'm kind of excited about one at Blue Note.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jason Moran film in this year's Sound Unseen

Happy to learn that the 12th annual Sound Unseen Music/Art/Film Festival, scheduled for October 12-16, will include at least one jazz film: In My Mind.

It's a feature documentary on Jason Moran's re-creation of Thelonious Monk's famous 1959 Town Hall concert, fifty years later.

In My Mind, a multimedia performance featuring Moran and his group The Big Bandwagon, was performed at the Walker Art Center in May 2009. I was there, and the experience remains very fresh for me. Moran is someone I see every chance I get, whether he's performing with his own group(s) or the great saxophone shaman Charles Lloyd.

In My Mind is a new film from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Here's a clip.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Improvised music: an aside

Each week, my job (such as it is) here in the weekly picks and on KBEM is to know about every live jazz event happening in the Twin Cities (or as many as possible), then recommend performances worth going out to see.

I try to keep an open mind, because jazz comes in many forms and most are available here somewhere during the week, in a club or concert hall, a coffee shop or someone's back yard. I try not to be led too much by my own preferences because people like different things, and they get to.  One person's bebop is another person's poison. I have a good friend, a brilliant and accomplished artist in his own field, who insists he loves jazz but can't understand why the musicians take so many solos. If it weren't for the solos, he says, jazz would be better.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonight (Friday, August 5) in the eclectic and never dull Music in the Zoo series, in the open-air theater just past the tigers: DMS, for Duke (George), Miller (Marcus), and Sanborn (David). This new supergroup was born when all three were playing a recent Caribbean jazz cruise. Duke (keyboards, vocals) has performed with Al Jarreau, Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Cannonball Adderley’s band, Sonny Rollins, and on and on. Miller (bass) worked with Miles Davis, Grover Washington Jr., Bob James, and many more. Sanborn (saxophone) is a pop, R&B, jazz, and crossover star; he’s played with (to name a few) the Butterfield Blues Band, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, the Brecker Brothers—and Tim Berne. Three big guns. With Federico Pena on keys, Louis Cato on drums. The music starts at 7:30. ($39)

Marco Benevento by Michael Weintrob
In Minneapolis, at the Loring Theater, Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric opens for Marco Benevento. Clouser grew up here and now makes his home in Mexico; he’s been on tour a lot with his band and their new CD, so you might have seen him earlier at the Dakota or the Aster. The band's energetic electric jazz will be a perfect lead-in to Benevento’s blend of electronic music and traditional jazz ("post-jazz") played on a tricked-out piano: amps, guitar pick-ups, pedals, curcuit-bent toys. Ever since John Cage stuck a fork in his piano strings, I've liked the thick, buzzy, fuzzy, multilayered sound of a piano that has been messed with. Benevento is being promoted as “the future of rock piano,” but he has serious jazz chops and I hope we’ll hear some of those—a little Monk, please? One thing I won’t be surprised to hear: Benevento’s bashy, crashy cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” He almost has to play it. Or maybe he has to not play it? Doors at 7, music starts at 8. ($12 advance/$15 door)

And now for a completely different media release

Soon after praising the elegance and economy of a media release from Sue McLean and Associates, I get this from a band called The Walking Shadows, written by (I think?) one of the band members:

These songs are a knife in your heart; irrational revolution leaving crumbling ruins. Gothic-art rock rebels from neo-depression era Chicago: The Walking Shadows. Obsessed with Shakespeare, Ovid, and ex-lovers, the Walking Shadows scream their abashed poetics with a dark mythos that haunts you like doomy guitars and all your favorite demons. Their abrasive verse—“This is not poetry, because you’re not that pretty”—will move you to uneasiness and scare you because the music is giving you every reason to sing along.

The Walking Shadows play their collection of horror stories and love songs with high energy and high gain. Craig Winston, the band’s gaunt and towering axe-man, with his brooding bass voice, is already being hailed by bloggers as a guitar hero and captivating front-man. Across the stage he is mirrored by his identical twin and keyboardist, Mark Winston, who rocks and sways with the sound of his synths. John Sturm's drums thunder with Adam Hubbell's bass giving the Shadows their tightly knit live sound. 

I love it. They're at the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown (which used to host jazz but never does anymore) on August 20, 10 p.m.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nat King Cole: A play and a biography

Earlier this year, in May, I saw the play I Wish You Love at the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul. Written by Dominic Taylor, directed by Lou Bellamy, it portrays the very brief period—from November 1956 until December 1957—when Nat King Cole tried to make it on television.

Cole was by then an international jazz and pop star with many hits  ("Nature Boy," "Mona Lisa," "Unforgettable," "Too Young," "The Christmas Song," to name a few), a family, and a mansion in an old-money white neighborhood in Los Angeles, where he had lived (when he wasn't on the road) since 1948.  He had sold millions of records and earned millions of dollars for his label, Capitol.

But America wasn't ready for a black person with his own variety show, even if Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Bennett showed up to perform. NBC funded it, then bounced it around the schedule. No national companies would sponsor it. "For 13 months," Cole later wrote, "I was the Jackie Robinson of television. After a trail-blazing year that shattered all the old bug-a-boos about Negroes on TV, I found myself standing there with the bat on my shoulder. The men who dictate what Americans see and hear didn't want to play ball."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A new jazz series starts Tuesday at The Nicollet

What was once the Acadia, then (briefly) Cafe Oliver, then (even more briefly) Tillie's Bean is now The Nicollet, a neighborhood coffeehouse/cafe on the corner of Nicollet and Franklin. The wall that formerly divided it in two was removed during the Oliver era, revealing a wide-open space with brick walls, high ceilings, wood floors, and light pouring through big windows.

It's a good place to have a cup of good coffee, something owner Jeremy Konecny has experience with. Coffee has been in his family for 20 years. He grew up in the coffee business. He loves coffee. And he loves jazz. His dream: that The Nicollet will be a music venue as well as a coffee shop, with at least one night a week devoted to jazz.

The weekly jazz series at the Nomad returns, starting tonight

Curated by bassist/composer James Buckley. The lineup so far: beyond promising.

How to write a media release

I see a lot of media/press releases. I skip through some and stagger through others. Many share similar flaws: Too many words. Too many adjectives. Too many exclamation points!!!! Too many errors. Bad design. Or the absence of something you really need to know, like when, where, or how much.

Writing press releases is hard. I know. I've written quite a few. It's tempting to overwrite in an attempt to persuade or sell (provided you actually like and believe in whatever it is you're writing about). It's tough to be brief and focus on the facts. And it can be almost impossible to keep everything on one page while leaving some breathing room besides.

Whoever is writing releases for Sue McLean and Associates has it down. (Kyle Heino, is that you?) Look at this. (Don't worry about reading it, just see it. Notice the glorious white space.)

Now click on it to read the text, if you want.

It's both an announcement and a mini-novel, complete with beginning, middle, and end, a bit of tension ("haunting hush" vs. "loud"), even a crescendo of excitement ("in the foreground, in its entirety, over a key climactic montage"). I've learned what I need to know and then some. (Except I don't know who Milo Greene is, which doesn't really matter at this stage.) 

Here's how others might have handled this:

The Civil Wars
With special guest: Milo Greene

Pop phenom and multiple Grammy(R) winner TAYLOR SWIFT loves them!!!!
Heard on the hit TV series Grey's Anatomy!!!!

Blah blah blabbidy blab....

There's something to be said for writing well enough that one can save the juicy celebrity stuff for the end. And it's especially nice when the end isn't that far away from the beginning. Word count: about 180.

This modest and minimalist style wouldn't work for every event. I like to read a press quote once in a while, when good ones exist. But this is such a welcome change from the usual overblown, overexcited, overlong release that I wanted to raise a little flag, and wave it.