David and Art

Monday 4:44am, 6:44am, 8:44am and 5:44pm

Art reveals the world to us in new ways.  On KWBU, we have a new weekly feature focusing on art.

The module is hosted by David Smith, an American historian with broad interests in his field.  He’s been at Baylor University since 2002 teaching classes in American history, military history, and cultural history.  For eight years he wrote an arts and culture column for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and his writings on history, art, and culture have appeared in other newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Dallas Morning News.

The very first record he remembers listening to when he was little was Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic’s recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and that set him on a lifelong path of loving music and the arts.  He’s loved history for almost as long, and finally saw them come together in his career.  He believes that history illuminates the arts and the arts illuminate history—that they co-exist and are best understood together.

Follow David on Twitter @DavidASmith12

David and Art - Friday Night Lights

Sep 21, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

High school artists are also found beneath the famous Friday Night Lights

For better or worse, the pandemic version of the 2020 high school football season has begun.  Its kick-off sends an electric charge through a lot of people who’ve eagerly looked forward to Friday nights this fall.  The coaches and players, however, are just part of the excitement.  Friday nights also mean marching bands, one of the most visible art programs in the public schools.

Like the football teams that perform before and after halftime, all high school marching bands begin working on their craft in the heat of the summer, weeks before you get to watch them.  When I was in high school at Irving High, we started practicing on the first of August and began every day at dawn so we could

David and Art - "Remembering Bird"

Sep 14, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Remembering a sax player who changed the course of American music

Last month was the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of America’s most influential musicians.  Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas on August 29, 1920 and began playing the saxophone when he was 11.  At age 15—which would’ve been 1935 and in the depths of the Great Depression—he dropped out of school to pursue music full time.  He once told another sax player that when he was young, he’d practice as much as 15 hours a day.  He joined the local chapter of the musician’s union and for four years played the very lively Kansas City jazz and blues circuit.  Soon he was touring with bands as far afield as Chicago and New York.

In 1939 he decided to stay in New York City and dive into its music scene.  He initially got by working as a dishwasher to make enough money to live on.  He was a 

David and Art - "Labor Day"

Sep 7, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Musicians, like plumbers and electricians, often need an organization to stand up for them.

Labor Day is a result of political efforts undertaken by organized labor unions 130 years ago.  The American Federation of Labor pushed hard for Congress to declare a national holiday in honor of the working classes of the country. It finally did so in 1894.  Just two years later, the American Federation of Musicians was created to represent the interests of all those who made their living playing instruments.  Even before the age of recordings, there were live musicians who played everywhere, and thought of themselves as workers.  

I can imagine someone saying “Well, musicians are artists, not exactly workers—not like a teacher or an electrician or a teamster.”  But like all of us, musicians live in a world dominated by the attitudes and 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Historic Jazz Spots in New York City are scrambling to stay afloat as the effects of the pandemic keeps their doors shut.

Last week I mentioned the rush I got from going to a famous jazz club in New York just before the pandemic shut everything down in March, and all the consequent troubles music venues are having since they’re now unable, for the most part, to host performances.

I’ve written before about the energy that some particular places have in terms of art:  the room where Jackson Pollack painted Lavender Mist, for instance, with the swirls of paint still on the floor; the bar at which Roger Miller was sitting when he wrote the classic “Dang Me.”  Birdland is one of those places, and even though it isn’t in the same spot as it was in its heyday, when you’re there you still get the feeling that you’re someplace culturally important.

The original Birdland opened on Broadway in December 1949, as was known as the “Jazz Corner of the World.”  Almost any jazz player you could name from the 20th century played there repeatedly.  Many of them recorded live albums from its stage.  Over the course of the 1950s it developed a cultural cache all its 

David and Art - "Save our Stages"

Aug 24, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Saving our stages means keeping afloat places where people can hear the magic of live music.

On one of my last voyages out before the lockdown last spring, I went to New York City for a couple of days to give a talk.  New York is one of my favorite places and I had one night free, all to myself.  I wanted to hear some jazz and I wound up downstairs at Birdland, one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world, listening to a talented cabaret singer named Marissa Mulder.  She did a really nice set of Lennon and McCartney songs backed by guitar, bass, piano, and drums.  The crowd was knowledgeable, appreciative, and responded really well.

Just a few weeks later Birdland was closed.  I felt like I’d been on the last plane out of Casablanca.

In a grim cascade from coast to coast, all music venues great and small closed within a few days.  The group I play with here had a gig cancelled on March 12 and there’s been no place to play since.  I would like people to understand that places that host live music represent a crucial piece of the art scene in any town, from Waco to New York City; and, beginning last spring, the question quickly became how, and if,

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

A flowering of Russian art a century ago changed what we thought a painting or a ballet had to be. 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Over 100 years ago, Russian folk music provided the doorway to a flowering of Modernism. 

Anytime you hear the word “Russian” these days, there’s a good chance one of the next words you hear will be “interference.”  The image of Russia this inevitably creates is that of a power operating on the fringes of Europe—or on the fringes of western democracies more generally. It reflects a suspicion that has a long pedigree.  After the fall of Napoleon, the European states all looked apprehensively at Russia with  

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Seeing Hamilton reinforces what the Ancient Greeks knew about theater.

I knew every word of most of the songs, if not all of them. I knew all of the little inside references to other classics of musical theater and at least a fair number of the ones to the world of contemporary pop music. I knew the history, of course; I knew the story. But I wasn’t prepared for the effect that finally watching the staged version of Hamilton had on me.

I talked just last week about the way in which online offerings are not the same as seeing something in person, whether in a school classroom, or a concert, museum, or opera, so I knew that

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

There are important differences between experiencing something online and experiencing it in person.  But there’s still something good that can come from virtual art.

Is there anyway online content can be made as effective as in-person content? Can it be anywhere close? I know school districts are wrestling with this question right now. It’s at the forefront of their concerns as the uncertainties of the coming school year loom just ahead. I also know very few teachers who think that online content comes anywhere close to the experience of in-person education. 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

With their doors shut, concert halls and art museums leave a big hole in the cultural landscape.  Here is David Smith with this weeks edition of David and Art.

The reports from the art world are not very rosy.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, arts institutions, like so many other places, are feeling the strains.  Some art museums have cautiously opened back up, but some other, major ones are waiting.  The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC for instance is still closed, although it recently opened its outdoor sculpture garden on a limited basis.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has announced that it’s not planning to open its doors until August 29.

Largely because of these ongoing closures, arts institutions—which, even in the best of times aren’t exactly flush with cash—are feeling it in the bottom line.  With their doors closed until who knows

David and Art - "See His Face"

Jul 13, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Street art can be some of the best commemoration for things we need to remember. 

By the Thursday after George Floyd’s death on a Monday, a group of artists were painting a mural on the wall of the Cup Foods store very near where he died.  You’ve probably seen it in news coverage from Minneapolis.  It’s a predominantly yellow and blue mural with an image of Floyd’s face in the center, flanked left and right by his name.  In the yellow letters of his name are individuals rendered in light blue minimalisticaly with fists raised in solidarity.  The background is an enormous sunflower, in the heart of which are names of people who have suffered a fate similar to that of Floyd.  The choice 

David and Art - "Alabama"

Jul 6, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

How one of America's jazz greats took on one of the greatests outrages in the American Civil Rights Movement. 

On a bright Sunday morning in Birmingham, Alabama, a bomb exploded under the rear steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church.  Four young girls who were in the basement changing into their choir robes for the youth service that morning, were killed.  Another 20 people or so were wounded.  The explosion left a crater five feet wide and two feet deep in the basement.  The bomb was placed there by four members of the Ku Klux Klan.  It was September 15, 1963. 

Two months later saxophonist John Coltrane stepped into a studio to record a song that he had written in tribune to the girls who were killed.  It was called simply “Alabama.”  A few

David and Art - "Remembering Christo"

Jun 29, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Looking back at the career of an artist whose projects transformed landscapes for a few days.

A visionary and world-famous artist died at the end of May.  Christo Javacheff was born in Bulgaria in 1935 and from his youth studied art.  In 1956 he escaped from Bulgaria and made his way to Vienna, Geneva, and finally to Paris.  He and his wife, who was his regular collaborator, moved to New York in 1964 and he became an American citizen in 1973.

Christo began his career as a painter but under the influence of revolutionary artists like

David and Art - "Moss Hart"

Jun 22, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

On this weeks episode of David and Art, a  mostly forgotten name from Broadway casts a long shadow on the art world.

Last week, in its “Broadway Fridays” series of free online offerings, the Lincoln Center Theater made available a play called “Act One,” taken from the autobiography of an American playwright named Moss Hart.  His name is largely forgotten these days outside of Broadway circles, but for a while, his was one of the biggest names in American culture.

Moss Hart was born in the Bronx in 1904 and grew up in poverty. His father immigrated from 

David and Art - "Art and Entertainment"

Jun 15, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

The difference between art and entertainment is a subtle but significant one.

I was talking to a friend who is a pastor recently, and he was telling me about the ins and outs of writing sermons.  It might be a little surprising to know that pastors get writers block, too.  Actually, it was a little bit encouraging.  He was thinking about the ways he tries to break through it when it comes.

He said that many times when he can’t find a nugget around which to build a sermon, he’ll turn to art.  He’s been inspired by paintings especially, but he’s also dipped into poetry, plays, and music. When he does so, he’s not as much searching for a topic as he’s trying to just get into a creative frame of mind.  “Creativity inspires creativity,” he said.  I wish I’d said that.  He told me the story of a Manet