34th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 14-17 October, 2021

Now We Are Here: A Tribute to Jonas Mekas

USA-Italy-Lithuania

Giuseppe Zevola – voice
Gintė Preisaitė – p
Eugenijus Varkulevičius-Varkalis – recorder, sax
Jonathon Haffner – sax
Dalius Naujokaitis-Naujo – dr

© Sebastian Mekas

This concert can be considered a continuation of the cycle Keep singing dedicated to Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), the famous artist, poet and filmmaker. Last year, Dalius Naujokaitis-Naujo organized a week-long Keep singing festival in memory of Jonas Mekas, gathering together outstanding masters of jazz, avant-garde, ethno-music and academic music scene. In last year’s Vilnius Jazz three original projects were presented by Jonas Mekas’ comrades and fans, among them the filmmaker-inspired New York trio Užupis.

Now we introduce the group Now We Are Here formed by Naujokaitis-Naujo and Jonas Mekas in 2006.

Jonas Mekas was asked to provide a name for his new band for a performance at The Stone Club in New York. He replied, between some sips of his tequila: “The only name I can come up with is Now We Are Here”. For many years, he was the key member of this group, reading his poetry to accompany improvisations of his friends.

They have appeared on many music scenes and in art galleries around the world. And it is now and here – on the Vilnius Jazz stage – Jonas Mekas’ comrades pay tribute to their inspirer. On this occasion, Giuseppe Zevola, Italian artist, philosopher and poet, an old friend of Jonas Mekas, will read texts from his favourite works by Giordano Bruno (1542-1600) accompanied by Gintė Preisaitė, Eugenijus Varkulevičius-Varkalis, Jonathon Haffner and Dalius Naujokaitis-Naujo.

Giuseppe Zevola’s only “true and essential” biography, according to him, would fit in one line: “My name is Giuseppe Zevola and one day I will die…to rise again naturally.” However, we will introduce the creator in more detail.

Zevola graduated with a degree in law and fine arts; received a diploma in archival studies, palaeography and diplomatics. He taught courses on painting at the Academies of Fine Arts (Rome and Catania) and Perception and Visual Communication at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University in Naples.

Both his life and his art have been greatly influenced by his intellectual exchanges with Hermann Nitsch, Peter Kubelka, Antonio Gargano, Buz Barclay, Jonas Mekas and Bernard Heidsieck.

Decade of his research in the Historical Archives of the Institute of the Banco of Naples Foundation yielded numerous works, the most important of which is The Pleasures of Boredom: Four Centuries of Doodles in the Historical Archives of the Bank of Naples prefaced by Ernst H. Gombrich, the celebrated historian.

In 1998, he purchased a boat in order to circle the world. The boat became his home and creative laboratory. Although, he never completed the circle, sold the boat and published an illustrated poem Prisoner of Freedom, which was translated into Japanese by Moto Hashiramoto. The book was presented at the Twelfth Congress of the Society for the Philosophy of Language, presided over by Umberto Eco.

Zevola’s career as a contemporary artist began in 1976, when he was invited to the Venice Biennial in the section “Environment as Social”. Exhibitions and many travels followed (Vienna, Paris, Lisbon, New York, Kyoto, Beijing, Melbourne, Huston, Bombay, Moscow); and above all, many encounters with extraordinary people.

In 2003, Zevola created an installation in the Certosa of Padula entitled The Rule and the Exception: The All Too Human Cry of Giordano Bruno Responds to the Contemplative Silence of San Bruno, which is still on view.

In 2004, the artist founded the publishing house Position Plotting Book, which publishes the works of various international authors with translations in numerous languages. Recitations of these works have been the occasion for performances in Japan, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, USA and Lithuania.

In 2005, Zevola was chief assistant to Hermann Nitsch, an Austrian avant-gardist, in his 122nd Aktion al Burgtheater of Vienna, thus celebrating their more than thirty-year long intellectual and artistic friendship.

Filled with mystical ancient sculptures the Sacred Forest of Bomarzo, which lies at the foot of the 16th-century castle – home to noble family of Orsini, was a new source of inspiration for Zevola. There, he has launched new projects such as Art Real Estate: Center for the Free Circulation of People and Ideas Across the Planet.

Among his most recent installations and exhibitions are Anthology Film Archives in New York (USA), University of Art and Design in Kyoto (Japan), as well as in Padula and Naples (Italy).

In 2007, Zevola was invited by the Vilnius University to participate in the “Scientific Conference concerning the Communication in Archives, Libraries and Museums”. In 2013, he showed his work at Jonas Mekas Art Centre in Vilnius.

Gintė Preisaitė is a pianist and composer of young generation. She has been associated with piano and classical music since childhood, but later turned to improvised, contemporary academic and experimental electroacoustic music.

According to Gintė, the first impulse that drew her attention to improvisation at school was the concert of the group Ąžuoliniai berželiai. She continued her studies in classical piano at the LAMT, but at the same time attended improvised music master classes.

Currently, the musician is studying at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, tries her hand in advanced piano techniques and experiments with sound processing with various computer programs.

Last spring, Copenhagen-based Danish experimental scene community No Technique released Gintė’s debut album Coatlicue’s dreams, which features eight compositions exploring the acoustic and electronic possibilities of sound producing and processing.

Preisaitė participates in various projects and festivals with Lithuanian and foreign artists.

Contemporary artist Eugenijus Varkulevičius-Varkalis is from Kaunas, where he graduated from J. Naujalis School of Art. Later, the artist studied at the Vilnius Academy of Arts, in 1983 he started participating in exhibitions.

In 1990–1994 he lived and worked in Berlin, in 1994–2005 in New York. While in the USA, he was filmed in experimental films, participated in exhibitions, happenings, festivals, was an Artist-in-Residence at the Anthology Film Archives, composed music for films by Jonas Mekas and Julius Ziz. Together with Jonas Mekas, Dalius Naujokaitis and Julius Ziz he formed the group Free Music on Second Street.

Varkulevičius-Varkalis illustrated Jonas Mekas’ books My Nights and Words and Letters. The first was recognized as the most beautiful publication of year 2007.

Since 2005, the artist has been living and working in Kaunas.

Varkulevičius-Varkalis has organized over 20 personal exhibitions in Hamburg, Berlin, Rostock, New York, Vilnius and Kaunas, participated in group exhibitions at Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre, Kaunas Picture Gallery, Sculpture Park in Berlin, Courthouse Gallery in New York, Gallery Tent in Rotterdam, Name Jume Paik in South Korea, the d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris and elsewhere.

The artist has exhibited his works at New York Underground Film Festival, Dumbo Arts Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Festival Cinemas Differents in Paris and other festivals, as well as at the American Avant-Garde exhibition in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Saxophonist Jonathon Haffner regularly collaborates with Dalius Naujokaitis-Naujo. Like Dalius, he was a wingman of late Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), a world-famous Lithuanian artist, poet, curator, and the godfather of US avant-garde cinema, so he repeatedly participated in events dedicated to Mekas’ memory in Lithuania. Last year, the musician joined the group Užupis, which made virtual debut at the Vilnius Jazz.

Growing up in California, Haffner began studying music there under the late saxophonist Phil Sobel. After moving to New York, Jonathon formed the Himalayas with his long-time friend Kenny Wollesen and soon joined Ilhan Irsahin and Butch Morris’ Nublu Orchestra.

He has played and recorded music with many well-known improvisers, including Morris, Frisell, Jason Moran, Uri Caine, Jim Black, Eddie Henderson, Chris Potter, Brian Blade, Graham Haynes, Elliott Sharp, Cindi Lauper, Jesse Harris, Rickie Lee Jones, Brazilian Girls, Medeski, Martin and Wood and Sex Mob.

The saxophonist’s album Life on Wednesday, produced by David Binney, was recorded together with Craig Taborn, Wayne Krantz, Eivind Opsvik, Jochen Rueckert and Kenny Wollesen. With this Sextet, he performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

Jonathon’s latest album came out this year, recorded with Max Jaffe, Jonathan Goldberger and Dave Harrington.

Haffner currently performs and records with Wadada Leo Smith Great Lakes Quartet along with Jack Dejohnette on drums and Jon Lindberg on bass.

Dalius Naujokaitis-Naujo, a drummer of avant-garde experimental music and free jazz, has resided and worked in New York for quarter of a century. However, he often comes back to Lithuania to perform. He started his musical career here: while studying at the Balys Dvarionas School of Music in Vilnius Dalius was guided into ensemble playing by Vladimir Chekasin; in 1987, he graduated as a percussionist from Vilnius Conservatoire, where he studied with Arvydas Vainius.

Since 1986, Naujokaitis has worked with Skirmantas Sasnauskas’ jazz ensemble, later joined Juozas Milašius’ Gitarmanija, got fascinated with noise music. Before leaving Lithuania, he has collaborated with many a Lithuanian jazz master including Vladimir Chekasin, Petras Vyšniauskas, Tomas Kutavičius, Eugenijus Kanevičius as well as with various rock, jazz, punk, pop music groups.

In addition, the musician has tried his hand in theatre and film. In 1994, together with Juozas Milašius and Vladas Pranulis he staged a theatre production Woman in the Dunes (after Kobo Abe’s novel), and with Vilija Naujokaitienė composed soundtrack for One Love Story (director Julius Žižiliauskas).

In 1995, he settled in New York and got involved in the Big Apple improvisers community. Acquainted with filmmaker Jonas Mekas, he started giving solo performances in the Anthology Film Archives. Together with Jonas Mekas, Eugenijus Varkalis, Julius Ziz and Audrius Naujokaitis he formed Free Music on Second Street group, which released two albums. Dalius’ music can be heard in films by Jonas Mekas: Happy Birthday to John Lennon, On My Way To Fujiyama and This Side of Paradise.

On the other side of the Atlantic the drummer performed and recorded with a number of improvisers such as Butch Morris, Art Baronas, Doug Wieselman, Briggan Krauss, Tim Keiper, Ava Mendoza, Kenny Wollesen, Michael Formanek, Johnathon Haffner, On Ka Daivis, Dave Harrington, William Shore, as well as Nublu Orchestra, Now We Are Here, Brooklyn Bears, Tiger Lithy, Nick Gianni’s Evolution, Kenny Wollesen’s Wollesonic Laboratories and The Himalayas, collaborated with dance music group Brazilian Girls and many more.

With New Yorker artist Sandra Koponen, he had formed Untytė, the group basing its original music on Lithuanian sutartinės. Yet another project Rasa Rasa, designed in collaboration with Kenny Wollesen and Jonathon Haffner in 2012, united representatives of new improvised music and sutartinės singers from Lithuania. This formation has been documented on Wollesen, Haffner & Naujo: Rasa, Rasa, released on John Zorn’s legendary Tzadik in 2014.

In New York, together with Ken Jacobs Dalius mounted a musical film project Lumiere/Naujokaitis/Jacobs: Nervous System Concerts, has collaborated with modern dance company Limbic Six and Tiny Mythic Theatre, directed feature films.

Since 2015, Dalius has been a member of Užupis group (together with Wollesen and Shore). This group has recorded two albums.

In 2020, the drummer went on tour in Japan with the band Subskin Cables. During the pandemic, he formed the group Nojo Hotel with Wollesen and recorded a triple album, which is expected to be released later this year. At the same time, a 30-minute sound composition Nojo Airlines was created, which brought together many musicians from all over the world and Lithuania via the Internet.

In recent years, he has been frequenting Lithuania with various projects. Here he had formed Naujo Atomic Orchestra, which toured Austria and Croatia, also has collaborated with Traffic Trio, renowned local performers such as Liudas Mockūnas, Eugenijus Kanevičius, Juozas Milašius, Tomas Kutavičius, Migloko and members of Džiazlaif, Kanalizacija, Garbanotas Bosistas and Labas Vakaras, as well as Kenny Wollesen, Jonathon Haffner, Sean Francis Conway and other New Yorkers.

Collaborating with K. Wollesen and J. Haffner, for the last decade Dalius has been returning to his homeland every year to spark musical happenings here with young Lithuanian musicians and representatives of the New York scene. These musical projects, which bring together many talented people, were performed at Fluxus Ministry, Vilnius Jazz festival, Empty Brain Resort club, Mama Studio Concert Hall, and Peronas Bar.

In 2016 and 2017, the drummer together with Raimondas Pranka and Laima Griciūtė organized Peronas Jazz festival in Vilnius. In 2016, for contributions to Lithuanian jazz Dalius was honoured with Vilnius Jazz Award.

Last year, D. Naujokaitis-Naujo initiated a grandiose, week-long project in memory of Jonas Mekas, gathering together outstanding masters of jazz, avant-garde, ethno-music and academic music scene. However, his ambitions at the Vilnius Jazz this year may surpass all previous ones. D. Naujokaitis-Naujo and his music projects were given the whole day of the festival – October 15th.

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