As mentioned in an earlier post I’ve put considerable thought toward how to chronicle Jeff, his playing, and more specifically his playing at the Pfister Hotel. There are several occasions when I’ve left the hotel and driven home in silence because after hearing him at the piano anything on the radio sounded like a frivolous muck.
Different ways to “capture” Jeff battled with one another in my head. Photographs, photographs of his hands, photographs of his facial expressions while playing. Brief videos of the way his hands dance across the keys. Recording the audio of him playing and with no dialogue whatsoever. A poem about his playing, about piano as a whole, about piano history, about jazz and American folk musics being high art. A conceptual piece called The Silent Man, about the piano player in the corner who wields the loudest voice in the room without speaking at all. But in the end I decided to interview Jeff and partner our interview with his playing layered throughout. What better way to document him than to record exactly what he does?
During our conversation Jeff discusses how he started playing piano at the age of 4, his college level education beginning at age 7, who he considers his timeless contemporaries, and the years of inspiration the Grand Hotel of the West has provided him.
Below is former Pfister Resident Artist Katie Musolff’s rendering of Dr. Hollander, in the hotel’s hallway for all to see. To listen simply click play on the good doctor’s piano below, or click download to listen later.
MILWAUKEE – April 6, 2012 – Emerging fiber artist Timothy Westbrook, along with his floor loom and antique sewing machine, has moved into The Pfister Hotel’s studio space, where he will create art and entertain guests for one year. The historic hotel, which is owned and managed by Marcus® Hotels & Resorts, has hosted a popular Artist-in-Residence program for the past three years. Westbrook moved from upstate New York to Milwaukee for the opportunity.
“Drawn to The Pfister by the artistic and historical reputation of Milwaukee, I’m eager to develop my artistic voice in this unique setting,” said Westbrook. “During my time at the hotel, I’d like to complete two main projects. One is to create about five fully styled period ball gown reproductions and the other is to create a fashion collection. For both, I plan to weave cloth out of various organic and repurposed manmade materials, including items like cassette tapes, sculpting them into costumes and fashion while pulling from the inspiration of the hotel and the Victorian Decorative Arts period.”
A recent graduate from Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, Westbrook focuses on costume, performance and installation art. He uses fairytale themes as an environmentalist analogy. He implements his sustainable studio practices by using re-purposed materials for his work along with low-impact equipment. He has replaced 2011-2012 Pfister artist Shelby Keefe.
Accomplishments of Shelby Keefe
Last week, Shelby Keefe was honored at a public reception celebrating her time at the hotel. Known for her creation of colorful, urban landscape paintings, she unveiled her legacy piece, “Reflecting on the Day,” which has been added to the hotel’s extensive, permanent art collection.
During her time at The Pfister, Keefe created more than 100 paintings. Highlights of her year included the 30-day challenge, in which she created a painting a day for 30 straight days—all of which were featured at The Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, at a show last Fall. More recently, she created 16 12” x 12” paintings portraying each of the United Performing Arts Fund’s (UPAF’s) 15 Member Groups and one painting representing UPAF itself, which will be auctioned off in June as a fundraiser for the 2012 UPAF Campaign.
Entering its fourth year, The Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence program features a working art studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and visitors. The program encourages the public to interact with the artist and witness the evolution of each piece first-hand.
Over the past few years, The Pfister has received national attention for its Artist-in-Residence program. Since 2009, the hotel has been a member of the Alliance of Artist Communities, www.artistcommunities.org,an international association of artists’ communities and residencies featuring a diverse field of more than 1,000 programs worldwide. In 2011, The Pfister’s residency program was highlighted at the organization’s annual international conference.
This is the one I’ve avoided writing. The elephant in my room. The profile I’ve put off for five months while I watched and listened quietly in the background, leaning against a column with my arms crossed wondering how it happens and how to write about it.
Every time I’ve listened to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander play the piano I’ve had a clear desire to write about him, to chronicle the man and his work. I’m a music fan but I’ve never been a musician. I can converse in a limited manner regarding jazz and even less when it comes to classical composition. But we all know when we’ve been able to observe an art which resonates within us. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve listened to Jeff play and I feel like he’s reached inside of me and turned my ribs into piano keys. Then, there I am in a hotel lobby and suddenly sniffing and clearing my throat amongst a roomful of travelers.
When Jeff’s playing within the setting of the Pfister Hotel it’s almost as though you’re attending a private concert. Sometimes he’s behind the piano for lunchtime, sometimes evening, other nights he plays late. Often, in the late morning sun there are only a few other people who happen to be on their computers or reading while he plays, looking around the room to catch eyes and smile to anyone whose ears have perked. I still haven’t wrapped my brain around the fact that some people come to work and get paid while listening to Jeff play multiple times a week.
So what’s my deal? Why haven’t I just gotten over it and written about the guy already?
My conundrum is this: How do I presume to be able to ask questions of someone regarding an activity, a vocation, a way of life they’ve lived for 70 years?
The irony is that Jeff is a surprisingly engaging musician. Beyond being an approachable musician, he’s a nice guy. Throw out your image of the stormy, brooding genius and replace it with a guy who will tell you about the composer of the piece he’s playing, why they are important, and will ask if there is anything you would like to hear.
In most musical performances there is a barrier between the performer and the audience. Sometimes it’s literal, for instance a stage (Or those weird cages that only exist in tough guy bars in movies like Road House.), but even if there is no obvious stage there is a perceived separation between performer and listener. This makes sense, as playing music is difficult. It requires concentration. For most people an instrument, or painting, or basketball requires most of the individual’s brain power. I know I’m not a very interesting person to sit with when I’m typing. Jeff, however, likes talking when he’s playing. He invites the audience to engage him. His entire face lights up when someone sits at the table closest the piano and begins speaking with him.
There are no shortage of stories about Jeff’s playing. He’s performed all over the world and has played at the Pfister for well over 20 years. Many hotel staff members have their own song, a song he knows they enjoy and he begins playing when they walk through the lobby, or arrive for their shift. Concierge Peter Mortensen’s is “Kiss Me Again” by Victor Herbert. One time a little girl asked if he’d ever heard of a song she liked called “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which made Jeff grin. She sang, lighting up the entire lobby, while the doctor backed her as the smiling rhythm section.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people, clearly in thought and on their way to an appointment, stop in stride upon realizing the music that they’re hearing. They then look back and forth toward the sliding doors and longingly toward the man behind the piano. Realizing the happenstance musical moment they’ve stumbled into they’re earnestly considering how much time before they absolutely need to leave to arrive on-time.
This has happened to me dozens of times over the past five months, which is probably to blame for the timid sense of awe I’ve acquired toward Jeff. I want to capture him accurately and I don’t want to screw it up.
So, now that I’m getting over my stage fright in approaching this easygoing guy, Part 2 will be about Jeff and his piano. Tonight, as he always does on the first Thursday of every month, Dr. Hollander will be performing in Blu. The series is called Rhapsodies in Blu, and entry to the 23rd floor is free. I encourage you to listen to him dance across the keys before reading Part 2 about the man and his music in the very near future.
Ah, big brother Chicago. Just two hundred years ago we were part of the same Illinois territory.
People come to Milwaukee for many reasons. Business. Dinner. Conventions. Celebrations. Sporting events. Art openings. Museums.
Visitors ask certain key questions which lead me to conclude they’re not from Milwaukee. This line of conversation usually takes place after someone says, “So how do I get a cab around here?” or “This place is great, where else should I visit?” Or they call the water drinking oasis a fountain instead of a bubbler.
I’ve noticed a trend of Chicagoans visiting us just for fun. Upon discovering this I always ask what their impressions are. Being a life-long Milwaukeean I’m curious to hear how our city is perceived.
Below are some of the most common observations of Milwaukee followed by explanations I’ve been able to piece together.
* “It’s so inexpensive here.”
That’s true, part of the reason is the sales tax “Down South” is 9.5%, compared with our 5.6%. But also being a smaller city things are just cheaper in Milwaukee. Smaller population=more resources to go around.
* “That art museum on the lake is incredible!”
You’re right, we are lucky to have had our most recent addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum designed and built by Santiago Calatrava. But years before that the art museum has an interesting story. The core of the museum’s pieces were donated by Frederick Layton, also the namesake of Milwaukee’s Layton Boulevard. Mr. Layton, along with John Plankinton, their fortunes in cattle and pigs. The Layton School of Art was started shortly after his death and when closed in 1974 was listed in the country’s top 5 art schools.
Just to the North of the Calatrava addition is what Milwaukee residents refer to as the War Memorial. After World War II an architect from Finland named Eliel Saarinen was commissioned to build a Veteran’s Memorial. Despite Eliel’s passing in 1950, his son Eero took over to complete the project on Milwaukee’s Lakefront. With construction supervision by Milwaukee architect Maynard W. Meyer and Associates, this floating building was created. The building appears to hover above Mason Street on geometric legs of reinforced concrete.
Completed in 2001 Santiago Calatrava’s addition comprises a few different areas including the Quadracci Pavilion which regularly holds weddings, openings, and other special events. Windover Hall looks out toward the lake as though one is inside a glass wrapped ship hull. Atop Windover Hall is the incredible moving sculpture known as the Burke Brise Soleil whose wings literally open at 10am, close and reopen daily at noon, then close for the evening when museum locks up.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is a four block walk from the Pfister Hotel.
* “Everyone here is so nice to us!”
Oh well gee shucks, ma’am. That’s really kind of you to say. But you should meet my cousin John. He’s a really, really nice guy. Are you hungry? I just made this pie for you…
* “That brewery tour was so much fun.”
What made Milwaukee famous…
It’s true we are a beer city. Prohibition was more than a small stumbling block to the city’s industry but brewing culture is thriving in Milwaukee. So much that we named our baseball team after the people who make beer. Although Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz are no longer producing themselves, many brewers have taken up the cause. Visitors are able to tour Miller which has existed in the Valley for well over 150 years. If something smaller is your flavor we’ve got many options including (but not limited to) Sprecher, Lakefront, Milwaukee Brewing Company. Tours also take place at the Best Place; the bar, gift shop, and former board room inside the Pabst Brewery complex. With all the talk of beer it’s easy to forget craft distillers just past the Harley Davidson Museum, Great Lakes Distillery, who are on the cutting edge of producing rum, absinthe, vodka, and many other liquors.
* “Dinner was great last night, we’re trying to decide between our options tonight. Which would you recommend?”
Our restaurants are a bit of a great secret around here. According to Zagat we have 3 of the country’s top 30 restaurants in the area. I love getting dinner at Mason Street Grill, and they have a spectacular happy hour.
* “It’s so easy to get around this city, there’s hardly any traffic ~or~ We took the train here, it’s been such an easy trip; an hour here, an hour back. ”
This makes sense, Milwaukee’s metro area has about one fifth the population of Chicago and it’s suburban outskirts. Milwaukee also has a growing bicycle population and network of bike specific trails which cuts down on four-wheeled commuters. In addition our bus system has been revised recently and ridership is up. Milwaukee is also fairly spread out, our population isn’t too densely packed into any one area.
* (and probably the biggest compliment) “We’d both rather live here but then we’d have to commute every day to our offices in Chicago.”
Even if you don’t drive it is surprisingly easy to get between Chicago and Milwaukee. There are several bus options. The Amtrak Hiawatha route from ‘The Windy terminates in downtown Milwaukee a mere 12 blocks from your favorite hotel.
For all these reasons and more our Illini brethren are discovering that a mere 90 miles to the north Milwaukee might just be the best deal in Chicago.
To my dismay I realized that the UW-Milwaukee Women Leaders Conference scheduled to take place at the Pfister Friday, March 30th was sold out. I’d hoped there was a possibility to watch from the perimeter and take in a little of the conference.
Thursday evening I was in the lobby lounge speaking with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander regarding a Pfister blog I’ve been working on about the man. There was a woman seated at the table closest Jeffrey and the three of us talked for a bit. In conversation I asked if she was local or from out of town. She explained that she was involved with Friday’s conference. My new acquaintance then asked what I was getting into at the hotel and I explained the Narrator position and how I had hoped to cover the conference in some capacity. It turned out I was sitting with Jan Allen, UW-Milwaukee’s Director of Business, Engineering & Technology in the school’s Continuing Education Department. Completely by mistake (does serendipity make mistakes?) I ended up being invited to check out Friday’s activities. You never know who you’re going to meet at this hotel…
By 8am Friday morning, like countless times before, the Pfister’s 7th floor ballrooms were transformed to fit the needs of the event. A banquet spread of breakfast foods and coffee cakes, teas, coffee, and soft drinks welcomed conference-goers on their way into the Grand Ballroom.
Kicking off the day’s events was keynote speaker Gloria Steinem. I tread lightly in suggesting I can introduce you to Ms. Steinem as there is little need for introduction. She is a journalist, publisher, and activist (and a wearer of many other hats). Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine and has worked for over half a century toward the changes she’d like to see in the world. I encourage reading this March 16th New York Times article about Ms. Steinem’s long career. Steinem’s speech, “The Longest Revolution,” included her Top 10 list of priorities and conclusions to keep in mind moving forward. Following her speech there were a few minutes for questions and lucky participants were able to ask the questions they’ve always wondered of the longtime lightning rod. Having Gloria Steinem speak injected the day with a feeling which reminded me of the phrase, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (line from a poem by June Jordan which can [and should!] be read here).
After Gloria’s speech there were several sessions which ran concurrent. It was difficult to choose which one to listen to but what caught my eye was Lora Hyler’s Where Are the Women? Taking a Seat At the Board: How Women Directors Impact Company Success. Ms. Hyler detailed the positive impacts companies have seen when women are in high positions. She charted breakdowns by gender and race of who leads the world’s companies. She explained methods women can use to break into leadership groups which can resemble an old boy’s club. Hyler stressed that the key was to find ways to communicate effectively with superiors and colleagues, regardless if that communication takes place in boardrooms or on the golf course. Ms. Hyler also explained that after one woman is admitted to a board of directors it is generally easier for women to follow in her steps. Before the session was over participants shared experiences and strategies of how to grow in their careers and climb above the proverbial glass ceiling.
Before lunch I was able to see Chris Heeter speak on a few different topics. Ms. Heeter founded The Wild Institute and has decades of experience guiding outdoor groups. Her speech was titled You girls out here all alone? The Wild Side of Leadership. With a bittersweet chuckle she explained that she couldn’t recall how many times a solitary man had asked their group of women that silly question whether out on the trail or paddling. Chris also has a great deal of experience working with sled dogs and explained how communication between dogs and the human guiding the sled could be a useful analogy for the working world. For an immediate understanding of her perception of the leader’s role she began by explaining that with a dogsled the leader guides from an observational post behind the dogs. Chris speaks with a wisdom and exuberance that is difficult to convey in mere typed words. Both she and her canine companion Tuu Weh left an indelible impression on attendees.
Between the lunch and afternoon sessions I was in the elevator and a woman looked over to me. She leaned in while her whole face smiled and she asked, “What do you think of the conference so far?”
Beyond asking my impression it was clear that she wanted to make sure to engage me and encourage the idea that- even though I happen to be a guy- it was okay for me to have an opinion.
“Well…” I weighed the day’s experiences up to that point… “There has been a lot of great information and valuable things I’ve heard, but most of it hasn’t been gender specific. It seems unfortunate that there exists a need to term it a Women’s Conference for this information to be disseminated from one place.”
“Exactly,” she laughed as we exited the elevator, “that’s the point! If only we could help the entire world arrive at that conclusion. We’re getting there…”
The Pfister bids Shelby Keefe adieu and celebrates achievements of Keefe, Ferris and Williams
The Pfister held a farewell reception Tuesday, March 27th in honor of our 2011 Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe.
The event had both Pfister elegance and Shelby flare. Shelby’s additions included: an interactive art piece allowing guests to paint on a shared canvas and the melodies of a barefoot guitarist. The Pfister provided the hors d’oeuvres, ceremony and free tastings of the new Mason Street Grill Private Label Cabernet.
The Cabernet unveiled that evening is Mason Street Grill’s private label Cabernet wine by Stone Throw Winery, which features Keefe’s artwork on the label. A portion of the wine’s proceeds will benefit Creative Alliance Milwaukee, a local organization whose mission is to strengthen, advance and represent the creative industries as an essential asset for growing a vibrant, attractive region.
Two Pfister narrator alumni, Julie Ferris and Stacie Williams, were also recognized and gave delightful live readings from their Pfister Narrator books. Our current Pfister Narrator, Ed Makowski, gave a live poetry reading as well. All three performances had the audience smiling, laughing or nodding in thoughtful contemplation.
For a better glimpse into the nights events watch the video.
Unfortunately for us, our Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe, has reached the end of her fellowship with the Pfister Hotel. We have been honored to have her diligently working in the gallery all year and want to celebrate her achievements and recognize the impact she has made on all of us here at the Pfister.
Join us as we bid farewell to our Resident Artist, Shelby Keefe, with a celebration in the Rouge Ballroom.
Shelby will leave behind her legacy piece which will remain in the Pfister until the end of time. Shelby’s urban landscape painting of Wisconsin Avenue at dusk is sure to impress. Hear Shelby describe the inspiration behind the piece and her reminiscing on her time at the Pfister.
Also noteworthy is the release of the private label Mason Street Grill Cabernet which features Shelby’s artwork. Part of the proceeds of each bottle sold throughout the year will benefit the Creative Alliance.
Here is a preview of the label featuring Shelby’s artwork.
We will also pay homage to the past Pfister Narrators, Julie Ferris and Stacie Williams, with the release of their Narrator books. Julie and Stacie will be on hand to chat with guests and sign their respective volumes. Who knows, they just might guest blog about the evening!
The festivities begin at 6pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 with a brief presentation followed by complimentary snacks and a cash bar, live music, and a live poetry reading. RSVPs to Amy Hansen (email@example.com) are appreciated.
This is the final day of UPAF’s Artists Among Us 16 in 16 by Shelby Keefe. Shelby has been working very hard and creating some absolutely stunning art for these amazing art organizations around Milwaukee. Today, for the grand finale, Shelby uses UPAF itself as the center of her 16th and final piece. She wanted to paint a transfixed audience because UPAF is one of the reasons there is so many artistic performances available for our viewing pleasure. UPAF helps artists get on stage to be appreciated by all of us and Shelby wanted one piece that expressed this idea.
This is the last day of a sixteen-day project. We invite you to catch up with Shelby’s series at her studio or online.
We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 15 of 16. Today, buy the Florentine Opera Company is the center of Shelby’s fifteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. The reason Shelby chose this image for the Florentine Opera Company is because she loved the obvious drama between the two main characters, Venus and Adonis. She says opera is about both drama and music and the combination of the two is what makes it so special.
This is day fifteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.