Off the Record
By Austin Powell, Fri., June 19, 2009
Tina Marsh (1954-2009)
Tina Marsh was a singular, irreplaceable voice in Austin jazz, not just in the resounding depth and clarity of her idiosyncratic delivery and compositional skills but for her relentless dedication to the entire arts community. For close to three decades, she served as the director, bandleader, and patron saint of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, a consistently innovative experimental-jazz ensemble that balanced postmodern classical music with free-form improvisation and involved more than 200 musicians. Having been originally diagnosed and treated in 1994, Marsh succumbed to breast cancer at home on Tuesday. She was 55.
"She could really reach people," recalls frequent collaborator Alex Coke. "It's hard to find a vocalist that can work on so many levels, but she brought a full emotional and intellectual presence to the music that was very unique. It always sounded like her, and that's very remarkable."
Born in Annapolis, Md., to a military family, Marsh moved to Austin in 1977, after working in musical theatre in New York City and Philadelphia. Paving the way for local music nonprofits such as the Golden Hornet Project, she founded Creative Opportunity Orchestra in 1980, which commissioned countless works, such as Alex Coke's Iraqnophobia, and produced the annual New Jazz Series from 2002 to 2006, in addition to the Circle of Light, a multidisciplinary and educational holiday program. Aside from serving as Becker Elementary's artist-in-education, Marsh also had a prolific solo career, most notably her intimate, 2006 watermark, Volume I: Inside the Breaking. She was also a frequent collaborator of local saxophonist John Mills and choreographers Jose Bustamante and Sally Jacques, composing complementary vocal pieces to their site-specific dance productions. A testament to the extent of her local impact, Marsh is the only artist to have been inducted into both the Austin Music Hall of Fame and Austin Arts Hall of Fame.
"She brought the commonality of people together," offers Coke. "None of these projects she did was commercially successful by most standards. Nobody ever gave her a free pass. She did it out of her own sheer will. That was very inspiring."
Marsh is survived by her mother, Dorothy; sister, Val; and her two sons, Clay and Zeke Zimmerman, as well as the local jazz community she devoted her life to. CreOp Muse hosts a tribute to Marsh on Sunday, June 21, at the J.J. Pickle Federal Building (300 E. Eighth), preceding Blue Lapis Light's performance of Impermanence. For more, see "Tina Marsh."
Pulling the Plug
One week after Shady Grove received a noise ordinance violation during the Gourds' annual acoustic set for KGSR's beloved Unplugged at the Grove series (see "Postmarks," June 12), Austin Police shut down last Thursday's installment midway through the set from opener Sahara Smith. Shady Grove's permit to host live music expired on May 23, and, due to the "clarifications" made to the Austin City Code before South by Southwest, the restaurant has struggled to gain its renewal. One disgruntled resident, Scott Trainer, a neighborhood representative on the Live Music Task Force, seized the opportunity to register a complaint.
"When you're in the midst of a glitch in the system, and everyone is working to try and work through it, one person can throw a wrench in and make it miserable for everyone involved," bemoans Mike Young, owner of Shady Grove, which hosts the Band of Heathens tonight (Thursday).
Under the current ordinance, outdoor live music at restaurants is limited to 70 decibels, as measured from any point on the licensed premises' property lines. As discussed here that same week, City Council passed an ordinance on April 23 meant to help restaurants – at least those currently zoned Central Business District, Commercial-Liquor Sales, or Downtown Mixed Use – change their use from "restaurant (general)" to "cocktail lounge" in order to allow for live music at 85 decibels. The hitch is that the conditional-use application process requires a new site plan, which Young says could cost Shady Grove close to $200,000 in parking renovations and legal fees. The restaurant is instead seeking a variance from the Board of Adjustment, a process that could leave the Grove unplugged for months.
Council responded this week with another ordinance that would retroactively extend the expiration date of each permit in those designated zoning areas for 180 days, effectively allowing Shady Grove to continue hosting live music at 70 decibels.
"Obviously there were some oversights and some unintended consequences," says Council Member Mike Martinez, who co-sponsored the addendum, "but at the same time, I think it helps us understand all of the issues that venue owners will have to struggle through and deal with."
Neither amendment addresses the real underlying problem: 70 decibels is simply unacceptable. After all, street level ambient noise on Congress Avenue or Barton Springs Road is well above that limit at any given time (see "Off the Record," April 24). "The complaints I got after the show was that no one could hear," echoes the Gourds' Kevin Russell.
City Council will consider a resolution today (Thursday) that would direct City Manager Marc Ott to immediately begin the process of establishing a music department within city government, to be effective Oct. 1. Symbolically tied to Mayor Will Wynn's last day in office, the proposal appears more centralized and efficient than the three options presented last month. Under the resolution, the music department head will also serve as the "accountable official" for purposes of administering and enforcing the sound ordinance, in other words making them responsible for cleaning up this mess.
"My vision for a music department is not some added level of bureaucracy," Martinez concludes. "It's so that venue owners, musicians, and folks that are dealing with live music in Austin have a place to go and have someone in that office that understands the issues they struggle with."
Longtime local Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets ("Lake of Fire," July 20, 2007) always calls it like he sees it. "I like this record as much as anything we've ever done, but every punch bowl has to have a turd in it," he says on the trio's latest, Sewn Together ("Texas Platters," May 15). "It's my party, and [track nine], 'S.K.A.,' is the turd in the punch. It still works." Sewn Together marks the first time for the elder Kirk-wood to self-produce since 1989's Monsters, and some of the material, most notably the closing cut, "Love Mountain," predates even the band's 1982 eponymous debut. Defining the band's classic sound proves no easy task. "It's not too angular or abrasive," Kirkwood posits. "Even when we did hardcore, we tried to make it beautiful. We're lushes in that way, addicts for loudness, but it has to be nice." The Puppets stitch up Sewn Together in its entirety on Saturday at the Parish with Retribution Gospel Choir, topped, as Kirkwood says, "with a bunch of old crap." For the rest of the interview, see austinchronicle.com/earache.