Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lola Ogunnaike on Willi Ninja + Other Passings

My friend Dave and I always say that if there's anyone in the New York Times to chronicle, champion or eulogize you, it should be Lola Ogunnaike. She penned a short but memorable obit about Willi Ninja that's one of the better ones I've seen. My favorite paragraph was this one, which reminded me of a great term I hadn't heard in two decades:

As the “mother” of the House of Ninja — part dance troupe, part surrogate family — he became a New York celebrity, known as much for his quick wit and sharp tongue as for his darting limbs. His ensembles — a coat made of braided synthetic hair, a suit jacket with a skirt and Doc Marten boots — also turned heads wherever he went: “severe” is the word.

"Severe" is the word indeed.

Other recent passings: Dewey Redman, one of the major groundbreaking saxophonists in late 20th century jazz and father of saxophonist Joshua Redman. (First Redman CD that comes to mind: Dewey Redman's trio with Cecil Taylor and Elvin Jones on Momentum Space (1999) doesn't always cohere, but I particularly like "Is" and "Life As.")

Painter Buffie Johnson, whom I met during my short sojourn at Yaddo a while ago. She was ancient even back then, and I'm not sure if she was painting her giant flowers or not. But she was quite friendly, had some interesting stories to tell, and invited me to drop in if I was in Soho. (I didn't.) Now I'll be a bit more active in seeking out her work online and in museums.

Bernard Wohl, a longtime advocate for the working-class people, the mentally ill and the elderly, and a dedicated member of and visionary in the settlement house movement. His Goddard Riverside Community Center was a driving force in creating housing and services for many who were displaced by the gentrification of the Upper West Side and parts of West Harlem.

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