Joel Tucker and the Language of Jazz

Photo by Naama Levy

Photo by Naama Levy

Race flags and Christmas lights drape the walls of a hidden slice of Massachusetts Avenue. An old jukebox sits in the back, unattended as the 20-person crowd inside the Chatterbox Jazz Club listens attentively to the improvisations of a young trio–a bass player, a pianist, and an electric guitar player–squashed together on a small stage at the front of the room.

The guitar player, a young white guy with a mop of curly brown hair, bends intently over his chords. His eyes register that he’s somewhere else, perhaps absorbed in a secret story.

When Joel Tucker speaks, however, he is fully present, cheerful, polite.

Continue reading at Sky Blue Window . . . 

Songwriting and Sisterhood

Photo by Allister Ann

Photo by Allister Ann

Stepping out of my usual for a while, I recently wrote a first-person profile on this enchanting teenage sister duo. 

I meet Madeleine and Lily Jurkiewicz of the budding musical duo Lily & Madeleine at Monon Coffee Company. We fill up our mugs with black brew, and as we settle into comfy armchairs, I can tell it won’t be difficult getting these teenage sisters to talk.

“Our family’s pretty musical,” says 18-year-old Madeleine, a chestnut-haired senior from Bishop Chatard. “My mom taught us everything we know.”

A cross between Indie and folk, the duo’s music is lilting, ponderous, gentle; filled with youthful questioning and a surprising poetic maturity. An unexpected sound coming from the Justin Bieber generation.

Check out the full article over at Sky Blue Window . . . 

Seventeen

This is the first in a series of mini profiles I am collecting on the people I meet on the Eastside of Indianapolis. For privacy reasons, no names or photos will be shared. 

All caught up in her colors and twisted hair, she smiled and chattered over invisible tears. Today marked a full 17 years of varying acts of father, mother abdication; culminating in the ultimate withdrawal: Silence. She prattled on about her favorite boy band, her film heroes, when the hero she wanted the most was not strong enough to pick up the telephone; the heroine too caught up in mirror gazing.

Show me the Hero for the woman child who knows no other way than to look for saviors on the silver screen.

A Super Legacy?

Something is happening to Indianapolis. With just six days left until the dreaded Patriots face off Peyton’s little brother, the city is awash in the thrills of the spotlight.

Yesterday, Michael and I and a cadre of friends took the bus from our quiet nook in historic Irvington to the center of Super Bowl mania (better known as the Epicenter of Awesome . . . seriously). “Super-ness” began at the Circle and radiated outward with 13,000 “super scarves” (handmade by a group of local women) to be sported by 8,000 super volunteers. Super Indy cars lined up in honor of each NFL teams. A super zipline transported determined fans from one end of Capitol Avenue to the other. Who-in-the-world “Cory Cox” played on a side stage, gearing up for an all-star line-up: Dierks Bentley, Sixpence None the Richer, Village People. You could even stare at some super ice sculptures from super butt-warmer benches.

Despite the fact that it comes at the tail of one of a dismal Colts’ season, Indianapolis has much to be proud of, considering that just 50 years ago the now Super City was better known as Naptown (or India-no-place). But once all of the super flurry has left town, I submit that the greatest trophy left by all the hub bub has been a carefully planned mini transformation of Indianapolis’ Near Eastside, a neighborhood that has just started to recover from an onslaught of housing foreclosures, poverty, and forgotten-ness.

In years past, Indianapolis city officials were criticized for neglecting the grayer areas of town for the economic boost sports centers would give to the city’s center. Not so this time around. The Super Bowl host committee has been anything but absent from the development that is happening on the Near Eastside in the form of the Super Bowl Legacy Project.

Time will tell if that will be an effort worthy of more than a week’s worth of superlatives.

Indy’s Sports History Set Stage for Legacy

(This story first appeared on www.sagamoreinstitute.org)

In less than six months, Indianapolis will host America’s largest sporting event of the year—Super Bowl XLVI—and take a giant step for a city once known as “India-no-place.”

Just 40 years ago, Indianapolis was the eclipsed little brother of bigger sports cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. In fact, sportswriter Bill Benner went so far as to say, “Indianapolis didn’t have a bad reputation. It had no reputation.” But in the late seventies, the city set itself on a course that would transform it from “Naptown” to the “amateur sports capital of the world” and the home of Super Bowl 2012.

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From Ramshackle to Shalom

(Published in the March/April 2011 issue of Prism magazine)

A large board covers the front door of 403 North Gray Street. Chunks of the white brick porch are missing, and brambles from a dead tree swallow up half of the front view. It’s difficult to tell how long the house has been vacant. Just six doors down, Belinda Ellis’ front porch twinkles with icicle lights and a bold Christmas wreath. Inside, her cozy living room is lined with family photos, suede couches, and children’s bicycles. Ellis proudly shows off her home, pointing out pictures of her eight grandchildren. She flings open the back door onto a spacious red deck and even more spacious backyard. That yard is the main reason Ellis lives at 428 North Gray Street.

The house was under renovation when Ellis first saw it in 2007, right after she got out of prison. “I just fell in love with it,” she explains, “’cause I knew it had this huge backyard.” The yard has since become a staging ground for her grandkids’ football games.

It’s unusual for former felons returning to Indianapolis’ Near Eastside to find quality affordable housing, but Ellis’ home was made possible by Englewood Christian Church, and Englewood isn’t known for following the norm.

Continue reading article “From Ramshackle to Shalom.”

Loving Neighbor Versus the Least of These

(First published on Common Grounds Online)

Is it possible to love the least of these while hating your neighbor? Or love your neighbor and hate the least of these?

This past month, my husband and I were forced into these questions.

Behind our quaint neighborhood, a rusty eyesore sits unattended. A motel formerly occupied by prostitutes and drug dealers was forced to shut down three years ago, right after my husband moved into the house and long before I did. Before it closed, neighbors remembered frequent cop calls as troublemakers wandered through the streets. Since its closing, weeds have overtaken the parking lot and a chain-link fence has supposedly kept all vagrants out. Everyone has been at peace.

Until a few months ago.

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Bakery Brings Baguettes and Bootstrap Success to Irvington

(Read my second story published in the Indianapolis Star!)

Last fall, Corey Rutland and Tess Ireland started out with just $400 and a dream.

Now, they own the bustling Roll With It Bakery at 5539 E. Washington St., one of the latest additions to Irvington’s up-and-coming streetscape.

Although the couple — who met while working as chefs at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown — didn’t have much money, Rutland tapped into an Individual Development Account program he learned about while earning his general educational development certificate at John H. Boner Community Center on the Near Eastside.

Under the program, the Boner Center agrees to a match of 3-to-1 for every dollar that individuals who can meet certain income guidelines invest toward their education, home or business ownership. The program is a joint venture of the Boner Center and Community Choice Federal Credit Union.

“We always wanted our own place,” Rutland said. “(Tess) pushed me, and then everything just started falling into place.”

Rutland put $400 into an IDA and walked away with $2,000, which the couple immediately invested in kitchen equipment.

After noticing a “for rent” sign at a Washington Street retail space, Rutland and Ireland approached the owners, who agreed to let them set up shop rent-free until Jan. 1. They signed the lease by October and were in business by December.

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Funky Hair in Historic Indiana

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Star

(Check out my first article in the Indianapolis Star!)

Anthony Lineberry’s salon — Snips in Historic Irvington — brings a funky mix of green-consciousness, high fashion and small-town flavor to its Eastside neighborhood.

But when he purchased an abandoned building at 5612 E. Washington St. in 2001, he said, he spent almost as much time cleaning up after vagrants who had once lived there as he did styling customers’ hair.

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