For years Valley jazz singer, educator, and actor Dennis Rowland has enthusiastically performed for benefit concerts of every kind, supporting charitable causes and fellow musicians alike. “He’s always such a great help to everybody,” says vocalist Francine Reed. “You call, ‘Dennis, we’re going to do a benefit for so-and-so — will you show up and sing a song or two?’ He’s always there, and he always performs.” She adds, chuckling, “And sometimes you can’t get him off the stage…which we love.”
In a manner of karmic reward, Rowland finds himself the beneficiary of a performance on the Herberger Theater’s Center Stage on November 6, sponsored by Remington’s at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort. It’s a concert presented by his friends and colleagues in order to raise funds as Rowland continues to recover from a near-fatal stroke and cerebral hemorrhage.
The star-studded roster includes singers Reed, Monica Mancini, Khani Cole, and Diana Lee with instrumental luminaries like saxophonist Marion Meadows, trumpeter Jesse McGuire, pianist Shelly Berg, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummers and producers Gregg Field and Greg Warner, and other names dear and familiar to lovers of jazz and blues. A Motown tribute features Tommy Holloway and Michael Reed with Mel Bridges and Cordell Conway of the Miracles.
Dressed comfortably in a Harvard t-shirt and ball cap for our meeting at Urban Beans after one of his therapy sessions, Rowland is the image of fitness and health. As we talk, however, I’m enlightened by the intuitive tag-team communication technique he uses with his wife, Sydney Blaine.
Something of a pattern emerges: Rowland responds to a question with the first half of his answer, then pauses and turns to Blaine with a motion asking her to finish his reply, or rolls his hand as he searches for a word.
Occasionally he stalls mid-sentence, repeating a word as he struggles to complete a phrase. Often Rowland speaks in generalities, substituting fillers like “stuff,” “thing,” or “place” and using descriptive gestures instead of finding the appropriate noun, like a game of charades. Sometimes he figures out the word with his wife’s help through trial and error as she guesses his intentions.
Rowland’s determined efforts to regain his speech skills continue to prove a constant challenge, but his grasp of music remains firm; during our conversation he occasionally bursts briefly into song to illustrate a point, remind his wife of a specific performance, or hum along with the background music. “I couldn’t really say the tunes,” he says, “but I could play ‘em…so I started to scat [wordless singing].” He demonstrates with “All Blue” from his 1997 recording Now Dig This, a tribute to Miles Davis.
Recovery has been a difficult road for Rowland, who sang with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1977 to 1983, collaborating with Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughan. Since moving to Arizona in 1987, he’s been a frequent high-profile performer with the Extreme Decibel Big Band, a long-time substitute teacher of many subjects for Phoenix Unified School District, an instructor at Scottsdale Community College, and a popular actor in Arizona Theatre Company and Phoenix Theatre productions.
Blaine says, “The music community was…just so warm and welcoming to him.” Recalls Francine Reed, “He could sing, he’s suave, he’s good-lookin’, and…” her voice drops lower, “…a coool guy.” As an internationally touring vocalist, Rowland often works with the East West European Jazz Orchestra in Germany and Russia. His honors include a Grammy nomination and his 2007 induction into the Herberger Theater Center Performing and Broadcast Arts Hall of Fame.
Rowland says he doesn’t remember the stroke itself. He arrived at a church rehearsal last December 19 and told the choir members, “I can’t sing today.” He adds, “I think that’s the last thing that I could say that was actually good. I couldn’t say anything else.”
Blaine picks up the story. “The stroke hit him massively, and he said he saw the white light…he essentially staggered into the chapel. The emergency responders were so concerned because he couldn’t even tell them his name.”
Rowland was immediately taken to Barrow Neurological Institute, she says. “In the emergency room they tried the safest intervention they had — only four percent risk — but he fell into that four percent and had a cerebral hemorrhage. It was really the bleeding and swelling of the brain that became so dangerous.”
The singer spent nearly a week and a half in intensive care. “It was right to the edge,” says Blaine. “No one really was sure that he would survive.” Thankfully, Rowland’s level of health prior to the stroke helped him recover even without intubation, which can traumatize the larynx and incapacitate vocalists. He’s been busy with occupational, speech, and physical therapy ever since his release from inpatient rehabilitation in mid-January.
An Emmy-winning writer and producer, Blaine radically changed her routine in order to serve as Rowland’s primary caregiver and at-home therapist. Initially he required round-the-clock supervision due to the risk of clots and seizures. “He was pretty much learning from zero,” says Blaine. “I mean…it was quite a struggle…how to transport himself even out of a bed, to walk again…. He couldn’t talk really at all.”
She continues, “His heart threw a blood clot, and it lodged in the left side of his brain, so that weakened his right side. But the most significant damage was to his speech centers, and he had severe impairment — it’s called apraxia and aphasia.”
“The aphasia really impacts you — even though you know up here the words to say,” Blaine explains, pointing to her head, “that’s hard, to find the word. And the apraxia is the motor skill, physically to be able to say the word.” She adds, “It’s…both humbling and heartwarming to see someone who’s been 110% independent just learn how to tie his shoe again…to even be able to do all the things we take so much for granted.”
Soon friends began to help, and keyboardists Paul Sherman and Joel Robin Goldenthal initiated informal music therapy. Says Blaine, “Joel…printed off all the words to ‘All Blue’ because they’re primarily single-syllable…maybe just three words on a page so Dennis could focus….” She continues, “I was listening to them…practicing ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ and just those two letters, the F and the L, are very hard to say. And they must have worked…it could have been 30 minutes just trying to say the word ‘fly.’”
Rowland has always had a talent for scatting, which he’s using to find his way back to lyrics. “Not many people can scat that well,” says Reed. She laughs and adds, “I forget some words, baby, I go to scattin’ in a heartbeat. It’s what we do.”
A longtime Valley favorite and singer for Lyle Lovett, Reed — sister to vocalist Margo Reed — returns to her erstwhile hometown from Atlanta for Rowland’s benefit concert, performing with brother Michael and local musicians Chris Gough, Donnie Dean, and Greg Warner.
“Well, I know that ‘Wild Women [Don’t Get the Blues]’ will be one of the songs [I’ll sing],” says Reed, “because Dennis covered that on one of his CDs years ago…he did it very well, needless to say, as he does everything.” She welcomes the chance to perform for her friend’s benefit. “This would be a natural honor for me,” she says. “He’s the man.”
Rowland and his wife hope for a good turnout at the Herberger, and local celebrities — ranging from Mayor Greg Stanton to Beth McDonald to Al McCoy to Michael Barnard — have created promotional video snippets on YouTube. “It’s going to be a really incredible concert,” says Blaine. “We didn’t want a traditional charity event — we wanted everybody to come and enjoy some amazing music, all for such a good cause. The Herberger was the natural choice, of course…and it’s kind of like his home base.”
If you go:
Dennis Rowland Benefit Concert
- Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
- Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
- 222 E. Monroe St.
- Tickets: $35/$40/$50/$60/$75 at herbergertheater.org or 602-252-8497
- Donate online at dennisrowland.com
David Krietor has served as President/CEO of the newly-formed Downtown Phoenix, Inc. (“DPI”) since April 8, 2013. In that time, he has begun work with community stakeholders to develop the downtown we want. “Your Downtown” shares his thoughts and DPI’s progress with the downtown community and beyond. Read the other chats here.
What is the latest regarding DPI’s organizational capacity?
Now that affiliate agreements have been signed between DPI and the City of Phoenix, Downtown Phoenix Partnership (DPP), and Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA), work has begun to pull together a consolidated DPI program of work for 2014. I have been meeting with DPI board members and leaders from the City, DPP, and PCA to brainstorm ideas on strengthening core programs and eliminating duplication and overlap. My goal is to present a program of work by the end of November. (Read about recent changes to DPP’s board.)
What are some examples of downtown’s economic and cultural vitality?
Margaret T. Hance Park. Hundreds of residents, including many individuals associated with DPI and its partner organizations, participated in a series of community workshops to help re-envision the 32-acre Margaret T. Hance Park just north of downtown. Design professionals from !melk, Weddle Gilmore, and Floor Associates led the workshops and garnered good ideas and valuable feedback. The team will start to formulate an initial draft design plan to present to the public on November 20. For more information, visit the Hance Park Master Plan Facebook page.
An easy way to get involved? Attend or support an Event!
Here are just a few as event season kicks into high gear:
Downtown, Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Row
Project Rising Phoenix. Over one hundred downtown advocates attended the launch of Project Rising Phoenix, a non-profit urban infill incubator that will create a pipeline of viable redevelopment projects sourced from and for the benefit of the community. Matthew Meaker, a construction attorney with Sacks Tierney P.A., was named board chair and Leslie Lindo, CSBA, LEED AP was appointed executive director. I have been meeting with Project Rising Phoenix representatives and City of Phoenix staff to discuss priority projects that could benefit from Project Rising’s expertise and affiliations. For more information, visit the Project Rising website.
Adaptive Reuse. It was great to hear the Maricopa County is taking steps to support adaptive reuse of vintage buildings by approving a six-month trial permit for restaurants situated in buildings not specifically designed or constructed for dining. Several DPI board members have been long-time advocates of this economic development tool, most notably Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona who co-chaired a City of Phoenix task force on adaptive reuse. The task force’s recommendations were adopted by City Council and are now being implemented.
New Times Rankings. One indicator of the positive direction in which downtown Phoenix is heading is the significant number of “best of” rankings in the Phoenix New Times. It is gratifying to see “Best Farmers Market,” “Best New Gallery,” “Best Japanese Restaurant,” and many other “bests” right in our central city. You can view all of the downtown listings on the New Times website, and then jot down the winning shops, restaurants, and attractions to visit this fall.
Getting into the Holiday Spirit. For the second year in a row, JoMarie McDonald with Phoenix Community Alliance is spearheading a community-wide effort to brighten Central Avenue from Camelback Road to Baseline Road with winter holiday lights and decorations. Over 150 individuals and businesses have contributed to the cause. To contribute to the cause, visit the PCA website. In addition, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership’s “Holidays in Downtown” initiative is back for a second year. From the CitySkate Opening and Tree Lighting Spectacular to PJ’s In the Park and Spirits of the Season, these events are community builders and business drivers that are making downtown a destination for holiday activity. Terry Madeksza, Sara Anderson, and the entire DPP staff have worked extremely hard building holiday momentum.
What are some hot button topics emanating from this engaged downtown community?
Phoenix Bike Share. On September 25 of last year at a popular downtown Phoenix event – Pedal Craft – Mayor Greg Stanton announced the City’s intent to implement Bike Share, a healthy and affordable way for residents and visitors to make short trips around town. Making good on its promise, Phoenix is gearing up to launch bike share this winter. In the first phase, Cyclehop, the firm that won the local bid to implement the program, will distribute an estimated 500 bikes at kiosks near prominent downtown gathering spaces, recreation and cultural spots, light rail stops, and ASU campuses. The second phase calls for expanding the program in Phoenix and other cities, creating a regional system. Tempe and Mesa are moving forward to add 250 bikes in each of their communities in the spring of 2014. Corporate sponsorship is key to making Phoenix Bike Share happen, and I encourage anyone and any business reading this to support this important effort.
Improved Evans Churchill On Street Parking. Representatives of Evans Churchill Community Association and Thunderdome Neighborhood Association for Non-Auto Mobility have been working with City of Phoenix staff to finalize an on-street parking strategy for Evans Churchill. Based on a street-by-street analysis, it was recommended that the great majority of meters east of Third Street be removed and that many streets with “no parking” signs be corrected to allow parking. Sincere thanks to Ray Dovalina, Councilman Michael Johnson, Scott Logan, and Kerry Wilcoxon with the City and neighborhood advocates Greg Esser, Cory Kincaid, Jim McPherson, Matthew Taunton, Kevin Rille, Sean Sweat, and Nicole Underwood for working together to advance these much needed improvements.
Streetscapes. Significant streetscape improvements are now occurring in and around downtown on Grand Avenue from Seventh Street to Roosevelt, on First Street from Washington to Moreland, and on Fifth Street between Fillmore and Garfield.
Historic Preservation. Some unfortunate news in our Garfield Neighborhood… one more piece of our architectural history is gone. The owner of the historic W.L. Bobo House demolished the building, as she could not get her asking price for the property.
In closing… I was heartbroken to hear of the passing of Jerome Miller, a long-time colleague during my tenure in the public sector. Jerome was a gift to the City of Phoenix. He genuinely cared about the people he worked with and the people who lived in our city. He exemplified all the best qualities of what we should expect from our public employees.
There was a gathering of heroes in Downtown Civic Space Park last night to strut their stuff and watch the Eight, Arizona PBS screening of part one of “Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle” – a three-part documentary celebrating America’s enduring comic book culture.
Organized by Bob Beard, Promotions and Events Coordinator for Eight Arizona PBS, a self-proclaimed nerd and pop culture expert, the event brought out die-hard fans, little nippers getting their first taste of costumed superhero glory and everyone in-between.
Local improv theater performers with The Torch Theatre were on hand to riff on superhero lore and shared their personal favorites with DPJ.
José Gonzalez grew up loving Superman because of the Christopher Reeves movies, but has switched his allegiance to Batman. “His stance against guns is admirable, and he’s maximizing his human potential. He’s not an alien, he doesn’t have superhuman powers, but he’s pushed himself to be superhuman.”
Arturo Ruiz, likes both Batman and Superman. Discussion ensued about why it was wrong to take Superman’s shorts away in the latest movie. “His red shorts are relevant because back when Superman was created super strength was represented by images of strongmen and wrestlers. What did strong men and wrestlers wear? Tights and shorts!”
He went on to blame Jerry Seinfeld for the modern impulse to mock the shorts. “Even though Seinfeld is a huge Superman fan, his dismissive style of humor pervades current popular culture. His ‘what’s the deal with?’ attitude makes it cool to mock the shorts. Like, ‘what’s the deal with the red shorts?’”
Tommy Cannon likes DC Comics’ Plastic Man and Marvel’s Silver Surfer because both are flexible and limitless. But, he said, “Plastic Man ultimately beats out the Silver Surfer, though, because he can be anything.”
Guido Martin was all about the Hulk, because “even though he can be as dumb as a box of rocks, Bruce Banner is just channeling the suppressed rage of an abused kid. He’s always trying to channel that rage for good.”
Mack Duncan showed up with his Green Lantern ring in place. “The ring makes anything he imagines real. There’s a real connection between the Green Lantern Corps and improvisational theater. If you’re part of the intergalactic police force, you need to be ‘fearless, honest, and limited only by your imagination.’ It’s the same with improv.”
While event organizer Bob Beard was sporting a way cool Iron Man t-shirt complete with a glowing mechanical heart, his real heart belongs to Superman. “But not,” he said, “‘The Man of Steel’ version. I don’t like what they did to the character. It would have been an okay movie if it was called ‘Ultra Dude,’ but it wasn’t.”
There was all around consensus that Superman needs his red shorts.
Another highlight was the appearance of various members of the Justice League of Arizona. This eclectic group of superhero aficionados makes volunteer appearances for charity events and many have made their own fabulous costumes. Ryan Holmes’ was the 1940’s golden age version of The Flash. Brian Korzec was the Green Arrow, Kyle Rayner constructed an “old west” version of the Green Lantern, and Crystal Bien rocked her Catwoman persona.
As Councilman Michael Nowakowski made his way through the costumed throng, he told us that his favorite superhero was Batman. “I grew up with the Adam West Batman,” he said, “I loved the ‘POW’ and the ‘WOW.’”
To catch all three parts of the superhero documentary, visit the Eight Arizona PBS website for the schedule. Then embrace your inner nerd, grab your cape and leap some tall buildings with America’s coolest comic book heroes.
Choreographer Lisa Starry prides herself on the suggestive, sexy appeal of A Vampire Tale, Scorpius Dance Theatre’s trademark autumn production. Each season, Starry changes costumes and choreography. In 2012 she successfully took Vampire Tale to England’s Bram Stoker International Film Festival.
This year’s updated version (on stage through October 19) also features more goth rock music by local composer Kristofer Hill, 28 dancers, and a new aerial pole routine, but the most significant milestone is the impending retirement of Lisa’s husband, the originator of the lead male role.
For ten years David Starry has performed as Victor, the Vampire King, partnering Nicole Olson in the role of the Queen. His character also seduces a young female dancer known as Eve, or The Innocent.
These performances find Starry dividing the role with Billie-Joe “J.” Bouey. “A dancer’s body has an expiration date,” explains Starry, “and this is a good time to pass the torch on to another Scorpius dancer.”
Meanwhile, The Movement Source Dance Company offers an alternative Halloween-themed show at monOrchid Gallery on October 26 & 27. Led by director and founding member Mary Anne Fernandez-Herding, who chairs the dance department at Xavier College Preparatory, Movement Source performs Danse Macabre, described as “unsettling music, movement, and illusion.”
If you go:
- A Vampire Tale
Scorpius Dance Theatre
Through October 19 at Phoenix Little Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Rd.
602-254-2151 or www.scorpiusdance.com
Discounted tickets available for patrons in vampire costume
- Danse Macabre
The Movement Source Dance Company
October 26-27 at monOrchid, 214 E. Roosevelt St.
602-957-6561 or www.movementsourcedancecompany.org
As the sun sets over the tombstones of the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park at 14th Avenue and Jefferson on October 12, the early founders of Phoenix will be roused by more lively visitors at the second annual Dining Among the Dead fundraising event.
Organized by ghostchaser Debe Branning and the non-profit Pioneers’ Cemetery Association (PCA), Dining Among the Dead offers guests the opportunity to dress in Victorian, Edwardian, or steampunk costumes if they wish (with comfortable walking shoes) for a candlelit catered dinner of salad, entrée, and dessert near the historic Smurthwaite House. The ticket price includes a raffle ticket, and supports tombstone restoration.
Live music accompanies dinner, along with a one-man play performed by local actor Wyatt Earp. Later, attendees meet historical characters during a luminaria-lit tour of the old cemetery, with vignettes presented by re-enactors in period dress.
The PCA’s twice-yearly cemetery walks offer similar opportunities in a daytime setting, staffed by enthusiastic volunteer participants using historical material, roles, and costumes gleaned from old obituary and newspaper research. All events benefit the organization’s efforts to maintain and restore the seven cemeteries of the 11-acre Memorial Park, including the graves of significant figures from Arizona’s history like Phillip Darrell Duppa, King Woolsey, and Jacob Waltz, the “Lost Dutchman.”
If you go:
- Dining With the Dead
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Pioneer & Military Memorial Park
14th Ave. & Jefferson St.
Gates open at 5 p.m.; dinner served at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets: $45 (reservations required)
Benefiting Pioneers’ Cemetery Association