Kendra Shank is the real deal

Kendra Shank is a  fabulously gifted and inventive jazz singer. She works jazz originals and standards in unique ways, pushing them to abstraction yet never losing the thread. She’s led her own quartet for about 10 years, and was a West Coast singer based in Seattle before moving to New York in 1997. Born in California, at 19 she began her career playing guitar and singing folk and pop in the subways and sidewalk cafes of Paris. A Billie Holiday recording eventually prompted her to pursue a jazz career. Shirley Horn brought her to New York to perform as her guest at the Village Vanguard and co-produced her first album in 1994. Kendra Shank played guitar on Abbey Lincoln’s “Over the Years” CD as well as issuing her own “A Free Spirit: Abbey Lincoln Songbook” in 2007. With four albums of her own receiving critical acclaim over the years, she produced her fifth — “Mosaic” — in April 2009 and toured to promote it, drawing great reviews everywhere.

I’ve been a fan since Halloween 2008, when she and her group played a gig at 55 Bar, on Christopher Street near Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. Small and intimate, downstairs, unpretentious, no food, no cover charge — just my style. I wish a young couple at the bar hadn’t chattered continuously, and the lighting wasn’t particularly camera-friendly. But the singer and her longtime associates — Frank Kimbrough on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, Tony Moreno on drums, plus the young saxophonist who joined them for some songs — had me enchanted and impressed. I’ve since learned that not only has Kendra Shank played every important jazz venue, she’s taught clinics at music schools and at the New School. The quartet plays at the 55 Bar now and then. She must like it. Both brilliant and down to earth, Kendra Shank is the real deal.

Kendra Shank 55 Bar

Kendra Shank 55 Bar 2

Kendra Shank 55 Bar 3

Beauty is not caused. It is.

“Beauty is not caused. It is.” So said Emily Dickinson several generations ago, and it’s still true. Last May, I asked Hannah Plotka to pose for portraits for use in an ad I was putting together for the playbill for Hudson Theatre Ensemble’s “Rapunzel.” In HTE’s 2007 production of “The Miracle Worker,” Hannah played one of the children at the school for the blind in Boston that Annie Sullivan leaves when she is called to be Helen Keller’s teacher in Alabama. Hannah’s father David has played feature roles at HTE, and Hannah volunteers there, so Hannah was the perfect portrait subject.

My greatest fear going in was that she might feel exploited; after all, who needs to hold still for a portrait when you don’t need one for school and you’re not looking to work as a professional model or actress anytime soon. Determined not to pressure Hannah to be anyone but herself, I was happy to meet her mother and learn she was of the same mind. Hannah would not be getting a Jon Benet Ramsey makeover for the shoot. Fancy sunglasses and bracelets, fine and fun. Makeup, not much. No costumes. Hannah wanted to be photographed wearing her grandmother’s pendant. Years from now when she perhaps has grandchildren of her own, Hannah will be able to show them how beautiful she was the spring when she was no longer a little girl but not quite yet a teenager.

Hanna Plotka 8x10


Hannah Plotka shawl


Hannah Plotka BW ad


Hannah Plotka MW scene

Yesterday, When the World Was Young

Some people don’t like old pictures of themselves, but I enjoy looking back. This was snapped with an Instamatic outside the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1975. I remember it like it was yesterday. This is a pleasure of age that the young can’t quite comprehend.


John Crittenden 1975

Two faces of Yoko Ono

There’s the dolled up one, presented here by Newsweek in late August. Then there’s the face I saw when she came to New Jersey City University one Sunday afternoon last fall to open her Imagine Peace show in a couple of the school’s galleries. She drew every celeb-watcher in Jersey, and their cameras. The show itself was beautifully presented, full of photos of Yoko and John playing in the spotlight of the world’s attention 40 years ago and asking for peace in much the same way artists of all kinds could and should be doing right now. Viewers were invited in one gallery to take an “Imagine Peace” stamp, get some ink on it, and stamp the words on any of several maps. I put “Imagine Peace” on Australia, where I’ve got a friend who went home recently after 40-plus years in America. As one might expect with her years of experience, Yoko is expert at moving through a crowd, even as the shortest person in the room. At 75 or so, she’s forever young.

Yoko Ono




Bed Peace

Yoko Ono Stamping


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