Monday, August 25, 2008

Developing Dissonance - Washington Post

Music Hall Planned In Silver Spring Stuck On a Note of Discord

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 25, 2008; B01

If any family can be considered the founding family of Silver Spring, it is the Lees.

Bruce and Blair Lee's great-great-great-grandfather bought the land that is now South Silver Spring before the Civil War and built a summer home there that he named Silver Spring. The family's real estate business went on to develop nearby apartments, a shopping center and Lee Plaza, the art deco-style office building that towers over the corner of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue.

Yet the Lees find themselves caught in a political struggle, involving the very place where their roots run so deep, over Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett's (D) high-profile redevelopment proposal to bring a live music venue to downtown Silver Spring.

Leggett's plan to open one of Live Nation's Fillmore music halls at the site of an old J.C. Penney store depends on $8 million in taxpayer funds -- and the donation of land by the Lee Development Group. In exchange, the Lees want a measure of protection to ensure that the county's project does not interfere with an adjacent development they are considering.

To the county's chief planner, Royce Hanson, the protection the Lees are seeking would give them a "blank check." To the Lees and Leggett, the family is giving up valuable land and needs assurances that Montgomery's development rules will not change midcourse. By their own account, the Lees run a conservative, risk-averse and closely held family operation.

"My relatives understand that this county is crazy. None of them trust the county," said Bruce Lee, the company's president, who shares that mistrust.

Cousins Bruce and Blair took on leading roles at Lee Development Group after the death in 2003 of another cousin, E. Brooke Lee, who had led the company for more than two decades.

Blair Lee, 63, is the hyper-political Gazette newspaper columnist and WBAL (1090 AM) radio commentator, who works behind the scenes providing strategic advice. His father, the late Blair Lee III, was the Maryland lieutenant governor who finished out the gubernatorial term of Marvin Mandel after Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering.

Bruce Lee, 44, is the music hall project's genial, boyish public face, who makes the rounds at the County Council. He joined the company after college, working the hands-on property management side of the business and delving into Silver Spring's revitalization debates.

"If you're talking to Bruce, you are talking to Blair and vice versa," said longtime friend Kevin Maloney, who runs a commercial real estate firm in Bethesda. "Their styles are different and their responsibilities are different, but they are working for the same end result."

There was Bruce Lee last month, flustered, his head shaking after county planners unanimously panned the land-use proposals that supporters say are needed to make the music hall a reality. Planning Board members, while supportive of the project, said Leggett's deal with the Lees would wipe out their leverage to negotiate for public space and potentially delay other construction projects for up to 15 years. Board member John M. Robinson, who counts Bruce Lee as a good friend, called the county's case for the land-use measures a "charade" that would give the Lees "privileged status."

It is unclear how the board's recommendation will influence the council when it takes up the measures next month. Leggett said last week he has "strong support" on the nine-member council, in addition to backing from a long list of business and community leaders, but he could not say whether he has five votes.

At home in Kensington, Bruce Lee has for six years kept a yellow sticky note on his bathroom mirror to remind him that the family will not be forced into building on its surrounding property until market conditions are ripe. The note reads, "Remember: This is a Montgomery County economic development initiative and the county came to you."

To understand his caution, it helps to know the history of Lee Plaza. The building opened in the late 1980s, just as a real estate recession hit. For three years, the $21.5 million building was 80 to 85 percent vacant.

Still, it has been 18 years since the Lees demolished the J.C. Penney building now slated for the Fillmore, leaving the prime property fallow across the street from the American Film Institute's Silver Theater. Some developers privately ask what the Lees were waiting for, while others say the family was wise not to get out in front.

Developer Lloyd Moore, a veteran of the Silver Spring redevelopment wars, said there was so much bitterness and controversy at the time, "I don't see why anyone would participate in that environment."

The path to building the Fillmore is unprecedented in local land-use history because the music hall, which would count as the Lee group's public amenity and public-use space, would be built before the Lees commit to an adjacent project.

"He's kind of handing off his bargaining chip before he knows what he's going to need to strike a deal," Silver Spring developer Bryant Foulger said of the risk to the Lees.

Though they are not risk-taking developers, the Lees know how to play hardball. Leggett and the Lees pulled the plug on an earlier deal with the Alexandria-based Birchmere Music Hall after it had been in the works for five years under former county executive Douglas M. Duncan. They got spooked in part when the Birchmere began talking about opening a restaurant and club in Loudoun County. Bruce Lee moved quickly to line up Live Nation. Birchmere representatives declined to comment for this article.

The politically prominent Lee family name turned out to be a surprising liability when Leggett went searching for state money for the music hall. The cousins' grandfather, Col. E. Brooke Lee, was speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and in 1913 their great-grandfather became the first popularly elected U.S. senator. Blair Lee ran his father's unsuccessful campaign for governor in the 1970s, and then was Montgomery's lobbyist in Annapolis.

But for years, Blair Lee has taken shots at state legislators in his weekly column, deriding Montgomery's delegation for being disorganized, weak and a laughingstock at the State House.

"Until MoCo stands up on its hind legs, it will always be shortchanged, double-crossed and pushed around," Blair Lee wrote in his assessment of the 2008 legislative session.

"I'm sure that it wasn't a plus," Del. Sheila Hixson (D), a friend and neighbor, said of the project's connection to the Lees.

In a column this month, Blair Lee blasted Baltimore's plans to use state dollars to pay for a new $400 million sports arena: "If you need a big new arena to assuage your inferiority complex, pay for it yourself. Don't pass me the tab."

Couldn't the same be said about spending state money on Montgomery's music hall? The difference, Blair Lee said, is that the Fillmore has already signed up as a tenant, will make money for the county and relies on only $4 million in state funds.

After six years in the works, the family could still pull out of the music hall, Blair Lee said. "But if we walk away, we lose, the county loses and Silver Spring loses."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Area artists mix media to create ‘Image Word' exhibit - Gazette

Takoma Park event pairs artists, poets, improv dancers, musicians for unique results

by Jamie Rosen | Special to The Gazette |Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

"To go across, you have to crawl on your hands and knees," a poet chants to meditative flute and percussion. Four dancers painstakingly creep across the floor in front of eight consecutive panels of poetry and photography floating on spacious white paper.

"Perhaps your heart opens," the poet continues, then pauses as the dancers crawl past the series of photographs of poet Anne Dykers' face and hands in front of a tree. "And the world, on its perfect axis, becomes itself."

The dancers complete their journey and kneel before the poet, looking finally at peace.

Dykers read her work and watched it come to life at the Thursday closing of Image Word, an exhibit at the Takoma Park Community Center that paired seven poets each with a visual artist to create single works combining both media. The exhibit followed last year's artist-poet collaboration, Inspired Results, in which artists and poets reacted to each others' pieces.

Dykers produced her piece with visual artist Margot Neuhaus after the two were paired by Anne Becker, poet laureate of Takoma Park and co-curator of the exhibit. Becker felt they shared a motif in their work.

"What I said to both of them was in their work, in Anne's poetry, in Margot's visual art, that they have a very similar connection with silence," Becker said.

After agreeing to collaborate, Dykers and Neuhaus shared the process of selecting the final poem from words Dykers composed. Together, they cropped the photographs Neuhaus took of Dykers reenacting the dream that inspired her poem, in which she crossed a trestle over a river gorge, and produced the piece, "With Silence."

Collaborating with another artist was a new experience for Neuhaus.

"To be part of a shared work and a community has been very satisfying to me as artist," she said. "I put in words a process that is subconscious or unconscious. I think becoming aware of my process by sharing it with Anne, that was very rich for me."

"Through the whole exhibit, what was really interesting to me was the process, whereby your techniques, your feelings, your experiences are enlarged by working with other artists in various formats," said Becker, who also participated as poet and dancer.

The theme of the show, "creation," played out both in the awareness artists developed of their creative processes and the themes inherent in their work.

"[The exhibit] was pretty matronly," said Eric Rydzewski, who came to the exhibit with his aunt. "There were lots of references to flowers and rebirth [in the poetry], and I felt that way about the artwork as well."

One of the more abstract pieces incorporated 2,000 plastic eggs arranged in a circle of stacks with additional stacks in the middle, accompanied by a series of haiku involving themes of creation from the perspective of a single woman. The piece, "In the Garden," was created by visual artist Jim Landry and poet Greta Ehrig.

"Jim and I would describe our working process as sort of a ping pong match, bouncing ideas off each other," Ehrig said. She added that the collaboration was exciting, "but at the same time there's a certain giving up of control that happens and a certain unexpectedness of it all."

David Fogel, co-curator and visual arts coordinator for the Takoma Park Community Center, said he wanted the show to bring artists out of their niches, but he agreed that collaborative exhibits can produce some trepidation.

"When you curate a typical show, you know what you're going to get," he said. "This exhibit was: Let's just believe in the creative process, believe in the talents [of the artists], that what's going to be produced is going to be inspiring and insightful and thought-provoking and hopefully emotional, too, all the things that great art should be."

For Dykers and others, trust in the process paid off.

"It was a really wonderful experience," she said. "We really did the piece together. … [And] I felt like the musicians and the movers and the poem were working very well with each other, like there was a real responsiveness, a real interplay between the movers, the music and the poem."

Fogel and Becker plan to host another poet-artist collaboration in 2009. They also plan to move a reworked version of the current exhibit to Space 88 in Silver Spring in mid- to late October.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Silver Spring Jazz Festival back for fifth year - Gazette

Mike Meno and Jason Tomassini | Talk of the Town | August 20, 2008

The Silver Spring Jazz Festival will return to the downtown in September for its fifth year, but in a new location and with some help from music promoter Live Nation to book the headliner: The Mingus Big Band.

This year's festival, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sept. 13, will be held in the parking lot behind the Lee Building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring.

"We needed a site that's a big open space and were desperate to have something right downtown," said Susan Hoffmann, marketing and special events manager with the Silver Spring Regional Center.

Last year's event was held at the artificial turf field at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive, the site for a new civic center, which will be under construction this fall.

This year's headlining act is The Mingus Big Band, a Grammy-nominated, 14-piece ensemble. Last year's headliner was Latin trumpet player Arturo Sandoval.

Los Angeles-based Live Nation, which plans to open The Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road in 2010, contacted The Mingus Big Band to play this year's festival. Hoffmann said the assistance could provide the basis for a strong partnership between the county and the promoter in the future.

"I'd like to partner with Live Nation when the Fillmore opens," said Hoffmann, who has produced the Jazz Festival for the past five years.

Other performers include Marcus Johnson, a former graduate of Montgomery Blair High School who runs the Three Keys record label and recording studio at 8121 Georgia Ave. and has performed at each jazz festival in Silver Spring. Also performing will be Israeli-born saxophone player Yaron Elyashiv as part of the Yaron Elyashiv Quintet, Silver Spring vocalist Gail Shipp and the Samambaya Quintet.

There also will be a New Orleans-style parade of youth jazz musicians called the Jazz Ensemble Caravan, which will kick off the event at 2 p.m. Three youth jazz ensembles will compete for the Silver Spring Jazz Festival Trophy, awarded annually to the best performance. Ensembles competing this year include James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, The Jazz Academy of Music in Silver Spring and defending champion Albert Einstein High School in Kensington.

Hoffmann said she expects a crowd of about 25,000.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Montgomery Blair performer leads class for Long Branch youngsters - Gazette

by Mike Meno | Staff Writer | Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It was not a typical theater setting, but the young actors preparing to perform at the Long Branch Community Center received serious stage direction last week from youthful leaders.

‘‘Speak slowly and enunciate your words,” the head instructor, Adam Carey, 16, told the middle-school-age class of six girls and one boy in a meeting room at the Silver Spring center. ‘‘Make sure you’re looking at each other so it looks like you’re talking to each other.”

The students are summer campers who have opted for an alternative to the standard activities, such as swimming and basketball, offered at the center on Piney Branch Road.

Carey, a former Long Branch camper himself, has returned this summer to offer youngsters a chance to do something different.

Growing up in Long Branch, Carey said, he spent most of his time at the center swimming and playing kickball. It wasn’t until eighth grade that he discovered his true passion: acting in front of an audience.

In Long Branch, ‘‘there weren’t a lot of theater opportunities, and so I wanted to give some of those opportunities to kids who live in the area,” said Carey, who will be a senior at Montgomery Blair High School. He has become a regular performer in the school’s theater program, with roles in recent productions of ‘‘The Comedy of Errors” and ‘‘Beauty and the Beast.”

The camp’s theater class, which doubled as Carey’s Eagle Scout project, was part of the community center’s Summer Fun Center. It was taught for one hour every weekday for six weeks and culminated in Friday’s performance in front of the entire camp.

Carey’s friends and schoolmates Kaycee Tucker and Laura Boyer served as co-instructors in the class and helped him and the middle-schoolers write a play, ‘‘The Pajama Party,” the story of a missing teddy bear at a sleepover.

At the last rehearsal, Carey and Tucker gave performance tips to the young actors: Keep your body facing the audience. Improvise dialogue if you forget your lines. Never break character.

‘‘They try to get us excited for it,” said Silver Spring resident Priscilla Perez, 11. ‘‘That way, we won’t be nervous.”

Tucker, 17, who graduated from Blair in the spring, spent the first few minutes of a recent class leading the students through physical and verbal warm-up exercises, including jumping jacks and tongue twisters.

‘‘The whole point is to have fun,” Tucker said. ‘‘That’s why Adam and I do theater in school, because it’s fun.”

Silver Spring resident Lisa Jobe, 11, said she signed up for the class because she is interested in acting. ‘‘It’s fun to act like somebody else for a while,” she said.

Jocara Knight, director of the Summer Fun Center, said he was happy with the way the class worked out.

‘‘He did a very good job,” Knight said of Carey. ‘‘He seemed like he was a very good positive role model. I’m getting a very good reaction from the kids, and they seem to very much enjoy it.” Knight said he is considering including the class in the camp’s activities again next year, and possibly expanding it.

Carey said part of the reason he proposed the program for Long Branch was because of recent crimes in the area that he worries have tarnished the neighborhood’s image. With programs such as his theater camp, he hopes more positive stories will come out of the neighborhood.

‘‘I live right down the street,” he said. ‘‘This is my community.”

Knight said the class was an example for the entire camp. More than 70 youngsters watched the theater group’s performance Friday.

‘‘It’s very important to see someone doing something positive,” he said.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

An Evening of Jazz at Mayorga Coffee Factory

An Evening of Jazz at Mayorga Coffee Factory
8040 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring
Thursday, August 14
7:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Featuring college-bound Silver Spring musicians…

--Michael Harlen (NYU '12 – Jazz Performance) on guitar
--Michael Siegel (Tufts University '12) on bass
--Elijah Jamal Balbed (Howard University `12 – Jazz Performance) on saxophone
--Andrew Bort (Washington University) on drums

No cover
Half-price wine and appetizers
Free valet parking

This is a benefit concert to support the rebuilding efforts in St.
Bernard Parish, LA

Donations (checks and cash) for the St. Bernard Project
( are welcome and appreciated.

A family-friendly event!

You won't want to miss it

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Mingus Big Band to Headline 5th Annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival on September 13

The Mingus Big Band to Headline 5th Annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival on September 13, 2008

The Mingus Big Band will headline an all-star jazz line-up at the fifth annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival to be held Saturday, September 13 from 2 to 10 p.m., in Downtown Silver Spring. This year, the festival moves to the parking lot behind the Lee Building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road.

Live Nation Washington, D.C. Vice President Ted Mankin was instrumental in getting The Mingus Big Band to perform at this year’s festival. This popular and well-known 14-piece jazz orchestra performs at venues across the country and abroad. Earlier this year, Live Nation reached an agreement with Montgomery County on a lease that will create a dynamic new music, entertainment, and community use venue in downtown Silver Spring called the Fillmore.

The free, outdoor program that attracted more than 25,000 music lovers last year will also feature hometown star Marcus Johnson, the Yaron Elyashiv Quintet, vocalist Gail Shipp of Silver Spring and the Samambaya Quintet.

The program will kick off at 2 p.m. with a showcase of local talent in the Jazz Ensemble Caravan, a New Orleans-style parade of youth jazz ensembles traveling throughout the community, followed by a band competition. The winning youth ensemble will receive the Silver Spring Jazz Festival Trophy.

“This festival really has something for everyone, and I invite jazz fans throughout the area to join us for what promises to be an exciting and memorable event,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett. “I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to Live Nation’s Ted Mankin for his efforts in getting the Mingus Big Band to sign on as headliners at this year’s event. This is certainly one of the ‘big bands’ in the world of jazz and I am very excited about having them come to Silver Spring.”

The Mingus Big Band celebrates the music of the composer and bassist, Charles Mingus, who died in 1979. Under the artistic direction of Sue Mingus, the Mingus Big Band tours extensively in the United States and abroad, and has nine recordings to its credit, six of which have been nominated for Grammy Awards.

Homegrown star Marcus Johnson, an extraordinary jazz keyboardist and composer, performs a blend of contemporary jazz stylings and hip-hop rhythms. Johnson launched the highly successful record label Three Keys and has released four phenomenal albums. He describes his music as “instrumental R&B with a D.C. bounce.”

With a fresh sound and a different approach to jazz than his contemporaries, Israeli-born saxophone player and composer Yaron Elyashiv stays true to traditions. Last year, he was invited to play on veteran jazz singer Myrna Lake’s latest album and a few months later, he went into the studio to record his debut album as a leader titled, “I Remember You,” a selection of original compositions and arrangements of standards.

The Silver Spring Jazz Festival is presented by the Celebrate Downtown Silver Spring Foundation and Montgomery County’s Silver Spring Regional Services Center.

Corporate sponsors include WUSA-TV, Channel 9; Comcast; The Gazette Newspapers; Home Properties; Courtyard by Marriott; Downtown Silver Spring; AFI Silver Theatre; and The Georgian.

Attendees are encouraged to use public transportation – the Silver Spring Metro (Red Line) is two blocks away – and to bring a blanket and/or beach chair. Limited parking is available in the Wayne Avenue Garage, the Town Square Garage, and the garages on Bonifant Street, Cameron at Ramsey Avenue, and Cameron at Fenton. Food vendors will be available.

For more information, call the Silver Spring Regional Services Center at 301-565-7300 or visit