Joan Mitchell in her studio at 77 rue Daguerre, Paris, 1956. Photo: Loomis Dean / The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock

Compositions: Music and Poetry for Joan Mitchell

Thursday, Oct 7, 2021

5–8 p.m.

Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden, Floor 5

Part of the series: First Thursdays

Reserving First Thursday tickets highly encouraged for Bay Area residents. For non-Bay Area residents, this event is free with museum admission. Tickets go online two weeks in advance.

On First Thursday, join us for a special evening of music and poetry, art forms that inspired Joan Mitchell. Music and poetry played an important role in Mitchell’s life, and she developed collaborative relationships with writers and musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Vibrant performances from jazz groups will be punctuated by poetry readings, all exploring the historical, expressive, and personal connections between improvised music, the written word, and abstract painting. This lineup of local musicians and poets was organized in partnership with Eric Whittington of San Francisco’s Bird & Beckett Books & Records and Chris Kerr of Oakland’s Round Weather Gallery.

This event will take place outside in the Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden where refreshments will be available for purchase. Best of all, this event is entirely free for Bay Area residents as part of our First Thursday programming!

Due to social-distancing requirements, capacity is limited and access to these performances will be first-come, first-served.


5–6:30 p.m.
Matthew Zapruder
Faded Air Trio
Tonya Foster
Clark Coolidge Trio

6:30–8 p.m.
Aja Couchois Duncan
Geechi Taylor Quintet
Jason Bayani


Faded Air Trio features three of the Bay Area’s boldest sonic adventurers in an improvising performance that explores gesture, abstraction, color, and form inspired by Joan Mitchell’s work. Berkeley-based bassist Lisa Mezzacappa has been an active part of California’s vibrant music community for nearly 20 years. Her activities as a composer and ensemble leader include ethereal chamber music, electro-acoustic works, avant-garde jazz, music for groups from duo to large ensemble, and collaborations with film, dance, and visual art. Vocalist Aurora Josephson is a musician and visual artist who currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Building on a foundation of operatic training and both BA and MFA degrees in Music Performance from Mills College, she has forged a bold and unique vocal style, and has performed and recorded with Alvin Curran, Henry Kaiser, Joelle Leandre, William Winant, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Danishta Rivero is an improviser, performer and sound artist based in Oakland, California. As a soloist, Rivero often performs as Caribay, conjuring the eponymous mountain spirit, whose laments cause avalanches. She is a member of electro-acoustic duo Voicehandler with percussionist Jacob Felix Heule, and is also half of Las Sucias, a feminist tropical noise duo with Alexandra Buschman-Román.

The Clark Coolidge Trio explores interactive realms of improvisation. Built on a model of post-jazz saxophone / bass / drums ensembles, CC Trio develops thematic episodes that organically emerge from the 3 players. The flow of the trio’s music is informed by Clark Coolidge’s lifelong engagement with drumming and poetry; Lisa Mezzacappa’s driving foundational bass playing and unflappable leadership of myriad key Bay Area ensembles; and Bruce Ackley’s singular saxophone voice, evolved through his more than 4-decade run with Rova Saxophone Quartet. Listeners can expect a vibrant performance reflecting the historical relationships between improvised music and the field of abstract expressionism, to which painter Joan Mitchell was a primary contributor.

Vocalist Stella Heath joins the Geechi Taylor Quintet for two sets of jazz standards, celebrating music that suffused Joan Mitchell’s cultural world in Chicago, New York, and Paris from the 1930s forward. She is eminently suited to the task, leading several of her own bands in gypsy and hot jazz, swing, and the uniquely soulful music and expression of Billie Holiday. Her Billie Holiday Project has recently performed to acclaim at Healdsburg Jazz Festival and other top venues. Bandleader Geechi Taylor is a fabulous trumpet player, bandleader, entertainer, and educator whose dedication to the history and craft of jazz from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie and beyond is evident in each performance. A stellar rhythm section has been assembled for the date, with Adam Shulman, fresh from a three-week engagement with singer Paula West to celebrate the reopening of Feinstein’s, San Francisco’s top cabaret venue. Shulman is an accomplished composer, arranger, and music director as well as one of San Francisco’s best young jazz pianists. Born and raised in Japan, bassist Tomoko Funaki started on violin at a young age under the influence of her mother, a symphony violinist, and gravitated to the flute, her father’s instrument. She left Japan to attend college in the U.S., gaining experience in New York and San Francisco, learning from and playing with Ray Drummond, Rufus Reid, Donald “Duck” Bailey and Denise Perrier. She’s a mainstay on the local jazz scene, gigging and teaching, and performing in the band she co-founded, the Hard Bop Collective. Drummer Brian Fishler grew up in the Bay Area where he was active in the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra which held forth at Pearl’s Jazz Club for years, as well as with singer Kenny Washington, the Richard Cheese Orch, and more, before heading for a fifteen-year stint in New York. In the Big Apple, he scored gigs with singers as disparate as Lena Horne, Donovan, and Petula Clark and played jazz clubs and concert halls with the likes of organist Brian Charette.


Matthew Zapruder is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Father’s Day, as well as Why Poetry. From 2016-17 he was Editor of the Poetry Column for the New York Times Magazine. He teaches in the MFA in creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California, and is editor-at-large at Wave Books.

Tonya M. Foster is the author of A Swarm of Bees in High Court, the bilingual chapbook La Grammaire des Os; the chapbook A History of the Bitch (forthcoming); co-editor of Third Mind: Creative Writing through Visual Art and Thingifications (forthcoming, Ugly Duckling Presse). A recipient of awards, fellowships, and residencies from Creative Capital, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, SFMoAD, Headlands Center for the Arts, Macdowell, and elsewhere, Dr. Foster is a poetry editor at Fence Magazine. Beginning fall 2021, she will hold the George and Judy Marcus Endowed Chair in Poetry at San Francisco State University.

Aja Couchois Duncan is a social justice coach and capacity builder of Ojibwe, French, and Scottish descent who lives on the ancestral and stolen land of the Coastal Miwok people. Her debut collection Restless Continent (Litmus Press, 2016) was selected by Entropy Magazine as one of the best poetry collections of 2016 and awarded the California Book Award for Poetry in 2017. In 2020, Sweet Land—a collaborative opera project which brought together composers Raven Chacon and Du Yun, librettists Aja Couchois Duncan and Douglas Kearney, and co-directors Cannupa Hanska Luger and Yuval Sharon—was produced in the Los Angeles State Historic Park to critical acclaim. Her newest book Vestigial is just out from Litmus Press. When not writing or working, Aja can be found running the west Marin hills with her Australian cattle dog Dublin, training with horses, or weaving small pine needle baskets. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and a variety of other degrees and credentials to certify her as human. Great Spirit knew it all along.

Jason Bayani is the author of Locus (Omnidawn Publishing 2019, Norcal Book Award finalist) and Amulet (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013). He’s an MFA graduate from Saint Mary’s College, a Kundiman fellow, and works as the artistic director for Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest multidisciplinary Asian Pacific American arts organization in the country. His publishing credits include World Literature Today, Lantern Review, and other publications. Jason performs regularly around the country and debuted his solo theater show Locus of Control in 2016, with theatrical runs in San Francisco, New York, and Austin, Texas, and is selected to feature at the 2022 CAATA ConFest.


Chris Kerr makes art, poems, publications, and events where the various art forms reach for each other. He directs Round Weather, a nonprofit art gallery repurposing art acquisitions into climate action. They have served as chair of the School of Literary Arts at Oakland School for the Arts, as secretary and social mediator for the DNC Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis, and as editor of Projector, a literary journal of creative responses to film. She now edits The Inner Forest Service, a new periodical of poetry about the Earth and what we’re doing to it.

Eric Whittington took on and reconfigured an existing Glen Park bookshop back in May 1999 to create Bird & Beckett Books & Records — he’s grateful for the wonderful bookshelves and computer system he inherited, and proud of the store he’s put together with the help of a lot of great staff along the way. He got his first bookstore job in the summer of 1975 after his freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley, shipping UC Extension correspondence course books for Ed Hunolt’s Berkeley Book; dropped out after his sophomore year and found work at Green Apple on Clement from 1976–77; and helped almost-launch a massive used bookstore that would have been called the Bookdome (it closed before it opened) on Westwood Blvd in L.A. in 1978. He returned to San Francisco and commuted to finish a B.A. in Film Studies at UC Berkeley.

First Thursdays are sponsored by Nancy and Alan Schatzberg and United Airlines.