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Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2019 personal letter of congratulations to Michael.  Click here!

"Miles is Chicago's best kept secret...one of the leading lights of contemporary instrumental music." 
- Midwest Record

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Michael is represented by

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ExistentialBanjo.com

10 LIVE VIDEO CLIPS with some of the world's greatest musicians--Darol Anger on violin, Corky Siegel on harmonica, Erkan Ogur of Turkey and many more. 

CLICK HERE

EXISTENTIALBANJO.COM

New Releases

A-sides CD

Fingerstyle guitar with Darol Anger on violin 

 

Two New Hal Leonard books

BOB DYLAN FOR BANJO

 

FIRST 50 SONGS
To Play on the Banjo 
(co-written with Greg Cahill)

 

CD's On Sale

 

 

 

MM at Sandburg Awards

Last Thursday, I was one of 89 Chicago artists/writers who were honored guests the annual Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Library Foundation. This year's award winners were George R. R. Martin and Dr. Eve Ewing. Among the featured speakers was Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

I was so honored to be recognized as composer/writer among these extraordinary people--Chris Jones, Alex Kotlowitz, Chris Ware, Dave Hoekstra, Joel Hall, Dr. Dipika Mukherjee, Elise Paschen, Luis Alberto Urrea, Joel Hall and many others.

This was a grand honor. Each of us also appeared on the giant silver screen. They played a video clip of "From Senegal To Seeger" and I was invited to play the banjo live on stage, ever so briefly.

On this day, the Chicago Public Library also dropped all their late return fines--but they still don't really encourage banjo playing in the library.

Here is the prelude to J. S. Bach's Cello Suite III performed along with cellist Jennifer Lucht.  

 

THE CORMORANT WARRIOR

In the end, this beautiful and elegant warrior of a bird was gone less than 24 hours after this picture was taken.  In the meantime, the experience of our encounter with her was one of wonder and humility.  

We went to the beach for a dinner picnic only to discover that 15 feet away from where we put our chairs was this beautiful creature, standing on a rock, just above the waters of Lake Michigan.  But something was very wrong.  She did not move as we settled in and it seemed immediately apparent that she was in serious distress. She stood motionless, proudly dignified in the breeze with the waves splashing just below her feet. At one moment, and only once, she spread her wings revealing the asymmetry of a wound that took her flight away. Her head was tucked, facing backward, and covered by and buried in her back wings.  What should we do?  

There are people who know what to do under such circumstances.  Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (773 988-1867) sent a volunteer named Susan, a former school teacher.  She graciously and gingerly approached this cormorant, covered it with a towel and picked it right up.  The bird offered no resistance.  The next day, my wife Nina, drove this beautiful creature along with two other wounded birds to the Willowbrook Nature Center who care for wild creatures of all sorts who've been injured.  To our great dismay, our new found friend didn't make it through the day.  

So now, I have this image seared in my imagination.  We are frequently at the lake and marveling at the magnificence of this particular breed.  Cormorants not only fly but they swim deep into the waters in search of prey.  They've been heralded in folklore, according to Wikipedia, ranging from the disguise the devil wore in Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve with an apple, to being the model for a hood ornament on the Packard automobiles of the 1940's. 

We stayed with her for about 90 minutes before Susan arrived.  She never left this rock--perhaps knowing her fate.  Who knows what she was thinking?  But her upright strength and dignity strikes me as warrior-like.  Cormorants can not only fly through the skies and swim to a depth of 150 feet.  With all due respect to the human race, we can't come anywhere near that.   And we marveled at the notion that she could have been saved and we could have seen her fly away with a newly healed wing.  Instead we'll return to Lake Michigan and watch with wistful delight when the next cormorant shows up.  

 

Here are Walt Whitman and Pete Seeger.  Walt was born 200 years ago in 1819, and Pete was born 100 years ago in 1919--both in the merry month of May.  I like to think that Pete (along with his pal Woody) took Walt's ideas of freedom and put them right into their songs.  And then they took the songs out to the streets and the people. "I'd hammer out warning, I'd hammer out danger, I'd hammer out love" is just one thundering example of Pete sounding a little like Walt.  

Walt Whitman and Pete Seeger have had powerful influences in my work--and it wasn't until I missed Walt's birthday, that I realized the incredible serendipity of their being separated by exactly 100 years!  Our world is made better by art and music and poetry that reaches out to and in to our souls.  Pete and Walt certainly did that, especially for me. 

I have the privilege of presenting their works in my one man show, From Senegal To Seeger at the Trueblood Arts Center, Washington Island, WI on Aug 17 at 8pm.  For tickets click here.  

You probably have heard Pete's songs before, but you may have never heard Walt Whitman performed live.  Here's an excerpt from his work, "Song of the Open Road," that is featured in the show--followed by JS Bach on the banjo.  

Camerado, I give you my hand! 
I give you my love more precious than money, 
I give you myself before preaching or law; 
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? 
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

 

Joyful news!  I received notice that I was named one of the this year's DCASE Grant Winners for the City of Chicago.  I proposed the idea to them that I compose a piece of music with the working tile of MISSISSIPPI RIVER SUITE.  In brief this would be a 7-movement composition that uses the rich history, geography, rhythm, and rhyme of the 'river that divides the nation as a foundation for a new work about a divided nation.'  

The dreamscape instrumentation will vary across the movements but will include voices, found sound, banjo, guitar, strings, percussion, woodwinds, sitar, harmonica, accordion and many of my musical comrades in Chicago.  There will be spoken word as well as song form and melody.  All this is in the the research phase at the moment with more to share as I have it.  

In the meantime, just last Friday, I received this beautiful note from Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.  He made my day and makes me oh so glad to live here in Chicago, in the city of where I was born, and where my world spins round and round.  

Much more to come.  

Click here to read the letter from Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Bach every day is my new mantra.   As an antidote to the onslaught of the cruel world, I'm attempting to infuse each day with the playing of Bach.  I realize that it is my own ivory tower of sorts, as people literally run for their lives and suffer from malnutrition.  For that, I remain an active part of the political resistance with every fiber of energy I have to give.  But that fiber is tougher, more articulate, and more vital when it is fueled by the nutrition of good art by the overconsumption of the daily news.  And for me, the best of art and music that I have come to know has been my personal encounter with Bach--which is like gazing into the eyes of wonder. 

Today, for example, in the pre-dawn January darkness of a sub-zero Chicago morning there was the Allemande in C from the third cello suite.  And like a poem that presents a word with a slightly different emphasis and deeper meaning, the work just keeps giving and giving richness. 

Twenty years ago I published the American Bach CD that had JS Bach's first and third Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, arranged for clawhammer banjo and double bass.  I had spent the best part of seven years playing not too much else but Bach.  That is not exactly the typical pathway for banjo players, but it was good for me.  When I recorded them, it was just a moment in time then.  The great cellist Rostapovich waited until he was 65 to record them.  When asked why he waited so long, he replied, "I've been practicing."    

I can speed-read the NYTimes and the Chicago Tribune and stay on it.  I will stand in the cold on Jan 20 with the women of the world.  I will write music and create art this year that draws inspiration from the likes of Paul Farmer and Bill McKibben and my own Senator Dick Durbin and he who I hope to become the Governor of Illinois, Daniel Biss. 

But on these pages, I'll give you my weekly updates of how the the world is balancing between the wicked and sublime.  Steinbeck said that "good will always win over evil, but evil will always return."  I'm holding on to the good and hope to share what I can and help how in the ways that I know best.   Some of that will be reflected in recordings on these pages.  Here's the first recording of the year.   

 

Panorama* ran every month for 10 months at the Hideout this year featuring narration by Rick Kogan and music by my ensemble of musicians that regularly featured Lloyd Brodax King on flute and Johnse Holt on guitar, but across the year also included Nora Barton on cello, Jimmy Keane on accordion, Greg Cahill on banjo, David Jennings on drums and vibes, Corky Siegel on harmonica, Glenda Zahra Baker, Shanta Nurulah. Tsehaye Hebert, Allie Stephens, John Abbey, Kathy Cowan and her Irish choir and others.  There was a tribute to Mike Royko and to Studs Terkel that included Tony Fitzpatrick.  The final night was Diwali featuring members of Funkadesi--Rahul Sharma and Maninder Singh--in our own festival of light.  Below are some of the posters.  My heartfelt thanks to Rick Kogan for his undying passion to art and the spoken word.  

*"Panorama" took its name from the arts section of the Chicago Daily News, started by Herman Kogan, Rick's father.

 

I'm just back from a three plus week tour of Ireland, Spain and Portugal.   There were lots pictures posted on Facebook, lots of great people along the way.   Here were a few promotional posters---one from Barcelona, Spain and the other from Clarinbridge, Ireland.   In a time when the world is literally up for grabs, I count my lucky stars that I get to travel across the world to play music and sing a few songs and that there are people here and there that appreciate what I do.  Peace on earth!  

Funkadesi Trio

TUES, OCT 17, 6:30pm @ THE HIDEOUT. 

The 10th and final episode of Panorama will feature the FUNKADESI TRIO --three musicians from the legendary Chicago world music ensemble playing in celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light.

Seated in the middle is the amazing Lloyd Brodnax King on flute.   On his left is Maninderpal Singh on tabla; on his right is Rahul Sharma on sitar.  These players will be joined by Johnse Holt on guitar and I'll play banjo.     

Tickets at HideoutChicago.com. 

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