Robert and Martha Danziger

Robert DanzigzerBy Scott MacClelland

ARE CREATIVE PEOPLE attracted to one another? That’s certainly part of the chemistry between Bob and Martha Danziger who make their home in the Carmel Highlands. She’s a decorative art scholar and writer, and former Associate Curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose magnum opus was just published by Yale University Press. He is a musician and composer who had early careers as an engineer with the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and founder of the Sunlaw Energy Corporation. His ongoing magnum opus stems from an obsession with the Brandenburg concertos by JS Bach even though he claims to have no formal classical training. “I’m a jazz and R&B guy.”

Under her professional name, Martha Drexler Lynn has written what the brief calls “the most in-depth history of American ceramics to date.” Her American Studio Ceramics: Innovation and Identity, 1940 to 1979 sets out to explain why and how mid-20th centuryMartha ceramics evolved from a utilitarian craft into a well-recognized fine art that continues to occupy a highly respected place in today’s art world.

“For most of my other books I was hired by someone or an institution and published by university or museum presses,” she explains. She worked on this one for about nine years, finding its impetus in a periodical called Craft Horizons. She ‘blames’ Gary Smith, longtime friend and now-retired art faculty at Hartnell College in Salinas. “It’s all his fault.” Smith had a collection of the magazines dating back to the 1950s, and it “landed in my lap.” Lynn assembled the full run that was launched in 1941. (In 1979, it changed its name to American Craft.) “It was printed on crummy paper,” she says. “The illustrations were black and white and grainy.” She used several of them and was given access to other photographic collections, including the Smithsonian’s.

CeramicsWhen she was ready, she emailed a contact at Lucia | Marquand Books who spoke to Yale Press on her behalf. “Yale was the one I wanted.” She got a yes months before expected. Published in early December she was taken by surprise when she learned that Yale had shipped 250 copies to England. “They felt they could sell them to institutions, collectors and dealers. I wouldn’t have thought…” To her delight she recently learned that Cambridge University and over 100 other libraries have purchased a copy.

Certainly a major strength of this book is its broad overview. It will be a resource and reference tool at libraries and universities. Still, she says, “I left many thing incomplete, breadcrumbs for others to follow.” Further, she was only able to cite individual artists who were mentioned in Craft Horizons, especially if their work made a historic impact. “Potters who buy the book will go straight to the index to see if they’re in there.” After doing “this kind of work” for 30 years, she says, “I achieved my goal.”

In 1979, Bob Danziger had been at JPL in Pasadena for only a few days when the first images of Jupiter arrived from a distance of 365 million miles. It was that Voyager spacecraft that carried a gold disc with various symbols of earth, including singing whales and the Brandenburg concerto no. 2. He first heard the piece while on vacation in Tahiti and was mesmerized to such an extent that almost no day goes by, even now, that he doesn’t listen to it—even while watching television. “I rewrote it for any combination of two instruments, playing in any octave.”

As a young man in 1971, working for a roofing company in El Centro, he was badly injured in a fall. (The injury to his spine still requires management.) Recovering in hospital and later, he began teaching himself bass guitar, “not the easiest instrument when you’re lying down.”

Danziger’s obsessive fascination for patterns in notes and “squiggles,” and his fluency as a bass player and composer, suggested to me a kind of Asperger’s, to which he shot back, “Ya think?” He startled a company of jazz pros with his playing and was invited to perform with the great Cecil Taylor. He later played kalimba (thumb piano) with Supertramp, a British rock band. While still at JPL, he started Sunlaw that, under a new law, allowed alternative energy companies to sell electricity to utilities. It was a startup with a small investment from the worker’s comp settlement after his injury. He consulted with others developing wind farms, solar power plants and energy conservation.

All the while, he was making music, including composing and creating sonic elements for art gallery installations. In 1987 he won the Gold Medal for his original score at the New York Film Festival. (In doing so, he beat out such heavies as John Williams and Elmer Bernstein.) He created different soundscapes for two galleries at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Dale Chihuly’s glass art collection. These included sounds of nature that, in one case, he collected from Tacoma where Chihuly’s studios are located, and another from the Oklahoma prairie, featuring whirling tubes to create the sound of blowing wind. When heard overlapping one another in the venue, a musical ambiguity results. “I love the sound of Charles Ives when he has two bands marching past each other playing different marches.” He also gets local commissions. “The soundscapes I did for the Steinbeck Center on the Chinese, Japanese and Filipino communities in and around our area over the last 500 years explore their music and likely natural sounds over that time frame.” But he rejects the idea that he has a repertoire. “It’s really a unitoire.”

Danziger describes his arrangements of Bach as “jazz-classical crossover with instruments and recording techniques not available in Bach’s time.” (One track on the Brandenburg 300 CD, Bird Bach Badinerie, puts the spirit of Charlie Parker together with Aristotle with a Bust of Homerthe brisk final movement of Bach’s Suite in B Minor.) He adds, “Because of my background, I was never concerned with making it a strict classical interpretation.” When he develops new arrangements he imagines historical personal heroes for inspiration as well as professional musicians with whom he has performed. David Gordon, education director for the Carmel Bach Festival, has called Danziger’s B 300 “one of the most fun things to happen to Mr. Bach in a long time.”

Among their other virtues, Danziger’s arrangements prove that JS Bach is virtually indestructible. To hear his Brandenburg medley, click HERE