Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Big Move: Special New Years Notice!

Dearest Jazz Hallelujah readers,

The Come Sunday: Jazz, Trouble, Hallelujah community is on the move!

After a long haitus, I am back and now a little gussied up on Wordpress.
Blogger's been wonderful, I just got the urge to try a little something new, new town, new decade new blog life....

PLEASE VISIT jazzhallelujah.wordpress.com for a new decade of sacred jazz conversation.

With love and gratitude,


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Soul with Your Eyes: Jazz Darsan

You go to my head, Louis, and my heart, my smile, my swinging hips and tapping toe. I know technically we will celebrate your birthday next week on Aug 4 but I love that during your life you had everyone believing you were born on independence day. That jazz legend lives on with me every Fourth of July when my best (only) effort at patriotism is to pull out "Louis Armstong meets Oscar Peterson (a Canadian, ha!)," open all my windows and peacefully rock in the rocking easy chair on my front porch (and if I'm really on point the smell from the baked beans I try to make as good as mom's and sweet cornbread drifts out to tease the neighbors). But I tell you, everytime I get to "You Go To My Head" I stop rocking. I sit forward. I say "damn" to myself several times, and feel so grateful that you play the full song twice, first horn, then voice. This past Fourth, though I gave the freedom shout in the blog to our beloved Billy Strayhorn, I spent a good part of that day thinking about the power of "You Go to My Head"...from Dinah and Clifford's version (ahhh), to Billie Holiday's (who jumped to record it back in 1938 within a year of its release) to the Louis you reveal here that I'm not sure most folks know...I can hardly catch my breath when you testify:

You go to my head
With a smile that makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes...

Then come to remember my man Haven Gillespie laid that lyric down, not long after he dropped "Beautiful Love"...what was going on with Haven? Did you ever meet him? What I hear is he was born in 1888, one of 9 kids, poor, white Kentucky family, crammed in one basement apartment, til he dropped out of grade school and moved up to Chicago to live with an older sister. Mr. Gillespie was also a journalist, a man who stuggled with alcohol addiction, and the writer of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The guy who wrote "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" also wrote:

Beautiful love,
I've roamed your paradise
Searching for love, my dream to realize
Reaching for heaven, depending on you
Beautiful love, will my dreams come true?

I wonder Louis how you would have responded to the two women sitting next to me the other night at a Kurt Elling concert in Hollywood. They were a generation older than me and one especially seemed like she was in a lousy mood to begin with, but they were quite irked that this white singer was trying to sing the tunes Johnny Hartman ever so masterfully recorded with John Coltrane. I really understand where the hurt underneath the irk comes from, and have shared that same sigh: "here they go again, stealing our genius and selling it back to us" or as Greg Tate brilliantly titled his book about white theft of black culture, "Everything but the Burden..." Louis, I have this feeling you might have just given our two sisters a hug and offered them a round of "sparkling burgandy brew." I didn't do this, though I did kind of want to engage them on the fact that that precious, priceless Hartman/Coltrane collaboration, THE soundtrack of black romance that informed the conception of so many boys and girls of my generation...well, aside from Strayhorn's "Lush Life" every song on that album is written by one of Haven's white, mostly Jewish composer comrades. So Kurt Elling, at least that evening was a white jazz singer singing songs written by other white men 50 to 70 years before him.

If we are to realize your "Wonderful World," Louis don't we need to listen to one another across difference, look for each other's souls with our eyes? I'm just starting to read about the Hindu practice of Darsan, seeing the divine image...one of the most striking ideas right away for me is the idea that in honoring any of the sculptures/representations of the Hindu dieties, it is as important to see the image as to be seen by the image....Haven's lyric "you intoxicate my soul with your eyes," feels right up this same sacred alley. Haven Gillespie had many Jewish song writing collaborators, he wrote one very famous Christmas song, but who knows what else was spiritually spinning round in his brain...Again for the realization, the living breathing, real deal arrival of your wonderful world, Louis, we need you and Haven in Pennsylvania at every public and private swimming pool, goggles off, eyes and souls engaged, warmly welcoming every child. We sure need you and Haven trading seriously swinging eights with the Cambridge PD, right about now. We need that divine seeing, that beauty loving us into your "bright blessed days and dark sacred nights." Happy birthday, Mr. Armstrong, and thank you and Mr. Gillespie for intoxicating my soul July after July.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Moral Freedom and the Listening-Hearing Self

"He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important of moral freedoms: freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from all self-pity (even throughout all the pain and bad news); freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might help another more than it would help himself; and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother or neighbor."His greatest virtue, I think, was his honesty--not only to others, but to himself. His listening-hearing self was totally intolerant of his writing-playing self when, or if, any compromise was expected, or considered expedient.

God bless Billy Strayhorn..."

(from Duke Ellington's eulogy for Swee' Pea as printed in the liner notes for "...and his mother called him Bill"--these Strayhorn Moral Freedoms are also found in Ellington's Second Sacred Concert as spoken text within the tune, "It's Freedom.")

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Black Gold and My Favorite Luckett Jazz (sub)Urban Legend

For me the all time jazz urban legend, okay, the Luckett family jazz (sub)urban legend centers around the second version of "Black is the Color" on my fav fav live Nina Simone LP "Black Gold." The traditional tune ends high priestess style, "truuuuuuue, love's hair," then her Juilliard trained piano fades to dusty, deep South acoustic guitar, and we hear a dustier, deeper baritone sounding Nina...I'm telling you my father had us convinced that Nina had dropped a register and flipped the lyric to sing, as a man, the most soulful ballad to a black woman...EVER. Did my young, dreamy teen ears understand this transgender segue as Nina's specific longing to be loved this way, this well? Was this performance, were these words her instructions to her male lover as to how she deserved to be seen, treasured...

"Black is her body, so firm, so bold
Black is her beauty, her soul of gold...
I remember how she came to me
In a vision of my mind
I remember how she said to me
Don't ever look behind,
She said, look ahead and I would see
Someone, always loving me
Her picture is painted in my memory
Without a color of despair
And no matter where I go
She is always there...."

We even backed up this imagined octave drop by claiming to have seen her do it live in the mid 80's when Pops drove me, I think on a school night from Irvine to Beverly Hills to see Nina live. Couple years later I split to New Orleans and hear Charmaine Neville drop Satchmo low like the imagined Nina of Black Gold. On my return to Cali first thing I tell pops, "they got a sis at Snug Harbor sing low as Black Gold Nina!"

Ahhh the crush when at last, not too long ago Black Gold was finally reissued on CD as part of a three album pack, containing Emergency Ward, Black Gold and (my other fav) It is Finished and the full credits were finally included claiming guitarist Emile Latimer sang the second "Black is..." Thank you Emile, but I prefer the Luckett family legend, and I'm sticking with it.

This is all on my mind cause until yesterday that track two, Black Gold version of "Black is..." was for me indisputably the greatest...a very close rival version happened live at Catalina Bar and Grill last night when Brian Blade invited us on his Fellowship Band's holy, haunting completely surprising "Black is..." journey. I kept thinking, is the Fellowship (Jon Cowherd, piano, Myron Walden, bass clarinet, Melvin Butler, tenor, and Chris Thomas, bass) hip to Black Gold?

Before Nina sings Miriam Makeba's prayer, "Westwind" on Black Gold, she turns our attention to percussion masters Don Alias and Juma Santos: "And now I'd like to introduce you to the heartbeat of our organization, the pulse of everything we do is centered around the drums. And if you think about that, really, seriously, you know that your entire life is centered around your heart-beat, and that is rhythm, is it not?" I sure hope Nina got a chance to hear Brian Blade before she joined the ancestors and if not, I gotta hope she was listening in last night.

I turned 40 yesterday. My pops died right before I turned 30. Nina in reality and the Nina he and together we imagined was one of my most cherished gifts from him. Thank you Nina, thank you Brian Blade Fellowship band and thank you pops, thanks for visiting via "Black is..." for a birthday hello, I felt you. I'm still claiming "YOUNG, Gifted and Black" (smile)...without a color of despair...the drum, our heartbeats, the splendor of these ancestral west wind prayers unify us, don't divide us....

Monday, May 25, 2009

" ....And I Know Jazz to be a Good Thing.... " Roberto Miranda's Bass Walk On the Sacred Side

“God gave jazz to the African American first, and I know it was God that gave it...because James says that all good things come from up above and I know jazz to be a good thing.” As Robert Nesta Marley sang, one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain, I listen to Bob’s Afro-Caribbean brother Roberto Miranda speak of Jesus and Jazz and think man this guy packs one serious punch and yet I feel no pain. In fact it feels so sweet to be on the receiving end of his blasts of spiritual wisdom, his blows of passionate storytelling, and if you’re like me you want to hear round after round of his bass playing especially when he goes arco on you. “Peter Mercurio looked at me one day and he looked at the bow and he said, ‘This is our breath’...and I said, ‘oh yeah’.” And now we all breathe a little easier from the shared wisdom of one of Roberto’s many brilliant teachers of the bass (he also studied with Verne Martin who was one of Mingus’ early teachers, Bob Stone, Dennis Trembly, Fred Tinsley and two short and powerful stints with Ray Brown and Red Mitchell). Though we think of the bass as the bottom, it was not the beginning for Miranda...Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, Roberto’s first music teacher was his father, a professional musician himself who made and played his own percussion instruments and started Roberto out early on the conga drum. “I used to fall asleep to my father’s bands rehearsing in our house...he was really good. In the 1950’s he appeared with his own band on the Ed Sullivan show...which was a big deal.” Roberto poignantly points out that his father always had a day job too, and always instilled in his son that if he wanted to be a musician he must always support his family, “My father taught me by his example and his words, if I was going to be a musician and a family man at the same time that I needed to make absolutely certain that I was in a position where I could provide for my family and that it was not incumbent upon my wife to support my music....Now did I pay attention to him? Yes and no...” and Roberto goes on honestly to say it took a minute for him to get over his stubbornness and pride...but eventually he accomplished both of his dreams of being a working musician, composer and family man. We conducted this conversation on the campus of the middle school in the valley where Miranda not only teaches full time but instituted the first Afro Caribbean percussion courses in LA Unified School District. Roberto is so grateful for his father’s musical lessons and legacy and gives thanks to both his parents for instilling the love of Jesus in his childhood, “I literally cannot remember one day in my entire life when I didn’t know who Jesus was and I didn’t love him.” While his parents were practicing Catholics who also believed in Afro Caribbean orishas like Yemaya and Chango, Roberto considers himself a born-again Evangelical Christian and does not subscribe to the way his parents worship, though he still thanks them for introducing him to Jesus.In terms of sacred jazz, Roberto feels a profound connection and understanding of the concept in the Christian tradition, “When I think of jazz on the sacred side, I think about the history of jazz musicians who have grown up in the church and who love Jesus Christ...now, a lot of people never think about jazz musicians in that way, right? They don’t think about this guy who’s on the band stand four or five nights a week, getting up early on Sunday morning and going to church.” He immediately mentions work like Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor” or “When the Saints go Marching In”...”all of those tunes that are played at the funerals in New Orleans.” Then Roberto gets even more fired up, excited to speak on this connection... “My music is jazz music, there’s no doubt about the fact that my music is jazz music. It’s heavily influenced also by Afro-Latin music...but every single piece of music I’ve written for the past 30 years has either been for Jesus Christ, or for someone whom I love deeply like my wife, or for someone I thank God for like Thelonious Monk...just because I love Monk. So that’s where my music is coming from...and I know that there are other musicians like me...James Newton, Sonship Theus, these people write music for Christ and there’s a history of that in jazz music that goes all the way back to the beginning."From here we speak so dearly about Duke Ellington’s sacred concerts and Roberto wants to tell me the story of how Duke used to travel with a wooden board...draw himself a hot bath and set his bible on the board and read in the tub until the water got cold! We are both grateful for the wisdom we received from Kenny Burrell about Duke Ellington...I tell Roberto that Kenny always reminded me that Duke never referred to his sacred concerts as his greatest work but he said they were his most “important work.” We touch on the great quote from Duke before composing the first Sacred Concert, “Now I can say openly what I’ve been saying to myself on my knees”...and I ask Roberto how his own knee conversations have affected his compositions. He says right away, “I know that I cannot impress Jesus,” we both laugh. “It helped me to be more honest in my writing...because there’s nothing I’m gonna do and he’s gonna say ‘wooo’. So whatever kind of compositional techniques I may utilize in bringing about a desired sonic affect or melodic affect or rhythmic affect...it’s not about being clever...it’s about a gift that I’m offering which I want to be as pure as I can be at that particular moment in time...I just want to bring him glory.I feel deeply moved to have my conversation with Roberto Miranda on the week we remember the Rodney King uprising that left such a devastating mark on our city. When I ask Roberto about the way in which music, jazz in particular has aided in the healing of our city, he easily smiles and says one name: Horace Tapscott. Now Roberto’s reflections on the soul wisdom of his mentor and Pan African Peoples Arkestra leader would take many more volumes, but I will end with an idea he shared about both Horace and Duke, who he felt may not have always talked about the depth of their spiritual beliefs but always brought light and love to every community they served and touched. Roberto said that one of his faith elders once said to him, “sometimes the only bible someone might read is YOU. So it’s not so much about preaching the gospel as living it, in some cases never even saying a word...and that may be what Duke Ellington and Horace Tapscott had to do.”
The post above is from the program notes of our glorious sixth and final "Come Sunday: Jazz on the Sacred Side" concert May 3, 2009 at the Jazz Bakery in its current location at the Helms Bakery Building. I give tremendous gratitude to Roberto Miranda for taking the series out on such a deep deep sacred sound off...ooooh and especially for that last solo bass "Come Sunday" he sent us home with. While Roberto and his extraordinary musicians (James Newton on flute, Kei Akagi on piano, Sonship Theus on drums, Steve Blake, orator, and Lindsey Willams, vocals) moved the audience so richly, the musicians and I were in turn sooo moved by the presence of our dear Buddy Collette in the house! What a way to close out phase one of this journey. The conversation with Roberto was so intense it will probably warrant a second post as I'm still chewing on some of his thoughts...and of course more will be written in these posts over time about the end of an era at Helms...Love to you all and thank you soooooooooo much to everyone who took part in these concerts from the musicians, to the listeners, to all the sound engineers and staff at the Bakery and again to Ruth for 16+ years of creating a home for this music we value beyond words...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"So That All of Humanity could see that it was One" Birthday Smiles for Brother Malcolm

Loving Malcolm, this morning on my porch I thought, what small thing could I do today to honor his birthday...the first thing that came to me was smile...I think of all my heroes/sheroes, he's got the most easeful and brilliant smile...his smile was my first invitation to really deeply listen to him...especially as a counterpoint to my father's rageful scowls regarding race matters.
I'm starting this post too late in the evening to effectively connect the music part of this sacred jazz journey I'm on with Malcolm's radiance, but on the interfaith side...I wanted to share this short passage from a speech Malcolm gave at Corn Hill Methodist Church in Rochester, New York 5 days before his assassination. "To straighten out my own position...I'm a Muslim...I believe in God, the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe...I believe in one God, and I believe that that God had one religion, has one religion, always will have one religion. And that that God taught all of the prophets the same religion, so there is no arguement about who was greater or who was better: Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or some of the others. All of them were prophets who came from one God. They had one doctrine, and that doctrine was designed to give clarification of humanity, so that all of humanity would see that it was one and have some kind of brotherhood that would be practiced here on this earth. I believe in that.""Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace....Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Go as a River...

"If we are a drop of water and we try to get to the ocean as only an individual drop, we will surely evaporate along the way. To arrive at the ocean, you must go as a river" Thich Nhat Hanh

With utter gratitude I thank my "Jazz on the Sacred Side" family, especially Nailah for stepping in for me on Palm Sunday (while I was in India) to host the remarkable Open Hands band. I hear the show was out of this world!!!! I love this photo of Justo and Abe with Nailah in front of our spiritual ancestor, Art Blakey, in one of my favorite paintings in the current Jazz Bakery space in the Helms Bakery building. As you know Ruth Price has announced that May will be the final month for the Bakery in that space, and I stand in profound thanks for all the joy that space has held over the last 15+ years.


Here are the notes I put together from a beautiful conversation I had with Mr. Almario before leaving the country. Again I want to thank all my jazz comrades, including January's Sacred Side feature, Eric Reed for coming through for the Open Hands show...while journeying through India reading Thich Nhat Hanh, I felt a special resonance hearing him speak about moving toward peace in community...it's so clear I'm not on this interfaith sacred jazz journey by myself...we go as a river, a deep, deep river.

Gratitude for Open Hands and Mr. Almario...The poet in me could not be more thrilled that a band called “Open Hands” is performing on this special “Palm” Sunday, Come Sunday. Nailah and I drove out to the Valley for the record release party for Justo’s latest and greatest collaboration, Open Hands, a couple weeks before the Palm Sunday gig, and the place was packed. We had to take turns between the ONE empty chair near the sublime Bill Maxwell, and a few empty inches of bar to lean on at the back of the club...and you need something to lean on when you listen to these brothers, because you will fall out. You will also dance, you will call and respond, and if you’re lucky, Justo will lead you in the shoulder roll-rhumba-amen. You heard me right. Now I’ve heard Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel say when he marched with Dr. King in Selma, that he felt as if “we were praying with our feet.” Justo had us praying with our shoulders. A few times I’d watch Nailah raise her hand to bear witness to the grace and groove before us and that struck me too...no disrespect to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, but I’d like to take a moment to lift up the power, the black brown beige all color -power, all faith tradition power of the open hand salute. What makes us lift our hands like that? Is it the same impulse in us now that those hungry for healing folks in Jerusalem had when they raised those palm fronds and shouted Hosanna so many centuries ago? Justo and Abraham, Greg and Bill had us shouting and will surely have you shouting, Hallelujah! Have mercy!...and maybe even, “Stop the madness...” as the playing got so complex, yet so funky and uplifting I lost all sense of space and time...ask Nailah, I couldn’t find my car afterward and I swear I was only high off the power of those Open Hands.

When I spoke with Mr. Almario on phone about his own Sacred Side/knee conversations, he shared that he was blessed with many musical fathers in Colombia who instilled his love of Afro-Caribbean music. He reminded me in the 50’s in his small town there was no electricity, no radio or tv, so his experience of music was always in community, on the street, in people’s homes. When he first had the opportunity in his teens to listen to Jazz on vinyl, hearing Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley changed everything. For Justo, Charlie Parker sounded like “a bird set free from a cage...it touched my heart.” And just like that, Justo was off to the U.S...first Boston to attend the Berklee school of music, then later to NYC when Mongo Santamaria invited him to join and ultimately become musical director of his band.Justo thrived on the city, and I have this sudden urge to put on my Salsa heels just listening to him riff about this era when on any given night he might sub for Tito Puente’s band or Eddie Palmieri’s band if he wasn’t already working a gig with Mongo. Or there were nights, like the unforgettable summer night in 1972, when after an early set with Mongo, Justo took the A Train to Lincoln Center to listen to guitar legend Andres Segovia, then raced back downtown to the Village Vanguard to catch, yes, Thelonious Monk. Justo rattles off the names of Monk's sidemen that night like it was last night not 30+ years ago. What tickled Justo most was that on one of the hottest nights that summer, Monk stumbled down the stairs of the Vanguard, wearing a thick wool overcoat and Russian hat...”Didn’t talk to anyone...sits at the piano and plays ‘Off Minor’" laughs, “only in New York!” Justo’s exhilaration when telling the story segues to his celebration of the arts in general...”It’s the best thing in life, the influence it’s had throughout history!”

While Justo could easily brag about the superstars he would go on to work with (okay I’ll brag for him...just a little bit...from Freddie Hubbard, Roy Ayers and Cachao to Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah and Chaka Khan!), he would rather talk about the deepening of his Christian faith, his “very conscious awakening” in 1981. He tells me from that point to today, he experiences music as a prayer. And for people coming to listen to him play--people he knows may be going through hard times--Justo prays that his music will offer a sanctuary, where the listener might experience “joy, rejoicing, love, healing where healing may be needed.” He said he hopes his music will “refresh the soul of the listener.” He speaks so sweetly about the way Duke Ellington through “Come Sunday” and John Coltrane through “A Love Supreme” spoke their prayers, and then he reminds me of the line from Coltrane’s sacred liner notes, “Let us sing all songs to God, to whom all praise is due.” Thank you, God. Serious shoulder roll Amen.

At the end of our conversation Justo asked me if it would be okay instead of bringing his own quartet to the Sacred Side show to bring the band he just recorded a new CD with...”Open Hands.” On faith I say yes, not knowing then I was basically saying “yes” to the jazz/blues/gospel masters equivalent to the Four Tenors: Abraham Laboriel, Greg Mathieson and Bill Maxwell. While time did not allow me once we made the change to interview all the guys, I am still full up from hearing them play/pray last weekend in the valley. These are powerful and vulnerable times...in the Christian tradition this Sunday, April 5th marks the beginning of Holy Week, beginning with these waves of open hands and palms, to Good Friday, to the glory of Easter morning. For me this music, this season, this conversation with Justo reminds me to walk this journey with open hands, so I too might receive, embrace all the joy, rejoicing, love and healing where healing may be needed.

Love and deep bows of Namaste to you all from India.
Please enjoy the full bios of all of the Open Hands legends at openhandsmusic.net
Please save the date for our final Jazz on the Sacred Side in the current Jazz Bakery location: May 3 @ 3pm with Roberto Miranda!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Breaking Bread with Lesa Terry

“To be sensual...is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.” James Baldwin

There’s a gorgeous book of dialogues between bell hooks and Cornel West called “Breaking Bread” that opens with that quote from Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. The spiritual, “Let us Break Bread Together on Our Knees” is celebrated by hooks for its attention to both community, sharing, breaking bread together--as well as the idea of mercy, the need we have for compassion, acceptance, understanding: “When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, oh Lord have mercy on me.” I love any opportunity to revisit that tune, that Baldwin quote and this book of dialogues, and talking with Lesa Terry gave me plenty! One of the most moving moments in our conversation happened when Lesa told me about the time she performed “Let Us Break Bread Together” for Marianne Anderson (yes, Marianne Easter Sunday 1939 steps of the Lincoln Memorial Anderson). It began so casually she says...her group the Uptown String Quartet was recording their first CD in the same building The Cosby Show was taped. Max Roach pulled the quartet to his comrade Cosby’s studio for a rap party and there sitting in Mr. Cosby’s dressing room was Marianne Anderson. While the quartet performed, “Let Us...” Lesa tells me she heard Ms. Anderson turn to the person sitting next to her and say, “I used to sing that song...I always loved that song.” Lesa hadn’t remembered that story for some time and as she was telling it she became overwhelmed, “How could I not do what I do? I’ve been given opportunities that are so powerful...how could I not give what I give? I’m very grateful, very moved, I feel a great sense of purpose.”

It was Lesa’s mother, her French/Irish/Welsh mother that first played Marianne Anderson records for Lesa and her sisters as young girls...records she’d check out from the library along with other recordings of spirituals by Mahalia Jackson, Leontyne Price and Paul Robeson. Lesa is so grateful for her mother’s love of this music which she considers the most universal music there is because “It speaks of the human condition...it speaks of triumph and the ability to overcome difficulty...we all understand that.” Lesa credits her mother as giving her so many early musical gifts and spiritual lessons. While all the Terry girls started out on piano, Lesa noticed an old violin in her mother’s closet one day and “I wanted to be independent, do my own thing” so she reached for it. But once she started taking the violin to school, she noticed all the other kids had shiny, new instruments and hers was old and couldn’t possibly sound as good because of that. “My mother looked at me and said ‘Lesa, the sound of your instrument has nothing to do with the instrument itself, because sound is from the spirit and the heart...and when you learn how to make that connection, that’s when you’ll get a new instrument.’ I never forgot that.” Through private and university training in European Classical music, appointments with the Atlanta and Nashville Symphonies, on through to joining Max Roach’s Double quartet (a group that included the legendary drummer’s quartet with bass, sax and trumpet in combination with a string quartet) she never forgot that. Lesa remembers Odean Pope, the saxophonist from the Double Quartet always demanding to look at her fingers, insisting that there must be some physiological explanation for Lesa’s unique sound, he’d say “‘What is it? How do you do that?’...I said ‘Dude, it’s so not that, it’s centered on spirit.’” Beginning with her mother’s lesson she began to visualize sound as a kind of “healing balm that could go out and affect people...you could play on a old piece of drift wood floating down the river and make it speak because you’re just the conduit, you’re not the one...I’m just a vessel that the energy is passing through.” Lesa was gifted too by a particular classical violin teacher, Uli Fischer who echoed the power of what happens when musicians allow the spirit to move through them...he told her about a time when he sat behind piano legend Art Tatum and felt like it was a spiritual experience because how could anybody that was blind play with that kind of accuracy, precision and depth? The classical and the jazz worlds steadily kept intersecting as Lesa’s professional career blossomed. Luckily with Max Roach’s urging, Lesa did nothing but embrace both sides of her musical heritage.“There was one thing Max Roach always said to us, ‘don’t ever get rid of any part of you. You always are adding to your experience, never taking away. You grew up as a classical musician, Lesa, don’t try to change that, that’s part of who you are...but you can add to that...and let me show you who has done it before you’...so he began to help me see that there was a tradition already established with these great jazz violinists, the Ray Nances, the Stuff Smiths, and the Ginger Smocks.” Lesa was thrilled to learn these things and now insists as an educator on passing these lessons down to her students, “How fantastic...there are alternatives musically that we can choose as string players. It fuels my whole thing of trying to expose kids to something different, to reach inside themselves and pull music from their own culture and get to know what that is in its totality...And I don’t have to choose either side. I don’t have to be strictly jazz musician, or strictly classical musician or strictly any kind of thing...it all comes together in a very harmonious way and I think because of that I have a unique voice.” And now, prepare yourselves to be healed...Lesa and her ensemble may have you falling to your knees singing “have mercy.” I’m just saying...
Keep current with Lesa Terry’s profoundly unique projects by visiting her website: lesaterry.com
Please also treat yourself to the book, “Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life” by bell hooks and Cornel West. South End Press 1991.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trading Ecumenical Eights

This stunning photo is of jazz violinist and local Los Angeles tv personality Ginger Smock (1920-1995), who with bassist Vivien Garry once recorded a tune called "A Woman's Place is in the Groove"!!! Hey now! I had never heard of Ginger Smock til Lesa Terry, our March Jazz on the Sacred Side artist hipped me to her....so now, I interrupt this blog to plug the concert: Come Sunday, March 8 @ 3pm for
Info/tickets at jazzbakery.org. Don't miss this Jazz on the Sacred Side!

An expansive teaching moment was launched when I sent an email blast about the upcoming "Come Sunday, Jazz on the Sacred Side" concert along with a photo of Duke Ellington's only violinist and sweetest "Come Sunday" soloist, Ray Nance. I had made a habit of sending out email notices with vintage jazzy, sacred feeling images that capture some nod to the power of the upcoming artist. For Dwight Trible, I chose Mahalia Jackson. For Nailah, I found this sanctified photo of a young Maya Angelou stomping her Africa loving, Southern soil reaching feet. I chose Ray Nance's image as a nod to Lesa's elegance and soulful string swing. Look like it confused some folk that I would choose a male image for Ms. Terry who has been so joyfully steeped in the celebration of women players in Jazz. This created an opportunity for me to listen and learn about new voices in jazz and women's history, and now honestly I can't stand the fact I wasn't hip to Ginger sooner! A perfect example of folks coming together across different backgrounds, impulses and historical information and having a chance to "trade eights" and grow. This is exactly why it is my great hope and intention for this Jazz on the Sacred Side series to grow and stretch its imagination regarding what is "sacred."
"A Buddhist, a Baha'i, a Muslim, and a Scientologist walk into a bar to hear Ray Brown--"...I wanna hear that punchline! I was recently writing a divinity school application where in describing my vision for the "Duke Ellington Center for the Study of Sacred Jazz" I remarked that Jazz is the place where we have always traded ecumenical, interfaith eights, instead of intolerance and hate. If you are reading this now and have ideas about Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and and and musicians who, like Duke, explore their "knee conversations" in their playing, please send them my way! The more we can gather and deeply listen, dialogue, call and respond, trade eights with these voices of faith that may be different than our own, the more we grow, the more we thrive, the more we have a chance as my Rev Ed Bacon would say of experiencing the human race as the human family...I challenge any jazz lover of any faith not to have wanted to hear the gig between the musicians in the photo above (Chick Corea, Art Blakey aka Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock)...that's interfaith sacred jazz ya'll. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bumpy Road to Love, Still....

"We love because it's the only true adventure" Nikki Giovanni

"A hunch...a hope...the joy in your heart" Antonio Carlos Jobim

Celebrating all loving/creative collaborations, brave leaps and lyrics, wise and foolish hearts.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Spread Joy to the Maximum

I really feel like there's life before you hear John Boutte live and life after...I've written before here about the amazing Terence Blanchard set at Jazz fest in New Orleans last year, complete with on cue thunderstorms during his sacred requiem for Katrina...but if you want to talk about the hallelujah side of the festival...the John Boutte set on that same stage was glory glory!!!! Please get hip to John Boutte, visit his site (http://www.johnboutte.com/), please visit his city, New Orleans! And all you Los Angeles folk reading this, you can come to "The Joint" this Friday night and visit John in person!!!! Hope to see you there...we have so much to celebrate!

8771 W. PICO BLVD @ ROBERTSON (310) 275-2619

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh Happy Day!

Jazz on the Sacred Side swung in the New Year today in the most joyful and meaningful way...Mr. Eric Reed took us to school and took us to our feet...it's really something when the tech guys hours after the lights have come up are still humming "Oh Happy Day!" I watched Eric living the ministry he's so clear he's here to offer. I felt so much joy too, feeling so connected to my "assignment" to walk and claim and celebrate the gathering force and grace of this music...this music that pours so much love in my heart ...I'm sticking with it as MLK would say..."I have decided to stick to love...and I'm gonna talk about it everywhere I go." Thank you Eric. Thank you to everyone who grooved and clapped and shouted and stood up to sing "Oh Happy Day" with Eric's guest and friend Rev. Calvin Bernard Rhone...I know I'm still singing and smiling...

Here are the program notes...
Eric Reed walks and talks, lives, breathes and most importantly swings sacred jazz. Now at first he takes me to task on what he calls the nondescript nature of both words...I can take it, I’m ready to grapple. But by the end of our conversation the afternoon of New Year’s eve at my favorite neighborhood joint “Simply Wholesome,” Eric is practically claiming poster child status for sacred jazz, “when I was 5 years old I didn’t realize that all my life I’d be combining the two the whole way through.” Thank God there were no formal anti-miscegenation laws forbidding the marriage of gospel music and jazz, otherwise my bi-musical brother might not have been born nor nurtured so thoroughly from both worlds...and from that possess the ability to so sweetly bless us this afternoon, bless audiences world wide with his particular take on sacred jazz. Almost as soon as he learned to play the piano, he was accompanying his baptist minister/Bay State Gospel Singing father in church. Not long after that, his school teacher aunt and uncle on his mother’s side where hipping him to jazz, taking him to flea market’s in Philadelphia where you could buy an inch high stack of LP’s for 25 cents. He remembers a first stack that included Dave Brubeck’s “Time Further Out,” Ramsey Lewis’ “The Sounds of Christmas,” and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers “Live at the Cafe Bohemia,” at that time featuring Horace Silver on piano... “from the first time I heard Horace Silver, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

His family moved from Philadelphia to the Huntington Park neighborhood of Los Angeles when he was 11...this move broadened both his musical and spiritual horizons. On one hand he and his family were moving from small storefront Baptist churches to larger non-denominational churches now called the Word of Faith movement where Eric wound up heavily involved in music ministries here. He would also receive tremendous instruction and encouragement from the faculty of the Colburn school (at that time called the Community School of Performing Arts) as well as the music educators at Westchester High School. At the time Eric was “in it” and didn’t have a sense about the overwhelming response to his extraordinary talent, “I just knew I was able to get out of class a lot...that was great!” But he was taken out of class to do things like teach...at the age of 13 he was giving performance lectures for the Board of Education. And my goodness can Eric teach! He gives me the lightning speed history of gospel music from “Amazing Grace” (hymn) to “Precious Lord, Take my Hand” (gospel blues) to “Oh Happy Day” (the beginning of contemporary pop gospel), including a most thorough biographical sketch of Thomas Dorsey, before I can finish half a jerk chicken patty.
“Am I going too fast? I have a tendency to rush.” I catch my breath, point to the tape recorder, say “we’re good” and we’re right back in. He tells me around the time of the Board of Education lecture, Eric met the late great radio host Chuck Niles, who as you can imagine, put the word out wide “on this kid!” Next thing he knew, Eric was performing with Teddy Edwards and Ray Brown, swinging in jam sessions at the Musician’s Union, and eventually landing a gig as the pianist for the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. “The Claytons and Jeff Hamilton, they were so tolerant and patient with me because I wanted to play all the time, but in a big band there’s not really a whole lot of room for piano, it’s all about the horns.”

Eric was eager to get to New York City, he always saw himself there and hoped to land a piano chair with either Art Blakey or Betty Carter, but instead he was invited to join Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and begin his long relationship with Jazz at Lincoln Center. Once again Eric struggled with finding enough room with 7 guys to open up/stretch out musically like he wanted to in Wynton’s band. There were several firings and re-hirings with Wynton, never “acrimonious” (okay I don’t tell him to his face, but Eric sends me to the dictionary several times during my transcription process...teach!) and throughout, Eric learned so much from Wynton’s tremendous discipline. He unabashedly praises Wynton for his persistency and consistency, “he always produced on a high level and always held us to the highest standard.” And when Marsalis decided to venture into his own sacred jazz writing, he called once again upon Eric to teach him more about the various sounds of church music, how for example to apply the sound of a gospel choir to his horn section. The resulting “In this House, On this Morning” is for me one of the most tremendous achievements in Mr. Marsalis’s recording history...not to mention one of the most haunting recordings of Eric’s playing out there. Though Eric went on to launch a dynamic performance and recording career as a leader of his own trio, he would return to Jazz at Lincoln Center often for such significant collaborations including a 1999 performance of the music of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts with none other than gospel music legend Shirley Caesar. And most recently, just a few weeks ago, he conducted Jazz at Lincoln center live with the Alvin American Dance Theater for their 50 year anniversary, where once again he learned valuable leadership lessons from Wynton that empowered him to navigate the at times treacherous landscape of conducting live music for dancers used to performing to recorded music.

While the lessons from Wynton have been significant in Eric’s career, he touchingly gives highest props to his father, “My father was definitely my greatest teacher all around, spiritually, mentally, musically.” He poignantly mentions how much he’s missed the opportunity the past 6 years since his death to talk through his many musical and personal achievements...and failures. Eric says, “You learn nothing from success...it feels good, but...you learn everything from failure, if you’re smart and you’re being honest. I learn from it...otherwise I don’t grow.” He’s excited about the future, the unknown, “I’m motivated by whatever it is God has in store for me, however it comes.” We’re talking so deep it takes a moment to realize the tables have been stacked and house music turned off inside of Simply Wholesome. It’s suddenly quiet as Eric closes out talking about how we never fully know what seeds are being planted. The owners of the restaurant offer us champagne, it is New Year’s eve afterall, a time for celebration, a time to joyfully prepare for new things. We pass on the bubbly but Eric still warmly toasts the beginning of this Jazz on the Sacred Side series, claiming “This is the beginning...of an oak tree.” Then he says again how thankful he is for the awesome way that God has moved through his life, and tells me about the other morning when he woke up to write a new song and all he could say was “Thank you, thank you Lord....I’m just a vessel...However it is I’m supposed to be used, I’m going to embrace that...as honest and forthright as I can, without being abrasive... it’s always got to be about love.”

For more on Mr. Reed please visit www.MySpace.com/EricReedJazz