Sunday, June 14, 2009
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....