Friday, May 20, 2011


Hello! There is still some traffic here which is lovely, hope you'll all see the new blog at JAZZHALLELUJAH.WORDPRES.COM thank you! josslyn

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 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 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, 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’s not about being’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