December 18, 2009

BEST of SOJP 2009 LISTENER'S POLL Winners

2009 is rapidly drawing to a close. What better way to celebrate a dynamite year of the Best of the Best in Jazz And Poetic Artistry on the planet. then to present this special program. These artists and programs were chosen by YOU, in the

"BEST OF SOJP 2009"
LISTENER'S POLL.


We at Spotlight On Jazz And Poetry would like to thank each and every one of you for voting in this year's poll.

ENJOY YOUR SHOW!

SPOTLIGHT ON JAZZ AND POETRY

Jazz As Poetic Inspiration

December 04, 2009

Midnight Love "Len Bryant"

Drummer / Vocalist Len Bryant comes from a musical family. Most everyone is familiar with his brother Ray, the pianist, and possibly bassist Tom who passed some years ago. His sister, Vera Eubanks has some pretty famous kids... like Kevin, Robin, Duane and soon, Shane.

While Len's musical career began as a fifties doo-wop singer, the military life gave him enough leisure time to begin a more serious study. He started on piano by copying off his brother Ray's albums, and actually started getting a sound.
However, the lure of the drums got him to take some lessons from a military drummer, and after his discharge, he studied at the Granoff School of Music back in Philadelphia. John Coltrane had also studied at this institution. While he continued to play some piano, the drums soon became his instrument of choice, and he began to get calls for gigs. When he realized he was suddenly embroiled in Philly's vibrant Jazz scene, his drive to perfect his craft drove him to the basement of fellow Philadelphia Mickey Roker. Under master percussionist Mickey's tutelage, his drumming skills quickly advanced.

On one gig, a vocalist failed to show, and the leader asked if anyone could sing. Len volunteered that he "been told he had a pretty good voice". From that point on, he has become one of the more unique voices on the Jazz scene anywhere. With a range that can go from Johnny Hartman to Nat King Cole within a single phrase, he can handle repertoire from old Jazz standards to more current pop tunes with equal aplomb. Combine that with his ability to sing all over the beat while providing a rock solid drum part, and you've got a pretty versatile entertainer for your money. Don't miss this unique talent.

To Visit Len Bryant's website CLICK HERE

November 23, 2009

"THANKFUL"

Tyrsa Pratcher

Tyrsa Fawn Pratcher, a true Stamford native, was born in the Stamford hospital in 1965, and received her education throughout the Stamford public school system. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of Connecticut, where she received the “Stamford Campus Scholar in English,” and the “Award for Excellence” in English. She has served her country through an enlistment in the United States Marine Corps, where she received the Navy Achievement medal, and an honorable discharge. During “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991, she was recalled to active duty and later discharged at the rank of Sergeant.

Tyrsa is the author of “Keeping the Store,” an increasingly popular book of poetry, that is inspiring, truthful, funny, and real. As one reader put it, “it has teeth!” She published this first book through her own company Fawn Publishing. Tyrsa expects to release her much anticipated, second book of poetry, entitled “Broken in Pieces” in 2007, and is at work on her third book. Another one of her goals is to help other aspiring authors pursue their dream of publishing. Her book is available through BORDERS bookstores, UCONN Co-op downtown Stamford, and on her website www.fawnpublishing.com.

When I asked Tyrsa to name her favorite jazz musician she said, "Kersten Stevens God-given gift as a violinist serves as an awesome inspiration to me as a poet. This is a divine connection, which I am delighted to be paired with. When she plays, my poetry is taken to new levels. To put it poetically: the poetry is given wings of an eagle – which allows it to soar into the heart of the listener."

What is the relationship between jazz and poetry, and what is the importance of each to our culture? I asked.

"Jazz and poetry are related in the sense that they are very deep expressions of the heart, birth out of the pain and joys of the human experience. Jazz reaches the soul of man through the ear, while poetry is absorbed through the eye as well as the ear. Both jazz and poetry cause us to look beyond the surface,
which is essential in raising societal awareness in our culture."



Kersten Stevens

Kersten Stevens, the musically gifted, beautiful, virtuosic & poised professional violinist, is truly a gift. Being blessed with a talent for jazz, gospel and classical performance, she has excelled from a local star hailing from Stratford, Connecticut to a national buzzworthy artist! A recent graduate of the Yale University Class of 2006 with a B.A. in Music and African American Studies, KERSTEN’s musical journey began with classical violin instruction at the age of three. She began studying and performing jazz, gospel and contemporary styles at age fourteen! Kersten has since been the opening act for the late Ray Charles, made a 2004 appearance for the National Boys and Girls Clubs at the request by Denzel Washington, appeared in 2005 as a featured soloist with Dionne Warwick and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, performed with world-renowned jazz violinist Regina Carter, has studied with violinist John Blake, Jr., and has twice taken Showtime at the Apollo by storm, winning competitions in 2003 and 1999!

KERSTEN’s stirring violin improvisational skills have received a number of awards and recognitions. In 2007 she was awared Gospel Instrumentalist of the Year by Connecticut's Holla Back Video Awards. She was crowned the Hal Jackson's Talented Teen Miss Connecticut 2000 and International 1st runner up and in 2002 was the Gold Medal winner of the NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics in the Music/Instrumental Contemporary category. Also in 2002, she received awards from the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Youth Orchestra for musical excellence and from Vivian Ayers-Allen and Phylicia Ayers-Allen Rischad for her musical accomplishments. Recently, she was awarded for artistic excellence by the Afro- American Cultural Center at Yale University.

Kersten has completed two solo projects. The Beginning, released in 2002, features jazz classics like Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” and funk charts like Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster.” September 2005 celebrated the release of Kersten’s highly anticipated sophomore gospel album entitled Walks of Faith. A fusion of contemporary jazz and gospel, the project features such legendary musicians such as bassist Lonnie Plaxico and is complete with gospel standards “The Lord’s Prayer,” contemporaries like “Shabach” and spirituals like “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” The album is truly an electrifying musical and spiritual experience!

The dynamic virtuosity of Violinist Kersten Stevens distinguishes her as one of the most uniquely gifted artists to hit the scene today! She continues to perform across the country and now has a wonderful Christmas CD out entitled "The Gift." Kersten looks forward to sharing her music across the world.


Nearly everyone would agree that music is one of the most significant and enduring art forms ever created by mankind, though most people still view it primarily as entertainment. An astute few seem capable of looking beyond music's obvious entertainment value, and among these is bassist Russel Blake. He views music as both a tool for healing the spirit, and as a means of removing the cultural barriers which divide us, by serving as mankind's universal language. Blake strives to convey this message not only through his music, but also through his words and actions. To Russel Blake, being a musician is a gift which carries with it a serious obligation.


During the 50s, Blake's parents moved from Panama to Brooklyn, New York, where he was born on May 27th, 1961. On his twelfth birthday Blake received an electric bass as a gift from his father. He was then compelled by his father to practice for four hours every day, just as his older brother (noted bassist Alex Blake) had been. "It was something that I did not enjoy at first. This was [my father's] vision, not mine. So at first I was resistant. For the first three months that I began studying the instrument, it was not only to teach me how to play the bass fundamentally, but to teach me to be a first-sight reader. My father saw to it that I was prepared, as a professional."

At twelve years old, and with just three months experience playing bass, Russel Blake played his first professional gig. "There was a fifteen piece Latin band that needed a bass player. So they called my father to see if [my brother Alex] was available. My father said 'No' but that he had another son who played bass. My father brought me to the gig and they thought my father was going to play, because he was carrying the amplifier and the bass. When they found out that I was going to play, they were very resistant. They were adamant and indignant about the fact that they were grown men and professionals—they could not share the stage with a child! My father had to argue on my behalf. This was at the eleventh hour, so they had no other choice. They counted it off and I read everything first-sight. At the end of the evening, instead of fourteen enemies, I had fourteen friends. “When preparation meets opportunity, success is achieved." explain this statement


Russel Blake's desire to move beyond the traditional boundaries of music is a mindset gained during his childhood. Blake has long admired musicians such as John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Art Tatum, and Sonny Rollins. "Those individuals transcended the capabilities and expectations of their instruments. So that was my goal, to emulate those individuals who took their artistry and transcended the expectations of it." Interestingly, Russel Blake would later spend five years as exclusive bassist for one of his idols, Sonny Rollins, with whom Blake toured and recorded two albums. "The beauty of working with individuals like that, is that you quite often learn as much from them off stage as you do on stage, because you have the opportunity to interact with them on a spiritual level, on a mental level, [and] on an emotional level. It forms you, makes you more whole as a human being."

The intensive practice and study regimen Blake began as a child continued into adulthood, enabling him to explore and develop new methods for playing his instrument. "I had to start looking at myself more as a musician, and not just an individual who is playing a supportive instrument in a band. I wanted to transcend that. In my studies, when I began playing the melodies of songs I missed hearing the bass. And when I began playing the bass I'd miss hearing the melody. So I decided to start experimenting." Blake created and now teaches the novel method of playing the four string electric bass which resulted from that experimentation. His Melodious-Chordal Technique emphasizes a unique blend of harmony, rhythm, and melody, all played simultaneously.

"The first thing I had to overcome was the mental block that says that a four string electric bass isn't capable of performing works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Coltrane, or ragtime music from Scott Joplin—because of expectations. When people speak of soloists, they don't think of the four string electric bass. They conventionally think of a violinist, a pianist, or a guitarist." Blake has added more than 400 songs to his repertoire as a four string bass soloist. His remarkable talent is showcased in a four-CD series entitled Ten Fingers & Four Strings Solo Series (Man of Psalms Records, 2008).

Blake has served as a U.S. State Department Goodwill Ambassador in Africa and has performed live before audiences in more than 60 countries. His extensive touring and interaction with audiences world-wide has convinced him that music can breach the barriers often presented by language, race, religion, and cultural tradition. "The beauty about being a musician is that music is the universal language. Whether it was Vietnam or the high mountains of Europe, they didn't speak a word of English and I didn't speak a word of their indigenous language. Music was the language that brought us together. It was the force that brought down the wall of ignorance, the wall of non-communication, the wall of distance. Once you put a smile on their face or a tear on their cheek, once you've touched their heart, you are communicating. After the concert, folks come up and struggle to speak English, and you struggle to speak their language. But even if only two or three words are exchanged, it's understood. The most important thing is that you were able to shake hands, you were able to embrace, and you were able to start to form a friendship that will continue."

Equally important to Russel Blake is the contention that music can provide healing to those with spirits in need of consolation. "If people are coming to a concert, then they're coming not only to be entertained, they are coming to be healed, coming to laugh, cry, to feel hope again. [Music] takes their mind off of their problems. We never know what an individual is going through in an audience that comes to hear us perform. There have been people who have come to a concert having suicidal thoughts. And as a result of that concert, they left feeling entirely different. The importance of music cannot be overestimated."

During a series of concerts at Ironwood State Prison, in Blythe, California, Blake performed for an audience of 5000 hardened criminals that included murderers, rapists, and members of opposing race-based prison gangs. "These men are sentenced to 400 years, 500 years, life." As he took the stage for the first of those concerts, the powerfully-built Blake presented an imposing figure, and yet he suffered the jeers, catcalls, and derision one would expect from such an audience. "I just stood there and looked at them as I would a group of students who are being unruly. When they realized that I wasn't being intimidated by them, they sat down and I began to perform." Because Blake's repertoire includes music from numerous genres, his performance appealed to nearly everyone present. "After the first concert, word spread [and] the inmates couldn't wait to come and hear. The interesting thing I found, was that they were all brought to the same space by virtue of the power of music, and as a result of music creating that ambiance by which we could sit together in peace. It was a very dynamic experience.

"At the end of the concert, [prisoners] came to me and thanked me for coming to perform. Some of these men were crying because they said nobody would come there to perform for them. People that are [invited] to perform are generally intimidated. They don't want to go there. I welcomed the invitation, because what more challenging audience can one have than a group of inmates—people who are incarcerated and have nothing to lose? So there is a viable audience for a musician who is willing to be challenged in their artistry by performing before inmates. Our gift is not ours to keep for a selected group of audiences. Our gift is given freely by the Creator, that we must share with all who would listen, in order for their healing to take place.

"Most recently I did a solo performance for Atlanta Children's Hospital, and I performed for terminally ill children. These children were, as you might imagine, very sad. They were hooked up to IVs and machines, and this was their life 24 hours a day. [It] was a grave responsibility to not only overlook their condition and their circumstances, but to find the strength within myself to bring some sunshine to them. These were children, so they were not aware of pieces by Duke Ellington, or pieces by Jobim, Beethoven, etc. But by performing these pieces, it widened their eyes, it brightened their smiles. They were so happy, and that was very clear [evidence] of how music can bring healing into someone's life. I know, for that moment in time, I was able to touch their lives; I hope as effectively as they touched mine.

"The importance of music cannot be overestimated. The importance of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to make that music more substantive, can not be overestimated. We should allow ourselves to become interested in geology, and interested in philosophy, to become interested in so many other avenues of knowledge that are available to us. By doing so, it changes our perceptions. And once your perception is changed, you then apply that not only to yourself as a human being, but you apply it to your craft. And you begin to understand your place in the scheme of things, and how important it is to be a musician."

NEW BOOK ~~> Russel also will have book of Inspirational Writings/Poetry coming out in September titled "Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman."

To visit Russel Blake's website CLICK HERE


Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Robert Sells aka "AnointedPoet" is a graduate of West Side High School. He received his Bachelors Degree in Accounting from Indiana University-Northwest. He has been writing since age 11. He enjoys writing poetry, reading, singing with his churchs’ praise team and spending time with his wife, Marlas and daughter, from a previous marriage. He is a member of Embassies of Christ Kingdom Ministries in Gary, Indiana. He and his wife reside in Merrillville, Indiana. WORDS OF INSPIRATION: A Collection of Poems for the One You Love is his first book.

Robert is a Christian author with a strong psalmist anointing on his life. His second book, “Words of Inspiration: Speak Healing” was released on April 28, 2008. Robert's first book, “Words of Inspiration: A Collection of Poems for the One You Love” was selected as the WeAreFearless Online Book Club's "Pick of the Month for July 2007. Consistently receiving favorable reviews, his work has been featured in several magazines, including the January – March issues of Christian Voice Magazine, a cover story on the January 2008 issue of Global Influence Magazine, as well as a host of others. His Christian love poem "Empty" is currently featured on the newly-released CD, "Poetry Over Music Volume II: Different Shades of Love". He has also been featured on “Poetry Over Music Volume III: Rhythm & Poetry” with his poem “Here and Now”. Sought after by many groups to create personal poems, he makes a regular appearance on a gospel showcase broadcast live on WYCA 102.3FM. Robert has been interviewed on many radio programs.

Robert currently serves as the Poetry Editor for Divine Inspirations Magazine, where he is also a contributing writer. He has just released a maxi-single which has 3 tracks from the highly-anticipated debut CD release, “The Heart of a Man”. He has ministered the Word of God at several Women's conferences and was a featured author on a panel discussion for Go' on Girl Book Club's 2007 National Conference in Cleveland, OH and the WAGFEST National Author’s Conference in Seattle, WA and Cincinnati, OH. He has recently been featured on an episode of “The John Lanier Show”, a syndicated Christian talk show. Following the assignment the Lord placed on his life, he is currently hard at work on the third book in the "Words of Inspiration" series entitled “Words of Inspiration: Through the Word of God”, as well as a short story novel he is co-writing with his beautiful wife, a spoken word CD entitled “The Heart of a Man” set to be released by December 2008, and a novel to be released in 2009.

To visit Robert Sells website CLICK HERE

November 08, 2009

"A Tribute to Wayman Tisdale"


Born: June 6, 1964 | Died: May 15, 2009

If there’s one thing NBA star-turned-musical giant Wayman Tisdale learned from his former career, it’s that there’s no substitute for hard work. Emerging as one of the most consistent and admired players during his 12 years in the league--segueing from the gold-winning Olympic team to stints with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns--his towering frame, exceptional strength and relentless work ethic made him one of the game’s most dominating power forwards. Tisdale still lives and breathes this work ethic as a musician. True to character, he is a trailblazer in the field of music with his unique use of the bass as a melodic lead instrument.

It’s this single-minded drive that propels the bassist forward while crafting what he considers his most ambitious and mature CD to date, Way Up, and he hopes to take listeners way up with him. Tisdale is at the top of his musical game on Way Up, which will be released in July 2006 from Rendezvous Entertainment, the label co-founded by saxophone star Dave Koz.

On Way Up, Tisdale continues to display the musical skills that landed his first five albums in the Billboard Top Ten. His latest features 11 songs in which Tisdale showcases how he has developed as an artist during the past dozen years. “I feel like I’ve grown up with this album,” he explains. “The way I matured as a basketball player is the same way I’m evolving as a musician, taking more control of this album and gaining the confidence to do this on my own.” The title for the album arose while Tisdale was discussing possibilities at dinner with Dave Koz, who remarked, “This album is going to be way up,” and right then they knew they had the title.

Way Up boasts collaborations with Koz, Eric Benet, George Duke, Bob James, Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler and Jeff Lorber, all a dream come true for Tisdale. “Working with Dave again on ‘My Son’ was a great experience,” says Tisdale. “Being such great friends, it was a high point for me to collaborate with him on this song.” Tisdale is especially excited about his version of “Get Down On It,” which was produced by Darren Rahn, who also produced Tisdale’s last #1 hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” “Sometimes remaking such classics can be a challenge,” he explains, “because people are so familiar with the original. But on ‘Get Down on It’ we came up with a fresh approach and it has people bugging out of their heads.”

Label-mates Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum are featured on the soulful “Sunday’s Best.” “You can feel the love on this one! Our spirits are inter-twined as we play together.” The three are touring this year as part of the Rendezvous All Stars. “Tell It Like It TIS” is a track written by and featuring funk legend George Duke. The R&B ballad “Sweet Dreams” features a soaring vocal from the Grammy-nominated Eric Benet. Grammy-winning jazz pianist and composer (“Theme from Taxi”) Bob James joins Tisdale on the playful “Conversation Piece,” a song co-written by Tisdale and Rahn.

Wayman Tisdale was born in Fort Worth, Texas and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The son of a minister, he still embraces his Bible Belt roots which have shaped his strongly faith-based life. Tisdale first fell in love with his chosen instrument while watching the bass players in his hometown church, led by his father, the late Rev. Louis Tisdale. He recalls, “I thought they were the coolest cats. They got to stand and do their thing in the back. I’d watch their fingering and how they played.” One day, his father bought young Wayman and his two brothers a Mickey Mouse guitar each. Although his brothers quickly turned them into paddles and baseball bats, Wayman immediately began teaching himself how to play. “It’s the greatest gift my dad ever gave me,” he says.

A gifted athlete, Tisdale spent much of his youth on the basketball court when not making music. He played for the University of Oklahoma Sooners from 1983 to 1985 and became the first player to have his jersey, number 23, retired. All three years at Oklahoma, Tisdale was a member of the John Wooden Award All-American Team, and in 1984 he played on the U.S. Olympic team which brought home the gold. In 1986 the Indiana Pacers selected Tisdale as the No. 2 pick in the draft, behind Patrick Ewing. For the next 12 years, Tisdale left his mark on the NBA with the Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, scoring more than 12,800 points and pulling down more than 5,000 rebounds in a 12-year career.

Before he retired after the 1997 season, Tisdale had already made the transition toward a career in music. In 1995 he released his debut CD, appropriately titled Power Forward, which went to No. 4 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts and, like all of his music, crossed over into the R&B charts. His subsequent albums In the Zone, Decisions and Face to Face all landed in Billboard’s Top 10, with 2001’s Face to Face going all the way to No. 1. Hang Time, his debut release on Rendezvous Entertainment, set a record for Tisdale staying in the Top Five longer than any of his previous releases. Tisdale has had two #1 radio hits with “Can’t Hide Love” and Hang Time’s “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now.”

In addition to his solo career, Tisdale has played on CDs by some of the most popular musicians in contemporary jazz, including David Sanborn, Brian Culbertson, Everette Harp and the jazz supergroup Maximum Grooves. His playing garnered the attention of Jamie Foxx who in a recent issue of Rolling Stone chose Wayman to play bass in his “dream band.” “Wayman can play, brother, and that’s it,” said Foxx. Tisdale also finds time to develop future musical stars through his company, Tisway Productions. In 2002 he was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame with the Legacy Tribute Award. The NAACP also nominated him as “Outstanding Jazz Artist” for its 2004 Image Awards.

Tisdale currently moves between his homes in Tulsa and Los Angeles with his wife Regina, with whom he has four children. His Tulsa home includes a pond stocked with fish so he can indulge in his passion, fishing, while helping in the garden and horseback riding with his son. Outside of the home, Tisdale regularly takes tae bo with Billy Blanks, calling it his new addiction and the best workout since playing in the NBA.

Yet fishing, tae bo and other hobbies aside, Tisdale says that his first passion is entertainment. “I was born to entertain,” he says. “I just love people and I feel like entertainment goes right in line with my personality. Whether it’s on the stage or playing basketball, it’s just what I’ve been called to do on this earth.”


To visit the Late Wayman Tisdale's website CLICK HERE

October 29, 2009

Tadd Dameron a True Jazz Giant by Yazmeen Ayodele-Haki


Upon listening to one of Tadd Dameron’s signature compositions, On a Misty Night, from the album Mating Call, with John Coltrane on tenor sax, John Simmons on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, one is immediately struck by the fluid beauty and seemingly uncomplicated elegance of the piece. In this composition, Tadd fills his musical canvas with light pastel sounds and then energizes the offering with larger splatters of full colorful resonance from Coltrane’s sax coupled with Tadd’s melodic bass riff on the piano. Indeed, both Coltrane and Tadd shine on their respective instruments while Simmons and Jones provide the perfect timing and accompaniment. And what seems to be an uncomplicated composition and arrangement of a beautiful jazz number, is really quite literally a complex blend of melodic rhythms and chord changes. Although Coltrane is sometimes given leadership credit for On a Misty Night, make no mistake this is all Tadd and he is directing the action.

The essential question that some have no doubt posed by this time is, “who is/was Tadd Dameron and what were his contributions to the body of jazz innovation and creative genius of the genre?” Simply put, Dameron was a pianist, composer and arranger extraordinaire; who became a definitive figure in the evolution of modern jazz’s bebop era. In fact, Tadd influenced and inspired so many artists of that time and beyond, that his name is right up there with other one name jazz icons ala Bird, Miles, Trane, Ella, Billie and etc. Moreover, anybody who was anybody in the jazz world of the 1950s wanted something they had done with Tadd in their discography.

Tadd Dameron was somewhat of an unpretentious master at his craft, preferring to let the artists he worked with take the lime light. Yet, everyone knew Tadd’s sound and loved what they called the Dameron effect. As a young and aspiring jazz saxophonist in the 1950s, Benny Gholson said that “Tadd was completely illuminating… and [taught other musicians] to arrive at a fullness of sound…” with few instruments. Tadd’s sound can also be described has hauntingly beautiful and full of dissonant chords and complex rhythmic patterns. When one hears more of his signature pieces such as Fontainebleau, Lady Bird, or If You Could See Me Now (a jazz classic for Sarah Vaughn) you feel the sheer magnetism of Tadd’s style. You understand that he did something completely different with bop – he orchestrated it and made it work for large and small combos.

When Tadd made his transition from this earthly plane at the relatively young age of 48 in 1965, the jazz world lost a “true giant of jazz” who had composed nearly 200 compositions, many of which became jazz standards. But the question still remains; who was Tadley Ewing Dameron really? Indeed, what factors and influences helped shape his musical development into a creative innovator who helped define an era? And why, after so many years after his passing do the keepers of his legacy make reference to the spirit of “Dameronia” when they play his compositions?

Tadley Ewing (Peake) Dameron was born in Cleveland, Ohio on February 21, 1917. His parents as well as his extended family were musicians who encouraged their young offspring to explore and develop their expertise and style in music. Young Tadd began to extend his style in creativity as a chef in training at his family’s restaurant “Dameron’s Hut” on Cleveland’s East Side in the 1930s.

Surprisingly, Tadd’s older brother Caesar seemed destined for musical stardom because he was an accomplished sax player who had experienced and contributed to Cleveland’s emerging jazz scene. Caesar; however, chose instead to become a leader in Cleveland’s Black business community. He in fact, established a club dedicated to promoting the art of jazz called “The Twelve Counts” in Cleveland’s very prosperous but segregated Fairfax neighborhood.

Tadd attended Cleveland’s Central High School where Black creativity seemed to flourish and thrive. In fact, Harlem Renaissance poet laureate Langston Hughes and other ragtime and jazz innovators such as Noble Sissle, Freddie Webster, and bluesman Clarence “Bull Moose” Jackson attended high school. Another Cleveland standout jazz musician, Benny Bailey, attended high school at East Tech in the same Central Avenue neighborhood. Sources who have spoken about Tadd’s expertise in music say he was way ahead of his peers when it came to music theory, arranging and composition. Apparently; however, he didn’t feel challenged enough at the time to succeed as a scholar.

Tadd’s first exploration into playing for the public came in 1935 when Tadd was only 17 years old. He quite impressed a local sax player and Central High alum, Andy Anderson, who said, “We knew Caesar had a brother that played piano.” “He came in one night, sat in, and played Stardust.” “He was really using all his fingers, playing 6th and 7ths.” “We knew he had been studying.” “You don’t expect to hear that from kids like that.” Many who remember the zenith of Cleveland’s jazz scene recall Tadd’s playing regularly at the well known, Cedar Gardens jazz club and in the Majestic Hotel’s Rose Room, in the Black Fairfax neighborhood.

By 1938, a still very young Tadd had begun playing with Blanche Calloway’s band and had, by that time, composed a standard; I let a Song go out of my Heart. Tadd had become a well respected jazz artist by 1939 and was regularly sought after as a session musician in and around Cleveland; having played with jazz drummer, Scatman Crothers and trumpeter, Gerald Wilson, at that time.

Although young Tadd had been deeply influenced by his brother and other respected jazz innovators, and had cut his musical chops in Cleveland’s evolving jazz scene, he nonetheless decided to follow his own creative direction in music. Perhaps believing he had woodsheded all he could within that particular environment; by the early 1940s Tadd took a not so straight route to New York City, the major epicenter in the evolution of jazz.

Indeed, by the early 1940s New York’s musical landscape was quickly transforming itself from a tradition of big band swing, into a new style of jazz called bebop and Tadd and his contemporaries were being drawn into that creative impulse. Bebop entailed artists creating new energetic chord changes, rhythms and melodies over popular tunes and standards of the day. Thus, in order to appreciate and comprehend the bebop style, there has to exist within the listener, a multidimensional, sometimes innate understanding of the nuanced processes taking place within a particular piece of music.

Bebop was more than a jazz style; indeed, it was a hip cultural expression that had its own way of talking, walking, dressing and representing its own flavor. Even the jazz clubs that promoted the music—Minton’s, Monroe’s Uptown House and The Royal Roost, were all a part of the evolution of bebop. But most of all the artists had their own way of mastering their craft, revving up the tempo and giving it to the world of jazz as a completely new conversation. Make no mistake, the music was still swinging, it just swung with a different personality.

Within this stimulating environment, Tadd found himself starting to occupy the center of that musical universe. Bebop was like cooking up a red, hot and spicy pot of steaming gumbo and then realizing you still needed a special seasoning to make your creation pop. Tadd provided that special seasoning in his expert arranging composing and piano playing. Suddenly, everyone from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and Billy Eckstine, to John Coltrane, Miles Davis and many others, wanted some Tadd in their mix. Moreover, according to Dameron biographer, Ian MacDonald, Davis was a great admirer of Tadd because he had been mentored by Tadd as a young up-and-coming trumpeter.

In a 1948 interview that Tadd gave to Record Changer magazine, Tadd discussed the flavoring that his approach to modern jazz provided. He said, “We can improvise on both structure and melody and we aren’t hampered by a strict dependence on the beat the way old jazz is…It’s as if you have two roads, both going in the same direction, but one of them was straight and with no scenery around it and the other twisted and turned and had a lot of beautiful trees on all sides.” Tadd believed that this gave more richness and body to the sound the artists were trying to achieve. Undeniably, the artists of that era were reaching for this new approach as a way to stamp their signature on an ever evolving art form. That’s what made Tadd so special—his ability to make artists reach those heights. And this is what makes Tadd’s legacy so enduring. He is yet a giant of jazz and an icon, even into the 21st century.







Contributing writer’s information:

Ms. Ayodele-Haki (Sherlynn Allen-Harris) teaches history in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as well as Cuyahoga Community College. She uses jazz studies as a teaching tool. She asserts that jazz has the capability to enhance any history curriculum and produces a more critical thought process with the minds of students.
Based on a rare biography of Tadd Dameron, Tadd: The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron by Ian MacDonald.
Photo Credit: Dear Computer Google Image Ripper, http://dearcomputer.nl/gir/?q=tadd+dameron&s=4&imgtype=any

October 24, 2009

ISLAND BREEZES

Jennifer Rosemary Pollard, was born in Barbados on November 20th, 1971 to parents who loved the arts.

Jenn comes from a family rich in the appreciation of the arts. “Her dad is a fan of great literature and music. He loves singing and taught himself to play the flute. Her mother, a teacher, used to sing at churches, and was the assistant choir director at the school where she taught. While attending primary school, where her aunt Hazel who’s also a writer taught, she started a school magazine in which the essays, plays, short stories and poetry of students were featured. Her family emphasized enriched verbal expression as a very important thing.”
Jennifer wrote sporadically throughout her childhood to adolescence but the deeper growth of her writing really took place during her adulthood, particularly after a particularly enriching five-week vacation in New York (2000), spent immersed in music and art.

“My poetic inspiration is from so many things, she says, but essentially it comes from deep feelings and these feelings may be evoked through the experience of love, art, music, nature and basically experiencing the various things that make up the fabric of life. Also, a lot of my writing comes out of the need to heal myself.” she says.

Jennifer hopes to publish a book of poetry some time in the near future and maybe even a spoken word CD. In addition to flowing in poetry, she writes reflective prose. She has won awards for her poetry at the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA), Barbados. Of special note are her silver awards in 2006 for "Tenderly a Dream" and "There is a Sister Who Does Not Feel." Having been a first time entrant in 2005, she won a bronze award the incentive prize for that year with a piece called, "While She Slept", which was a spontaneous response to a nude painting by visual artist, Omowale Stewart. In 2007, a bronze was also achieved for a piece called, A Dying Place.
Jennifer is warm, broadly concerned, widely interested, heartfelt, intense, loving and enjoys a good laugh. Friends have described her as deep, expansive in her thinking, very encompassing and detailed in her concern for those who are dear to her.

Jazz as poetic inspiration?

Last year (2008) she wrote a little poem (or you could call it a song), inspired by Kenny Burrell’s Listen to the Dawn and there’ve been more recent musical experiences that have been very evocative unto causing her to write. There are two that she wrote shortly after that year 2000 trip to New York. One is called Jazzmine and the other Joyspring. "I don’t know if they are my best works but they speak to how I feel about Jazz and my favorite standard Joyspring and in some sense they’re very personal. she says. She particularly love's Joyspring because of the sense of peace, beauty, lightness, joy, transcendence and all things good which it conveys.
“I am sure they’re many more directly Jazz-inspired poems to come. I recall the first time I heard I Remember Clifford, it was on Arturo Sandoval’s tribute to Clifford Brown, whose music I also love (I am a great trumpet fan because of its soaring quality). I cried so much. It still makes me cry because it’s so evocative of the beauty of the man and I believe that there’s a poem within me somewhere that relates to this tune."

“What more can I say? Jazz is a feeling, as many musicians have said.
“It’s about every nuance in the rhythm of life and in some sense poetry is very much like that although there are certain things that only music can express. Jazz is also so very healing and I hope to God that there’s something healing within my poetry as people experience it.”

To visit Jeniifer Pollard's website CLICK HERE


Joe Byrd, was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and has been passionate about guitar from age of 10.
After recognizing his unwavering interest in music, Joe’s father purchased his first electric guitar for his 12th birthday. From that point on, Joe would rarely be seen without a guitar in his hands.

By the age of 15, he began playing with older musicians in a local clubs and realized that he loved performing and writing songs. This passion led him to be involved in every high school music show as a featured musician or in a backup band for the regular talent shows, supported by the school.
Joe sought out any opportunities to perform anywhere he could.

After graduating from high school, he immediately went on tour with a rock and blues band. He decided to make music his life, but also wanted to attend college to get a degree in commercial art. He began to fall in love with jazz and formed a jazz band with a close friend who played piano.

His musical influences include, R&B, Gospel, Rock, Fusion, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban jazz and Classical.

Soon, Joe began to be sought out for various recording projects as a studio musician. He eventually met a jazz clarinet player from Detroit and was given access to his studio for creating and co-writing other projects.

Joe went on to perform with artists such as Gerald Levert, Angela Bowfield, Kenny Latimore, Chante Moore as well as opening for many other nationally known artists.
Joe moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2005 to pursue better opportunities in music and explore avenues to get into TV and film music production.

He has released four Cds and is currently producing music for other vocal artists and well as working on a new Cd to be released in the summer of 2009.

To Visit Joe Byrd's website CLICK HERE

September 28, 2009

THE JAZZETRY & VERSATUDES "ALLSTARS"


Shenole Latimer admits that the reason he wanted to learn the saxophone was because it was shiny and looked complicated to play because of all of the keys that it had. Shenole's interest in jazz, though always present, found a new level of intensity when he met jazz bassist Todd Coolman during his undergraduate studies at Stony Brook Unversity on Long Island. Coolman's professionalism and breadth of knowledge about jazz fascinated Shenole and made him give consideration towards pursuing jazz for a living. This feeling was cemented, however, when a friend loaned Shenole a CD by Chick Corea called "Three Quartets", which featured Michael Brecker on the tenor saxophone. All it took was Michael Brecker's solo on the very first track of the CD to have Shenole make up his mind that jazz was what he wanted to do with his life. Shenole had never, up until that point, heard a saxophone played in such a manner.Shenole's CD "Front and Center" is a must for any serious jazz lover and collection>


Mario Coleman aka The Nxt LeveL hails from Chicago Ill. where he grew up to until age 15. From there he moved to Erie PA. This is where his journey into music began.

Nxt got his first exposure to Jazz, by hanging out with his uncles and listening to cats like Wes Montgomery, and the Jazz Crusaders. But it wasn’t until Grover Washington’s Mr. Magic dropped, that his interest peaked. From there, It was George Benson’s Breezing, by the time Ronnie Laws came out with the Friends and Strangers album, it was pretty much a wrap as far me moving between Jazz, and R&B for inspiration. I remember at one point Reading the back of albums covers like magazines just to see who was playing on them.

Poetry came from the ability to listen deeply to love songs and get lost in the flow and imagery they created. Not to mention how much the ladies love to hear a brother say something sweet to them. As a matter of fact the first poetry piece that was posted was to his X Girlfriend entitled In Silence. My Girl was so moved by the piece she posted it on a poetry website, the response was so overwhelming. From there it all began.




Sandra Turner-Barnes, a South Jersey/Philadelphia area artist,
is a national award winning poet, author & vocalist, known across the East Coast as "The Cadillac Lady" because of her amusing poem-song by that title. In 1995, Sandra won the Ebony Magazine Literary Competition for short fiction; and, she felt truly honored to be named "Diva of Poetry" right along with Nikki Giovanni, Sonya Sanchez and Ntosake Shange in 1997 in the City of Philadelphia. In 2000, Sandra won the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Competition in Chicago, and was published in the Gwendolyn Brooks Anthology, "WarpLand."

As a performance poet & vocalist, Sandra has appeared across the East Coast with artists such as Jazz Divas Gerri Allen, Shirley Scott and Evelyn Sims; R&B singer, Freddie Jackson, and writer and motivation speaker, Iyanla Vanzant, to name a few. In 2001, Sandra's jazz vocal performance with renowned jazz pianist, Barry Sames, was selected for national airing on BET's "Jazz Discoveries." Sandra's first book of poetry, "Always A Lady," published for the third time in 1995, sold over 5,000 copies, and is still in demand; her second book, "That Sweet Philly Jazz" published in 1997, is a tribute to jazz and jazz musicians; and, her soon-to-be released book, "Too Much Woman" is a long awaited collection of poetry, prose and passion. A children's book entitled, "Chicken Bone Beach" is near completion; this tale depicts racism through the eyes of a Black child during the days of segregation in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Sandra chose to entitle her first CD, "September Will Never Be The Same" in tribute to the many lives lost last year on September 11, but also in gratitude to the many lives spared by God's Grace, including that of her son-in-law, Enzo. Sandra dedicates the title poem to all the children of this world, and especially those children who will be born as a result of efforts to bring about healing from this tragedy, specifically, her own (soon to be born 911 blessing) granddaughter, "Mia." "September Will Never Be The Same" features the up and coming jazz quartet, "Mysterious Traveler," four very gifted musicians who provide that jazzy balance that gives Sandra's poems and vocals that added uniqueness that bring joy to the listeners' ears.


"Mysterious Traveler" consists of leader, Theo Primas, who co-produced the CD, on Saxophones & flute; co-producer, Raimundo Santos, on keyboards; Bob Turner on bass; and Kenny Adams on drums. All wonderfully executed selections on this fabulous CD are smooth, easy to listen to, extremely entertaining, and destined to put this CD on your "must have" list.


Classifying herself as an “Artistic Poet”, NeoSouljah was born Unnita [Yah ‘KNEE Tah] Chambers in Cleveland Ohio April of 1962 and began singing almost as soon as she could talk. Having been a vocalist for 39 of her 45 years on Earth, her talents have been lent to nearly every style of music you can name: Jazz, Neo-Soul, Funk, R&B, Rock, Country & Western, Rap, Hip Hop, Gospel, Madrigal, Classical and Hymnal, as both lead and background vocalist, and vocal arrangement. As a Singer, this Diversity has afforded her the ability to work with some well known Ministries and Artists including HBO Def Poets Abyss and Georgia Me . As a performer, NeoSouljah has appeared in underground productions of The Wiz, A Brand New Me, a movie production "Water My Flowers", and is a member of the Christian Comedy Association.

But it was her craft of Songwriting that eventually led her to the love affair she now holds with Poetry. This gift was discovered during a showcase in an International music conference hosted by Multi Award winning Gospel artist Babbie Mason.

As a poet, NeoSouljah, or “Neo” as she is nicknamed, has not only held her own within the Open Mic circuit winning several slams, she has been found on the mic at local churches as well, given room to ‘tell it like it should be’. Sharing her years of knowledge as a stage performer with her poetic peers, she regularly holds poetry sessions in her home. Called “Confessions” these nights are filled with food, laughter, poetry, writing contests, information, and performance tips as she coaches those alongside and coming behind her. These sessions have also been visited by poets within the National Slam Poetry and HBO Def Poetry community of artists.

Outsane, as she describes herself, Neo boldly addresses the church and it’s biases, our constant decay of morals, and everyday life issues with pictorial prose that is intellectual, funny, educational, and sobering. A firm believer that you can't talk about what you don't know about, every rhyme crafted is from her experience as a Woman, Lover, Friend, Counselor, Minister, and Artist. But she is best known for her Erotiq poetry which addresses issues of the heart, mind, and body, and is Sensual without being vulgar. Her craftsmanship and knowledge of intimacy within a relationship has led The National Society of Black Engineers National Convention to called upon her several times to serve as a Clinician for a Standing Room Only workshop she has entitled: Sex And The City: Being Healed from E.T.D.’s. [Emotionally Transmitted Diseases]. designed through poetry and interactive exercises to help the participants heal from the scars of verbal abuse and develop healthy communication skills and relationships that branch from the home to the workplace, church, and neighborhood.

Currently NeoSouljah is working on a CD, as well as production of various projects both within her own company [One Love Ink], and alongside her business partner, Executive Talent Consultant for HBO Def Poetry Jam, Walter T. Mudu of Mudu Multimedia. Be sure to look out for her project “The Instrument – Me” this summer, as well as a Devotional Journal infused with Poetry later this year.

September 17, 2009

"A Tribute to Rashied Ali"

Rashied Ali, the free jazz drummer whose asymmetrical and impressionistic drumming became the shifting backbeat of free jazz, crossed over on August 13, 2009. He was 76.

Ali will best be remembered as John Coltrane’s drummer during the crucial late phases of his career when he all but abandoned traditional jazz forms for a freer, heavily improvised style that reflected his religious ambitions. Beginning in 1965, when Coltrane invited an undistinguished Ali to join him on the bandstand of the Village Vanguard, until 1967, when Coltrane recorded his final session, Ali provided the shifting, dialogic drumscape that fractured rhythm just as Coltrane fractured melody. Far from keeping time for his bands, Ali’s drumming became its own improvisatory force, another shade in the tonal palate. Along with Sunny Murray, the great drummer for Albert Ayler’s quartet, Ali defined the sound of free jazz drumming.

Far from keeping time for his bands, Ali’s drumming became its own improvisatory force, another shade in the tonal palate.

Raised in the Philadelphia neighborhood where Coltrane used to live, Ali grew up with Coltrane’s music. As he said in an interview with European television, “[Coltrane] only lived like about four blocks from me when he was playing with Miles Davis in the 50s, and I used to just go outside of his house and listen to him practice all the time.” Coltrane’s music became Ali’s lodestar, and his career, which included stints with Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders, seemed oriented toward the inevitable moment when he would join Coltrane’s band.

Of course, Coltrane already had a drummer when he invited Ali into the band. Elvin Jones had made the transition from the metronomic drumming of hard bop to a more expressionistic style that accompanied Coltrane’s changing ideas about improvisation. When Ali came on, the band was to have two drummers, and the gloriously chaotic Meditations (1965) gives a taste of that arrangement. Jones fires away at his set, maintaining a taut anchor to a swinging rhythm while Ali’s drums pull the music to-and-fro like a violently shifting tide.

Jones, not to mention a host of jazz critics, could not comprehend this new rhythmic direction and left the band. Ali, along with the affably flexible bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist Alice Coltrane, and reedsman Pharaoh Sanders, became the core of Coltrane’s new group, which many at the time believed was pulling Coltrane in the wrong direction—away from traditional jazz. Critical consensus on the success of free jazz, and especially of Coltrane’s version of it, may never be reached, but for those who can’t resist its raw, emotional and spiritual pull, Ali’s drumming sounds nothing less than virtuosic. Coltrane was demonstrably taken with Ali’s playing. Nobody knows for certain whether Coltrane knew that the sessions for Interstellar Space would be his last, but there is something moving about the fact that Coltrane’s final studio statement was a duet with Ali. When Ali arrived for the recording, he had no idea that he would be playing alone with Coltrane. According to Ben Ratliff, who wrote about the incident in Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, Ali had to ask Coltrane what the music would end up being.

“Whatever you want it to be,” Coltrane replied. “Come on. I’m going to ring some bells. You can do an 8-bar intro.”

Interstellar Space was recorded in one take, and it’s a long, overlapping wave of melodies and emotional impressions that is both difficult to parse and completely enthralling. Inscrutable like a convoluted mystical text, it has the immediate emotional appeal of a masterly work of abstract painting. Although Ali would later claim that he wasn’t at his sharpest during the recording session, the musical communication between him and Coltrane is palpable. It’s a moving and intimate recording, for all its esotericism.

After Coltrane’s death in 1967, Ali became a hub for the free jazz scene. During the 70s, he opened Ali’s Alley, a crucial part of the downtown loft scene, where New York’s free jazz community could experiment. As free jazz became more insular, and mainstream jazz lost its share of the popular music marketplace, it was musicians like Ali, who had a voracious ear and an accommodating temperament, who kept planting the kernel of free jazz into the instruments of young composers.

During his final decades, Ali committed himself both to the preservation of Coltrane’s and Albert Ayler’s music—he played drums with Prima Materia, performing Coltrane and Ayler classics—and developing his own, original music with his quartet. But, unlike many of his contemporaries who did their teaching in conservatories, Ali remained a working musician, playing in New York’s clubs, keeping his ear to the ground, and taking new talent under his tutelage on the stage. His contributions to jazz are irreplaceable, and the younger generation of jazz performers will be the poorer for not having his example or his patronage.


To visit the Late Rashied Ali's website CLICK HERE

August 30, 2009

QUIET DESTINY


Nearly everyone would agree that music is one of the most significant and enduring art forms ever created by mankind, though most people still view it primarily as entertainment. An astute few seem capable of looking beyond music's obvious entertainment value, and among these is bassist Russel Blake. He views music as both a tool for healing the spirit, and as a means of removing the cultural barriers which divide us, by serving as mankind's universal language. Blake strives to convey this message not only through his music, but also through his words and actions. To Russel Blake, being a musician is a gift which carries with it a serious obligation.


During the 50s, Blake's parents moved from Panama to Brooklyn, New York, where he was born on May 27th, 1961. On his twelfth birthday Blake received an electric bass as a gift from his father. He was then compelled by his father to practice for four hours every day, just as his older brother (noted bassist Alex Blake) had been. "It was something that I did not enjoy at first. This was [my father's] vision, not mine. So at first I was resistant. For the first three months that I began studying the instrument, it was not only to teach me how to play the bass fundamentally, but to teach me to be a first-sight reader. My father saw to it that I was prepared, as a professional."

At twelve years old, and with just three months experience playing bass, Russel Blake played his first professional gig. "There was a fifteen piece Latin band that needed a bass player. So they called my father to see if [my brother Alex] was available. My father said 'No' but that he had another son who played bass. My father brought me to the gig and they thought my father was going to play, because he was carrying the amplifier and the bass. When they found out that I was going to play, they were very resistant. They were adamant and indignant about the fact that they were grown men and professionals—they could not share the stage with a child! My father had to argue on my behalf. This was at the eleventh hour, so they had no other choice. They counted it off and I read everything first-sight. At the end of the evening, instead of fourteen enemies, I had fourteen friends. “When preparation meets opportunity, success is achieved." explain this statement


Russel Blake's desire to move beyond the traditional boundaries of music is a mindset gained during his childhood. Blake has long admired musicians such as John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Art Tatum, and Sonny Rollins. "Those individuals transcended the capabilities and expectations of their instruments. So that was my goal, to emulate those individuals who took their artistry and transcended the expectations of it." Interestingly, Russel Blake would later spend five years as exclusive bassist for one of his idols, Sonny Rollins, with whom Blake toured and recorded two albums. "The beauty of working with individuals like that, is that you quite often learn as much from them off stage as you do on stage, because you have the opportunity to interact with them on a spiritual level, on a mental level, [and] on an emotional level. It forms you, makes you more whole as a human being."

The intensive practice and study regimen Blake began as a child continued into adulthood, enabling him to explore and develop new methods for playing his instrument. "I had to start looking at myself more as a musician, and not just an individual who is playing a supportive instrument in a band. I wanted to transcend that. In my studies, when I began playing the melodies of songs I missed hearing the bass. And when I began playing the bass I'd miss hearing the melody. So I decided to start experimenting." Blake created and now teaches the novel method of playing the four string electric bass which resulted from that experimentation. His Melodious-Chordal Technique emphasizes a unique blend of harmony, rhythm, and melody, all played simultaneously.

"The first thing I had to overcome was the mental block that says that a four string electric bass isn't capable of performing works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Coltrane, or ragtime music from Scott Joplin—because of expectations. When people speak of soloists, they don't think of the four string electric bass. They conventionally think of a violinist, a pianist, or a guitarist." Blake has added more than 400 songs to his repertoire as a four string bass soloist. His remarkable talent is showcased in a four-CD series entitled Ten Fingers & Four Strings Solo Series (Man of Psalms Records, 2008).

Blake has served as a U.S. State Department Goodwill Ambassador in Africa and has performed live before audiences in more than 60 countries. His extensive touring and interaction with audiences world-wide has convinced him that music can breach the barriers often presented by language, race, religion, and cultural tradition. "The beauty about being a musician is that music is the universal language. Whether it was Vietnam or the high mountains of Europe, they didn't speak a word of English and I didn't speak a word of their indigenous language. Music was the language that brought us together. It was the force that brought down the wall of ignorance, the wall of non-communication, the wall of distance. Once you put a smile on their face or a tear on their cheek, once you've touched their heart, you are communicating. After the concert, folks come up and struggle to speak English, and you struggle to speak their language. But even if only two or three words are exchanged, it's understood. The most important thing is that you were able to shake hands, you were able to embrace, and you were able to start to form a friendship that will continue."

Equally important to Russel Blake is the contention that music can provide healing to those with spirits in need of consolation. "If people are coming to a concert, then they're coming not only to be entertained, they are coming to be healed, coming to laugh, cry, to feel hope again. [Music] takes their mind off of their problems. We never know what an individual is going through in an audience that comes to hear us perform. There have been people who have come to a concert having suicidal thoughts. And as a result of that concert, they left feeling entirely different. The importance of music cannot be overestimated."

During a series of concerts at Ironwood State Prison, in Blythe, California, Blake performed for an audience of 5000 hardened criminals that included murderers, rapists, and members of opposing race-based prison gangs. "These men are sentenced to 400 years, 500 years, life." As he took the stage for the first of those concerts, the powerfully-built Blake presented an imposing figure, and yet he suffered the jeers, catcalls, and derision one would expect from such an audience. "I just stood there and looked at them as I would a group of students who are being unruly. When they realized that I wasn't being intimidated by them, they sat down and I began to perform." Because Blake's repertoire includes music from numerous genres, his performance appealed to nearly everyone present. "After the first concert, word spread [and] the inmates couldn't wait to come and hear. The interesting thing I found, was that they were all brought to the same space by virtue of the power of music, and as a result of music creating that ambiance by which we could sit together in peace. It was a very dynamic experience.

"At the end of the concert, [prisoners] came to me and thanked me for coming to perform. Some of these men were crying because they said nobody would come there to perform for them. People that are [invited] to perform are generally intimidated. They don't want to go there. I welcomed the invitation, because what more challenging audience can one have than a group of inmates—people who are incarcerated and have nothing to lose? So there is a viable audience for a musician who is willing to be challenged in their artistry by performing before inmates. Our gift is not ours to keep for a selected group of audiences. Our gift is given freely by the Creator, that we must share with all who would listen, in order for their healing to take place.

"Most recently I did a solo performance for Atlanta Children's Hospital, and I performed for terminally ill children. These children were, as you might imagine, very sad. They were hooked up to IVs and machines, and this was their life 24 hours a day. [It] was a grave responsibility to not only overlook their condition and their circumstances, but to find the strength within myself to bring some sunshine to them. These were children, so they were not aware of pieces by Duke Ellington, or pieces by Jobim, Beethoven, etc. But by performing these pieces, it widened their eyes, it brightened their smiles. They were so happy, and that was very clear [evidence] of how music can bring healing into someone's life. I know, for that moment in time, I was able to touch their lives; I hope as effectively as they touched mine.

"The importance of music cannot be overestimated. The importance of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to make that music more substantive, can not be overestimated. We should allow ourselves to become interested in geology, and interested in philosophy, to become interested in so many other avenues of knowledge that are available to us. By doing so, it changes our perceptions. And once your perception is changed, you then apply that not only to yourself as a human being, but you apply it to your craft. And you begin to understand your place in the scheme of things, and how important it is to be a musician."

NEW BOOK ~~> Russel also will have book of Inspirational Writings/Poetry coming out in September titled "Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman."

To visit Russel Blake's website CLICK HERE


Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Robert Sells aka "AnointedPoet" is a graduate of West Side High School. He received his Bachelors Degree in Accounting from Indiana University-Northwest. He has been writing since age 11. He enjoys writing poetry, reading, singing with his churchs’ praise team and spending time with his wife, Marlas and daughter, from a previous marriage. He is a member of Embassies of Christ Kingdom Ministries in Gary, Indiana. He and his wife reside in Merrillville, Indiana. WORDS OF INSPIRATION: A Collection of Poems for the One You Love is his first book.

Robert is a Christian author with a strong psalmist anointing on his life. His second book, “Words of Inspiration: Speak Healing” was released on April 28, 2008. Robert's first book, “Words of Inspiration: A Collection of Poems for the One You Love” was selected as the WeAreFearless Online Book Club's "Pick of the Month for July 2007. Consistently receiving favorable reviews, his work has been featured in several magazines, including the January – March issues of Christian Voice Magazine, a cover story on the January 2008 issue of Global Influence Magazine, as well as a host of others. His Christian love poem "Empty" is currently featured on the newly-released CD, "Poetry Over Music Volume II: Different Shades of Love". He has also been featured on “Poetry Over Music Volume III: Rhythm & Poetry” with his poem “Here and Now”. Sought after by many groups to create personal poems, he makes a regular appearance on a gospel showcase broadcast live on WYCA 102.3FM. Robert has been interviewed on many radio programs.

Robert currently serves as the Poetry Editor for Divine Inspirations Magazine, where he is also a contributing writer. He has just released a maxi-single which has 3 tracks from the highly-anticipated debut CD release, “The Heart of a Man”. He has ministered the Word of God at several Women's conferences and was a featured author on a panel discussion for Go' on Girl Book Club's 2007 National Conference in Cleveland, OH and the WAGFEST National Author’s Conference in Seattle, WA and Cincinnati, OH. He has recently been featured on an episode of “The John Lanier Show”, a syndicated Christian talk show. Following the assignment the Lord placed on his life, he is currently hard at work on the third book in the "Words of Inspiration" series entitled “Words of Inspiration: Through the Word of God”, as well as a short story novel he is co-writing with his beautiful wife, a spoken word CD entitled “The Heart of a Man” set to be released by December 2008, and a novel to be released in 2009.

To visit Robert Sells website CLICK HERE

August 16, 2009

"PANS OF BE-BOP" Rudy Smith


Rudy Smith is a Trinidadian steelpan player from Port of Spain. Noted for his performances with many highly regarded jazz artist, Rudy has attracted attention as one of the brightest steelpan soloist in jazz. Mr. Smith has recorded and performed with artist such as George Cables, Tommy Flanagan, Horace Parlan, Bernie Senesky, Andrew Cyrille. Frank Morgan, Ed Thigpen, David Williams, Dom Um Ramao, Red Mitchell, Mats Winding, Belgium TV Big Band, Don Thompson and many others...

Rudy Smith perfected his unique style by studying jazz luminaries: Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Oscar Peterson and John Coltrane. Mr. Smith has toured internationally and has performed at some of the major clubs and jazz festivals in the USA, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean.

REVIEWS

The Metro Word, TorontoThe hollow tones of a Steelpan might seem a major disadvantage for the warm note-bending playing required in jazz soloing, but with a delicate style of improvisation and careful attention to each song´s structure, Smith has defied convention and emerged as a sought-after player.


Svend Asmussen
I have been a secret fan of Rudy´s for many years - from the moment i first heard him, I´ve been raving about his incredible musicianship, his impeccacble taste and soulful phrasing. He and Toots Thielemans, who both make you forget the unsurmountable technical defficulties of their respective instruments, belong in my personal gallery of heroes with Louis, Duke, Bird, Stuff, Stan, Dizzy and a few that you probably never heard of.


Ernie WilkinsI just think it´s marvelous album and Rudy is one of a kind. I have never heard a steel-drum player like him before in my life! I am very impressed with his compositions.


Mark Miller, The Globe and Mail, Toronto
It would be all too easy to make a fuss about the apparent novelty of the steel drum as a jazz instrument. The sound of the pan, after all, is the sound of calypso, not of bebop- or blues-note, at least, until Rudy Smith, a trinidadian musician traveling out of Copenhagen, strikes the first notes of a hip tune like John Coltrane´s "Some Other Blues". Damned if it isn´t perfectly natural.


Krister Malm, Ph. D., musicologist, Sweden
Double alto pan player Rudy Smith has started a new phase in the story of pan. And not only in the story of the pan but in the story of Afro-American music. Rudy Smith has married the most important Afro-Carribian invention in the field of musical instruments, the steelpan, to the most important Afro-American musical tradition, the jazz. And more than that. He has developed a solo style of the steelpan which has not been heard before. His technique is dazzling. But it is not a question of empty virtuosity. Rudy Smith´s playing is marked by the same astonishing inventiveness that has created the steelpan.


Thorbjoern Sjoegren, Berlingske Tidende, Denmark
It may perhaps be rather natural (and easy) to consider the use of steel-drums in jazz as something of curiosity, but the way in which Rudy Smith handles his two 50 cm-wide metal things it is not difficult for him to convince us of thier legitimate use in jazz.

August 02, 2009

"A Nordic Vibe Part II"

MANUEL DUNKEL

Manuel Dunkel, was born on February 11, 1971 in the city of Vantaa, Finland and is recognized as one of the strongest voices on the Finnish jazz scene today. His international class musicianship and passionate playing has been praised in Finland since early -90`s. Dunkel´s playing is characterized by rich and strong saxophone sound, well-developed melodic lines and intense swing. Dunkel got heavily into jazz in his teens, absorbing and practicing jazz language from the records. He was fascinated especially by saxophonist John Coltrane, who became one of Dunkel´s main influence. Dunkel studied first at the Oulunkylä Pop & Jazz Conservatory, and then entered the Sibelius-Academy Jazz Program, where he earned his Master´s degree in 2004.

In the early 90´s Dunkel build his reputation as an adaptable and expressive musician in various musical settings from funk to straight-ahead jazz. Since 1994 he has been a member of the UMO Jazz Orchestra (the leading professional big band in Finland), which has given Dunkel invaluable experience not only of the group playing, but also as a soloist. Dunkel`s skills and intense playing was soon noted by public and critics, and as a result he received the Pekka Pöyry- saxophone award 1996 and was voted as" The Best Tenor Saxophonist " in Jazz Rytmit- magazine 1999-2001.

After developing his musicianship as a side-man, Dunkel started to lead his quartet in 1996. The quartet made two well received CD`s, toured Finland and played in EBU-concert at the April Jazz International Jazz Festival in Finland 1997. 2001 he toured Finland and Sweden with his Scandinavian band TONIC, featuring Norwegian keyboardist Christian Wallumrød and Swedish trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz. In the early 2000`s Dunkel played intensively with Jukka Perko & Hurmio Orchestra - a Finnish band which recorded successful CD for the Blue-Note and toured Far-East (Australia, China, Singapore, South-Korea and Thailand). Dunkel has often performed also in Mid-Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland) since 1998 with Finnish band Platypus Ensemble. Dunkel has worked with internationally renewed jazz musicians such as Rick Margitza, Eric Truffaz and Kenny Wheeler.

Occasionally Dunkel is also in demand as a featured soloist, such as a weeklong gig with a Japanese trio in Tokyo 2004 and a concert with Swiss guitarist Harald Haerter`s group in Finland 2005. 2000 he played as a soloist with the Estonian Dream Big Band.
2005 Dunkel formed a new quartet (with pianist Giorgos Kontrafouris, bassist Ville Huolman and drummer Jussi Lehtonen). 2006 the quartet recorded CD "Darn That Dream" for American record-label KSJAZZ

To visit Manuel Dunkel's website CLICK HERE

July 19, 2009

Heikki Sarmanto "A Nordic Vibe Part I"


Composer and pianist Heikki Sarmanto, born in Helsinki, Finland June 22, 1939, is a leading Finnish jazz scene figure who has been internationally praised for his symphonic, orchestral and jazz ensemble works.
During the early 1960s, Sarmanto studied at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. Shortly thereafter he won a prestigious award for the International Competition of Jazz Composition in Minneapolis, MN. He also performed in numerous Finnish jazz recordings including Christian Schwindt’s “For Friends and Relatives” (RCA Victor) and Esa Pethman’s “The Modern Sound of Finland” (RCA Victor)

Sarmanto entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in 1968 where he honed his piano and composition skills with coaching from Herb Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano and Margaret Chaloff. In 1969 he released the first recording under his own name in 1969 titled “Flowers in the Water” (EMI/Columbia), which was taken from a live recording at the University of Jyvaskyla.

In 1970, Sarmanto was chosen “Jazz Musician of the Year” in Finland. Back in Boston, he joined fellow musicians Lance Gunderson (guitar), Craig Herndon (drums), George Mraz (bass) and fellow Finn Juhani Aaltonen (saxophone) to record what would be released 38 years later as “Boston Date” (Porter Records). This quartet, with Pekka Sarmanto replacing George Marz, would be known as the “Serious Music Ensemble”. They would go on to record “Counterbalance” and “Like a Fragonard” (EMI/Odeon) in Finland. These two powerful recordings showcase both of Sarmanto’s amazing abilities as a piano player and composer. They incorporate elements of jazz, folk, improvisation and even rock to make a distinctive statement.

In 1971, he was awarded top honors at the Montreux Jazz Festival in both piano and combo categories. Sarmanto continued to record for EMI/Odeon with the big band recording “Everything is it”. Throughout the 70s, Sarmanto continued to record albums that ranged from big band to arrangements based upon poetry.

In the 80s, Mr. Sarmanto was chosen by Sonny Rollins to arrange and conduct his “Saxophone Concerto”, which premiered and was televised in Tokyo in 1986. Some of his key works include “New Hope Jazz Mass” dedicated to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, which was received with unequivocal praise at the opening of Saint Peter's Church in New York, and also Suomi Symphony, which premiered to rave reviews at Carnegie Hall in 1988.

He was instrumental in founding the internationally lauded UMO Jazz Orchestra and was appointed its artistic director in 1999. Sarmanto headed the Jazz Studio at the Sibelius Academy which is highest institute of Finnish music and now home to the foremost jazz department in that nation.

Sarmanto's collaboration with Brazil's great lyricist, Fernando Brant, and the gifted guitarist-arranger, Juarez Moreira, resulted in the beautiful CD “A Lua Luara”. It featured one of Brazil's top vocalists, Claudya de Oliveira. Sarmanto is currently working with the famous French music publisher Alphonse Leduc to produce a CD and sheet music of his newest work titled “Impressions-Paris”, which includes 20 solo piano works. In 2008 Sarmanto composed the jazz opera “Manon”, which premiered in Estonia with great success.

He has toured the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa and continues to actively expand his musical horizons. Porter Records along with Heikki Sarmanto and EMI Finland have begun to re-release a substantial body of Sarmanto’s previously unavailable early work for both the enjoyment of new and old enthusiasts of jazz.

Sarmanto has more than 30 released recordings, numerous published scores, and songbooks, as well as several film scores to his credit. He has collaborated with jazz-legends such as Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, Helen Merrill and George Russell in addition to his work in the classical arena with baritone Jorma Hynninen, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Tapiola Children's Choir.

To Visit Heikki's website CLICK HERE


“Heikki Sarmanto in East Village”
A Review by Bigtrigger


It’s a cool, crisp Ash Wednesday evening, the services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a historical 18th century edifice located in the East Village of New York City, have just ended. As the parishioners exited after receiving their spiritual fill, others, including myself, made our way in. An older, white haired, distinguished looking gentleman sat down at a black grand piano and began to effortlessly run the scales, only occasionally glancing up. The piano was surrounded by an upright bass, drums and a trombone alone on a stand.

The hostess for the evening a wonderful vocalist and musical director for St. Mark’s Ms. Jeannine Otis stepped up to the microphone and the transformation of St Mark’s was in full effect.


The gentleman at the piano was introduced as none other than Finnish musical legend, Heikki Sarmanto. Heikki spoke to the anxious audience with a strong Scandinavian accent, smiled and promptly sat and performed three beautiful compositions by Laura Clayton on solo piano. The sounds were hauntingly surreal as they resonated through St. Mark’s church. As if on cue the other musicians, Wei Sheung Lin from Taiwan on bass, Seiji Ochiai from Japan on drums and native New Yorker Arthur Baron on trombone, joined Hekki and began to play. In spite of the fact that the quartet only had one practice together, they performed like a well oiled machine. They went from smooth and subtle to straight ahead in their approach, flawlessly attacking their instruments.

Heikki then stood and re-introduced Jeannine, with whom he had recorded the CD “Magic Songs” back in the 80’s. They performed “Long Lost Love,” “It’s Summer,” and “This Is How I Feel.” These songs were explorations of the poetry of Eino Leino as translated by the late Aina Swann Cutler and realized through Sarmanto's music.

This was truly a wonderful concert, performed in a marvelous sanctuary led by one of the most gifted pianists in the world.



Jeannine Otis is a wonderful actress,singer, educator and pianist, whose musical roots are founded in the pure sounds of Gospel, Rhythm & Blues and Jazz. She is a graduate of Wellesley College [Presser Music Scholar], the first and only African-American to win that award and she also holds a Masters Degree from Emerson College in Boston where she was a teaching fellow. With her strong musical foundation, Jahneen moves effortlessly and convincingly through the genres of classical, American Pop, jazz and traditional and contemporary Gospel.

She first toured as a vocalist with the group Kool and the Gang. One of the group’s founders, George Brown, continues to be one of her musical mentors. Another important collaborator and supporter has been saxophone legend Grover Washington, Jr. Her talents can be heard on the recording Do Dat, a smooth jazz classic she performed with Washington. Likewise, she has worked with trumpeter Donald Byrd, folk hero Pete Seeger and Oscar winning film composer Eliot Goldenthal (Juan Darien) to name a few. Her recordings include the recently re-released “Magic Song”, which was performed with the Helsinki Philharmonic. Her dance rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with the group Paradise reached the Top Ten on the High Energy Dance Charts in the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia. She is also a featured vocalist in ‘ It’s My Party’, a Warner Film production about aids which premiered at Sundance. Her music continues to evolve she has recently experimented with works combining Gospel, R&B, Hip-Hop, Jazz and sometimes classical music.

Also a gifted actress, Jahneen has appeared in numerous plays, including the musical theater review “This Joint is Jumpin’”with Larry Marshall at New York’s Supper Club and in Las Vegas and various tours of ‘Porgy and Bess’ throughout Europe in the role of the Strawberry Woman. As Strawberry Woman she has appeared at many world famous Opera Houses including the legendary Rome Opera.

In addition to teaching music at the Trinity Lutheran School in Staten Island, she is the musical director for Theatreworks USA’s production of Freedom Train currently touring the US including Town Hall, The Fox Theatre in Atlanta and the Grand Ole Opry and the Director of Music at historic St. Mark’s Church in the East Village of New York where she both performs and directs the Choir. Jahneen is the coordinator of both Safari East Cultural Productions collaborating with the world renowned bassist, VishnuWood. Safari East Productions explore the roots of the African-American Culture of the diaspora through concerts and workshops presented nationally and internationally including Lincoln Center, London, and a current on-going program in the New York City School system sponsored by the United Way of New York. She has been the coordinator of the Marymount College Arts-in-Education Certificate Training Program. The Three Kings, a piece composed by Ms. Otis in collaboration with Lois Bohevesky of the Hudson Vagabond Puppets and Liz Swados, noted composer for Broadway, film and television, is held annually at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and serves as a vehicle for outreach to provide young people living in homeless shelters their very own holiday celebration.

July 04, 2009

ESPERANZA SPALDING

If “esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope, then bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza Spalding could not have been given a more fitting name at birth. Blessed with uncanny instrumental chops, a multi-lingual voice that is part angel and part siren, and a natural beauty that borders on the hypnotic, the 23-year-old prodigy-turned-pro might well be the hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music.

“She is an irresistible performer,” says The Seattle Times. “She sings and plays bass at the same time and does a sort of interpretive dance as she plays…Her analysis of what’s going on in jazz today is perceptive.”

Irresistible. Interpretive. Perceptive. Such words are very much at the core of Spalding’s life story, but the story is anything but typical. She was born in 1984 and raised on what she calls “the other side of the tracks” in a multi-lingual household and neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Growing up in a single-parent home amid economically adverse circumstances, she learned early lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from the role model whom she holds in the highest regard to this day – her mother.

“She was very strong-willed, very independent,” says Spalding. “She did a million things. She was a baker, a carpenter, she worked in foster care homes, she worked in food service, she worked with Cesar Chavez as a labor organizer. She was an amazing woman. She was hip enough to put a lot of negative things I saw as a child into some kind of context – even before I fully understood what she was saying.”

But even with a rock-solid role model, school did not come easy to Spalding, although not for any lack of intellectual acumen. She was both blessed and cursed with a highly intuitive learning style that often put her at odds with the traditional education system. On top of that, she was shut in by a lengthy illness as a child, and as a result, was home-schooled for a significant portion of her elementary school years. In the end, she never quite adjusted to learning by rote in the conventional school setting.

“It was just hard for me to fit into a setting where I was expected to sit in a room and swallow everything that was being fed to me,” she recalls. “Once I figured out what it was like to be home-schooled and basically self-taught, I couldn’t fit back into the traditional environment.”

However, the one pursuit that made sense to Spalding from a very early age was music. At age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”

Within a year, she had essentially taught herself to play the violin well enough to land a spot in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra that was open to both children and adult musicians. She stayed with the group for ten years, and by age 15, she had been elevated to a concertmaster position.

But by then, she had also discovered the bass, and all of the non-classical avenues that the instrument could open for her. Suddenly, playing classical music in a community orchestra wasn’t enough for this young teenager anymore. Before long she was playing blues, funk, hip-hop and a variety of other styles on the local club circuit. “The funny thing was, I was the songwriter, but I had never experienced love before. Being the lyricist and the lead singer, I was making up songs about red wagons, toys and other childish interests. No one knew what I was singing about, but they liked the sound of it and they just ate it up.”

At 16, Spalding left high school for good. Armed with her GED and aided by a generous scholarship, she enrolled in the music program at Portland State University. “I was definitely the youngest bass player in the program,” she says. “I was 16, and I had been playing the bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying, but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘Okay, she does have talent.’”

Berklee College of Music was the place where the pieces all came together and doors started opening. After a move to the opposite coast and three years of accelerated study, she not only earned a B.M., but also signed on as an instructor in 2005 at the age of 20 – an appointment that has made her the youngest faculty member in the history of the college. She is the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship.

In addition to the studying and the teaching, the Berklee years have also created a host of networking opportunities. Since her move to the East Coast, Spalding has worked with several notable artists, including pianist Michel Camilo, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Patti Austin and saxophonists Donald Harrison and Joe Lovano. “Working with Joe was terrifying,” she recalls, “but he’s a really generous person. I don’t know if I was ready for the gig or not, but he had a lot of faith in me. It was an amazing learning experience.”

The newest chapter of Spalding’s journey begins with the release of her forthcoming international debut recording for Heads Up in May 2008. The album will be the first opportunity for a worldwide audience to witness her mesmerizing talents as an instrumentalist, vocalist and composer, but it’s just the start of what she hopes to achieve in a career where the creative opportunities are almost limitless.

“I think there are some outside forces that have blessed me with creative talents, and I don’t want to disrespect whatever plan the cosmos or the heavens or God or whoever might have for me,” she explains. “But based on what I know about myself right now, what I really want to do is reach people. I want to make great music, but I also want to use that talent to lift people up, and maybe show them some degree of hope where there might not be any in their lives. My name means ‘hope’ in Spanish, and it’s a name I want to live up to.”


To Visit ESPERANZA SPALDING'S website CLICK HERE