December 17, 2011


Spotlight On Jazz & Poetry's

"A Jazzy Christmas 2011"

will showcase some of your all time favorite musicians as well as some new and exciting faces such as, Wynton Maralis, Kenny Burrell, Vince Guaraldi, Monika Herzig, Eartha Kitt, Rob Juice, Dinah Washington, Lou Rawls, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Rod Tate and many others playing and singing some of your favorite Christmas music.

On behalf of the SOJP family,
I would like to wish each and every one of you

A Very Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza and a
Safe, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

December 07, 2011

Light In The Sky

Omar Sosa is one of the most versatile jazz artists on the scene today: composer, arranger, producer, pianist, percussionist, and bandleader. He fuses a wide range of world music and electronic elements with his native Afro-Cuban roots to create a fresh and original urban sound - all with a Latin jazz heart. On stage, Mr. Sosa is a charismatic figure, inspiring his fellow musicians with his dynamic playing and improvisational approach to the music - an approach full of raw emotional power and humor. Mr. Sosa invariably inspires audiences to their feet and to join him in chorus vocals, heightening the sense of spontaneity and connection.

Omar Sosa was born (April 10, 1965) and raised in Camagüey, Cuba, the largest inland city of the island nation, with a current population of about 300,000. The city lies at the center of a large prairie, junction point of railroads and highways, commercial center for trade in cattle and sugar produced in the province, and home of many beautiful churches, cathedrals and mansions. His father, Sindulfo Sosa, was a teacher of history and philosophy, as well as an administrator of the local school system. His mother, Maricusa Palacios, now retired and living in Havana, was a telex operator for the local electric company.

At the age of eight, Omar began studying percussion, including marimba, at the music conservatory in Camagüey. After passing a rigorous musical exam, Omar moved his studies to the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Musica in Havana. Here, as a teenager, not finding his first choice instrument – the marimba – readily available, he began to focus on the piano, finishing his formal education in 1983 at the Instituto Superior de Arte, also in Havana.
Growing up in Camaguey, Omar listened to music at home – Nat King Cole, Orquesta Aragon, Pacho Alonso, Benny More, and much classical music. He was impressed early on by one of his father’s records – a set of Cuban descargas - but had no idea that this was Latin jazz. He was touched profoundly by the music’s freedom and expressiveness. It was the group Los Amigos, with Frank Emilio Flynn, Tata Guines, Cachao, and Barreto, et al. Another album constantly on the family’s record player was called Pianoforte, a recording by Chucho Valdes. Omar was also impressed by a recording of Afro-Cuban songs by the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional – so much so that he briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a dancer.

Later, at the conservatory in Havana, influenced by his classmates, Omar became familiar with the music called jazz. He listened to a radio program hosted by the father of drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Students would stay up late to hear the show, and compare notes at the school the next day. At the time, this radio show was one of the main sources of information about jazz.

As some of his peer’s musician parents began to travel, Omar received records and information about many of the great American artists like Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarret, Coltrane, Charlie Parker. At the same time, Omar was influenced by progressive Cuban artists like Chucho Valdez, Irakere, and Emiliano Salvador. It was also as he finished his studies in 1983 that he was introduced to the music of Thelonious Monk, whose legacy of expressive freedom has left a strong mark on Omar’s creative approach. By the late ‘80’s, having studied everything from Afro-Cuban folkloric traditions to European classical music, he began working with two Cuban pop singers - first Vicente Feliu, then Xiomara Laugart – serving as musical director for various of their touring and recording ensembles.

Moving to Quito, Ecuador for several years beginning in 1993, Sosa discovered the folkloric music of Esmeraldas, a pocket of African-rooted culture on the northwest coast of that country known especially for its use of the marimba. In addition to launching his own jazz fusion ensemble, Entrenoz, Sosa produced Andarele, a recording by the Afro-Ecuadorian group Koral y Esmeralda.

After a brief stint in Palma Mallorca, Spain, Omar moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in late 1995 where he quickly invigorated the local Latin jazz scene with his explosive playing and adventurous writing. The next year Sosa made his U.S. recording debut on Ota Records with the solo piano Omar Omar, followed in 1997 with the first in a trilogy of groundbreaking large-ensemble, World-Jazz recordings: Free Roots, Spirit Of The Roots (1998) and Bembon (2000).

In 1998 Omar began his collaboration with noted Bay Area percussionist and educator John Santos. The duo released a live recording, Nfumbe, in conjunction with their appearance at the San Francisco Jazz Festival that year. The following year, revealing more of the contemplative side of his musical sensibilities, Omar released his second solo piano recording, Inside, a Top 20-selling CD in France for distributor Night & Day. Capping an extraordinarily productive period, Omar also traveled to Ecuador in 1999 to record his critically acclaimed CD, Bembon.

To visit the website of OMAR SOSA click here

October 25, 2011

Polyrhythmic Passion AllStars

On October 15, 2011 Spotlight On Jazz and Poetry presented it's "LIVE" event "POLYRHYTHMIC PASSIONS." This week's program will give you a peak at the artists who appeared at this classic SOJP event!!

Monika Herzig, born June 12, 1964 is a lot of things. A jazz pianist, whose second album for Owl Studios, a DVD and CD combo called Come with Me, was released this April. A pedagogue, teaching music industry courses for undergrads at IU-Bloomington and a jazz history class for continuing studies students at IUPUI. A church organist, employed by Ellettsville First United Methodist for 16 years.

Born and Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Janine Nash…aka…Lady J is a lyricist, poet and singer with over 10 years of performance and studio experience. She has been a background vocalist for Barrington Henderson (lead singer for the Temptations); and The Rose Brothers. She has performed as an opening act for Kirk Whalum; Howard Hewitt; Bloodstone and Slave. As a writer she has penned songs with former Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist, Sheldon Reynolds and member Ralph Johnson. One of her written pieces appears on the recently released “Devoted Spirits CD, “The Answer”.

“Each and every poem I write, I consider a gift from God. A turn of a phrase. Emotions that surface. An experience distilled into verse. Each offering is a present from the Creator. All Praises. Thank you for choosing me as the vessel.” (Lady Dove’s Artist’s Statement)

"Lady Dove" aka Pheralyn Dove, is a poet, performer, wordsmith, infotainist and culturalist whose work has been showcased nationwide and internationally as a spoken-word artist, actor, author, essayist, playwright, creative writer and technical writer. She has appeared on stages in her native Philadelphia, New York City, Paris, France and Rome, Italy. Dove has been a press agent, an entertainment editor for the Philadelphia Tribune and feature writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Yuma "Dr. Yew" Bellomee a.k.a. Yewmanyeti was born in Bronx, NY and raised there and Mt. Vernon, NY. As the son of a musician and a dancer, at an early age, he acquired a love and inclination for music, which rooted in African drumming, then later branched into learning keyboard & saxophone, writing poetry, and creating Hip Hop music. Yuma enjoys being a student of life, especially in the realms of health, nature, culture, and music.

Toni Washingtin is just an average kinda person! Born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Toni is the fifth of five children.
At an early age she would watch and listen to her three sister's who were major inflences in her life. They alway's kept up with the changing trends and because the whole family loved music she was exposed to everything from Jazz, R & B to classical. By the age of seven she began to write short story's and poetry keeping a book of everything that she wrote. Learning poetry and songs was something that she loved doing. She began taking piano lessons by age eight and sang in school plays. By the time that she was eleven she was taking dance lessons and started her first singing group which consisted of herself and three other girls.

October 21, 2011

Translinear Dawn

Alice Coltrane, who later changed her name to Turiyasangitananda, was born on August 27, 1937 in Detroit, Mich. As a child in Detroit, young Alice McLeod studied classical music and participated in the gospel band at church. But her brother, bassist Ernie Farrow, introduced her to jazz early on, and as a teen she became quite taken with bop and its offshoots. In Detroit she played piano on sessions with masters like guitarist Kenny Burrell and saxophonist Lucky Thompson. By the early 1960s she was sharing the bandstand with vibes player Terry Gibbs. It was on tour with Gibbs that she met saxophonist John Coltrane. Their 1966 wedding was the start of a musical union as well. When she replaced pianist McCoy Tyner in the classic Coltrane Quartet there was hubbub in the jazz world. But John Coltrane’s music was unfolding further with every passing month — he had begun probing musical motifs from the East. Alice’s approach to the piano assisted in extending the music even further.

When her husband crossed over in 1967, Alice continued working with members of his last group, including Garrison, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and drummer Rashied Ali. She began playing the harp, utilizing sitar and tablas in the ensemble, and turning fully to Eastern cultures for inspiration; spiritual and colorful, her music morphed into the soundtrack for prayer. Her talents and trajectory spoke to others.

Alice Coltrane was an uncompromising pianist, composer and bandleader, who spent the majority of her life seeking spiritually in both music and her private life. Music ran in Alice Coltrane's family; her older brother was bassist Ernie Farrow, who in the '50s and '60s played in the bands of Barry Harris, Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs, and especially Yusef Lateef. Alice McLeod began studying classical music at the age of seven. She attended Detroit's Cass Technical High School with pianist Hugh Lawson and drummer Earl Williams. As a young woman she played in church and was a fine bebop pianist in the bands of such local musicians as Lateef and Kenny Burrell. McLeod traveled to Paris in 1959 to study with Bud Powell. She met John Coltrane while touring and recording with Gibbs around 1962-1963; she married the saxophonist in 1965, and joined his band -- replacing McCoy Tyner -- one year later. Alice stayed with John's band until his death in 1967; on his albums Live at the Village Vanguard Again! and Concert in Japan, her playing is characterized by rhythmically ambiguous arpeggios and a pulsing thickness of texture.

Subsequently, she formed her own bands with players such as Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson, Frank Lowe, Carlos Ward, Rashied Ali, Archie Shepp, and Jimmy Garrison. In addition to the piano, Alice also played harp and Wurlitzer organ. She led a series of groups and recorded fairly often for Impulse, including the celebrated albums Monastic Trio, Journey in Satchidananda, Universal Consciousness, and World Galaxy. She then moved to Warner Brothers, where she released albums such as Transcendence, Eternity, and her double live opus Transfiguration in 1978.

Long concerned with spiritual matters, Coltrane founded a center for Eastern spiritual study called the Vedanta Center in 1975. Also, she began a long hiatus from public or recorded performance, though her 1981 appearance on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz radio series was released by Jazz Alliance. In 1987, she led a quartet that included her sons Ravi and Oran in a John Coltrane tribute concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Coltrane returned to public performance in 1998 at a Town Hall Concert with Ravi and again at Joe's Pub in Manhattan in 2002.

She began recording again in 2000 and eventually issued the stellar Translinear Light on the Verve label in 2004. Produced by Ravi, it featured Coltrane on piano, organ, and synthesizer, in a host of playing situations with luminary collaborators that included not only her sons, but also Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and James Genus. After the release of Translinear Light, she began playing live more frequently, including a date in Paris shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and a brief tour in fall 2006 with Ravi. Alice Coltrane crossed over on January 12, 2007, of respiratory failure at Los Angeles' West Hills Hospital and Medical Center.

Anushka Nagji, better known in the poetry world as Anushka In-Repair, was born on July 10 1986 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Anushka is an avid dreamer and egregiously idealistic. She loves the ocean and the prairie as she splits her time between Victoria, British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta in Canada while in the final year of Law School.

Anushka loves and fights with equal passion which is reflective in her poetry. And, she’s currently working on a manuscript tentatively titled, “The Dear L Letters”
When asked what is the relationship between jazz and poetry and what is the importance of each to our culture? Anushka responds; If my poetry was music, it would be John and Alice Coltrane fucking, sweating, loving, it would be jazz.

She adds, "How much is being created? Are the resulting creations diverse and representative? Is the act of the creation encouraged or discouraged? Censored or uncensored?" Jazz and poetry are and will always be interconnected forms of art. Both traditionally require the artist not just to say the words, sing them or play them, but asks the artist to understand why they need to be said, sung and played. There is a freedom that is available and encouraged in jazz and poetry that I have not found anywhere else, the bebop, the scatting, the freestyle allows for a wide range of creation within these umbrella terms.

Art. The creation and dissemination or consumption of, all uncensored and unregulated in regards to content, are essential to a properly functioning, free society. In particular, jazz and poetry have been historically and remain so, important to this idea. Both art forms allow and often embody the truth, raw and ugly, beautiful and inspiring, in the world and in the people around us. The resulting creations are powerful critiques and praises to our lifestyles, our government, and our norms. Therefore, jazz and poetry in particular operate as a measure of society, civilization.

September 23, 2011

Belles of the Blues

Blues Music Back to the Roots

Blues music emerged in the aftermath of U.S. slavery. With a lineage consisting largely of spirituals and work songs, the blues was the first musical genre to reflect black people's experience of "freedom" in the U.S.

While emancipation did not bring them socioeconomic freedom, formerly enslaved blacks enjoyed a new latitude in travel and sexuality. For the first time they could move from place to place as they chose, and for the first time they could make their own decisions about sexual relationships. Consequently, themes of travel and sexuality permeate the blues. Sexuality, in particular, came to symbolize freedom, and a preoccupation with personal relationships bespoke aspirations for a larger freedom.

In addition to functioning as an affirmation of newfound physical liberty, travel served a practical purpose: many blacks--primarily men, who were less constrained by family ties than women--took to the road in search of work. These journeys, made by foot and by freight train, gave rise to the figure of the male blues singer--a lone black man with a guitar, traveling the countryside singing about his life. This rural genre became known as country blues.

Although black men were first to sing the blues, the first blues recording was made by a black woman. Within one month of its release, Mamie Smith's 1920 version of Perry Bradford's Crazy Blues sold 75,000 copies at one dollar apiece. The buyers were almost exclusively black people, for whom a dollar was a small fortune in 1920, and so this represented phenomenal sales.

Recording companies like Columbia and Paramount recognized and quickly moved to exploit this untapped black music market, creating segregated "race records" divisions. It was several years before these companies saw that male blues too could generate profits.

Gertrude ("Ma") Rainey, known as the mother of the blues, stands at the juncture of rural country blues and a more urban form that reached its peak with the popularity of her protege, Bessie Smith. As the first broadly known traveling blues woman, Rainey represented for many women in her audiences a tangible incarnation of freedom. A pioneer on the black entertainment circuit, she shaped women's blues for many generations. As blues singer Koko Taylor said, women like "Ma" Rainey were the foundation of the blues.

Bessie Smith, who earned the title Empress of the Blues in part through the sale of some 750,000 copies of her first record, took women's blues to a new level. Among other things, songs like her Poor Man's Blues ("Mister rich man, rich man, open up your heart and mind/ Give the poor man a chance, help stop these hard, hard times") represented pioneering social protests in black American popular music. Smith became the first black woman "superstar," traveling with her own tent show and attracting huge audiences.

Smith's recorded performances reflect hints of the multi-layered meanings, beyond the literal content of the lyrics, with which blues women often endowed the songs they sang. In fact, looking at early women's blues from a modern perspective, we can detect emerging feminist themes.

Perhaps no one employed this strategy with more profound results than the incomparable Billie Holiday, who paved the way for an entire generation of black women vocal stylists, including Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald and R.-and-B. singers like Aretha Franklin. Although Holiday, who counted Bessie Smith among her most important musical influences, was not a blues singer per se, her music was deeply rooted in the blues tradition. As a jazz musician working primarily with the idiom of white popular song, Holiday used the blues tradition to inject suggestions of perspectives more complicated than those the lyrics themselves contained.

That Holiday made Strange Fruit, her powerful and disturbing antilynching protest, the centerpiece of her repertoire suggests that her artistic choices were conscious and principled, and--like so much African-American art--perhaps far more nuanced than popular critical reviews have yet revealed.

--By Angela Davis, author of Blues Legacies and Black Feminism

Read more:,9171,988506,00.html#ixzz1Yo83SJrA

August 28, 2011

Mystikal Blues

Wallace Roney is from Philadelphia, PA, born May 25, 1960. He began his musical studies at the age of five, learning rhythmic dictation and sight-reading. He began playing the trumpet at age six. He was identified as a prodigy and was awarded a scholarship to the Settlement School of Music at the age of seven. It is there that Wallace received private trumpet lesson with Sigmund Herring at the age of ten. As a child prodigy, by the age of 12 Wallace became the youngest member of the Philadelphia brass ensemble which was comprised of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

During his affiliation with the brass ensemble Wallace met jazz great Clark Terry who became a major influence, teacher, mentor and friend. Clark Terry taught him more about the trumpet than previous classical trumpet teachers had. He taught him technique, articulation and breath control. Clark Terry was the first of Wallace's three greatest mentors.

Wallace's moved to Washington, DC where he attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. While at Ellington he studied the trumpet with Langston Fitzgerald, trumpeter with the Baltimore Symphony. Fitz, as he was fondly called by Wallace, taught him to strive for excellence in spite of obstacles.

Wallace sat in with Art Blakey's band at the age of 15 and was offered the job to replace trumpeter Bill Hardman. A car accident that happened the day after he was offered the gig caused Wallace's father not to let him take the job. Wallace did, however, continue to sit in with a lot of great musicians including Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins all of which led to Wallace playing several gigs with Cedar Walton.

At the age of 16 he met another trumpet player who would become the second greatest influence in his musical life, Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy taught Wallace even more advanced techniques that enhanced his ability to play intricate improvisational phrases. During this time he also went to NY and sat in with the great Philly Joe Jones which caused a stir. It wasn't long before he met the great trumpet player Woody Shaw who also became a close friend and mentor. During this time, Wallace graduated from Ellington and began studying with Dr. Donald Reinhart, a world renowned brass specialist in the Brass community, while at the same time attending Howard University and studying with Fred Irby. Wallace remained at Howard University for a year only to be called away to become a member of Art Blakey's Big Band. He also played with Joe Henderson, Dollar Brand and then studied for a year at Berkele School of Music before leaving there to rejoin Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
Since playing with the "Messengers" the list of people that Wallace has played with is a veritable who's who of jazz. Too numerous to name, he likes to say that he has played with everyone from Jay McShann to Herbie Hancock.

In 1983 he met the greatest influence in his life, the person that was his idol and his greatest teacher, Mile Davis. Wallace's relationship with Mile was similar to Louis Armstrong's relationship with Joe (King) Oliver. Being with Miles gave him insight and tutelage on being a melodist, being on top of the most creative music, and uncompromisingly taking it further.

At one point Wallace rejoined Art Blakey's Band and at the same time was invited to play with Tony Williams' quintet. He elected to play with Tony's ground breaking band. In 1984 Wallace also met and hung out with Ornette Coleman and premièred his symphony "The Sacred Mind of Johnny Dolphin". He also played gigs with Ornette in his "Classic Quartet", taking Don Cherry's place when he died.

All of the time spent studying under and hanging with Miles Davis led Miles to ask Wallace to play with him on the Historic Miles at Montreux Concert. This was historic because it was the first time Miles had played straight ahead jazz in 30 years. The concert was recorded and it received a Grammy. When Miles died in 1991, Wallace joined what he considers to be the greatest group in history, VSOP, which included Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter. It is with VSOP that Wallace won his second Grammy. In 1996 he joined Chick Corea's "Special Quintet". Wallace also played on Michael McDonald's record for which he won a Grammy for his solo in "Like a Child".

Wallace formed his own group in 1993. Other than periodic special projects and playing intermittently with other all-star groups, he has been leading his band and is dedicated to continuing to add to the jazz music legacy.

Listen to a very down to Earth conversation that I had with Wallace Roney by clicking this LINK

Alvin Lloyd Alexander Horn is an author and has had one bestselling book titled BRUSH STROKES. Alvin is also known as a poet, and spoken word artist and musician. He has been involved in many art forms from theater, commercial jingle writer, and radio DJ from the days when a DJ’s played album B-side cuts, and radio stations had the evening love-line where he often recited poetry over the air waves.

He states:
I credit my mother for sending me to the library when she placed me on restriction, often for daydreaming in school. Pages of autobiographies and biographies, of other people lives became daydreams and made my imagination run wild. Upon hearing and reading the work of Nikki Giovanni I knew he wanted to be a writer of love poems and stories. “Some of my erotic writing imagination came from my dad leaving men’s magazine in a not so secret place. My friends peeked at the picture, but I read the stories, most of the time …” He laughs.

Born in 1957 and growing up in the "Liberal on the surface" Seattle lifestyle, the Northwest flavors flows through my writing as I live on a houseboat with perfect views for writing inspiration. When I’m not writings, or doing voice over work, I work in the field of education.

I’m inspired to write and recite the art honest emotions that I have felt or someone may have shared with me at some time in my life. I try to speak for those who would write or say how they feel. I want to remind people of lost thoughts, hidden feelings and create new contemplations and desires whether it about love, money, social issues, family issues, passions and sex. I want people to feel worthy, beautiful, sexy, and informed. I want to write and speak in away, well as Miles Davis said, “It not how many notes you play, it’s when you play them”. I as an artist want to find the right word, instead of a bunch of words just to impress.

My style of spoken word is speaking, emotionally rhythmically, much like a blues man guitars weeping of lost love, a saxophone wailing like two loves in throws of passion, or even the street corner preacher begging you to hear his plea.

After hearing Nikki Giovanni on vinyl in the early seventies, and then hearing Gill Scott Heron’s 1981 Lp, ‘Reflections, one track particular pieces, ‘Morning Thoughts, I knew Jazz music and my poetry belonged next to each other from that point on.

Alvin has a spoken word CD that you order directly from him at his website CLICK HERE or check him out on FACEBOOK

August 07, 2011

Saxationally Yours

As seen on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, Pamela Luss is a contemporary jazz vocalist blessed with a beautiful voice, remarkable timing, and sumptuous intonation. She sings classic standards, swinging jazz, and worthwhile tunes from some of the unexplored corners of the Great American Songbook in a fresh and original way. She covers a wide range of stylistic ground, from traditional ballads to pop hits to Latin songs and the blues, in interpretations that can be either catchy and finger snapping or slow and tender - and everything in between. Christopher Loudon of Jazz Times described Pamela’s singing as having “a hint of huskiness, a variable cloudiness, a passing shadow that escalates her sound from merely pretty to intoxicating” and added that “Luss' aim is bulls-eye accurate.”

Since 2006, Pamela has released four albums on Savant/ High Note Records, the newest of which is "Sweet And Saxy," a collaboration with the legendary tenor saxophonist and producer Houston Person. Pamela and Houston have enjoyed a special musical relationship: he appeared as a guest soloist on her two previous CDs, Your Eyes and Magnet, and they've also worked together in concert. Sweet And Saxy is a glorious display of the dynamic synergy created by the emerging singer and the veteran horn man. Pamela, Houston, and pianist John di Martino created the arrangements together, and even the title Sweet And Saxy is a collaboration by Pamela and Houston.

Pamela and Houston celebrated the CD's release with a special performance at New York's Jazz Standard that resulted in two completely sold-out shows, as well as special appearances at J&R Music World (where the new album topped the store's sales charts) and Barnes and Noble. Further performances in support of the album are scheduled for the Metropolitan Room in Chelsea in Manhattan and Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia (both in January; see for details). Sweet And Saxy has been well received nationally and internationally, including Japan. “Everything about Pamela is first-rate, be it her solid chops, well-endowed voice, or skillful ballad delivery,” as the Japanese magazine Jazz Yell raves, “The magical interaction between the warm sound of Person's tenor sax and Luss's expressive singing suggests the birth of a new, splendid partnership.”

From a very early age, Pamela knew that she wanted to be a singer. “My mom tells me that when I was really young, I would imitate the sound of the hair blow dryer, and I could sing back the tones of a busy signal on the telephone.” Pamela's exceptional pitch was apparent early on and remains strong today as one of the identifying features of a uniquely smooth voice with unusual fullness and purity of tone.

Growing up in Connecticut, Chicago, & Manhattan, Pamela studied music and took voice lessons. She learned to love jazz and The Great American Songbook thanks to her father, a talented avocational pianist who spent hours illustrating to her what makes the great songs and the great singers great. She majored in music at New York University.
Pamela first emerged as a professional singer with long-running gigs at several prominent New York venues, including Mannahatta and the Bruno Jamais Restaurant Club. She also began performing at private functions, most notably at a film premiere party thrown by the actor and filmmaker Matthew Modine.

Early in her career, Pamela was asked to perform at several special annual events at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. It was there that she was heard by the well-known saxophonist and bandleader Vincent Herring. Herring offered to produce her first album, There's Something About You I Don't Know. With accompaniments that vary between a big band, a string orchestra, and a small group, Pamela sings with an all-star line-up, including Mulgrew Miller, Tom Harrell, Jeremy Pelt, Steve Turre, Russell Malone, Greg Hutchinson, and Richie Goods. There's Something About You I Don't Know was released by Savant/HighNote Records to enthusiastic reviews in February of 2006. As Stephen Latessa of All About Jazz opined, “There is a palpable richness and sense of luxury in Pamela Luss’s debut album.”

Pamela Luss has enjoyed successful engagements in nearly every major night club in New York, drawing capacity crowds to The Jazz Standard, Feinstein’s at The Regency, Birdland (in Times Square), Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (at Jazz at Lincoln Center), The Iridium, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall, Enzo’s, and many other venues. Pamela is perhaps the only singer to have appeared at both the first annual Jazz Improv Convention and the long-running Mabel Mercer Foundation cabaret convention at Rose Hall, which illustrates her acceptance in the worlds of both jazz and cabaret.

In 2007, High Note Records released Your Eyes, Pamela’s second album, and her first collaboration with pianist and musical director John diMartino, special guest Houston Person, and producer Todd Barkan. Scott Yanow wrote in The All Music Guide, “…Ms. Luss shows that she is a superior jazz singer, whether being sensual on ‘Baby Don't You Quit Now,’ finding surprising life in a faster-than-usual ‘Over the Rainbow,’ or swinging on ‘Our Day Will Come.’”

Your Eyes immediately made it to number three out of one hundred on's vocal jazz Bestselling new & future releases, and shot to number eight on the iTunes jazz chart in France. Christopher Loudon of Jazz Times wrote that hers was “quite possibly the finest-to-date interpretation of Alan and Marilyn Bergman's 'How Do You Keep The Music Playing?' (on Your Eyes) and added “She knows how to break [your heart] with excruciating tenderness.”

On Labor Day, 2007, Pamela Luss was asked to perform as part of a true American Cultural Institution, the annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hosted by the legendary Jerry Lewis. The video clip of this number, her exciting, high-speed re- imagining of the iconic standard “Over The Rainbow,” has since been viewed thousands of times on YouTube. Jerry Lewis himself, no minor judge of talent, has described Pamela as “a wonderful singer.”

Pamela made her third album, Magnet in 2008. Magnet reached #5 on Barnes and Noble Bestselling Standards Albums and #6 on their Bestselling Vocal Jazz Albums. It also received heavy airplay, reaching #39 on the JazzWeek Jazz Radio Chart and placed in the top Jazz 50 iTunes Store sales. Magnet was also given stellar reviews, such as that of syndicated columnist Ric Bang, who wrote (in The Davis Enterprise), “Her voice is mellow and excellent, her phrasing exquisite. She can rivet your attention with simple oldies like ‘Day by Day,’ ‘Moon River,’ or ‘Quiet Nights,’ and then grab you by the throat with ‘For All We Know’ and ‘Bewitched.’ You know she's singing them for your ears alone. Longtime music fans, who miss hearing those great vocalists of years past, need not despair; this lady more than fills the need for such music.”

“Ms. Luss shows that she is a superior jazz singer, whether being sensual on ‘Baby Don't You Quit Now,’ finding surprising life in a faster-than-usual ‘Over the Rainbow,’ or swinging on ‘Our Day Will Come’” writes Scott Yanow in The All Music Guide. Check out Pamela live and hear why Mr. Yanow declared that Pamela creates “An indescribable magic.”

To Visit Pamela Luss's website CLICK HERE

Listen to a wonderful conversation between myself, Pamela Luss and Houston Person. CLICK HERE

Dubbed “the natural heir to the Boss Tenor crown worn so long and so well by Gene Ammons” (Bob Porter), global performer Houston Person knows the music business inside out, from booking his own tours to producing his own albums. As eclectic as he is talented, Person has recorded everything from disco and gospel to pop and r&b, in addition to his trademark, soulful hard bop. After years as producer and house tenor for HighNote Records and touring with the late Etta Jones, Person is now known as a master of popular songs played in a relaxed, highly accessible style.

Person grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and remembers his parents listening to lots of music at home, including jazz. First playing piano before switching to the tenor sax at age 17, he went on to study music at South Carolina State College (where he is included in the school’s Hall of Fame), and later pursued advanced studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. As a member of the United States Air Force band stationed in Germany, he played with Eddie Harris, Cedar Walton, and Don Ellis, later working as a sideman for organist Johnny "Hammond" Smith in the mid 1960s.

Person built his reputation as a leader with a series of soulful recordings for Prestige in the 60s. However, for a large part of his career he was best-known for his legendary partnership with the great vocalist, Etta Jones, which lasted over 30 years until her death in 2001. Recently he has performed with vocalist Barbara Morrison, the great Ernie Andrews and in the past has worked with Ernestine Anderson, Della Griffin and Dakota Staton.

Houston’s appearances as sideman are legion, and include recordings with Etta Jones, Lena Horne, Lou Rawls, Dakota Staton, Horace Silver, Charles Earland, Charles Brown, and many others. As a record producer, he has worked with many artists, including Etta Jones, Freddy Cole, Charles Brown, Buck Hill, Dakota Staton, and Ernie Andrews. In 1990, his recording with Ron Carter, “Something in Common” (Muse), won the Independent Jazz Record of the Year Award, and he received an Indie Award for his recording, “Why Not?” (Muse). Other awards have included the prestigious Eubie Blake Jazz Award (1982) and the Fred Hampton Scholarship Fund Image Award (1993), and he has been honored with a "Houston Person/Etta Jones Day" in Hartford County, MD (1982) and in Washington, DC (1983). Houston Person has recorded over 75 albums as a leader on Prestige, Westbound, Mercury, Savoy, and Muse, which became HighNote Records.

His HighNote recordings as both tenor artist and producer, “My Buddy: Etta Jones Sings the Songs of Buddy Johnson” and “Etta Jones Sings Lady Day,” were Grammy finalists in the Best Jazz Vocal category in 1999 and 2000, respectively. HighNote has issued a three-disc collection of some of his finest recordings along with four new tracks all recorded at the famed Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Entitled “The Art and Soul of Houston Person” (HCD 7200), this is the first multi-disc retrospective of an artist’s recorded work to be issued by the label.

Wrote Gary Giddens in the Village Voice, “I have always admired Houston Person for his huge tone, bluff humor, and pointed obbligato…Person lucidly rides the beat with figures you think you've heard but haven't. These are not recycled licks or clichés; they simply seem familiar, like family… gray hair aside, Person is unchanged, an unmoved mover of certain jazz essentials.” Ask him what’s important in his music, and Houston Person notes that, “It's important that it's relaxing…Relaxes you and makes you feel good… I'm going to always play the things that I think contributes to good jazz, such as the blues and swinging.”

To Visit Houston Person's website CLICK HERE

Grab Bag of Abstract Truth

Abstract Truth lives on the edge of classification, weaving jazz with soul, R&B, African and Latin rhythms, rock, gospel, blues, and funk. The musical foundation is the subtle, masterful interplay of drummer (Sultan Akbar), percussionist (Rajul) with bassist and founding member (G. Lawrence Francis). On top of that groove saxophonist (Jesse Andrus) and keyboardist (Scott Coulter) create a rich, vibrant and complex melodic and harmonic world echoing everything from straight ahead jazz to rock. Borrowing from this rich tapestry of musical traditions, Abstract Truth manages to create a sound that is at once fresh and familiar, honoring the masters who came before them, while creating a sound all their own. Their music does not represent Grover Washington, Weather Report, Sly & the Family Stone, Miles or War – instead Abstract Truth takes the musical tradition they have inherited from these masters, and moves humbly forward, adding their own unique voice to this timeless lineage.

G. Lawrence Francis - Bassist/Bandleader/Vocals

G. Lawrence Francis, a native of Philadelphia, PA first picked up the bass after watching original Pieces of a Dream bassist, Cedric Napoleon, perform at Turner middle school when the band was known as A Touch of Class. G. Lawrence (founding member of Abstract Truth) has been playing bass for the last (30) years, studying all styles, including classical training through Settlement Music School. G. Lawrence has shared the stage with a wide variety of artists including Maze - featuring Frankie Beverly, Angela Bofil, War, KEM, Al Green and Parliament, just to name a few. G. Lawrence has released several self-produced CD’s, which have enjoyed radio play around the country. The CD's showcase his writing, recording, mastering and producing skills in addition to his talent as a bassist. You can contact G. Lawrence via email at or

Scott Coulter - Piano/keyboard/organ

Scott Coulter is a Philadelphia based pianist/organist and harmonica player. He has performed in a wide range of bands, everything from old-time bluegrass to avante-garde jazz. He has performed throughout the east coast, from Florida to New England in venues large and small, including Jordan Hall in Boston, World Café Live in Philadelphia, and radio appearances in Denver, CO and Belair, MD.

Scott holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Jazz Piano Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, where he studied with Fred Hersch, Danilo Perez` and Paul Bley, among others. In addition to his touring schedule, Scott will be maintaining a regular teaching schedule through Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, PA starting in September, 2009.

You can contact Scott Coulter at his own website:

Jesse Andrus - Tenor/Alto/Soprano Sax/Flute/Vocals

Jesse Andrus was born in Los Angeles California. As a youth, he studied music at Gompers Jr. High School, recognized as the premier program in the city, under the direction of Frank Harris, Donald Dustin, and Duke Pearson. His classmates included Gerald Albright (Sax), Ray Brown (trumpeter for Earth Wind, and Fire) and Kenny Pickens (trombonist for Brothers Johnson). After testing out of his first year at Los Angeles City College, Jesse studied orchestration and arranging with Dr. Don Simpson, and was chosen to play first tenor, flute and clarinet in Dr. Simpson's "Studio Jazz Band". After City College, Jesse joined the Armed Forces School of Music. He was one of only four graduates (out of a class of 24 students) of the infamous F2, the Enlisted Bandleader Course. From there Jesse went on to lead the 19th Army Band at Ft. Dix, New Jersey from 1983 to 1985. Jesse was in good company, as he later learned that the legendary Grover Washington Jr. had also been a member of the 19th Army Band. Jesse has written and recorded original music for Sony Music/ATV, 613 Music, and FJP Publishing, and has played with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Lenny White, Uri Caine, Lonnie Smith, Don Paterson, James Lloyd, Kenny Garrett, Curtis Harmon, Steve Nelson, and countless others. Jesse also maintains a regular teaching schedule, and has been an instructor for the Jazz Apprenticeship Program (under the direction of pianist Sarina Bachlietner) located in the “Montana Studio” in Manhattan’s Westside for the past 5 years.

Sultan Akbar - Drummer/Lead Vocals

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Sultan Akbar has been playing drums for the past 43 years. Over the course of his career, Mr. Akbar has shared the stage with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Kool and the Gang, Rashan Roland Kirk and Roy Ayers. He has worked as a band leader, sideman and a promoter. Mr. Akbar has always held a deeply spiritual view of music and it’s role in the world. During a recent radio interview, he summarized his view with the following quote: “Music means Man Understanding Spiritual Information Correctly”. Sultan’s deep appreciation for all styles of music can be heard in his versatile drumming, as he moves effortlessly between funk, swing, R&B, gospel, rock and Latin styles as the drummer for Abstract Truth.

Rajul - Percussion/Vocals

Rajul, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, has been studying percussion for over 20 years. He has studied under Baba BOB, and Baba Joe Bryant, studying rhythmic traditions from all over the world. In addition, Rajul studied theory and piano in community college. He has played with Roy Ayers, Rasan Roland Kirk and Leon Thomas, among others. In addition to his performance career, Rajul maintains a strong passion for music education, running a program entitled “Self Esteem for African Rhythm” in the city of Philadelphia. Rajul’s deep understanding of African and Latin rhythms adds a depth and rhythmic complexity that is a vital part of the unique sound of Abstract Truth.

Colette D. Jones was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. At the tender age of 8, Colette began writing words that would ‘come” to her seemingly at random. Her parents noticed her talent for speaking her mind early. They “encouraged” her to learn and recite holiday speeches in church. Throughout her time in school, she continued to hone her gifts. She was a member of the Literary Yearbook Staff throughout her time in high school. She left to join the military in 1987 and placed her reciting skills on hold. She did not however, stop writing poetry. While in Germany, she was finally able to pick up the microphone again in 1991 for a recitation of “Ego Trippin” and has not stopped.

She has performed and hosted several open mic venues overseas and here in the US. Over the past twenty plus years, she has written over 1,000 poems. Presently she has seven volumes of poetry. Colette’s stage name is “ Da-Boogie”. She states that her name defines her as unique and having a poetic rhythm unlike any other poet. Volume 2, entitled “ Sugar and Spice, Naughty or Nice” is self published and has sold over 100 copies. She also has a cd of erotica entitled : Poetic Confections. Colette has taught workshops on poetry and healing yourself through words. She is currently working on publishing her volumes of poetry and projects with other fellow poets.

June 15, 2011

Tribute to Hotep Idris Galeta

Hotep Idris Galeta was born in Crawford, Cape Town on the 7th of June 1941. He grew up exposed to the rich musical culture in and around Cape Town. His first piano lessons came from his father at the age of seven who taught him some basic keyboard skills. As a young teenager in the early 50's he became interested in Jazz, after listening to a short wave radio Jazz program on the "Voice of America".

After meeting Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand, at a high school jazz concert in Athlone, the two became close friends and Brand became his mentor. Hotep, or as he was known in the 50's, Cecil Barnard, went on to establish himself as one of the young emerging pianists on the Cape Town Jazz scene, playing in such legendary clubs as the "Naaz", "Zambezi" and the "Vortex" and alongside legendary South African players such as Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Christopher Mra Ngcukana, Cups and Saucers, Johnny Gertze, George Kussel, Sammy Moritz, Henry Makone, Makaya Ntoshoko, Anthony Schilder and Monty Weber. All of these individuals had a great influence on his musical development.

Hotep left South Africa for London and then New York in 1961 and stayed in exile for thirty years. In the early 60's he obtained a scholarship to study privately with noted jazz piano educator John Mehegan. He now has a Master's degree with Distinction in Jazz and Contemporary African-American Music and Performance. His discography is quite extensive with over 18 albums and CDs recorded with a number of American and South African artists. They include his own acclaimed solo piano CD Live At The Tempest and numerous CDs with Hugh Masekela, Herb Alpert, John Handy, Jackie McLean, Joshua Redman, Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw and David Crosby and the Byrds. As a result of his reputation as an internationally recognized Jazz and Contemporary Music educator and pianist, he was appointed lecturer in Jazz studies to the University of Hartford's Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A in 1985. This position continued until his return to South Africa in 1991.

Since then he has served as the Musical Director for the Volkswagen-sponsored "Music Active" performing arts educational program for high schools. He recently returned to Cape Town after four years of lecturing in the Music Department at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape. He currently manages the Resource Centre at Artscape Performing Arts Theatre Complex in Cape Town, South Africa, and also co-ordinates the Jazz Performance and Community Outreach Jazz Education programs there.

Sheer Sound are proud to announce the release of Hotep's latest album, "Malay Tone Poem". This album was produced by, and features, Zim Ngqawana. The band he recorded with is the Safro Jazz Quintet, comprising Marcus Wyatt, Kevin Gibson and Victor Masondo. The vision behind the formation of the Safro Jazz Quintet, is to use the band as a developmental platform for young, up-and-coming talented South African jazz musicians in the same tradition established by the great African-American drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

He passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in Johannesburg on 03 Nov 2010, following an asthma attack.

To visit Hotep Idris Galeta's website CLICK HERE

Keorapetse William Kgositsile, born September 19, 1938 in Johannesburg is a South African poet and political activist, and was an influential member of the African National Congress in the 1960s and 1970s. He lived in exile in the United States from 1962 until 1975, the peak of his literary career. Kgositsile made extensive study of African-American literature and culture, becoming particularly interested in jazz. During the 1970s he was a central figure among African-American poets, encouraging interest in Africa as well as the practice of poetry as a performance art; Kgositsile was known for his readings in New York City jazz clubs. He was one of the first to bridge the gap between African poetry and Black poetry in the United States, and thus one of the first and most significant poets in the Pan-African movement.

Kgositsile grew up in a small shack in back of a house in a white neighborhood. His first experience of apartheid, other than having to go to school outside of his neighborhood for reasons he did not then understand, was a conflict with a local white family after he fought a white friend of his who hesitated when other friends refused to join a boxing club that denied Kgositsile membership. The experience was a formative one, and joined with other experiences of exclusion that increased throughout his teenage years. For Kgositsile, adulthood—being a "grown up nigger"—meant an entrance into apartheid.

Kgositsile attended Matibane High School in Johannesburg, as well as others in other parts of the country. During that time he was able (with some difficulty) to find books by Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and influenced by them as well as by European writers (principally Charles Dickens and D. H. Lawrence, he began writing stories, though not yet with any intention of doing so professionally. After working a series of odd jobs after high school, he took to writing more seriously, and got a job for the politically charged newspaper New Age. He contributed both reporting and poetry to the newspaper.

These early poems, anticipating a lifetime of Kgositsile's work, combine lyricism with an unmuted call to arms, as in these lines from "Dawn":

Remember in baton boot and bullet ritual
The bloodhounds of Monster Vorster wrote Soweto
Over the belly of my land
with the indelible blood of infants
So the young are no longer young
Not that they demand a hasty death.

Any early interest in fiction was replaced by the sheer urgency of communication Kgositsile felt. As he said later, "In a situation of oppression, there are no choices beyond didactic writing: either you are a tool of oppression or an instrument of liberation."
In 1961, under considerable pressure both for himself and as part of a government effort to shut down New Age, Kgositile was urged by the African National Congress, of which he was a vocal member, to leave the country. He went initially to Dar es Salaam to write for Spearhead magazine (unrelated to the right-wing British magazine of the same name), but the following year emigrated to the United States. He studied at a series of universities beginning with Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he "spent a lot of time in the library trying to read as much black literature as I could lay my hands on."

After studying at the University of New Hampshire and The New School for Social Research, Kgositsile entered the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Columbia University. At the same time, he published his first collection of poems, Spirits Unchained. The collection was well received, and Kgositsile was given a Harlem Cultural Council Poetry Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Award. He graduated from Columbia in 1971, and remained in New York, teaching and giving his characteristically dynamic readings in downtown clubs and as part of the Uptown Black Arts Movement. Kgositsile's most influential collection, "My Name is Afrika," was published in this year. The response, including an introduction to the book by Gwendolyn Brooks, established Kgositsile as a leading African-American poet. The Last Poets, a group of revolutionary African-American poets, took their name from one of his poems.
Jazz was particularly important to Kgositsile's sense of black American culture and his own place in it. He saw John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, B. B. King, and many others in the jazz clubs of New York, and wrote to them and of them in his poems. Jazz was crucial to Kgositsile's most influential idea: his sense of a worldwide African diaspora united by an ear for a certain quintessentially black sound.

He wrote of the black aesthetic he pursued and celebrated:
There is nothing like art—in the oppressor's sense of art. There is only movement. Force, Creative power, the walk of Sophiatown totsi or my Harlem brother on Lenox Avenue. Field Hollers, The Blues. A Trane riff. Marvin Gaye or mbaqanga. Anguished happiness. Creative power, in whatever form it is released, moves like the dancer's muscles.

Freedom from a constricting white aesthetic sensibility and the discovery of the rhythmic experience common to black people of all the world were, for Kgositsile's, two sides of the same struggle.

June 08, 2011

A Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron was born April 1, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, but spent his early childhood in the home of his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee. One of the most important progenitors of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron's aggressive, no-nonsense street poetry inspired a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career, backed by increasingly contemporary production courtesy of Malcolm Cecil and Nile Rodgers (of Chic). Scott-Heron spent most of his high-school years in the Bronx, where he learned firsthand many of the experiences that later made up his songwriting material. He had begun writing before reaching his teenage years, however, and completed his first volume of poetry at the age of 13. Though he attended college in Pennsylvania, he dropped out after one year to concentrate on his writing career and earned plaudits for his novel, The Vulture.

Encouraged at the end of the '60s to begin recording by legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele -- who had worked with every major jazz greats from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane -- Scott-Heron released his 1970 debut, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, inspired by a volume of poetry of the same name. With Thiele's Flying Dutchman Records until the mid-'70s, he signed to Arista soon after and found success on the R&B charts. Though his jazz-based work of the early '70s was tempered by a slicker disco-inspired production, Scott-Heron's message was as clear as ever on the Top 30 single "Johannesburg" and the number 15 hit "Angel Dust." Silent for almost a decade, after the release of his 1984 single "Re-Ron," the proto-rapper returned to recording in the mid-'90s with a message for the gangsta rappers who had come in his wake; Scott-Heron's 1994 album Spirits began with "Message to the Messengers," pointed squarely at the rappers whose influence -- positive or negative -- meant much to the children of the 1990s.

In a touching bit of irony that he himself was quick to joke about, Gil Scott-Heron was born on April Fool's Day 1949 in Chicago, the son of a Jamaican professional soccer player (who spent time playing for Glasgow Celtic) and a college-graduate mother who worked as a librarian. His parents divorced early in his life, and Scott-Heron was sent to live with his grandmother in Lincoln, TN. Learning musical and literary instruction from her, Scott-Heron also learned about prejudice firsthand, as he was one of three children picked to integrate an elementary school in nearby Jackson. The abuse proved too much to bear, however, and the eighth-grader was sent to New York to live with his mother, first in the Bronx and later in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chelsea.

Though Scott-Heron's experiences in Tennessee must have been difficult, they proved to be the seed of his writing career, as his first volume of poetry was written around that time. His education in the New York City school system also proved beneficial, introducing the youth to the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes as well as LeRoi Jones. After publishing a novel called The Vulture in 1968, Scott-Heron applied to Pennsylvania's Lincoln University. Though he spent less than one year there, it was enough time to meet Brian Jackson, a similarly minded musician who would later become a crucial collaborator and integral part of Scott-Heron's band. Given a bit of exposure -- mostly in magazines like Essence, which called The Vulture "a strong start for a writer with important things to say" -- Scott-Heron met up with Bob Thiele and was encouraged to begin a music career, reading selections from his book of poetry Small Talk at 125th & Lennox while Thiele recorded a collective of jazz and funk musicians, including bassist Ron Carter, drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Hubert Laws on flute and alto saxophone, and percussionists Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders; Scott-Heron also recruited Jackson to play on the record as pianist. Most important on the album was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," an aggressive polemic against the major media and white America's ignorance of increasingly deteriorating conditions in the inner cities. Scott-Heron's second LP, 1971's Pieces of a Man, expanded his range, featuring songs such as the title track and "Lady Day and John Coltrane," which offered a more straight-ahead approach to song structure (if not content).

The following year's Free Will was his last for Flying Dutchman, however; after a dispute with the label, Scott-Heron recorded Winter in America for Strata East, then moved to Arista Records in 1975. As the first artist signed to Clive Davis' new label, much was riding on Scott-Heron to deliver first-rate material with a chance at the charts. Thanks to Arista's more focused push on the charts, Scott-Heron's "Johannesburg" reached number 29 on the R&B charts in 1975. Important to Scott-Heron's success on his first two albums for Arista (First Minute of a New Day and From South Africa to South Carolina) was the influence of keyboardist and collaborator Jackson, co-billed on both LPs and the de facto leader of Scott-Heron's Midnight Band.

Jackson left by 1978, though, leaving the musical direction of Scott-Heron's career in the capable hands of producer Malcolm Cecil, a veteran producer who had midwifed the funkier direction of the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder earlier in the decade. The first single recorded with Cecil, "The Bottle," became Scott-Heron's biggest hit yet, peaking at number 15 on the R&B charts, though he still made no waves on the pop charts. Producer Nile Rodgers of Chic also helped on production during the 1980s, when Scott-Heron's political attack grew even more fervent with a new target, President Ronald Reagan. (Several singles, including the R&B hits "B Movie" and "Re-Ron," were specifically directed at the President's conservative policies.) By 1985, however, Scott-Heron was dropped by Arista, just after the release of The Best of Gil Scott-Heron. Though he continued to tour around the world, Scott-Heron chose to discontinue recording. He did return, however, in 1993 with a contract for TVT Records and the album Spirits. For well over a decade, Scott-Heron was mostly inactive, held back by a series of drug possession charges. He began performing semi-regularly in 2007, and one year later, announced that he was HIV-positive. He recorded an album, I'm New Here, released on XL in 2010. In February of 2011, Scott-Heron and Jamie xx (Jamie Smith of xx) issued a remixed version of the album, entitled We're New Here, also issued on XL. Gil Scott-Heron crossed over on the afternoon of May 27, 2011 in a New York hospital, just after returning from a set of live dates in Europe.

May 22, 2011


Monika Herzig, born June 12, 1964 is a lot of things. A jazz pianist, whose second album for Owl Studios, a DVD and CD combo called Come with Me, was released this April. A pedagogue, teaching music industry courses for undergrads at IU-Bloomington and a jazz history class for continuing studies students at IUPUI. A church organist, employed by Ellettsville First United Methodist for 16 years.

A community organizer, who has founded support and outreach groups for Bloomington jazz musicians (Jazz from Bloomington) and women in music (ISIS). A composer, whose analytical work often involves unusual chord changes and harmonic twists, perhaps because of her background (classically-trained outside of the American jazz tradition) or simply the way her brain is wired (a math major on the undergraduate level, she identifies herself as more analytical than big-picture oriented).

But wait, there's more: A theorist, who thinks the structure of a jazz combo offers insights on how to organize any small group of creative thinkers, in business as well as the arts. A soon-to-be published author, whose collection of essays on David Baker will become the first book on the jazz pedagogue and musician.

And, on a non-professional level: A mother, whose two children, ages 9 and 11, have managed to find their way to an album cover or two. And a German-American, who became an American citizen three years ago, 23 years after she and her husband, the jazz guitarist Peter Kienle, bought a one-way ticket from Germany to Northern Alabama.

And it goes on and on. Herzig has one of those CVs that make you wonder just what you've been doing all these years, and how people like her can resist the lure of, say, home entertainment systems and beer.

But she's not a singer, and you're just going to have to deal with it.

"Every time I set up somewhere, I can bet on it that someone will come up and say, 'Are you going to sing tonight?' Herzig explains on a Saturday night at Rick's Café Boatyard, the Westside restaurant where she's played with her trio every Saturday night for a decade. "I don't sing, and I think because of that I've grown more averse to it."

To be clear, Herzig isn't against vocals. She just doesn't need them for much of her work. Here's how she puts it in the liner notes to Come With Me, explaining the inspiration behind the song "The Pianists Say," which she says was crafted as an answer to all those who ask her to sing: "While I do enjoy vocals and the power of words very much, I do believe that instrumental music can communicate deeply, far beyond words, touching the depths of our emotions."

The goddess Isis

Maybe that question — aren't you going to sing for us tonight, Monika? — can annoy in another way: It assumes that any female in front of a band ought to be a singer. That's a stereotype that Herzig hopes to turn on its head through her work with ISIS of Indiana, the support organization for female musicians she co-founded with vocalist Heather Ramsey.

ISIS, whose June 2 Divas of Jazz concert at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club will exclusively showcase female musicians, was hatched during the December 2009 release show for Peace on Earth, Herzig's first album for Owl Studios. Ramsey approached Herzig that night. "We got to talking, and I realized, here's another entrepreneurial spirit," Herzig explains. "She'll come up with all these big ideas, and I go, 'Heather, I think that's possible, but that might be a little too far-reaching.' So we have a good balance."

And the biggest goal of the organization is to reach a balance, to address a gender bias that Herzig thinks can be attributed to a lack of prominent female role models in jazz. She points to studies which show that, while nearly equal numbers of males and females are involved in high school music programs, college jazz studies programs see a dramatic drop-off in female involvement. "There's something that happens when the question comes up, 'Should I do this as a profession?'" Herzig says.

Most girls answer "no," but Herzig is hoping they'll reconsider. This summer, ISIS, in collaboration with the Civic Theatre, will host a summer camp for girls called Girls Create Music, a sort of analogue to Girls Rock! Indy that will have components addressing songwriting, self-image and basic instrument instruction, and will close with a performance by the campers.

Not that Herzig is only in this to convert girls: She reaches out to groups of all ages and, er, sexes, from adults looking to catch up on the history of Indiana jazz to impressionable grade schoolers.

In 2005, Herzig founded the organization Jazz in the Schools to teach about jazz in Central Indiana schools. Her programs focus on key Indiana jazz musicians: songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, guitarist Wes Montgomery, her colleague David Baker — and a few female instrumentalists who might well serve as historical role models for girls playing jazz: ragtime pianist May Aufderheide, who may not have the name recognition of a Scott Joplin, but whose songs are still among the genre's most widely played; and the Hampton Sisters, all of whom were instrumentalists and singers.

And for the past seven years, Herzig has taught a jazz studies course, "An Introduction to Jazz History and the Indianapolis Jazz Scene," through the IUPUI continuing studies department. Borne out of a somewhat self-interested pitch by Chatterbox owner David Andrichik, who suggested to Herzig that a class whose sessions ended with performances at his club would be a great idea, Herzig's course combines classroom and experiential learning, beginning with a lecture at IUPUI's Senior Center and, indeed, closing with a performance featuring a local jazz musician at the Chatterbox.

Herzig met one of her collaborators, the former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf, while he was enrolled in her IUPUI course. The two went on to perform in a spoken word setting, eventually releasing a record, Imagine: Indiana in Music and Words. A poem Krapf wrote about the class — and, in particular, about Herzig's impact on her students ­— touches on another broad theme in her life: that of the outsider attending to an indigenous culture with more respect than many who grew up in it. Here are the salient lines from Krapf's "What Have You Gone and Done?": "You came to Indiana / from Swabia via Alabama / and brought us home to an Indiana Avenue / no longer visible to the eye" (from Bloodroot, copyright IU Press).

Case in point: When Herzig learned that, despite reports to the contrary, no one was working on a biography or study of the life and work of David Baker, she decided to take on the project herself. Not that she had ever written a book before, or that she had funding at the ready. She put together a proposal for IU Press, which was interested but didn't have the resources for a significant advance. An NEA grant eventually came through, and David Baker: A Legacy in Music is due this November. The book is a collection of essays addressing different aspects of Baker's work and life, including his classical and jazz compositions, pedagogical methods, work with the Smithsonian and NEA and early career as a musician. Herzig wrote some of the essays, and is credited as the primary author, but she wanted to involve other authors from the beginning, including IU professor and Owl Studios labelmate Brent Wallarab.

From the Alps to Brown County

Jazz wasn't unknown in Herzig's hometown of Horb, Germany, a small burg high in the Swabian Alps once known for its textile factories. But it wasn't exactly popular either. There was one group in the area, Beeblebrox, headed up by Peter Keinle. And, as Herzig puts it, "they tried to play this hardcore fusion and nobody got it."

Still, she was determined to play with someone, and she had a pretty good keyboard — one of the first Yamaha DX-7s. Classically-trained but not as well-versed in jazz, she approached the group in 1986 while an undergraduate. Herzig: "The thing is they said, 'You can practice with us, but when we play, we need someone who can really play.'"

Kienle and his cohorts needn't have warned her. They may have allowed Herzig into practices to get access to her keyboard, but she proved her chops and never missed a concert. The band name survived Herzig and Kienle's move to the States in 1988, with versions of BeebleBrox taking shape in both Alabama, where Herzig attended grad school, and in Bloomington, where they moved in 1991 so that Herzig could pursue her doctorate.

Herzig studied alongside now-household names in the local jazz community during her time at IU, most of whom are now her labelmates at Owl Studios: saxophonist Rob Dixon, trombonist Rich Dole, trumpeter/educator Mark Buselli and his collaborator Brent Wallarab. She had significant performance opportunities early in her studies, including a 1991 trip to Monte Carlo with the IU big band sponsored by Johnnie Walker, which saw IU students playing alongside jazz greats such as Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter and Dave Brubeck. "It worked really great," Herzig says of the experience, "but then IU realized, 'Oh, we have an alcohol company sponsoring.'"

She earned her doctorate in music education (with specialty in jazz studies) in 1997, at which time she considered job offers that would have taken her out of the state, including an organist gig at a large Catholic church on Long Island. But Bloomington felt like home. In fact, it looked like home from the beginning. She remembers driving from Alabama to Indiana in 1991 and noticing the similarities between the hilly landscape of south central Indiana and that of her birthplace. She grew up near a ski slope — and, at one time, Ski World wasn't too far from her Bloomington home.

"I really liked it," she says of her first impressions of the city. "The whole culture in Bloomington is so much different from everywhere else because you have people from all over the world...It's a mini-oasis."

Herzig and Kienle started a family around the time of her graduation: "We're going to be old grandmas and grandpas," she jokes. And by 2002, Herzig had found a steady job at IU as a lecturer, helping to create music industry classes for a newly-created arts administration program. Her students have gone on to jobs with Bloomington outfits, including indie label Secretly Canadian and promotions company Rock Paper Scissors, as well as corporations such as Atlantic Records.

No shame in her game

When Herzig approaches a new album project, she has one central question in mind: "How can I do something special and different?" On her first Owl Studios album, Peace on Earth, she answered that question by working up a selection of Christmas songs, including John & Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."

For her latest project, she happened upon the idea of coupling a CD with a DVD. After all, a DVD equals "extra value," which is important in a jazz world in which some of the most successful artists rarely sell more than ten thousand copies of an album.

Owl went for it, despite the extra expense. As Herzig puts it, studio head J. Allan Hall "is just there to support, and if he thinks it's a good idea, he'll go for it." Or Herzig may just be really convincing: in the documentary about her featured on the DVD, Hall calls Herzig "a hustler, in the best sense of the word," a characterization that Herzig laughs off when I bring it up during our talk at Rick's Cafe Boatyard.

But she is tireless, and one wonders just where she finds her passion. Herzig: "It's all about the energy of creating a new project that came out of your mind, and molding it and making it a reality...That excitement is where my energy comes from, I think. It's obviously not the money."

She's at no loss for ideas for the future, although she's presently occupied with her work on the David Baker book and with ISIS of Indiana, which will present its signature event, the Femmes Blu festival, September 30 at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club. She has an idea for a solo piano CD that includes multimedia components, including an interactive score and video clips. And she'd like to tour more, despite the difficulty in finding gigs in the absence of an actual jazz circuit.

Looking back, Herzig doesn't think it so unusual that a German-born musician has ended up a steward for the Indiana jazz tradition. She points to her time as an instrumental arranger and director for the IU Soul Revue, an ensemble affiliated with the university's African American Arts Institute. "We were presenting the black tradition and nobody said anything," she says of her place in the ensemble, which she notes also included a Japanese guitarist at the time. "I wrote the arrangements, I did my job, it was in style and it worked."

And she's invested in the state — and the country, noting that she can get legitimately upset over, for instance, the slashing of funding for public radio, now that she's become an American citizen. "We've been here now 20 years, and getting integrated and teaching a class, you realize what a great tradition this state has," Herzig says. "I guess I'm an adopted Hoosier, passing the word on...Even musicians who live here sometimes feel like they have to justify something or feel inferior. And when you look back, it was the crossroads: everybody came through, we had all these clubs, all the great bands played here and a lot of great musicians were from here."

To visit Monika Herzig's website CLICK HERE

May 07, 2011

The First Lady of Song

Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella.)

She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common - they all loved her.

Humble but happy beginnings

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Va. on April 25, 1917. Her father, William, and mother, Temperance (Tempie), parted ways shortly after her birth. Together, Tempie and Ella went to Yonkers, N.Y, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. Ella's half-sister, Frances, was born in 1923 and soon she began referring to Joe as her stepfather.

To support the family, Joe dug ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Tempie worked at a laundromat and did some catering. Occasionally, Ella took on small jobs to contribute money as well. Perhaps naïve to the circumstances, Ella worked as a runner for local gamblers, picking up their bets and dropping off money.

Their apartment was in a mixed neighborhood, where Ella made friends easily. She considered herself more of a tomboy, and often joined in the neighborhood games of baseball. Sports aside, she enjoyed dancing and singing with her friends, and some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.

A rough patch

In 1932, Tempie died from serious that injuries she received in a car accident. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie's sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.

Unable to adjust to the new circumstances, Ella became increasingly unhappy and entered into a difficult period of her life. Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. Living there was even more unbearable, as she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers.

Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure.

Never one to complain, Ella later reflected on her most difficult years with an appreciation for how they helped her to mature. She used the memories from these times to help gather emotions for performances, and felt she was more grateful for her success because she knew what it was like to struggle in life.

"What's she going to do?"

In 1934 Ella's name was pulled in a weekly drawing at the Apollo and she won the opportunity to compete in Amateur Night. Ella went to the theater that night planning to dance, but when the frenzied Edwards Sisters closed the main show, Ella changed her mind. "They were the dancingest sisters around," Ella said, and she felt her act would not compare.

Once on stage, faced with boos and murmurs of "What's she going to do?" from the rowdy crowd, a scared and disheveled Ella made the last minute decision to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy," a song she knew well because Connee Boswell's rendition of it was among Tempie's favorites. Ella quickly quieted the audience, and by the song's end they were demanding an encore. She obliged and sang the flip side of the Boswell Sister's record, "The Object of My Affections."

Off stage, and away from people she knew well, Ella was shy and reserved. She was self-conscious about her appearance, and for a while even doubted the extent of her abilities. On stage, however, Ella was surprised to find she had no fear. She felt at home in the spotlight.

"Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience," Ella said. "I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life."

In the band that night was saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter. Impressed with her natural talent, he began introducing Ella to people who could help launch her career. In the process he and Ella became lifelong friends, often working together.

Fueled by enthusiastic supporters, Ella began entering - and winning - every talent show she could find. In January 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there that Ella first met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Although her voice impressed him, Chick had already hired male singer Charlie Linton for the band. He offered Ella the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.

"If the kids like her," Chick said, "she stays."

Despite the tough crowd, Ella was a major success, and Chick hired her to travel with the band for $12.50 a week.

Jazzing things up

In mid 1936, Ella made her first recording. "Love and Kisses" was released under the Decca label, with moderate success. By this time she was performing with Chick's band at the prestigious Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, often referred to as "The World's Most Famous Ballroom."

Shortly afterward, Ella began singing a rendition of the song, "(If You Can't Sing It) You Have to Swing It." During this time, the era of big swing bands was shifting, and the focus was turning more toward bebop. Ella played with the new style, often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. "You Have to Swing It" was one of the first times she began experimenting with scat singing, and her improvisation and vocalization thrilled fans. Throughout her career, Ella would master scat singing, turning it into a form of art.

In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." The album sold 1 million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Ella Fitzgerald was famous.

Coming into her own

On June 16, 1939, Ella mourned the loss of her mentor Chick Webb. In his absence the band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band," and she took on the overwhelming task of bandleader.

Perhaps in search of stability and protection, Ella married Benny Kornegay, a local dockworker who had been pursuing her. Upon learning that Kornegay had a criminal history, Ella realized that the relationship was a mistake and had the marriage annulled.

While on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1946, Ella fell in love with bassist Ray Brown. The two were married and eventually adopted a son, whom they named Ray, Jr.

At the time, Ray was working for producer and manager Norman Granz on the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour. Norman saw that Ella had what it took to be an international star, and he convinced Ella to sign with him. It was the beginning of a lifelong business relationship and friendship.

Under Norman's management, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour, worked with Louis Armstrong on several albums and began producing her infamous songbook series. From 1956-1964, she recorded covers of other musicians' albums, including those by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. The series was wildly popular, both with Ella's fans and the artists she covered.

"I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them," Ira Gershwin once remarked.

Ella also began appearing on television variety shows. She quickly became a favorite and frequent guest on numerous programs, including "The Bing Crosby Show," "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Frank Sinatra Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Nat King Cole Show," "The Andy Willams Show" and "The Dean Martin Show."

Due to a busy touring schedule, Ella and Ray were often away from home, straining the bond with their son. Ultimately, Ray Jr. and Ella reconnected and mended their relationship.

"All I can say is that she gave to me as much as she could," Ray, Jr. later said, "and she loved me as much as she could."

Unfortunately, busy work schedules also hurt Ray and Ella's marriage. The two divorced in 1952, but remained good friends for the rest of their lives.

Overcoming discrimination

On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella's manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South.

Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman's principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella's dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone.

"They took us down," Ella later recalled, "and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph."

Norman wasn't the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe.

"I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt," Ella later said. "It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the '50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."

Worldwide recognition

Ella continued to work as hard as she had early on in her career, despite the ill effects on her health. She toured all over the world, sometimes performing two shows a day in cities hundreds of miles apart. In 1974, Ella spent a legendary two weeks performing in New York with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Still going strong five years later, she was inducted into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, and received Kennedy Center Honors for her continuing contributions to the arts.

Outside of the arts, Ella had a deep concern for child welfare. Though this aspect of her life was rarely publicized, she frequently made generous donations to organizations for disadvantaged youths, and the continuation of these contributions was part of the driving force that prevented her from slowing down. Additionally, when Frances died, Ella felt she had the additional responsibilities of taking care of her sister's family.

In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts. It was one of her most prized moments. France followed suit several years later, presenting her with their Commander of Arts and Letters award, while Yale, Dartmouth and several other universities bestowed Ella with honorary doctorates.

End of an era

In September of 1986, Ella underwent quintuple coronary bypass surgery. Doctors also replaced a valve in her heart and diagnosed her with diabetes, which they blamed for her failing eyesight. The press carried rumors that she would never be able to sing again, but Ella proved them wrong. Despite protests by family and friends, including Norman, Ella returned to the stage and pushed on with an exhaustive schedule.

By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York's renowned Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she performed there.

As the effects from her diabetes worsened, 76-year-old Ella experienced severe circulatory problems and was forced to have both of her legs amputated below the knees. She never fully recovered from the surgery, and afterward, was rarely able to perform. During this time, Ella enjoyed sitting outside in her backyard, and spending time with Ray, Jr. and her granddaughter Alice.

"I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh," she said.

On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home. Hours later, signs of remembrance began to appear all over the world. A wreath of white flowers stood next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a marquee outside the Hollywood Bowl theater read, "Ella, we will miss you."

After a private memorial service, traffic on the freeway was stopped to let her funeral procession pass through. She was laid to rest in the "Sanctuary of the Bells" section of the Sunset Mission Mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.