Appreciate Black Music

Baker surounded by the talents of Hathaway, Ferrell, DeBarge, and Farris

Baker surrounded by the talents of Hathaway, Ferrell, DeBarge, and Farris

Well folks we’ve come to an end of another Black Music Month.  I hope you had the opportunity to listen to some great Black music all month long.  For many of you that meant simply turning on your radio; for others it meant digging in your old crates for some of the best music ever recorded.  As for me, it meant listening to some of my favorites as well as traveling around my city listening to live R&B, Blues, Soul, Jazz (I won tickets to the Playboy Jazz Festival for the Sunday night show.  It was awesome in so many ways), and most importantly I had the chance to see a live performance one of my favorite groups, Loose Ends!

Although BMM has come to an end in terms of national recognition it however, doesn’t end for me.  I listen to, talk about, think about, and appreciate Black music year round.  So, the rest of the year is going to be just as awesome as the first half as I continue to appreciate great Black music, which brings me to my final photo of the month for you.

In the above photo is (from L to R) daughter of the late great Donny Hathaway, Lalah Hathaway with Rachelle Ferrell, Anita Baker, El DeBarge, and Dionne Farris.  The photo was taken back stage at the 2010 Soul Train Music Awards after a grand tribute to Anita Baker for a career of excellence!

Anita Baker created music that could be truly appreciated in every sense of the word throughout her career.  Her songs had and still have tangible music qualities, are memorable, and have meaning.  In today’s music I feel (this is entirely my opinion) music has lost a large amount of its ability to be appreciated.  Its lost most of its musical qualities, is far from memorable, and at times is meaningless.  I know what I’m saying is harsh, but maybe a decent conversation needs to be had about the dismal state of some of today’s most popular Black music.  The conversation should address the bastardization of R&B and Soul, the intense salacious imagery, and a landscape littered with individuals who fall way short of the excellence of Anita Baker!  This Gen X’er envies the musical taste and sensibilities of the Baby Boomers and is completely lost the in the popular sounds of the Millennials.  I’ll stop my rant here!

Appreciate, yes, I appreciate great Black music.  Great Black music!

Enjoy the tribute below to Anita Baker by artists who have made quality music that is both memorable and has meaning enveloped in amazing vocal talent.

What’s in a Photo?

Ella and Dizzy, 1950. Photo by Herman Leonard

Ella and Dizzy, 1950. Photo by Herman Leonard

This is a great photo of Ella Fitzgerald experiencing a playfully embrace by the often-jovial Dizzy Gillespie while back stage in New York in 1950.  The famous Jazz photographer Herman Leonard took the photo.  Although at times Leonard talked his subjects into the perfect pose, this photo, however, captures that intimate moment when two legends of Jazz goof off as a way of quelling nervous tension before a performance.

The importance of a photo cannot be overstated.  It is a wonderful medium in which we fully appreciate and place a critical amount of social, cultural, political, and economic value.  It is through photos that we have the opportunity to peer into the past to see that an event did in fact happen.  A photo helps us to keep memories alive and well; they help us to remember the moment.  They also communicate a wonderful sentiment from the past to the present.  If you are like me you can get lost in a photo wondering what it sounds like or smells like or what is just beyond the edges of the image.

In the case of photographer Herman Leonard he has had a lifetime of capturing the essence of the moment especially in the world of Jazz.  Some of his photos are so iconic they conjure up the very definition of Jazz and the Jazz artist.  Without his photos we would have no ideal how Sonny Stitt bends his body as he digs for that note or how tightly Sarah Vaughan closes her eyes before her improvisation or even how artists look as they goof off back stage before a performance.

Here’s to Jazz, the Jazz artist, and the photographer documenting Black music!

Enjoy your BMM!

Scott, Horne: Setting the Pace!

Scott and Horne are setting the pace.

Scott and Horne are setting the pace.

In the above photo are band leader/pianist/singer/actress Hazel Scott (23) and singer/actress Lena Horne (26).  These talented beauties are posing for a quick photo op during the filming of the 1943 musical I Dood It! where they appeared and performed as themselves and not as written characters.  It was Scott’s first film appearance!

These two sirens of song and screen paved the proverbial road for African-American women singers and entertainers in America.

Lena Horne and Hazel Scott were pioneers and standard bearers of Black beauty in the American mainstream.  Their image on stage and under the bright lights was embraced by all and allowed them to ascend beyond Black genre cinema and entertainment during an era of perpetual Jim Crow and segregation . . . as long as they kept quiet about the state of race relations.  However, Scott and Horne were unable to keep quiet.  In there own way, they participated and held significant roles in the struggle for civil rights.  For this, they were shunned and maligned by the very forces that once welcomed them into the arena of mass appeal.

Scott’s career suffered and never regained the heights it once held in the mid-century when she was falsely accused of being a Communist sympathizer.  Meanwhile, Horne’s career stagnated as Hollywood distanced themselves from her as she continuously made alliances with outspoken leaders of the Civil Rights movement.  Her career never soared as high as it should have.

There is much more that you should know about the lives of these two pacesetting women.  If you want to know more on the amazing musical genius of Hazel Scott before she posed for the above photo, her marriage to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and later her ‘exiled’ time in Paris, you have to read pianist and biographer Karen Chilton’s book Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC.  Equally, as well, if you want to know more about Lena Horne’s life, her controversial marriage, her struggle to stay embedded in entertainment, and how she used and resented her beauty, you really need to read James Gavin’s book Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne.

In the end, both Scott and Horne defined the very definition of Black beauty and sophistication in the public as necessary requirements for crossover appeal, which still exist today (See Beyonce, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Hudson).

Black beauty and Black music telling its story since day one in America!

Enjoy the remaining days of BMM!

Take a look at Scott and Horne’s kick ass scene:

My BFF is Better Than Yours: Prince And Sheila E.

BFFs Prince and Sheila E share a moment

BFFs Prince and Sheila E share a moment

Prince and Sheila E., BFFs if there ever was a pair!  The above photo was taken in Oakland, California during Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour.  On this night of the tour, Sheila E. opened for Prince.  The picture captures the moment as she finished her hit song “Glamorous Life” and Prince walked on stage to congratulate her.  She immediately grabbed and hugged her BFF.  They then shared a laugh.

Inseparable and certainly joined at the hip for almost 3 decades, Prince and Sheila E. have collaborated to create some of the most memorable music from the mid to late 80s.

According to Alex Hahn’s book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, Prince Rogers Nelson and Sheila Escovedo met in 1978, while Sheila was touring with her father, the magnificent timbalero Pete Escovedo.  They met back stage and Prince prophetically proclaimed they would one day make music together.  Soon Prince and Sheila began to jam together and share musical ideas.  Prince began to produce Sheila as an artist and bestowed upon her the moniker Sheila E.  Their first recorded collaboration took place just a few years later when a reluctant Sheila sang background on Prince’s big hit “Let’s Go Crazy”.  Hahn suggests Sheila, up to this point, saw herself as an instrumentalist and in no way a singer.  Prince was able to instill in her the confidence to sing.  The newly minted BFFs began their productive and legendary collaboration.  Prince produced Sheila E’s albums The Glamorous Life (‘84), Romance 1600 (‘85), and Sheila E. (‘87)During the same period Sheila shared her drumming and percussion talents on Prince’s albums, Purple Rain (‘84), Around The World in a Day (‘85), Parade (‘86), and Sign O’ The Times (‘87).  Sheila E.’s ability to play complex Jazz and Latin rhythms added a new dimension to Prince’s recordings and live sound.

Prince and Sheila E. have over the decades forged an unbreakable music bond that is filled with love, respect, honor, and support for one other.  When you see one of the BFFs perform the other is no doubt not too far away.

Prince and Sheila E.’s friendship fused musical cousins R&B, Funk, Rock, Blues, and Latin Jazz together in a way that allowed it to soar far beyond rigid musical genres, which were intended to keep the masses in their respected cultural places.  Their music was multi-genre and multicultural; simply put, they used Black music to bring people together.

Happy BMM!

Keys and Maxwell Get Steamy!

Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Keys husband Swizz Beatz celebrate slow burning soul duets!

Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Keys husband Swizz Beatz celebrate slow burning soul duets!

Weather it’s on a sultry dance floor or in a red-light basement, or in those dark private spaces where attraction is mutually communicated, the slow burning soul duet has been responsible for bringing bodies together for years.  Alicia Keys’ duet with Maxwell “The Fire We Make” will certainly continue that time-honored tradition.

Not since Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills recorded Peabo Bryson’s “Feel The Fire” in 1980 has there been such a magnetic and hot duet!  Keys and Maxwell combine their popular sex appeal (evident in the video below) and vocal talent to create a classic feeling song that is robust in sexual desire and anticipation.  Keys vocals are filled with tension and emotion, while Maxwell’s falsetto soars, almost Prince-like, to new heights as he mirrors her yearning.

The slow burning soul duet provides a space for listeners to role-play and perform for one another lyrical scenes of love.  Overall, slow burning soul, Alicia Keys and Maxwell has placed black romance in the public sphere.  They have invited black (and white) bodies to express deep feelings of love and wanting, while engulfed in smooth tempos, squeezable chords, and passionate lyrics.

This is soul! This is Black music! Happy BMM!

Grab a partner and take a listen!

Sometimes You Gotta Scream To Get Into the Conversation

Scream Michael & JanetThis post is a bit more than a photo of Michael Jackson and his sister Janet.  Although a lot could be said about the photo above that could range from the perils of a dynastic family to androgyny to nepotism and on and on . . . However this post is a video presentation.  Below you will find Michael Jackson’s 18 year-old “Scream” video.  This video, in my opinion, is one of the best videos ever filmed.  The video’s imagery hinges itself on classic escapism; Michael and Janet are literally escaping unknown ills in search of solace and unfettered leisure all within a futuristic setting.  The video is the suggested remedy to the song “Scream.” Michael’s song as announced by critics during the time of its release was a critical, angry, and vengeful response to his treatment in the media and his proclamation of frustration, social and personal injustice.  Michael was simply tired of it all.  The pairing of the song and video is a wonderfully awesome account of call and response between sonic and image.  The analysis of this fact would be amazing, but as Sweet Brown said, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”  To do it right one would have to explore the very nature of social injustice, resentment, the realities and purpose of pop culture in the media, fame, race, responses to stress, dance as celebration and of course the future; space travel, weightlessness, spaceship aesthetics (and connect it to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and might as well add in Star Wars and Star Trek while your at it), not to mention sibling rivalry and support and finally, why is it in black and white?

In the end, this amazing video allows Black artists through R&B and Soul to continue their sentimental conversation of life in America, which began in the sorrowful hums and moans while crossing the Atlantic to the Southern field hollers and ring shouts to the first utterance of a Blues riff in a juke joint.  This is Black music! Black music, since its beginning has always told a story of sentiment with emotion.  Listen to the conversation and have a great BMM!

Turn it up!

Chano, Dizzy: Complete The Circle

Chano and Dizzy back stage in 1947

Chano and Dizzy back stage in 1947. Photo taken by Allan Grant

By the time Lucian Pozo González or Chano Pozo, as he was better known, met Dizzy Gillespie in small New York apartment in 1947, he was already a musical force to be reckoned with.  Chano grew up in poverty in Havana Cuba.  At a young age he learned the ways of the streets and violent survival tactics.  While negotiating a life on the Havana streets, he learned how to play the drums.  He soon began to stand out as the best rumbero (street drummer) in Havana.  He’d play for Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies where the drum was an integral part of worship–drums were an African cultural retention that survived the Maafa and enslavement in the Caribbean. Enslaved Africans were not allowed to utilize drums on American soil and thus a critical piece of African culture was lost to Africans in America.  Chano became the featured drummer in nightclubs and the Carnival.  In 1942 at the age of 27, frustrated with the ongoing hostile political environment in Cuba and in search of a more fulfilling life, Chano migrated to America.  Chano quickly made his way to Chicago were for 5 years he worked odd jobs and as a rumbero for Latin clubs and Latin dance groups.  In an attempt to gain more opportunities in music he move to New York in 1947.  There he met and worked with Latin bandleader Mario Bauzá. Bauzá who was good friends with Gillespie introduced Pozo to Gillespie after the famed trumpeter wanted to add a congero to his band.

The day Chano met Gillespie in New York, in 1947 became one of the most pivotal moments in Jazz history.  This meeting gave birth to a new genre of music called Latin/Afro-Cuban Jazz.  Latin Jazz artist Chucho Valdés celebrates the creation of the genre as he says, “It’s amazing. Latin Jazz was born in New York with Mario Bauzá, Chano Pozo, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. It was called Afro-Cuban because they added Afro-Cuban drums into Dizzy’s band. It was a fusion of many elements.”  Although some Latin artist certainly experimented with intersecting Jazz tunes with Afro-Cuban rhythms and vise versa such as Bauzá’s “Tanga”; however, Dizzy and Chano truly integrated the music forms of swing and Be Bop Jazz with Afro-Cuban clave rhythms to an artistic level.  Chano was responsible for teaching Afro-Cuban rhythms to Gillespie (in Spanish, Chano did not speak English) and in turn, because of Gillespie’s national and global popularity, he was able to introduce Afro-Cuban Jazz to a broader audience than Mario Bauzá could ever have.  Sadly, Chano Pozo was killed a year after meeting Dizzy Gillespie and did not fully realize his contribution to Jazz and Black music in general.

The meeting of Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie by proxy ceremoniously rejoined the descendents of enslaved Africans in America with the lost art of drumming.  Critical African rhythm was joined with uniquely African-American chords, melody, improvisation, and ‘call and response’ to create Afro-Cuban Jazz.  Afro-Cuban is Jazz and Jazz is Black music.  Happy Black Music Month!

Check out Dizzy as he speaks about Chano Pozo, it’s amazing! Then listen to “Manteca” co-written by Chano Pozo who is playing the congas: