V2N5: June - July 1996 Edition
Table of Contents
The Clarksville Festival salutes the efforts of A.D. Manion and Tina Marsh and proudly inducts these two living legends into the Clarksville Jazz Fest Hall of Fame. Please join us in celebrating the unique sounds and visions of two of Austin's living jazz legends.
Regardless of what one considers to be an absolute purpose for the sofa, this column accepts them all, while providing a small personalized platform for art, culture, religion, and politics that affect each individually.
Few are familiar with jazz and even fewer are familiar with jazz in cinema.
The words funky and crunchy do not begin to describe the music and spirit of the legendary organist Jimmy Smith.
This year marks our eighth year of bringing the jazz community together to celebrate the music, the neighborhood of Clarksville, and the good things about being in Austin in the spring/summertime
I believe that each new American musical movement has been a reaction against what some African-Americans have viewed as a co-opting of their culture and style.
John Cutaia is a master manipulator. He is also the lead verbalist of spoken word band Glosso Babel.
To the credit of many folks, the disdain of some, the Clarksville Jazz Fest now moves into it's 8th season.
Long before I was inundated by the hollow garble of the MTV revolution (that marketing wet dream come true), I was fortunate enough to have a deeper exposure to American music.
The Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival Dedications: A.D. MANION and TINA MARSH by Sandra Beckmeier
A.D. Manion is one of the most reliable timekeepers of modern civilization. After spending his formative years as a drummer paying his dues in the Big Apple, in the Eighties he moved to Austin and became the city's most in-demand rhythm technician and drum stylist. Since then he has been a familiar and rock-solid presence in the Austin jazz community -- frequently playing live in local clubs as well as contributing his unique rhythmic stylization to recordings by Tony Campise, Martin Banks, James Polk, and others. His playing combines the swing technique of Philly Joe Jones with the hard-boiled intensity of Elvin Jones.
Influenced as much by the experimental harmolodic explorations of instrumentalists like Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers, and Ornette Coleman as she is by the vocal stylings of Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald, Tina Marsh's ascent to acceptance and accolades -- locally and nationally -- has been a rough and rocky road. Frustrated by the limitations of the stagnating jazz scene of the Seventies, Marsh founded the Creative Opportunity Orchestra in 1980. With this project, she created a uniquely avant-garde big band to provide support for her advanced studies in spatial relations and controlled communication. Her beautiful and distinctive soaring voice soon reached higher levels of purity with a band that always consists of Austin's best jazz players.
In their own ways, both A.D. Manion and Tina Marsh embody the spirit and legacy of jazz. While A.D. Manion continues the prestigious lineage of the great modern drummers (e.g. from Chick Webb to Kenny Clarke to Roy Haynes to Philly Joe Jones to Billy Higgins), Tina Marsh creates a new form of experimental and free music, a lineage that arguably begins with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and runs from Miles Davis to Ornette Coleman to Anthony Braxton and Cassandra Wilson. Each of these musicians has achieved success by remaining true to the spirit of experimentation and jazz.
This year's eighth annual Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival salutes the unflagging inspiration and the herculean efforts of A.D. Manion and Tina Marsh and proudly inducts these two living legends into the Clarksville Jazz Fest Hall of Fame. Please join us in celebrating the unique sounds and visions of two of Austin's living jazz legends.
Since the invention of the television, the couch has been viewed as something to sit on top of and temporarily lose oneself. It's generally a comfortable piece of furniture (if a person is lucky enough to own one), and encourages little in the way of mental exercise, much in physical adaptation.
Traditionally, couches provided a spot where the "butt" could sit while the mouth and mind discussed something. I've even seen couches sitting on porches of houses so that people (or animals) could feel the outdoors while observing the night sky. Regardless of what one considers to be an absolute purpose for the sofa, this column accepts them all, while providing a small personalized platform for art, culture, religion, and politics that affect each individually.
A friend of mine once lived in Clarksdale, Mississippi; the heart of what is commonly known as "the Delta." The area is home to the earliest blues musicians, recognizably Muddy Waters (whose home was seven miles north of Clarksdale), Son Thomas, and Howlin' Wolf.
I learn a great deal from conversations, and my friend had much to contribute to my understanding of the Delta. She spoke in detail about the blues; a music and culture I can identify with because of depth, and honest expression. If you've ever felt "low" you understand what I'm referring to. She also addresses racism, something she better understood after living in Clarksdale.
Originally I was drawn to Mississippi because I was raised inside a white urban perspective where diversity is often discouraged. As a result I found myself very confused and, quite frankly, ignorant of racism and prejudice. I've learned the two are very different problems. They are generally clumped together when discussed. And although they flow down the same vein, one is belief, the other a bias. Racism is like a door that has been slammed shut, while prejudice is a door hanging half-way open.
I intended to write a story focusing on the successes of two folk artists, (which at some point I will deliver). Each possesses endless imagination and, despite limited financial means, are relentless intheir production of art. But for now I have to rely on the power of photography to extend a visual explanation. I found I had to focus on what challenged my thoughts while writing, which I have tried to explain.
Coming from my environment, certainly not a model for humanity, the "heartland" of Mississippi seems to have made little progress toward accepting their loss in the Civil War. The oppression of black people is represented in symbolic and economic terms. Certainly this isn't exclusive to the state remembered positively for the blues, but negatively for it's treatment of African Americans. Confederate flags dominate in a subtle manner. Plantations are meticulously maintained by the state (except for slave quarters, which obviously don't require much care to maintain their identity). The plantations command a lot of attention from tourists, obviously a money-maker for the state. There is pride in the number of monuments, some newly renovated. This seems to me to glorify the Confederacy in the same manner as the "rebel" flag.
Several people have pointed out for me that black folks in Mississippi better recognize the progress made since the Civil Rights Movement. I realize the opinions they are representing are much more important, and less critical than my viewpoint. I wasn't a victim of racism, and I can't help but conclude life was worse for black people in Mississippi than my imagination will ever identify. Yet on a different level, and because I am a woman, I am acquainted with the feeling of being treated as if I'm somehow inferior.
The virtue of writing is that it forces the writer to think intensively about a subject. I can see powerful divisions everyday between rich and poor, government and the governed, as well as a division between races. Racism is deeply embedded in this country and I don't believe most people even recognize it anymore. The media talks about racism and prejudice, but apathy is widespread. Rappers are an example of people who are trying to communicate, but politicians, their wives, and the media are in the power position to affect parents into believing they have to "protect their children from rap music." The action is veiled behind the idea of protection, but what they are protecting people from is the truth.
In my opinion, folks aren't questioning themselves. How can the mainstream ever identify racism and prejudice if we do not accept what makes us feel guilty. Perhaps we should question ourselves to resolve these issues? Ignorance is nothing to feel ashamed of. We are products of the past, and our environment. What is shameful is ignoring the problem. We live in a country that encourages denial of our inner lives, the expression of that which lies therein, and ultimately the place where each of us begins to find humanity.
I found humanity in Mississippi in a way that I needed. Driving up Highway 61, I came across a small town and an old country store sitting on the side of the highway. I needed some ice, loved the appeal of the store, and needed a rest from driving. The small wooden building looked as old as the beat-up Pontiac sitting out in front. Open-air from the back, in the middle of a predominantly black community; it was quite obvious to the people in the store (as well as to me) that there weren't many white folks who patronized. The owner of the store, a middle-aged man, was stocking a shelf full of food. Looking around for the freezer, I noticed the stock on the shelves and recognized what was there, but not the labels. The air was quiet. The people sitting in the store weren't talking, and suddenly I heard the friendliness of the owner greet me. I asked for some ice, and explained that I didn't require a bag because I was going to toss it in the cooler I was holding. As he opened the bag and motioned for me to put my cooler on the counter he said, "I'll do it for ya. But you would have needed a bag to crush the ice in. See, one of the crazy things about me is that I like to treat people like I like to be treated, and I fill these bags all the way to the top so people get their money's worth."
His actions and comments were just what I needed at that moment. I was alone on the road, and wasn't very pleased with what I'd found until meeting him. I understood exactly what he meant. It wasn't the ice that was the issue, it was about reaping what you sow. I told him that I didn't think he was crazy at all.
It was the most satisfying $1.00 I've ever spent.
I love movies. I cruise the aisles of a video rental store like some walk down the aisles of a cathedral. I browse until I find the perfect movie and then I delve deep into my pockets and offer up the $2.50 communion to the one institution I know won't let me down. I am a disciple.
I also love jazz. I can turn on a little Duke Ellington after a hard day's work and my daily resurrection has begun.
One might conclude then, that the combination of the two -- jazz and cinema -- would be the perfect balance. Yet the blending of these two uniquely individual genres is far from that simple. These two entities, completely separated by form and medium, yet so incredibly fused by their ability to express, can create either total artistic bliss or complete chaos. This is why the fusion of music and film is such a frightening concept. It is incredibly hard to do, and even harder to do well.
Few are familiar with jazz and even fewer are familiar with jazz in cinema. It has been my mission to delve deep into the archives of Vulcan Video and search for the definitive jazz video. It hasn't been easy. There are a lot of pretty damn ridiculous movies out there by crazed film students who have listened to too many Louis Armstrong albums. But what I found surprised me. There can be a balance between the two muses and when achieved, it can be almost religious.
The Story of Jazz directed by Matthew Seig
This is by far the classiest and most structured video available on the history of jazz. It combines actual footage of such great performers from Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. It is the video textbook on the roots, rhythms and personality of jazz in America.
It begins with a brief background on the roots of jazz by exploring its foundation in the slave cultures of the South and Caribbean. It then takes this process further by tracing its evolution throughout the streets of New Orleans. Director Matthew Seig brilliantly cuts between shots of oil paintings depicting Caribbean slave markets to contemporary footage of New Orleans' famous Congo Square.
Now that he has provided the viewer with a base, he continues to march us through generations of jazz greats, bravely attempting to address the politics and economics of the era without losing sight of the film's purpose.
The narrating voice over is constantly interspersed with footage from Bud Freeman, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett and Annie Ross to name just a few.
With each new sequence the viewer is given a more vivid window into the history of this American phenomenon. The Story of Jazz is so brilliant because it refuses to overemphasize one particular artist. Often musical documentaries tend to focus on the director's favorite musician and neglect the many other artists that had to struggle as well.
One of the many highlights of the film comes when Wynton Marsalis comments on the amazing talent of Louis Armstrong. Although Marsalis praises Armstrong's obvious genius he still says, "It took hundreds of trumpet players marching down the streets of New Orleans to produce his sound." This type of commentary runs rampant throughout the film. Here we have the rare opportunity to hear legends talking about legends. It is truly remarkable footage.
The Story of Jazz still manages to punctuate the most popular artists in jazz history. Any documentary would be incomplete without them. The segment on Duke Ellington is not only beautifully edited but beautifully written as well. At one point the narrator comments that "...the rhythm of American life was encompassed in his (Ellington's) music." It is difficult to find such remarks stated elsewhere so eloquently.
Although the film's more overriding tone is a serious one, at times it is quite humorous. One can't help but laugh when the narrator reads an official medical report from the 40's that states, "Jazz intoxicates like whiskey and releases strong animal passions." The film is a treasure chest of such anecdote.
The Story of Jazz offers viewers an amazing overview of the jazz scene as it has progressed throughout history. It is not only an effective tool for understanding the history of the great American movement, but an entertaining piece of cinema as well.
A Great Day in Harlem
A Great Day in Harlem opens with a still shot of a black and white photograph taken in 1958 on a brownstone at the corner of Lennox and 12th Street in Harlem. Unbeknownst to its originators, this photo would capture the greatest moment in jazz history. Taken for a special jazz issue of Esquire magazine, the photo is graced with such legends as Thelonious Monk, Milt Hinton, Art Farmer, Count Basie, and Oscar Pettiford and many more.
The film tells not only the story behind the photo taken that day in New York, but gives insight into the personality behind many of its subjects. The interview footage is priceless. It is a definite must-see in every sense of the word. It is easy to follow, and filled with wonderfully calculated montages of the separate musicians careers.
Jazz On A Summer's Day directed by Bert Stern
If you're looking for something that shies away from the documentary style, but still allows you to see actual footage of jazz greats,this is the film for you. Jazz on A Summer's Day is Bert Stern's kooky attempt to combine coverage of the Newport Jazz Festival and the American Cup Trials of 1959. If it sounds like a strange connection, it's because it is. It takes you until half-way through the film to realize what the hell is going on and then another 20 minutes to decide whether you like it or not.
Stern is constantly cutting between shots of the festival watchers and shots of endless streams of flowing water. Although these shots are striking, it is difficult to understand the dichotomy between the two. If Stern is suggesting that water, like sound, is an indefinable existence, then the movie makes a little more sense. If Stern just likes boats, then you kind of have to wonder.
Towards the end of the film, as night falls, Stern focuses solely on the festival. The irritating shifts in narrative are worth the irritation just to see the performances by Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and Chuck Berry.
The film concludes with a knock-you-on-your-ass performance by Mahalia Jackson. It is not far fetched to say that Jazz on a Summer Day relies solely on these big name acts to give it substance. Stein is definitely capitalizing on Armstrong and Jackson, yet the power of this unique footage makes it all seem tolerable.
'Round Midnight directed by Bertrand Tavernier
'Round Midnight is an exploration into the life and psyche of an aged saxophonist, Dale Turner. It is 1959, and Dale has grown tired of Harlem. He hopes that by visiting Paris he will escape the years of accumulated pain that his own alcoholism, accompanied by society's ever present intolerance, has offered him in America.
Upon arriving in Paris, Dale is soon befriended by Francis, a distraught French art designer who completely idolized him. As the film progresses, Francis begins to learn that Dale is far from the mythic hero that his music would lead one to believe. He is tired and alone, and after several months, Dale eventually moves in with him and his daughter. Yet, Dale still can't find peace. After being brought to the hospital following a drunken night roaming the streets of Paris, a psychiatrist asks Dale why he is so unhappy. Dale responds, "When I have to explore every night, even the most beautiful things are painful."
The dialogue is by far the film's most powerful characteristic, yet the brilliant camera work perfectly compliments the script. The mise-en-scene facilitates viewers with the perfect feel. It seems that this is in fact Paris in the 1950's and we could easily walk outside and stumble into this story. Every character is brilliantly presented. Director Tavernier completely feeds the myth of the drunken jazz musician who only lives to hear the music.
The amazing Dexter Gordon plays Dale. The irony between the fictional and real lends an even more authentic feel to the story line.
These four films only touch on the overwhelming amount of material that is available on jazz. I found that for virtually every artist there was at least one biography shot about him or her. Some highlights are Celebrating Bird, The Life of Charlie Bird, John Coltrane-Coltrane Legacy, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk: American Composer. If you're not really into one particular artist then films like Lady Sings The Blues and The Sound of Jazz might be what you're looking for. Both present combinations of several different musicians, yet don't overwhelm with immense biographical information.
There are also numerous films available on many diverse topics within jazz. Jazz in Exile by Rhapsody films offers a very interesting look into the migration of many American artists to Europe. Jazz Parades directed by Alan Lomax of PBS is an interesting focus on the celebration of jazz throughout the social clubs of New Orleans.
It can be argued that the best way to experience the brilliance of jazz is through live performances, yet a rich understanding of the history can only serve as a tool in its appreciation. These videos provide us with a simple method of doing just that.
I know that I will never sit in a club and listen to the heavenly crooning of Billie Holiday or dance to the sweet rhythms of Duke Ellington, but just the slightest glimpse into what was, even if it is on the television set, is worth it.
The words funky and crunchy do not begin to describe the music and spirit of the legendary organist Jimmy Smith.
Born on December 8, 1928 in Norristown (near Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, James Oscar Smith was self-taught on piano and string bass. Although he never learned to read music, by the age of seven, he was playing the "William Tell Overture" and, two years later, won the nationally broadcast Major Bowes Amateur Hour playing boogie-woogie. "I went there to blow everybody away," he says of the show, "I've had this attitude since I found out I could play. My mother didn't have to tell me to get up there. I'd walk up to the piano and just start playing."
In 1942, Smith teamed up with his father in a song-and-dance routine in and around Philadelphia. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he returned home, plastering houses with his father during the week and playing piano with local groups on weekends. After a number of years of paying his dues on out-of-tune and broken pianos in nightclubs, Smith bought his first electric organ in 1953 after seeing Wild Bill Davis, one of the swing-era pianists who had made the transition to electric instruments.
"He told me it would take me four years just to learn the pedals alone," Smith remembers. "It was a challenge."
Four months later -- after secretly practicing in a warehouse -- Smith was ready to return to Wild Bill. "I was like a maniac. I was like Glenn Ford in The Fastest Gun Alive. I went down to hunt for Wild Bill Davis.
"I'm playing like Bud [Powell] in my left hand and throwing some Bird licks on him. Then I showed him how to play brass the real way-full brass, not just one hand." Three days after the reunion, Smith landed a gig at the nearby Cotton Club in Atlantic City. Forming his own trio, he began to attract the attention of the jazz community and, in 1954, he signed a contract with Blue Note Records and exploded on the New York scene in the late 1950s.
Drawing on the funky, gospel-influenced styles of pianists Horace Silver and Ray Charles, as well as the omni-present blues, Smith used his Hammond B-3 organ to create a new, unique sound and to further redefine modern jazz. These earliest recordings feature Smith at his funkiest playing with some of the greatest Blue Note regulars including tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, trumpeter Lee Morgan, and guitarist Kenny Burrell on albums like The Sermon, Midnight Special, and Back at the Chicken Shack.
Among the first musicians to expand the language of modern jazz into the realm of electric instruments, Smith soon attracted a large following and became an inspiration and father-figure to a new generation of instrumentalists, especially organists. In 1962, he recorded Bashin' with a big band conducted and arranged by Oliver Nelson. This ground-breaking album features Smith's no-nonsense, intensely swinging organ work on a burning arrangement of Elmer Bernstein's movie theme, "Walk on the Wild Side." This arrangement became a Top 40 hit in 1962 and was soon followed by "Hoochie Coochie Man" which features Smith's distinctive funky organ and his irreverent, gruff vocals.
His popularity was so great in the 1960s that downbeat magazine introduced the organ category to its readers' poll in 1964. Evidence of Smith's dominance on the instrument and the music immediately made him a legend. He has won the downbeat poll every year by a two-to-one margin.
However, his instrument, the Hammond B-3 organ, was the subject of much derision by snooty jazz critics during the peak of its popularity in the Sixties. In fact, it fell out of fashion to the extent that the Hammond Organ Company even stopped manufacturing the model. Smith himself occasionally dabbles in synthesizers and electric piano but always returns to the straight-ahead crunchy sounds of the B-3. "The synthesizers and all that junk were coming in a few years ago," he explains, "but now the people want pure jazz."
Smith signed with Quincy Jones' Qwest label in 1984 and, reflecting his diversity and flexibility, he and his B-3 have been featured on recordings as varied as Frank Sinatra's L.A. Is My Lady and Michael Jackson's Bad. After his Qwest contract expired, Smith joined the Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone/Stax family and produced Prime Time, the first in his series of back-to-the-roots Milestone recordings.
His most recent album on the label, Sum Serious Blues finds Smith surrounded by two of his regular cohorts -- tenor saxophonist Herman Riley and guitarist Philip Upchurch -- and features guest vocals by Marlena Shaw and Benard Ighner. The album consists of modern updates of standards including "You've Changed," "(I'd Rather) Drink Muddy Water," and the bluesy ballad, "Hurry Change, If You're Coming" which features Smith as a serious Ruth Brown-influenced singer.
Recently the B-3 sound has come back into fashion and finds a new level of respectability in straight-ahead jazz circles, as well as in the burgeoning British and American "acid jazz" scenes. Smith's influence on an entire generation of organists can be witnessed most clearly in the styles of Jimmy McGriff, Charles Earland, and Brother Jack McDuff, three of the most obvious examples of disciples and spiritual children who continue the legacy of non-traditional instrumentation on funky jazz recordings.
This year, the 8th Annual Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival proudly presents the father of them all, Jimmy Smith and his funky, crunchy B-3 sound.
Welcome to the Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival issue of Austin Downtown Arts Magazine.
It's June in Austin. This is the month when all of us really pay attention to the happenings in the Austin jazz community: June is Jazz in Austin! And for us here at DiverseArts, June means its the time for the annual Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival. This year marks our eighth year of bringing the jazz community together to celebrate the music, the neighborhood of Clarksville, and the good things about being in Austin in the spring/summertime.
In the past, the Festival published a separate program book to document the year's activities. Since we now publish our own little magazine, this year we are doing this a little differently. The June issue of Austin Downtown Arts is also the official program guide for the Jazz Fest. We hope this doesn't confuse anyone and we hope that our advertisers will appreciate the wider distribution for this issue.
So, whether you are right now joining us in Pease Park for the Festival, or sitting at your favorite coffee shop, we hope you will find the time to involve yourself in Austin's Jazz Fest. Come listen to the music, see/buy the fine arts and crafts, eat some food and enjoy a lovely two days in the park. And when the Fest is over, please continue to read about Jazz Culture in Austin [see related sidebar], listen to the artists, and support the businesses who help make this publication -- and the Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival -- possible.
Thank you for your continued support of DiverseArts Production Group and our family of cultural programs for Austin.
It is very difficult to understand how quickly the world is changing around us. We wish to see things clearly but they are often murky at best. Only time can tell what parts of our collective history will endure. I am certain that the music of Duke Ellington will live on. He is the true pioneer of the big band. His orchestration and recording techniques have become the standard and his over 2000 published works, ranging from musicals, jungle music, indigos, sacred works, to plain ol' blues make him America's most prolific composer. Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus are a few of the artists that have shown profound signs of his influence.
Lesser known is that Duke Ellington was also a master painter and his eloquent words reflected a profound pride in this family and cultural heritage. He came of age during the Harlem Renaissance and continued, for the better part of the century, as America's quintessential ambassador of jazz. He also synthesized new elements into his music, as in his "Latin American Suite," "Afro-Eurasian Eclipse," or the "Black, Brown and Beige" extended works. Duke tailored his arrangements to the people around him and they always seemed to do their best work in his ensemble. Sidney Bechet, Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonzales and Juan Tyzol immediately spring to mind.
Now that I'm a professional musician and an educator, all of these things amaze me. I would be thankful to compose just 200 reputable works. How is it that Duke and his counterparts of the Harlem Renaissance achieved so much cultural and economic prosperity at a time when others were consciously conspiring to prevent them form doing so? Jazz, then known as slang for a sexual act, was looked down upon by most people. Duke and others rejected the name, instead calling it the "music of black folk." They made a point of acknowledging their roots, The blues was the starting place. Them sad, funny, low down blues that evolved out of the field hollers of African slaves, permeated throughout Duke's era and continue to affect the way we play and listen to music today.
Most of today's players and listeners of the blues however, are not black. Oddly, right about the time of integration and the Motown Sound, African Americans were looking forward to a new era of no mo' blues. We were more sophisticated. With the discover of the blues by rock and rollers like the Rolling Stones, some of us wanted to maintain our own "truly black" identity. In fact, I believe that each new American musical movement has been a reaction against what some African-Americans have viewed as a co-opting of their culture and style.
Along side all of these permutations, Duke Ellington endured. He, being different from jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, enjoyed the music of and played with Be-Boppers such as Mingus and Parker. He had the vision to understand that what they were doing was rebellious but also pushing the limits of musical expression. If you were truly happening on your instrument (no matter what color) you gained membership to an exclusive club in which the blues was the common denominator. It allowed them to find their own voice and stay rooted in the American Tradition.
The Hip-Hop generation is the cultural equivalent to the Be-Bop movement of the 50s. Just as Be-Boppers took popular swing tunes, sped them up and wrote new melodies to separate their style from the "square" musical establishment, sampling does essentially the same thing. Strains of older soul and funk tunes permeate throughout the music of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Coolio and the Fugees. Some have even incorporated knowledge of older jazz legends. The premiere release of Digable Planets' Rebirth of the Slick is a take off of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool album. I'm not saying I dig everything I hear, but there is a lot of good stuff being overlooked. It's sad to me because I believe the ongoing merger between the Hip-Hop & Jazz sensibilities is the next true step in American music culture. If we look at its history this becomes more evident. The first rappers in the United States evolved around the same time as the 19th century country blues. Then, newly transported African slaves were allowed to have an occasional "hoe-down" or square dance in which they would stop working in the fields and have a celebration. They played European instruments such as the fiddle and the African derived banjo and there the first calls were made to "swing your partner round and round." Throughout this century, black radio DJs have rapped to their audiences. James Brown talked and grunted in rhythm. During the '70s, with interest in live music dwindling in those communities, young people of color used their turntables and a microphone to create yet another medium for expression.
Hip-Hop is not an aberration but a logical extension of the American tradition. It is only missing the proper context to truly take hold and grow.
This month the Blue Jazz Workshop presents a special performance of "Kids, Clarksville and Duke" at the Victory Grill (1104 East 11th) on June 9th at 8pm. As the opening event of the 8th Annual Clarksville Jazz Fest, the event combines student and professional performances in an exploration of the African Diaspora using the words and music of Duke Ellington.
Mendez Middle School students will perform episodes of "Kid Orpheus & the Revolution" as he searches around the world for a cure from the Bluez. Some of Austin's premiere jazz musicians play new mini-big band arrangements of Duke Ellington's music. Featured arrangers and performers include Carl Settles, Edwin Livingston, Elias Haslanger, Martin Banks, J.W. Davis, Freddie Mendoza and, introducing young actor extraordinaire, Jason Robinson.
As we begin to understand more of our past, we will in turn look forward to a more culturally prosperous future. Now's the time for the Revolution!
I've always loved words. They're not only ultra-functional, but they're fun. Words have a look, feel, texture, weight and rhythm. They easily adapt to being played with: screamed, whispered, clipped, drawn out, chopped up, combined, conjugated and trailed off. Words exist to be manipulated.
John Cutaia is a master manipulator. He is also the lead verbalist of spoken word band Glosso Babel.
I was hesitant to explore the Austin spoken word/poetry scene. Past experience with tedious open-mike poetry sessions kept me away. Thoughts of the angst-ridden, pimply teenager purging himself and the "experienced" poet experimenting with a work-in-progress cause me to shudder.
Glosso Babel was like nothing I'd seen before. There was no reading, no droning and no explanations. Glosso Babel performed. They also drove away my fear and renewed my faith -- I now look forward to my next spoken word experience.
Cutaia's words meld and separate with Latin American, Afro-Cuban and jazz rhythms. [See poem as an example.] "I like world beat music because of the hand drum rhythms. Jazz is tied to world beat, even though it's distinctly American, because it comes from an African American tradition," Cutaia said. "Improvisation is inherent to jazz. I need the open, free form to ad lib."
Cutaia said performing his poetry to music "is just a lot of fun." And he does have fun. "You lose the audience if you do a straight recital. And it forces me to do a better job. Performing with a band requires rehearsal. It's exciting because there's an adrenaline rush performing to music." Cutaia added that the band serves as his first audience, ready to tell him when they don't like something.
Poetry, for Cutaia, is centered on the look and structure of words on the page. Spoken word is about sounds and memorization of a work. "What I do is different than just reading over the music. I listen to the band and they listen to me. It's more similar to singing than to reciting because I'm projecting an emotive voice."
John Cutaia himself is emotive. He has a smooth voice that floats through stanzas and pounds out refrains. His constant smile is affectatious and his body bends and bounces with his words.
Cutaia draws from real life when he writes his poetry. He has been inspired by his six year old daughter, transients on the drag, PBS specials and people in the office. And yes, his co-workers attend the shows and appreciate the inside jokes.
Even though Glosso Babel has been around for three years and Austin has a large, recognized spoken word scene, the performance is a novelty to most people. "Outsiders don't know what it is, but they get it because it's been around. The Clash, punk bands, Peter Gabriel and Elvis all have done this kind of thing," Cutaia said.
There is a recent resurgence of spoken word performance not seen since the Beat days. Lollapalooza has a poetry stage, spoken word is heard on the radio and record companies are showing interest. While Cutaia was influenced by the Beat poets, he points out that spoken word roots lie much deeper with Greek oral tradition, like Homer's The Odyssey.
"The scene here is huge and competitive. But it's good-competitive. Every one knows each other and is familiar with the work around town. There are enough forums for everyone and we all do different things. But we have a common goal of bringing it to a professional level." On June 19th Glosso Babel will be doing a show with fellow performers at Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre. Performers include: Bill Jeffers, Valerie Bridgeman Davis, Dr. Marvin Kenbrough, Thom the World Poet, Albert Hoffstickler and Susan Kjar.
In the future, Glosso Babel is looking for recording contracts and possibly some European tours. Cutaia has heard they pay better across the Atlantic.
Glosso Babel is also planning to incorporate modern dance into their shows. "This would add a visual element to the performance. We've worked with [dancer] Susan Kjar in the past and want to make that a regular part of what we do," Cutaia said.
Glosso is taken from glossolalia, which means speaking in tongues and is associated with both schizophrenia and religious fervor. Babel refers to the Tower of Babel. For those of you rusty with your Old Testament, Babel was to be the site of a tower reaching to heaven, but the construction of the tower was interrupted by the confusion of tongues.
John Cutaia is down-to-earth, warm and funny. Put him on stage with the band and he jumps to life with an incredible fervor. Glosso Babel is well worth a look and listen. Check them out at Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre on June 19 and on the KUT (90.5) Live Set, June 30 at 8:00.
First, there was the blues, babe.......then there was the blues. This line from an old Jazz Crusaders tune was the "catchy slogan" for the first Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival. The line was illustrated on our t-shirts with an intense profile view of the Grey Ghost, sitting at the piano looking into the camera, his expression flat and serious. Mr. Ghost seemed to be saying, in his wordless sidelong glare, "I ain't complaining about nothing, I'm just playing me some blues."
That was 1989. To the credit of many folks, the disdain of some, the Clarksville Jazz Fest now moves into it's 8th season. That catchy slogan from the 1989 Fest is now, more than ever, the official refrain of the Festival. The line was perhaps just a cute little rhythmic device for the Crusaders' tune, but we think there's more to it than its cuteness. First there was the blues, babe....then, there was the blues. Hey, that is quite simply deep, full circle, yin-yang. And true.
Playing the blues has nothing to do with giving up and feeling sorry for oneself. Playing the blues is about getting on the inside of that emotion, expressing its depth, communicating honestly, and recognizing that the more you play the blues, the better you get at playing. You can't live the blues for a lifetime without learning to play it (if you don't learn to play it, the circle stops, the refrain is incomplete, and maybe you just don't survive). The good thing is, once you learn to play the blues, the basic clues for moving on to a classic swing are at your fingertips. After that, you don't just play the blues, you move to the next level. You get your mojo working, fall into a groove (perhaps a big wide gully), and swing your blues. The thing is, to survive -- to play -- the blues, you can't try to separate the music from the dance. You gotta learn to dance with blues integrity, the real deal. It doesn't have to dance pretty, or do the latest popular steps, just be honest. And that usually means you swing better than those whose grasp of the blues is ill-informed and shallow.
Like Matthew Robinson says (at Catfish Station every weekend), "....hey, hey! The blues is all right!"
The Eight Annual Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival is a living example of my little metaphor. We started with the blues. We've lived with the blues. And now we are trying to learn to play the blues, to dance in rhythm, to stay in the groove, to swing hard, so that we might continue on our mission of mastering bebop. Bop dancing is really where we want to be. After eight years of paying blues dues, we want this little festival to be up there doing some serious hard bopping, up-tempo hard swangin, teaching some other folks to dance with soul and recognize just where this groove lives. Believe me, there is enough room in this gully, down here in the groove, for a lot of rhythms, a lot of dances, a lot of folks. And we all will dance better, shaking our collective booddies to the music, if we can spend less time having to work on our political footwork. You dig?
Of course I do really have more to say, but this little jazz fest does take a lot of prep time. So, instead of going on right now, I'll just invite you all to come see us at Jazz Fest. With any luck, we'll all have a good time, learn to dance, and celebrate the good stuff about living in Austin. Peace.
Long before I was inundated by the hollow garble of the MTV revolution (that marketing wet dream come true), I was fortunate enough to have a deeper exposure to American music. Between the ages of 3 and 5, I was placed in the daily care of Roland and Viola Nagel, a retired couple who were friends of the family. While I was just as rambunctious and unruly as any child that age, they soon discovered that music does calm the savage beast (a favorable comparison for a 3-year-old). Roland was a retired sergeant who had served in World War Two, and over his years of travels he had amassed a large record collection. The majority of it was big band, swing, and other branches of the jazz tree that were popular at the time. He also had recordings of old radio programs such as The Shadow, The Green Hornet, and Fibber McGee and Molly. These along with a few Spike Jones records were my favorites. For hours I'd sit on the living room floor entranced by the array of album covers, while Roland would browse through the collection spinning discs. It was mostly Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James type stuff, but as the collection grew it became more and more Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker. I don't think Roland ever cared to listen to anything recorded past the late fifties but preferred the sounds of what was for him, a simpler time.
Not long after my fifth birthday, my family moved to Detroit and I began school. By the time I was a teenager I still loved listening to records, but now they were those of legends like Motley Crue and Iron Maiden. How painful true confessions are. And what a strange effect drugs and puberty have on angry young men. Yet through it all I continued to keep in touch with Roland and Viola, and by the time I was 15 the family had moved back home to Texas. Of course my musical tastes continued the downward spiral with each passing trend, but I still would go and hang out with Roland every so often and talk about music. His health failing, he was still ordering old records and enjoying adding to his collection. To him, there was nothing like putting a needle to vinyl and feeling the essence of the groove. He was a wise man.
Roland Nagel passed from this world two years ago. As a young man too wrapped up in my own life, I didn't see him much in those last days. It's something I still regret. After he was laid to rest, Viola told me that his records were out in the garage and I could have whatever I wanted. She said he would have liked for me to have them. Going through them, I soon realized what a large cross-section of music recorded between the 1930s through 1950s I had inherited. For me it has been an awakening, or rather a reawakening, to the first tunes and melodies I experienced as a child. The thing that has changed is me. To appreciate the sound of a trumpet being breathed to life, or a brush kissing a snare or riding a cymbal, is an acquired taste for many. For many others, it's all about growing up enough to understand how a musician can sing their joys and sorrows without uttering a word. Without Roland's influence, I may not have been able to make these distinctions. For this, I'm forever grateful. Yet in the end, I know that the only thanks he would have wished for is to know someone is still caring for and cherishing his records, and that the music he loved is still alive and well.