Rarified Ayers: Politics, Activism and Sunshine – Part I

Hey folks!

It’s been a minute, but I am happy to say I am busy writing!  I have a lot of new content that I have not posted just yet!  So please bare with me!  Check out my interview with legendary producer and artist Roy Ayers.  You can also read this article and more at www.irockjazz.com.  I will post Part II in a few days.  Please enjoy! And let me know what you think!

 

Leonard Feather, the author of the encyclopedia of jazz, spoke to me and he said the first real American he ever met was Louis Armstrong.  – Roy Ayers

Aside from James Brown, no artist has been sampled more in the hip-hop community than Roy Ayers.  His deep, dark and rhythmic beats have been the backdrop to countless hits.  Originally from Los Angeles, Ayers grew up listening to the sounds of Lionel Hampton, Billie Holliday as well as Louis Armstrong.  He currently resides in New York, where he continues to release new music, which further solidifies his legacy.  His musical contributions are unparalleled.  He is respected across so many genres.  But one thing is clear:  Roy Ayers has seen the music industry undergo a tremendous change.  In his opinion, these changes are not for the better. In fact, jazz as a genre is under duress.  In this sweeping and wide-ranging interview, Roy Ayers is passionate about his thoughts about the industry.  The topics move through diverse areas, all culminating into some very insightful thoughts in this two part interview.  Part I is an in-depth discussion about his beginnings and his thoughts about the changes in the music industry.  To learn more about Roy Ayers, please check him out at www.royayers.net

Your parents were musicians.  Were you encouraged to play music early on?

RA: My parents were not professional musicians, but they played music.

When you were growing up in LA, what was the music scene like at the time when you started?

RA: It was a great music scene because I grew up listening to the music of Lionel Hampton, who is my idol, along with other great artists like Billie Holliday and all of the great jazz artists of that time.

In your opinion, how do you think the scene in LA has changed since then?

RA: I don’t know. It’s kind of died out.  As a matter of fact, it’s kind of dying out all over the world, especially in the United States.  They seem to be phasing the music called “jazz” out.  It is one of America’s greatest music.  People like Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington brought fame to this country through the music and through the appreciation of other countries like England, France and Germany and the rest of the world.  It seems as though radio is starting to evaporate, it is starting to dry out. Other people are buying radio stations and radio is phasing a lot of artists out; especially black artists.  And it’s a shame.  Leonard Feather, the author of the encyclopedia of jazz, spoke to me and he said the first real American he ever met was Louis Armstrong.  And I was very inspired, and appreciated his appreciation and also the fact that he told me about it. It’s a shame what’s going on, it’s a massive thing.  I believe that it is organized by people that are in the industry to try to take the music away.  And I see it happening on television, on MTV where they are phasing jazz out. I see that the Grammy doesn’t have a vocal jazz artist category. It’s not as significant as it used to be. And jazz was one of greatest goodwill ambassadors to other countries.  And it’s not happening anymore. So, I would think it would be up to our people, black people to try to save the music and continue its participation in the world.  The record companies have backed off most jazz artists like me, and like Ronnie Laws, and Lonnie Liston Smith, Tom Brown and many others. It’s a shame and nobody talks about it.  Nobody seems to know about it.  Even you!  Maybe a few stations that we do have that are playing the music you might know about it. But it’s being phased out.  So it’s important that we talk about it. I’m talking about it.  A station called Clear Channel, they don’t play me.  They don’t play a lot of black artists. They do play a few people like George Benson.  But they don’t play us as much as used they to play us. So they kind of just phased us out.  I’m now 71 and I don’t feel old but that’s what I am.  It’s a shame what’s happening with the music scene. But, the only thing I can do is to continue to put records out and make my own records which I’m doing, and try to get some funds together to hopefully buy a radio station or become part of one with some other musicians so we can give the people our music that we still have.  A lot of artists have died; people like Grover Washington Jr. have died over the years.   All these things are happening.  It’s a shame.  Major radio stations like WAMO in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are gone now. Even the R & B stations are being phased out. It’s a shame.  We can see this, and we know this is happening.  Even BET which was blacked owned, has now changed formats and has dropped jazz totally. There’s a lot of resentment from a lot of musicians.  A lot of R& B musicians are being phased out. It’s a shame.  So I’m trying to organize other musicians so that we can talk about it more. It is so sad what the industry is doing to our musicians and to us. As one of the musicians from this era, it saddens me to see what’s happening in this country and places abroad as well.  There are still a few really good places to play in the United States but there are only a few.    And the music has to live on and I will continue to make music myself.  And I guess that’s all I really have to say.

You’ve echoed a lot of things that other artists have said to me.

RA: You’ve have heard what I have said from other artists?

You’ve echoed some of the same sentiments where others are feeling like the industry has changed,  and you’re being blocked out.  So I guess that would lead into my next question: Why do you think this has happened?

RA: It affects all of us economically.  There aren’t that many places to perform and play.  That’s a direct change.  There aren’t that many people to hear our music because of radio, and because of the decline of record companies.  And a lot of musicians are dying.  They are getting old and dying.  And so these are happening and there’s not a lot of work.  There’s not a lot of exposure as there was before. You understand that?

Oh of course! But it’s unfortunate.  I don’t understand why it should happen!

RA: It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is…. You’re a writer, what can you write to make things better?

That is what I hope to do.  That is my goal: To be a conduit for artists to spread the word.

RA: Well, everything is changing.  I guess we all have to work with the change.  But it’s very discouraging the way that things are changing.  It’s a discouraging event.  I have positive attributes and my mind is optimistic about everything that’s going on. I feel really good about my music.  But feel really bad about how the industry is changing.  Guys that have put years and years of their lives into the industry are being phased out.  Generally speaking, it is happening to most of the black artists.  And I emphasize that because that’s who it is happening to. When you look at Earth, Wind and Fire, Cameo and R& B groups like that, when you look at our great singers who are being phased out. It’s a shame.  But that’s the way it is. And I guess time will tell.  Maybe things will change. Maybe I should become a hip-hopper! 

You know some people wouldn’t mind that!

RA: I have more records sampled as hits than anyone other than James Brown.  People have sampled my music and I hope I can get paid.  I have a lawsuit now against some people.

Really?

RA: Anyway, I’m not trying to bring that up, but I’m just saying that’s what is happening.  A lot people have sampled my music and I haven’t been paid by the record companies.  So the lawyers are working for me. There are a lot of things happening.  It’s about the money.  That’s behind everything that’s happening.  If you look at the presidential situation between Romney and Obama, it’s the money.  It’s always about the money.  It seems like the money is always getting in the way.   Both are spending ridiculous amounts of money to become president. The amount of money they are spending, they could give it to the budget!  They are spending stupid amounts of money. They could put it in the deficit!  It doesn’t make sense!  The money should be going to the people. To those who deserve a better break.  It’s crazy!  I have to laugh at it.  These are our leaders that are doing that.  All they are doing is trying to win. They are screwing up everything.  And really they are both losers! In reality they make all the people in the United States of America losers as well. It’s a shame. It’s a damn shame. With so many things that have been done to make things better, they’ve made things worse.

Musical Conversations – An Interview with Anat Cohen (Courtesy of iRock Jazz)

Hello folks!  I hope you are having a fantastic day.  Just to let you know that recently, I have started to contribute articles and interivews to iRock Jazz. My first intervew was with multi-instrumentalist Anat Cohen.  If you wish to read the article, please click on the link below.  Stay tuned for more stories, and reviews. I have an interview with Chicago legend, Willie Pickens forthcoming.  Thanks for your support!

http://irockjazz.com/2012/06/musical-conversations-%e2%80%93-an-interview-with-anat-cohen/ 

Mark A. Moore

Pumping Up the Jam

By: Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

“People start smiling and cosigning—shouting their approval of what is being played….Cat’s with horns come out of the woodwork.  If the rhythm section is right, you might stay there and play or just listen, soaked in swing, until the sun comes up.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    —Wynton Marsalis, Moving to Higher Ground

I was sitting at home on Sunday night with my wife watching the millionth episode of some show centered on rebuilding a home in a neighborhood I have no interest on living in.  Perhaps she was giving me, yet another subtle hint!  While sitting at my computer, I got a quick message via Facebook from my friend telling me that a jam session was about to go down at Andy’s Jazz club on Hubbard St.  Ever elated and truly grateful for the escape, I quickly changed clothes and headed over to what I knew would be an eventful evening.

I had the pleasure of visiting a jam session hosted by jazz vocalist Rose Colella.  It was held at the legendary Jazz Showcase.  After the final set was played, I took some time speak to her. Rose is a lovely lady, blessed with height and an incredible singing voice.  Her gentle, engaging presence is warm and friendly—the type of person you’ve never met, yet always known.  After waltzing through the chairs and tables closest to the stage we engaged in a very memorable exchange.   I simply asked her, “Why did you choose to do this?”  Rose explained that these sessions were “a great way to meet some other talented musicians in the city”.  In her mind, jam sessions are simply a continuum of the jazz movement that will evolve and nurture talent.  Unfortunately, Rose’s jam session series at the Jazz Showcase has ended, but we should not despair.  Jam sessions are alive and well in the city.

Recently, Chicago has seen a resurgence of them across the city.  Andy’s Jazz club has been hosting a Sunday night jam session for the past few months.  Lead by the accomplished and incredibly talented Pharez Whitted, it has quickly grown into a “who’s-who” of the Chicagojazz scene. Each Sunday, he and his house band play live.  The band is comprised of incredibly talented artists.  Bobby Broom and his sonic strumming are on guitar, with Dennis Carroll anchoring the rhythm section on bass. Greg Artry exhibited his mastery on drums.  Eddie Bayard ripped the stage on saxophone, and Ron Perrillo’s transcendent melodies on the piano made for gripping solos. And not be outdone by any measure, Pharez Whitted reminded you why he is regarded as one of the best trumpeters the Midwest has ever produced.   They are serious musicians who bring out the best in each other.  There was no holding back with the group. (They’ve announced that they will have a new album set to be released later this year.)

Chicago is a breeding ground for musical talent, making it an attractive setting to artists who happen to be in town.  The incredibly talented jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines sat in with the band during two sets.  His incredible tone, delivery and artistry added excitement to performance.  In addition, some ofChicago’s best and brightest graced the stage as well.  Marquis Hill (trumpet), Greg Spero (piano), Brent Griffin Jr. (alto saxophone), Samuel Jewell (drums), Christopher McBride (alto saxophone), and Milton Suggs (vocals) represented the future of jazz music with enthusiasm and energy.  Together they played a spirited rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night inTunisia”.  It was an uplifting night of great music and unparalleled camaraderie.  I certainly got what I was looking for.

Dating back to the late 1930’s, jam sessions have always played an integral part of the jazz experience. They are notarized by their nostalgic yet cliché connotations.  We’ve all seen the imagery of the speakeasy; complete with hot jazz music in bawdy surroundings in cities like Chicago,New York and New Orleans. The jam session was a place of enlightenment; a completely integrated environment. It was a chance for an artist to make a statement and to express themselves. An artist had to earn respect from their peers regardless of your race.  Imitation was frowned upon.  Forget about sounding like Dizzy or playing like Coltrane. You had to find a way to create your own sound.    By today’s standards, the jam session is less about the surroundings and more about the interpretations and improvisations.  Most jam sessions are held at jazz clubs across the country.  A common tune or jazz standard is selected and just like that… they’re off!  Any musician who has participated in one will tell you: It is best that you bring your “A” game. There is an element of competition and showmanship displayed by the artists.  Skills are honed and passed on.  It is where old meets new, pushing the art form forward, creating new movements.

Listed below are jam sessions that are hosted regularly around the city of Chicago.  If you love jazz, you should make every effort to check them out.  If you know of others, please send them to smoothjazzenterainmentinfo@gmail.com .  We would be happy to list them on our website as well.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Pharez Whitted Jam Session

11 E. Hubbard St.

Chicago,IL60611

Every Sunday night from 9 PM – 1 AM

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

Green Mill Quartet and Jam Session

4802 N. Broadway Ave.

ChicagoIL,60640

Every Friday 1:30AM – 4 AM

www.pharezwhitted.com

www.bobbybroom.com

www.rosecolella.com

Experimentation for Meditation – Robert Glasper’s Experiment

By: Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

On March 10th 2012 The Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Bilal rolled into Chicago, playing a live show at the Double Door. (Unfortunately, I did not get to attend, but I heard it was a memorable performance.) About 2 weeks prior to that, they were the featured musical guest on The David Letterman Show and days later on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Clearly, this album has generated a lot of buzz, especially since he was featured in the April edition of Downbeat Magazine.  Robert Glasper is considered to represent a younger, fresher interpretation of jazz.  He isn’t afraid to mix incongruous elements, while pushing his music in different directions.  His latest project The Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio   attempts to do that unapologetically without apprehension.  However, after ingesting this diverse musical concoction, I realized I wasn’t sure of what I had just heard.  An ominous question quickly bubbled to the surface:

Is this jazz?

Black Radio is definitely in line with other works that have attempted to bridge both hip-hop and jazz.  For example, legendary rapper Guru (of Gangstarr fame) has successfully blended the intricacies of both genres successfully.  Jazzmatazz volume II is undeniably a definitive hip-hop album.  At the time, it was considered to be “different” offering listener a broader scope into both jazz and hip-hop. Conversely, I would argue that Black Radiois similar, yet disparate in its own devices.  It ranges further into today’s definition of R&B, with smatterings of hip-hop interspersed throughout.  As with most jazz artists, Glasper has covered at least one standard.  In this case, he’s selected Mongo Santamaría’s Afro Blue featuring Erykah Badu.  It is a smooth track that captures the song’s poetic lyricism, without pushing limits.  Badu’s pitched nuances add a streak of color to very straight-laced track.  This rendition doesn’t challenge the listener, but you will find yourself enjoying its catchy beat and melodic piano chords.

Perhaps the most eclectic song on the album is his interpretation of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.  At first, you barely recognize it, especially since its famous guitar riff has been removed.  Its simple, rhythmic tempo and quiet subtlety is combined with “psychedelic” vocals that would make Teddy Riley proud.  Considering the grit and sheer weight of the original, this version will leave you feeling a little perplexed, yet appreciative of its trippy distinctiveness.   Lalah Hathaway’s pure vocals accentuate the softness of its conclusion, while adding another layer to the experience.  You will appreciate her richness and vocal clarity even more on Cherish The Day; a solid rendition of Sade’s hit song from the album Love Deluxe.  Several tracks include moderate interludes at their end, which act as transitional elements.

Robert Glasper has summoned a talented list of artists such as Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Musiq Soulchild, Ledisi, King, Stokley, Shafiq Husayn, Lalah Hathaway, Chrisette Michele, Yasiin Bey and Meshell Ndegeocello to round out 12 firm tracks.   Subsequently, Glasper is doing his part to challenge the status quo.  For example, during Gonna Be Alright featuring Ledisi, the last 1:30 seconds is a candid conversation about the state of the music industry today.  There is a very clear message that he is challenging us all to ponder.

The Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio, is definitely a sensible album, which makes for a good listening experience.  The tracks are well structured, but they don’t push limits.   They are not bland by any stretch, but at times I felt they would do more. I would hope that his next “experiment” will further magnify his creative sensibilities.  Perhaps he is trying to capture a wide audience of listeners by making universally appealing material that will satisfy the average listener across several genres.  The album continues to njoy robust sales.  The formula is working effectively.    Now getting back to my original question:

Is it jazz?

The short answer is no.  It strays too far from it.  Just as the title suggests, it is experimental.  However, without a doubt, it is very, very good music.

If It Ain’t Got That Swing….

By:  Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

For the past few months there has been a raging debate surrounding esteemed jazz artist Nicholas Payton and his declaration of the death of jazz. On his blog,   (http://nicholaspayton.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/on-why-jazz-isnt-cool-anymore/) he wrote what amounted to be a manifesto about how jazz was not longer relevant in the context it has been placed in.  He contended that since 1959, the word “jazz” was no longer representative of the cultural and spiritual breadth of this art form. According to Payton, he plays Black American Music (BAM), not the commonly accepted genre.  His words triggered a deep and somewhat divided conversation about the state of jazz and what it really represents.

When I first heard about Mr. Payton’s concepts I wasn’t sure what to make of his arguments.  At first glance it seemed argumentative and rather self-serving.  Here is this talented musician who has experienced the highest levels of success playing jazz, denouncing the very thing that he’d achieved so much in.  Why do that?  What was I missing? For the record, there have been several musicians that fought vehemently against the characterization of the term “jazz”.  Perhaps Miles Davis was the most well known detractor, whose sentiments most resemble those of Payton’s.  As I read more of his comments and opinions, I began to realize that his argument went much deeper.

There are important elements of his argument that have gone relatively unnoticed.  For one, Payton contends that the spiritual and communal elements of this art form are beginning to be ignored.  The historical significance of slavery, black culture and heritage has a direct connection to jazz music.  It is a legacy that must be preserved in order to maintain its cultural and artistic significance.  As a native of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz it is not hard to understand why this issue hits close to home.   Payton argues that there are music scholars, historians and even some musicians who are beginning to reject this connection; seemingly attempting to rewrite the history books, while making jazz less Afrocentric.

Second, Payton talks about how the music industry has marginalized jazz by creating sub-genres that force artists into “boxes”, thereby compartmentalizing the art form and stifling creativity.  Most artists, who play, don’t summarily refer to it as “jazz”. Conversely, I doubt that the likes of Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk sat around practicing “jazz” either.  In his most recent interview with Willard Jenkins, Nicholas Payton speaks about how as an artist, his music must evolve.  At times, his audience has had a difficult time accepting this.  They always expect him to “play the trumpet” while ignoring his other musical talents and expressions. (For the record, Nicholas Payton plays several instruments, aside from the trumpet.)

And finally, Nicholas Payton speaks passionately about how the essence of Black American Music cannot be captured fully in the confines of the classroom.  There is an innate spirituality that is largely connected to the musical interpretations of this art form.  He contends that ALL people can channel this understanding, but he feels that academia has reduced several artistic representations into tools that are merely musical overtures.  For example, jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie have been reduced to musical “segments” which are formatted and taught as one specific construct. (He discusses this in greater detail in his interview with Jenkins.)  The complexity and emotional connotations of their works are omitted by design. This is particularly damaging because students cannot learn true improvisation, without learning the value of challenging conventions. It cannot be taught with such rigidity and structure.  This is a hindrance to the creative process.  Payton and Jenkins feel that artists today are seemingly “playing for themselves” and have not learned the professional nuances that are passed down generationally.  They believe that most scholars who teach jazz have not developed these skills in their own right.  There are too many “academics” that are teaching jazz, that haven’t played music for a living.

Since this debate was first initiated, Nicholas Payton has been the target of hate mail and other racial epithets.   These notions are misguided and misplaced.  In my opinion, he is trying to address an issue that stems deeper than its base argument.  He has eloquently challenged ideas that most people have standardized.  Jazz is one of the great contributions in American culture.  Instead of lashing out at his ideas, perhaps we should challenge ourselves to pay more attention to their merits.  Whether you agree or disagree with him, Nicholas Payton has critically questioned commonly accepted conventions in jazz music, which has brought the argument to the forefront.  To say the least, his courage should be applauded.

Whitney Houston 1963-2012 – The Choices We Make

By Mark A. Moore, Senior Executive Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

In the eighties her hits couldn’t end.  Her fame soared to the highest heights.  Her talents were undeniable. Whitney Houston was one of the best singers of her generation.  A force to be reckoned with, her songs topped the charts.  She was pop music’s queen.  Her three octave range coupled with unmatched control was a staple of the industry for the good part of 20 years.  No singer since Ella Fitzgerald demonstrated the incredible combination of power and clarity as she did.  In my opinion, her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is one of greatest recorded songs ever made.  Her moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner became the standard by which all others are measured.  Whitney Houston has died, leaving the music world stunned and dumbfounded.  How could this be?  Why did this happen?   Her end was not fitting of someone with such prowess.  Hers was a story of choices and how they can impact the direction of your life.

From her early beginnings in NJ, Whitney Houston seemed destined for greatness. Her mother, Cissy Houston sang back up for Aretha Franklin.  Dionne Warwick, an accomplished singer in her own right, is her cousin.   Aretha Franklin is her Godmother.  With such an impressive pedigree, it was all but certain that Whitney was destined for greatness.  But with fame and fortune, we learned that Whitney became a casualty of excess.   On several occasions, Whitney Houston admitted openly to using cocaine, marijuana, and pills over the course of her career. I guess, when you seemingly have it all, it is difficult for us to understand why someone with so much to offer would make such lousy choices.  When examined carefully, we learn that drugs have way of becoming the magic potion; the secret elixir that makes you what want to be. Often, it is a symbol of defiance.   For many artists, it gives them the courage to be creative, pushing them further and further down the fox hole until they lose control.  At that point, it’s too late.  The damage is irreparable.  They can’t come back.     Sadly, the music industry is littered with careers cut short by drug abuse. Clearly, Whitney Houston was no exception.  But some would argue that her downfall began when she married another tormented soul—Bobby Brown.

Was Bobby Brown to blame?  Did he cause Whitney Houston to do drugs?  I don’t think there’s a definitive answer here.  I think it is fair to say that he was certainly not a positive impact in her life.  Their marriage was tumultuous to say the least and Bobby had his own demons that derailed his career. (He would be arrested several times on a litany of charges to say the least.)  BUT that doesn’t change the fact that Whitney Houston knowingly took drugs and was unable to beat her addiction.  Drug use is a disease.   It destroys lives often stripping victims of everything—even those with the means to get help.  In her now infamous interview with Diane Sawyer, Whitney admitted that “The biggest devil is me.  I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”  She ultimately lost her battle.  In the end, the enemy won.

Ironically, Whitney Houston was staying in the Beverly Hilton hotel ready to attend a pre-Grammy party being hosted by none other than her professional mentor Clive Davis.  He is credited with discovering her talents and signing her to Arista Records.  The night was supposed to be a tribute to her illustrious career .  Now we will spend it grieving.   This was a sad end to one of the greatest voices ever to perform.  She will be missed.

Yes indeed, the choices we make.