A Week in the Life: RVA,DC, B-more & NYC
I am fired up! Last week I had a fantastic spate of gigs and activities. On Wednesday night we performed at the Hippodrome Theater in Richmond for the premier of a Virginia Commonwealth University documentary film on sickle cell anemia. Richmond area dignitaries walked the red carpet and entered the theater to the smooth jazz sounds of Plunky & Oneness. To close out the evening’s program, we made it funky.
I spent the rest of the week on the road…
Our Name in Lights - A Triumphant Return to the Blues Alley in DC
On Thursday Plunky & Oneness appeared for two shows at Blues Alley, the venerable jazz supper club in Washington, DC. It was one of our many CD album release events throughout the region. We showcased songs from our new album, “Juju Jazz Funk,” as well as material that we’ve been honing during recent touring. The show was a combination of retro & nu, and I was gratified by the audience response. My music critical friend from DC said, “You took 20 years off your show!” Forty-five years into my music career, I am inspired knowing that my fans realize that I am still innovating, still refining and still deepening my connection with audiences.
In fact, the audience at the Blues Alley was a particularly diverse one: old fans and friends, and new listeners, including some patrons who were there because of the club’s renowned reputation. While one might suspect that fans of my musical genres are mostly “seasoned,” Black, progressive jazz lovers, the white patrons at Blues Alley that night once again proved that our music reaches across demographic lines. (NOTE TO BOOKING AGENTS and PROMOTERS: White people really enjoy my music!)
I have been that fan who has stuck around after a gig to express my awe and gratitude to the artist. Therefore I can recognize a sincere compliment when I get one. Take the young white guy who after the show said “I loved it when you played the gourd and flipped it over and over keeping right in time with the music.” Or, the hip white woman, who arrived 90 minutes before show time in order to get a front row table. She has been an avid fan for years. There was another older woman, a new fan, who went on about how much she loved the music, eventually buying CDs for everyone at her table. Particularly meaningful was the compliment from another musician, a young German woman, who said our show was one of the best she had ever seen.
As gratifying as it is to be appreciated, taking a show on the road is not always easy. I need fans and friends to show up, show out, dance, sing along, get funky and buy a CD or two whenever we come to your town.
The Seventh Annual African American Authors and Empowerment Expo
The next two days were spent in Baltimore, where I participated in the 7th Annual African American Authors and Empowerment Expo, along with over 100 other Black writers. Friday night was the awards gala. I was a proud recipient of an award for my autobiography, “PLUNKY: Juju Jazz Funk & Oneness – A Musical Memoir.” This alone was gratifying enough; then I spent Saturday at the book fair on the campus of Morgan State University. I was proud to be among the authors and book lovers enjoying literature and sharing workshops. Among the many esteemed writers in attendance were 30 year journalist and White House correspondent, April Ryan; prolific novelist, Brenda Jackson, who has more than 3 million books in print; hip-hop artists Philadelphia Freeway and Mobb Deep member, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson.
My book certainly garners lots of comments. At first glance it’s the cover design and the sheer weight of the book that draws attention. While it is voluminous, people who have read it say “I couldn’t put it down,” “I read it in two days” “My kids must read it,” and “It was a great read!” Don’t take their words for it. Buy the book and see for yourself. The book and the new CD make great holiday gifts! And, I will be happy to personally autograph them for you.
It is worth noting that we have a multitude of Black writers sharing their stories, research, poetry and wisdom. They (we) need the support of the community so that we can continue to record our history and impact our future. Literature is one of the chief components of education. We should make sure that we encourage and sustain the authorship of our history.
We Can “Breathe”– A New York Concert
To cap off the week I drove from Baltimore to New York City to participate in “Breathe,” a concert of 50 horn players performing as a consciousness-raising ensemble. It was conceived and conducted by trombonist/composer Craig Harris. A talented array of notable horn players, including David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Ralph Peterson, Ahmed Abdullah, Ras Moshe and all the others gathered for the event. In total there were five tenor saxes, four alto saxes, three flutes, three soprano saxes, three clarinets, one baritone sax, one bass sax, an oboe, seven trombones, three didgeridoos, one baritone horn, a drummer, bass, an electric piano, a few unusual horns, two French horns…and a partridge in a pear tree.
The concert was presented at the Ascension Presbyterian Church in Harlem. More than 200 activists and progressive arts and music lovers attended. I saw poet/playwright Ntozake Shange, theater producer Woody King, documentary film maker Skipper Bailey, arts patron Gayle Davis, and so many others. The featured speaker was activist Attorney Soffiyah Elijah. She addressed the issues of police violence in the community and in prisons. She issued a call for consistent and unified community engagement to effect positive change.
I wrote the artist’ statement for the printed program:
“This is a call to action to conscious and committed musicians, to come blow your horns. It is a call for us to come together to create an improvised symphonic expression, a call to create a harmonic response to the social and political dramas that are unfolding in this our time. It is a recognition that we must breathe in order to heal, survive, prosper, make music, to live. We are planning for 50 musicians of consciousness to come together to make a serious statement and a joyful noise. We want to teach and inspire the community. We want to breathe.”
Many of us wondered how such a complex undertaking would come together and be presented as a cohesive musical production. Craig Harris’ pre-production planning and leadership served us well in the brief rehearsal before the performance. At times the concert consisted of beautiful passages of orchestral, almost cinematic themes. Some segments were like big band jazz. And there were other more exotic sounds from innovative sub-group configurations. All of the various ensemble passages were bridged and punctuated by outstanding avant-garde and jazz solos. Craig directed the orchestra in the manner of Butch Morris who called the methodology “conductance,” a way to organize and direct pre-written material with group improvisation techniques and solos.
The music was at times romantic and sometimes atonal but at all times it resonated beautifully through the church. As Craig maneuvered us through his compositional forays he would designate individuals to solo. As the concert wore on, I began to think that I would not get a solo slot. This was not a concern, as I valued the sheer privilege of participating in this momentous event. As it turned out, Craig did call on me as the final soloist. My energetic, circular-breathing techniques and fiery overblown soprano sax seared through the sanctuary, followed by an encore of quiet flute and oboe passages. What an honor it was to join with this esteemed orchestra of musicians of consciousness. Not only a fitting cap to my week, but also another highlight of my music career. On my drive back on I-95 South I smiled.