I’m about to celebrate a birthday at the end of the month. As I take this moment to reflect on my musical journey and this column, I can say that I think I’m a better person. No, I know that I’m a better person.
I’ve grown and evolved in ways that I never imagined. And I’ve been lucky to meet and interview so many wonderful people along the way. It’s a shame that I can’t list all the names of those who have touched my life by way of this music we call jazz.
As I once wrote in an essay long ago, my voice I still hear above all the noise. Early on, someone very influential told me I had a voice. I’ll tell you his name later. Does developing your own personal voice take time, or are you just born with it?
Some of the artists and authors I’ve interviewed (and some I haven’t) that have voices that I admire and have found myself drawn to include Charles Lloyd, Jackie McLean, Lou Rawls, Frank Morgan, Herbie Lewis, Irv Williams, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes, Ornette Coleman and the list goes on.
I’m talking about Billie Holiday with Charles, telling Jackie how much I love him on “These Are Soulful Days,” having “Lady Love” sung to me by Lou, listening to Ella in the car with Frank, enjoying music with Herbie, celebrating Irv’s birthday, learning from Sonny and Roy about the “Golden Days” of jazz, and interviewing Ornette about his life for DownBeat. I’ve also talked about the making of the recording Tonight At Noon…Three or Four Shades of Love (Dreyfus, 2002) with Elvis Costello.
These are all experiences that I will never forget. I’m grateful to have tape recorded a number of these interviews.
Eartha Kitt and I talked about her life and times in Harlem. When I met Aretha, I was happy to have the opportunity to tell her how much I love her rendition of “Ain’t No Way.” Her new box set is Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia (Sony/Legacy, 2011).
Taking a break with Sue Mingus in the press room at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Interviewing and hanging out with Nnenna Freelon and René Marie. What a joy. Look out for René, who will return to the Dakota in July. People who know me know that I’m a horrible singer, yet I try anyway.
Books on jazz and more
I’m continuing to discover and enjoy the work of authors such as Robin D.G. Kelley. Now, I’m reading the paperback version of his book, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009). I’m learning about Monk’s friendships with people like Herbie Nichols, Elmo Hope and Bud Powell. The book is a real page turner.
I recently finished reading Michelle Mercer’s book, Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter (Penguin, 2004). It’s well written and insightful. Not only is Wayne an extremely gifted artist, but also he’s an amazing human being. Thank goodness Wayne is still alive and well. Now I know why so many people admire him so. I love this book!
Other books I’ve been checking out include Best Music Writing 2010 with guest editor Ann Powers and series editor Daphne Carr (Da Capo Press, 2010). This book exposes readers to some of the best music articles written in a variety of publications throughout the year 2010. I would love to get a piece published in a future book as part of this series. We’ll see.
A while back, I remember interviewing author Malcolm Gladwell. For whatever reason, the interview was never published. But I recall going to his reading of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking at a nearby bookstore. Lately, I’ve also been re-reading this book.
I’ve never interviewed Maya Angelou, but I have heard her speak at a special presentation at Orchestra Hall. As I build on my book collection, I have several books by her. Recently I was at a nearby Goodwill and was happy to find another one of her books to add to my collection, Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem (Random House, 2005).
Congrats to Dr. Kenny Garrett
According to another press release, Mack Avenue Records recording artist Kenny Garrett was presented with an honorary doctorate of music degree from Berklee College of Music. The presentation took place at the college’s commencement ceremony held May 7 at the 7,000-seat Agganis Arena at Boston University. Additionally, Garrett was the commencement speaker, addressing more than 900 Berklee graduates, their parents and invited guests. Other musicians who received an honorary degree with Garrett include Chucho Valdés, Bebo Valdés, Mavis Staples and Michael McDonald.
“I was totally elated when I was advised that I’d be receiving an honorary doctorate from the world’s largest college of contemporary music!” reflected Garrett. “This is a dream come true, and I’m deeply appreciative and honored to be a member of this illustrious group of recipients.”
This year’s honorary doctorate recipients are being recognized for their achievements and influence in music and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture.
Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Dizzy Gillespie, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Juan Luis Guerra, Nancy Wilson, David Bowie, the Edge, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Chaka Khan, Bonnie Raitt, Ahmet Ertegun, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
New CDs from JD Allen, Putumayo
Currently there are some exciting things happening with artists such as saxophonist JD Allen (www.http://jdallennow.com), whose new CD, Victory! (Sunnyside), was released May 17 on Sunnyside Records: This is his third release for the label, his 5th as a leader. Victory! features Allen’s longstanding trio with Allen on tenor sax, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. He definitely has his own voice.
According to his publicist, the May 18 CD celebration at (Le) Poisson Rouge included, along with a live performance of music from Victory!, an exclusive viewing of the Mario Lathan short film, Victory!, which is embedded on the CD and gives an in-depth look at Allen. The film plays an integral part of the recapitulation in the loosely-based sonata form, on which the album is based.
I’m always excited when I receive music from Putumayo World Music. So when I opened Bossa Nova Around the World and listened to the disc on my Sony Walkman and Sony headphones, I was thrilled. The disc includes 12 artists from South America, North America, Asia, Africa and Europe who have adapted Bossa Nova into their repertoires.
The curator and Putumayo founder Dan Storper said this about the album: “As I’ve traveled the world, it’s been fascinating to see how certain musical genres like Brazilian bossa nova have been embraced globally, and like reggae, seem to blend effortlessly with other rhythms, melodies and languages.”
Robin James welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.