Category Archives: Blog

Women in Jazz: Vi Redd

Elvira “Vi” Redd (born September 20, 1928) is an American jazz alto saxophone player, vocalist and educator. She has been active since the early 1950s and is known primarily for playing in the bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. She is highly regarded as an accomplished veteran who personally knew Dizzy Gillespie and has performed with such stars as Count Basie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Linda Hopkins and Marian McPartland.

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Whose Murals Get Saved?

They say that “blues ain’t nothing but a botheration on your mind.” It’s bothersome that developers are erasing African Americans’ cultural heritage. In Philadelphia, developers routinely – and without notice – demolish or cover up murals that are paid for in part by City taxpayers.

John Coltrane Collage

Murals are part of Philadelphia’s cultural landscape. The Mural Arts Program creates murals that engage the community. They reflect a community’s history, identity, hopes and dreams.

Women of Jazz Mural

City Council members can use Councilmanic Prerogative to require that developers of publicly-subsidized projects replace murals of social or cultural significance. Who will determine which mural meets that threshold? Let’s stipulate that murals that tell stories about events or persons who are the subject of books, songs, documentaries, national holiday, or City and congressional resolutions are culturally significant.

City Council Resolution - June 2001

The how of replacement is negotiable. What is non-negotiable is that developers can erase African Americans’ cultural heritage because, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, there is “no controlling legal authority.” A district Council member is the controlling legal authority in his or her district. He or she decides which projects go forward and which ones go nowhere. While developers view murals as disposable, district Council members must exercise their prerogative and demand that they respect that which came before.

Women in Jazz Month

March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz.

As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate the role that women in jazz played in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement. While Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-documented, Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.

I also want to hihglight the pioneering women of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first racially-integrated all-female big band.

International Sweethearts of Rhythm

The 17-piece band was led by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn. The Sweethearts were popular in the 1940s. Indeed, they were one of the top swing bands, appearing on radio broadcasts, and touring the U.S. and Europe. The group disbanded in 1949.

Memories of Trudy Pitts and Mr. C

Jazz memories must be stored in a special place – not just your brain, but body and soul.

After being at Faye Anderson’s talk about the old locations and why she wants them given their due respect via a walking tour, I could hear – and want to move to – the wonderful sounds of Trudy Pitts & Mr. C playing the classics at Sunday jazz brunches on the river, somewhere near Spring Garden around the late 80s/early 90s. They had an occasional guest, but the highlight for me was Mr. C always ending with the Louis Armstrong classic, “What a Wonderful World.”

Anyone have more detailed memories?

Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, is a behavioral scientist and the architect of Teamability® – a completely new technology that measures how people will perform in teams.

ED. Note: Trudy Pitts and Mr. C held forth at Meiji-en on the Waterfront.

From Bebop to Hip-hop

Hip-hop artists are influenced by that which came before. Like beboppers, they have created their own language and culture. Beboppers improvised. Hip-hop artists freestyle.

In an interview with West Philadelphia Music, a project of the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Science, jazz drummer Lucky Thompson said:

Uhh, yeah! Yeah, because it’s all improvisation. Like what they do, they call a rap, a rap is nothing new. Rappers, well, they was doing that back in the forties. That’s not, you know, that’s not new, that’s not new. That used to be a hip talk back then. You know, skeealeebop skeetaleebop babop la-deh-da, you know, that’s old. That’s not—that’s new to them, you know, but it’s not nothing new. It’s been out—it’s been here for a while, and they just called it scatting or talking jive—they would call it talking jive. So that’s, you know, and then cuz like, you can use it—they like now, you see, they using a lot of—they go to Europe, they take a lot of the traditional jazz music and put hip hop beats and everything right over the top of it. And they dance to it, you know, I was really—I was really shocked when I heard it when I went to Europe I was like, “Wow, they playing [Col]trane?” And they got them dancing you know, but it had like a hip hop—a hip hop beat, you know. But it was deep, it was deep, I swear it was deep.

Still, for some jazz purists, the only thing bebop and hip-hop have in common is “they rhyme.” While their heads are stuck in rarified air, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson dropped some knowledge in the liner notes for “Droppin’ Science: Greatest Samples From The Blue Note Lab”:

The one that makes me the proudest, of course, is my hometown champ (and the greatest, funkiest, and most precise DJ ever!), DJ Jazzy Jeff, who lived up to his name in 1986 with a ditty called “A Touch of Jazz,” a compiled cram session of ’70s funk/jazz trivia looped and scratched to perfection. It was the “DJ cut” — remember those? — on his debut album, Rock the House (along with an MC I haven’t heard from in eons? Any locale for a Will Smith? Anyone? . . . lol).

[…]

Enter Idris Muhammad, a crucial general in the Blue Note army that was key to crossing the prestigious jazz label over to the soul side of thangs. That was how I got sucked into Bluebreaks. Same jazz outlook, just a lil’ funkier, to reach the corners of the ghetto that an otherwise (still worthy) Jackie McLean or a Horace Silver couldn’t penetrate. Idris’s drums had equal influence on me just as strong as if he were playing the role of John “Jabo” Starks or Clyde Stubblefield in the James Brown band.

In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History project, NEA Jazz Master and Philly native Percy Heath said:

Anyhow, they [hip-hop artists] take little pieces of some things that were written in the bebop era, post-bebop era, and they make little licks out of it and they use it. That’s good that some people, they listen to hip-hop. So, hip-hop is like bebop was back then, revolutionary movement. This business of rapping, I used to do that in the schoolyard when I was twelve years old.

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