Category Archives: Blog

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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Happy Presidents’ Day

In 1964, Dizzy Gillespie threw his beret into the ring and ran for President of the United States.

Dizzy for President

In a piece for Al Jazeera America, Tom Maxwell wrote:

It started as a joke, as so many serious things do. His booking agency had some “Dizzy Gillespie for president” buttons made around 1960, because, you see, it’s funny. Somebody even asked Gillespie why a black jazzman — a permanent member of the underclass if there ever was one — would even think of trying for the job. “Because we need one,” he said.

“Anybody coulda made a better President than the ones we had in those times, dillydallying about protecting blacks in the exercise of their civil and human rights and carrying on secret wars against people around the world,” Gillespie wrote in his autobiography “To Be, or Not … to Bop.” “I was the only choice for a thinking man.”

Vote Dizzy!

Lee Morgan ‘Walking the Bar’

Back in the day, musicians used to “walk the bar.” Philly native Lee Morgan was among those “honking and stepping.”

Lee-Morgan-Walking-the-Bar

 

In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project, NEA Jazz Master and Philly native Benny Golson said: “I caught my boy John Coltrane on the bar.” In a 2009 piece, jazz critic Marc Myers also shared the story:

In 1954, Coltrane’s expanding heroin and alcohol addiction cost him playing jobs, most notably a significant one with alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. After moving back to Philadelphia, Coltrane was forced to play with local R&B bands to make ends meet. In some of these bands, he had to honk away on the tenor while walking along the bar. One night, he saw childhood friend and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson enter the club. Mortified, Coltrane climbed off the bar and walked out for good.

The Smithsonian interviewer asked Golson where the tradition was started:

I don’t know where it started. It didn’t start with the jazz artists, per se. It started with one of the entertainers. An entertainer’s plot is to do or to second-guess what the audience wants to hear. Yeah, I got involved in that. I did some crazy stuff when I was doing all that stuff. You do what you think is going to entertain them. It’s going to bring acclaim to what you’re doing. Yeah, what’s more ridiculous than getting up on the bar where the drinks are and start playing your low B-flats no matter what key you’re in, just honking. We call that honking and stepping. They’re applauding. Ain’t nothing happening. Stepping over those drinks.

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John Coltrane Duly Noted

Music historian Ashley Kahn won the 2015 GRAMMY for Best Album Notes for Offering: Live from Temple University.

Ashley Kahn - 2.8.15

Yasuhiro Fujioka, founder of the John Coltrane House of Osaka, uncovered the long lost audiotape of John Coltrane’s last performance in Philadelphia. The Nov. 11, 1966 concert was aired live by WRTI, Temple University’s student-run radio station.

Notice of Coltrane's Concert at Mitten Hall

To purchase the album, go here.