Melvin Van Peebles: Architect of The Black Soundtrack (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

melvinvanpeebles1_732Melvin Van Peebles belongs on the short list of the most innovative filmmakers of the 20th century. The renegade director’s approach to storytelling has made him a true original. His guerilla style quick camera cut approach to his breakout film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song laid the groundwork for the sub-genre what would become known as the Blaxploitation films. Movies like ShaftSuperflyThe Mack and a host of others owe a debt of gratitude to Peebles, but not just for the films, but for the music, as well.

Although Quincy Jones deserves the lion share of credit for breaking barriers for Black film scorers in the 1960s, and Curtis Mayfield may have been the most commercially successful Black film scorer of the 1970s, it was Peebles’ intuitive use of music. Music both as a backdrop and as a marketing tool that both initiated a lasting trend of popular Black artists like Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye lending their composing pens to these gritty, urban action movies, as well as paying considerable dividends for himself.Sweetback grossed 15 million dollars with a 150,000 dollar budget! The soundtrack of a Black movie went on to become a crucial undertaking for the film and its ability to attract audiences, to the point where in some cases; the music tends to outlast the film itself (i.e. Gaye’s Trouble Man, Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street and James Brown’s Black Ceasar). Peebles recently spoke with iRockJazz to discuss the role of music in his films.

Read the full article at

Categories: Big Picture

Stevie Wonder: “The Greatest Drummer of Our Time?” (Originally Published in The Revivalist)

April 11, 2013 3 comments

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporationTutored by Motown’s Funk Brothers, most prominently the late, great Benny Benjamin, Wonder picked up the skins rather quickly (it’s rumored that Wonder was the excitable drummer on his 1966 hit “Uptight”). By the time he released Music of My Mind in 1972, it became clear that not only was Stevie a great drummer, but a distinctive drummer. Just listen to “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” and pay attention to how he uses plaintive hi-hat taps to set up his lifting, longing vocal plea and cranberry colored synths; not so much sounding sloppy but almost like he was simulating his own reverb.  And so, those slushy hi-hats became his rhythmic calling card; it’s as much a part of his genius as is his miraculous, melismatic singing.

Since Stevie had an unparalleled gift to capture various styles and textures, it was imperative that he provided each composition with a complimentary beat. Just listen to how the thumping bass drum drives the blues of “Living for the City.” How about “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” which finds Wonder giving his own take on the shuffling riddim on Jamaica. Then there’s his tom-tom rich adventurous gospel fervor in songs like “He’s Mistra Know-It-All,” “Please Don’t Go” and “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).”

Wonder’s virtuosity as a pianist and songwriter has clouded the average listener’s attention to his drumming, but his contemporaries certainly know better. In 1974, guitar god Eric Clapton called Wonder the “greatest drummer of our time;” hefty praise coming from a man who played side by side with Ginger Baker. Former co-producer Bob Margouleff once stated in an interview that Stevie’s proficiency on drums was equal to that of his piano and harmonica playing. Since he has at least 15 albums of evidence to observe, here are a few standout examples of Stevie Wonder’s dynamic beat sorcery:

Read the full article, with clips and audio, at The Revivalist:

Categories: Music Revolution


February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

BettyDavis1Brooklyn, NY. Saturday, October 6, 2012. It’s 8:45pm just outside the doors of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, located on the third floor of the Brooklyn Museum. Many people congregated there to witness a celebration of rare and innovative music. The auditorium was located on the third floor and in order to reach it, the concertgoers had to walk through an exhibit called Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity, a long term gallery installation that presented priceless African relics. The walls are adorned with gold and reminders of an ancient time when the pharaohs and inhabitants of the North African country were the envy of the globe, thanks to their innovative architecture, imagery and regality.

Each and every one of those who gazed upon the gallery had no choice but to feel fascination and inspiration from these tombs that encased kings. The women were immortalized in these alabaster carvings and sculptures that presented them as both nurtures and rulers. Finally, when the eager souls filled the hall’s 415 seats, they were ready to bask in another priceless African artifact the music of one Betty Davis.

Conceived by Brooklyn singer Nucomme Davis-Walker“Betty’s Story” was a multimedia tribute to the under-championed singer/songwriter who had used funk to empower and liberate her listeners and herself. “Betty’s Story” was a feast to the senses, which featured an aural narration of her career, video collages of news clippings and album covers, a raucous five-piece band and alluring exotic dance, provided by the Brown Girls Burlesque troupe.

In between the spoken dialogue was the true legend as the robust, confident Nucomme, who decisively and convincingly belted out songs from Davis’ catalog, like the defiant “Nasty Gal” and the driving hedonism of “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up”. The crowd took it all in, rocking their heads, clinching their fists and biting their lips as the curdling bass injected its way into their veins, the burlesque dancers occupied their eyes and Nucomme’s voice dominated their minds.

In the end, however, it was their souls that got the ultimate workout, which of course was their rationale behind attending the event in the first place. Davis’ assertive, unfiltered artistry had a lingering effect on each of them, prior to their decisions to enter the Brooklyn Museum. All the while, projected above the performers were images of Betty at several stages of her career, as an exuberant young model that made the road easier for Black beauties like Iman, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, and as a rough singing sexual dynamo who paved the way for artists like Millie Jackson, Rick James and Prince.

No matter in what incarnation, there she was, high above the stage, her flawless fair skin, her shining pouty lips, with that proud and natural afro, like she was carved from a piece of jade. When you look into her eyes, you see a trailblazer, but behind them was just an artist who only wanted her music to be heard; an artist who used her sexual energy on stage and wax to fulfill her need to simply write songs.

When it comes to the influence that Betty Davis bestowed on music, her individual work is always an afterthought when held up against her lasting impression on former husband, legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Fact about it, whenever her name is mentioned in print, it’s immediately followed by “ex-wife of Miles Davis”.

Read the full article at

Categories: Big Picture

McCoy Tyner: Act Like a Legend, Think Like You’re Hungry (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

February 6, 2013 1 comment

mccoytyner15_cropIt’s late October 2012. Pianist McCoy Tyner age 73 (now 74), regarded as one of America’s greatest jazz treasures, stepped on stage at New York City’s Symphony Center to perform as a special guest at the Jazz For Obamabenefit concert. He made his way to the Steinway and Son’s grand piano slowly, requiring help from a fellow musician. You’d think at his age, mere days before spearheading a weekend long festival at Lincoln Center, The Gentle Side of Coltrane, that he wouldn’t want to spread himself so thin. However, once he sat on the bench and played “Walk Spirit Talk Spirit,” he maintained the deft, heavy handed style that we’re used to hearing from him; and if you closed your eyes, you’d swear up and down that you listening to a 26-year-old McCoy Tyner. Even now, while enjoying his status as a legend, he still feels the need, and want, to hone his craft during his off time.

After recording with some of the most successful labels in Jazz history, Impulse,Blue Note, and most recently Telarc, the composer launched McCoy Tyner Music in 2007. “I think I was a good idea,” Tyner declared. “I think if you have the initiative and the interest to do something like that, why not do it? There are plenty guys out there that have had their own label and gave a good for it. You learn something about the business as well.” Tyner admittedly founded inspiration in producer Bob Thiele and Coltrane, whose tenure withImpulse provided a great template for musician/businessmen. “I’ve always taken an interest in both. I think that there are people who like to sell records and have interests in that. I think that the more savvy you are about what’s going on in the Jazz business, the better off you are. In Jazz, Rock & Roll, the Blues, whether you’re into, if you get on the business side of it, it’s good; you learn. What’s wrong with learning something?”

Read the full article at iRockJazz.com

Categories: Big Picture

Jose James: Live at the Highline Ballroom (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

jose-james-no-beginning-no-end-soul-jazz-nu-soul-blue-note-robert-glasperJanuarys in New York City can be deathly cold, effectively altering the heat of any building in the path of the sub-freezing winds. So, when fans of Jose James entered Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom for his album release concert, having walked many blocks in 10 degree weather, it felt like exiting a freezer to stand inside a refrigerator. The sell-out crowd briskly bypassed the coat check to gather close to the stage, and soon, the collective body heat briefly aided calmed the concertgoers as they waited for the man with the “Glenlivet voice”.

Jose strolled onto the stage toting his signature Yankee-fitted cap and an acoustic guitar to un-containable cheers and applause. Bowers’ Rhodes playing, with the band following, offered the capacity crowd with a sensuously funky prelude to let them know the vibe they’ve got in store. That’s when Smith kicked into the drum intro for album opener “It’s All Over (Your Body),” and all of a sudden, it didn’t feel quite as cold as it did just moments before. If the not quite-fast-not-quite-slow groove played the role of the scalding, sweet hot chocolate that soothed the core of the listener, then James’ supple vocals serves as the smoke coiling just above it.

Read the full review at

Categories: Reviews

Q&A: Christian Scott (Originally published in Village Voice)

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

ImageHarlem by way of New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott has emerged as a great force in jazz, as well as its most frank provocateur of truth since Rashaan Roland Kirk. His wildly incendiary testimonials of political frustrations (“Jenacide (The Inevitable Rise and Fall of the Blood Revolution)”), personal encounters with corrupt government institutions (“K.K.P.D. aka Ku Klux Police Department”) and intense social commentary (“When Marissa Stood Her Ground”) are equally as striking as his statements of his “stretch music” ideal of fusion, melded a perplexing combination of influences and turning it into an intoxicating presentation of reverb heavy rhythms and arresting melodies.

Scott’s eighth album—the double-CD set Christian aTunde Adjuah, commemorating his new name—displays “stretch music” at its most realized. It’s full of ferocious statements of dissatisfaction and admiration for his family and New Orleans heritage. Although only 29, he’s ready to partake in a daunting challenge: bringing jazz back to black youth and dissolving age-old (and, until now, unchallenged) rules of what jazz is and who jazz is for.



Christian on completing his name to Christian aTunde Adjuah:

“For me, I didn’t wanna be exclusively known as a name that was assigned to my ancestors so their captors could know that they owned them at one point. Fuck that.”

Christian on his long, politically-charged song-titles

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t get flack for my titles. Even within the confines of the daily conversations you have with business people or people on your team; the label, agents or publicists, any of those things. It’s not a very comfortable job for someone to have to navigate selling someone any album that the first song is called “Ku Klux Police Department.” You know how hard that is for a business person? At the end of the day, I’m not budging; that’s what the song is called. If you don’t want the song to be called that, then stop these motherfuckers from pulling guns on people like me.”

Christian’s definition of his style, “stretch music:

“…it is a seamless improvisational fusion form that can literally acculturate any musical vernacular that has ever existed.”

Read the full interview at the Village Voice blog site


Categories: Uncategorized

Music Revolution 2012: Revelation at Eastern Parkway

November 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I moved to Brooklyn, NY in October, 2004.  Almost exactly eight years later, I took my first trip to the Brooklyn Museum.  In a way, I don’t know what took me so long. For more than three of those years, I lived so close to the building, the only thing that separated me from it was a 10 minute uphill walk. However, due to my overtly hectic schedule in the past, I’ve been unable to go to the building at 200 Eastern Parkway until now, despite, as I mentioned before, my close proximity.When I ventured inside, it was to attend a musical performance, but what transpired was a wave of inspiration that I did not expect.

I was attending the Target First Saturday, an event that invites many to come to the museum to partake in a miriad of activities, performances and to experience the exhibits at the museum for free on the first Saturday of each month. I was there strictly to see a tribute concert to singer/songwriter Betty Davis, a pioneering musician from the 1970s. I arrived very early to claim my RSVP, but, like most events in my life, I was too early. And so, what better way to pass the time than to take in the artwork – after all, isn’t that that point of First Saturdays? I can count on one hand how many museums I’d been to in my 30 years on this planet: The Everson, in my hometown of Syracuse, and the Guggenheim on 86th Street in Manhattan. Both times were for school related reasons, but I never harbored any resentment or ill will toward museums; I’d just never gotten around to going to one on my own accord. So, I was looking around, hoping something would catch my eye the way it does for people in the movies and on TV. I know that sounds hokie, but why else would museums exists other than to educate and inspire? My non-naive side knows the answer to that question, but I was blessed when I stumbled into the Art Between Worlds exhibit and I stumbled upon this:

An EraminhÕ; A small, stout figure of a human head on a base under a case of glass. The body was tan, noticeably withered but it was his eyes that called to me; those white, piercing, illuminating eyes looking right at me as if it was only me it was supposed to look at. A late 19th century artifact from Bijago, Guinea, an EraminhÕ translates to “Soul Container.” The figure was used as a repository for souls of the dead. Whenever someone would pass away, a family member would keep the  EraminhÕ with them. To most, this may remind them of keeping an urn of loved one’s ashes after cremation, but to me, it was something else. Since this is a music blog, and I’m a music fanatic anyway, that’s where my mind went. All my life, I’ve been listening to albums, cassettes and CDs of artists who have all transitioned to the great unknown. Every time I listened to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and so many others, I think to myself, “These people were here once; here on this earth with the rest of us ordinary people, creating this transcendent magic that’s enriched us all.” There’s a great quote by Michaelangelo: “I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why, to escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work.” These beautiful people were gifted in ways beyond any sense of comprehension, but they were frail and flawed like us, and their bodies are no more. However, they left a piece of themselves behind for us all to share, to learn from and to absorb. I thought to myself, I have hundreds of soul containers back home – each and every vinyl LP and compact disc, all of them hold the souls of their creators inside of them, and as long as they continue to be heard, those people will continue to remain on this earth. This voices talk to me everyday; Teddy Pendergrass’ growls, the human hails of Miles Davis’ trumpet, it all teaches me a new lesson each time I listen. Could I ever leave behind something so profound, something that, in essence, makes me immortal? It got me thinking: are they REALLY still here with us? When Luther Vandross is cooing in my iPod, is he REALLY standing right behind me?

Further down the building, I moved on to the African Innovations exhibit. For the past two years, I’ve been frantically trying to acquire more knowledge about my heritage in order to forge ahead with my journey. The term “African Innovations” is a curious one. As the nerve center for all human civilization, everything that Africa produced was an innovation of everything we use everyday of our lives. As I pondered at that interesting juxtaposition of words, my sight found this:

An Elvis Mask for the Nyau Society. An African Elvis Presley mask??? It was an utterly befuddling site. As I stared at it, all I kept thinking over and over was “Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me,” Chuck D’s emphatic statement of defiance in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” For many Black Americans, the so-called King of Rock and Roll was a symbol of the on going white exploitation of Black music. Elvis, Pat Boone and a host of others had reaped the the fiscal benefits of pioneering Black artists like Little Richard and Big Mama Thorton. When I looked at the description of the piece, my feelings were confirmed. It is a Malawi masquerade mask that represents spirits of the deceased.  Often the masks are made to represent caricature personalities, an intentional mockery of anti-social traits and undesirable values that undermined the community. Such caricatures include Swahili slave traders, British officials, the Virgin Mary and, Elvis Presley. Our brothers and sisters across the ocean shared in our sentiments despite the thousands of miles between us, thus bringing me back to my aforementioned thirst for African knowledge. Our dominance of innovation on the planet is staggering, yet we are marginalized and persecuted every single step of the way. In my line of work, I see this exploitation and disregard of contribution and it’s made me more determined everyday to fight for what I’ve earned. Seeing this mask rose my need to break the chain(s).

So, wow! Just when I’m marveling in the wonderment of inspiration from these two pieces, I reminded myself that these were artifacts, items that people made for specific purposes on display for learning…and that’s when, not even five steps away from the Elvis mask, I beheld a piece of original artwork:

It’s called Blossom, made by artist Sandford Biggers in 2007. This huge tree was sitting right in the middle of the museum floor, growing right through a grand piano, appropriately enough a part of the Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn exhibit. I was mesmorized! I just circled it and circled it and circled it, my eyes widening with every cycle. It made me feel, well, I don’t know, like myself. What I mean by that is, I’ve learned a lot of things through my passion for music, and it plays a major role in my life as an evolving man. This tree reminded me of Michael Jackson, and how he once said that music originated from Africa, when the tribes were trying to imitate the sounds of nature. The tree, fused with the piano, spoke to that ideal, that genesis; no matter how advanced we may get in terms of technology and how much more humanity gets removed from the music-making process (represented by the piano bench knocked on the floor) there’s nothing that can diminish nature’s role in music, and nature and music are the great common denomonators among human beings. All my life, I’ve felt detached from other people; too white for Black people, too Black for white people, too weird for both. Music has been the factor that’s helped me to not only connect with others on a common ground but to increase my sense of intuition – raising my awareness of self.

As it turned out, Blossom is partly inspired by Buddha finding enlightenment under a tree, and partly inspired by the Jena 6 incident. Sure, my intepretation was nowhere near Biggers’, but that’s the beauty of art. If 10 people see that tree, you’d get 10 explanations of what it means. Just like if 10 people listen to “Human Nature,” you’ll get 10 versions of what the lyrics really mean. Individualism is what makes living in this world so wonderful. I’ve learned over time to embrace my individualism, what hasn’t always been easy when you feel lonely all the time. This experience at the Brooklyn Museum reaffirmed my faith in my journey, my intuition, my ambition to learn, grow and make my mark on my own terms. If you haven’t noticed, the two elements that connected these three different pieces together were music and Africa. These are two parts of my identity that bring out the best in me, which made me realize why I’ve been working so hard the past year or so to reconcile these two elements together in the context of my career as a writer and broadcaster. What it will lead to remains to be seen, but my eyes are wide open now. If I never go back to that museum again, I can revel in the fact that I got more out of that one afternoon than I would have if I’d gone thee everyday for eight years leading up to that day.

Categories: Music Revolution