Remembering George Duke–and the “Sunday Night” Show

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The amazing keyboardist/vocalist/producer George Duke, who passed away yesterday, was one of my favorite musicians. He was and will always be well and truly loved by listeners and fellow musicians alike, and his lessons and examples of inclusion will always be relevant and inspiring. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned that he’d released a new album, DreamWeaver, and that there was a video of him discussing the new album. That got me to remembering when I first met him: on the set of the SUNDAY NIGHT television show, which ran from 1988 to 1990… and I began drafting this post then. So the news is extra sobering.

SUNDAY NIGHT was unique in its simple premise: artists from different musical genres would be booked to perform in unusual combinations on the show. No categories: just musicians performing together. How cool a concept is that? So it was a huge thrill when my JazzTimes editor W. Royal Stokes asked me to write an article about the show, because that meant full access to all the tapings, which took place in New York City. Yes people, I was in HEAVEN, seeing and hearing artists like Curtis Mayfield, Robert Cray, Earth, Wind & Fire (Philip Bailey kissed me on the cheek!), David Sanborn, Youssou N’Dour, Santana, Betty Carter (I sat next to her in the studio cafeteria!), Branford Marsalis, and many more.

For the first several shows, George Duke was the musical director. When I interviewed him backstage I was so giddy, both from being in that setting and from being in his presence, that I’m sure I was not professional at all! But he was gracious and friendly and full of delight about being on the show, and working with the musicians, and the honesty of the music they made. His comment captured it perfectly: “People have told me that they watched the show and couldn’t believe that they were actually seeing these odd combinations of musicians playing and singing live. That’s the thing that’s so unique about this show–you get this incredible group of jazz musicians, rock musicians, musicians from different backgrounds, people who never worked together, coming together to make some music. And that’s what it’s all about in the final analysis anyway.”

My article is reproduced below for your reading pleasure, together with images of some of my personal mementos from the show (click on images to view the slideshow). Although some of the artists who appeared are no longer with us, I’m glad that I got to hug them–and that their music lives on in my collection and in my heart!

How will you remember your favorite music / musicians today?

Sunday Night page 2

“Sunday Night” article (page 2)
(click on image until readable)

Sunday Night page 1

My “Sunday Night” article (page 1)
(click on image until readable)

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Jazz April 2013 Comes to an End / How I Became a Music Journalist

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Well, today is April 30, the last day of the month and the last day of Jazz Appreciation Month! My contribution to Jazz Appreciation Month was to raid the archives and post a random jazzy article a day from my years as a jazz journalist (1987-1994). Hope you enjoyed them! If you missed them, just take a look at My Music Article Archive.

Since we’ve looked back at my music articles, for the last day of Jazz Appreciation Month, how about we look back at the February 1, 2012 blog entry where I told you How I Became A Music Journalist? It was all because of Les Davis, the former WRVR deejay whose cool commentary introduced me to the world of jazz…

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Recently, someone asked me how I became a music journalist. I promised to answer that question on my blog.

A little back-story:

I’m a native New Yorker. The music I grew up on was what we heard at home, on the radio and records. (Home was the apartment of my brother and sister-in-law, where I lived after my mother passed away when I was eight.) At home, there were lots of jazz records with glamorous photos of people like Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, and Cannonball Adderley on the covers. To me they were grown folks’ records, but I remember really liking the mellow atmosphere they created. On the radio, my favorite music was doo-wop, rock & roll, and R&B.

Years later when I moved into my own apartment, I found a radio station, WRVR, that played music I’d never heard before–jazzy and instrumental, but with features of rock & roll and R&B. Names like Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Grover Washington, Jr., and Jean-Luc Ponty became familiar. This music, called “jazz fusion,” became my new favorite music. My favorite WRVR deejay was Les Davis, who not only played the music but explained it too; I began my record library and stocked it because of his lessons.

Then one day–no, it was a certain day. September 8, 1980–the WRVR format changed from jazz to country. Here’s my journal entry from that day:

Monday, 9/8/80
When I got home, WRVR gone country! Oh, I was so, so hurt, I cried & cried. I’d known it was coming & I knew they would go down with their jazz boots on, but it was so sudden. They played it to the hilt–kept it a secret. Oh, how I’ll miss them!!

After the station went off the air, it was Les Davis whom I missed the most. Where had he gone?? I fretted. I needed closure, and I needed to let him know how much he was appreciated. I kept my ear to the ground.

A few years later, while dial-surfing on the radio, I heard his voice! Still in New York, he was broadcasting overnights on an obscure AM station. I wrote him a letter introducing myself and asking if I could interview him for an article. (At the time, I had never had any articles published, but that didn’t stop me.) At first he declined, but I persisted until I got a reply, and an invitation to come to the station. Victory!!

Les was on the air from about 11 PM to 4 AM. I went down to the station, interviewed him, took photos, we had a great time, and it was a true honor for me. I wrote up a nice profile on Les and sent it to the Amsterdam News, on spec, plus I mailed a copy to Les. He sent me a note of appreciation…which was another honor.

Les Davis

Jazz broadcaster Les Davis, after our wee-hours  interview. (click on photo to enlarge)

A few months later, quite by accident I saw a little article in the New York Daily News with the headline “JazzTimes Convention Comes to New York.” According to the article, this was a professional convention of jazz musicians, educators, radio and TV people, and writers all in one place, organized by a music magazine called JazzTimes.

I only had one question: how could I get a piece of that?

The next thing I knew, I was in the Roosevelt Hotel, wearing a press badge in the name of the Amsterdam News, surrounded by the entire jazz industry! Since I was a newbie (and possibly an interloper), my plan was to keep my mouth shut and listen. I drank in the schedule of panels and performances, and wherever I saw a name I recognized, I showed up. Do I need to tell you, I was in HEAVEN???

By the third day, I’d met a few nice people, among them the magazine’s publisher, Ira Sabin. Emboldened by the atmosphere of fun and friendliness, I asked him if his magazine used freelance writers. He said yes, and that I should speak to the editor, Mike Joyce. I found Mike and told him that Ira Sabin had sent me.

Mike smiled at me like he’d been waiting for me all his life. “Do you know Jon Hendricks?”

WHAT?? It was all I could do to keep it together. “I love Jon Hendricks!” I gushed.

Which was no lie. As a young girl, while looking through my brother’s record collection, I had discovered Sing A Song of Basie by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Why I was attracted to this album, I do not know. But when I played it, I was tickled by what those voices did with that orchestra–and the lyrics made me laugh too. I later learned that that technique was called vocalese, a clever method of dissecting an instrumental tune into saxes, trombones, trumpets, etc., then writing lyrics to the passages that each instrument plays. The end result is that the vocal parts mimic the instruments, and to my young ears it was so cool to hear grownups having so much fun with music and language.

Sing A Song of Basie LP

A closeup of the label of Sing A Song of Basie, my first favorite album, by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. And yes, this is that original LP I listened to as a young girl.
(click on photo to enlarge)

(By the way: during my visit with Les Davis, I’d mentioned the album and confessed that I had the record, but not its cover. Whereupon Les mentioned that he had the album, and kindly photocopied the jacket for me. This was especially important, because the lyrics were on it.)

Anyway. Standing there with Mike Joyce, I explained most of this. When I finished, he pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Well, here’s Jon Hendricks’ address and phone number. I promised him we’d do a full-page story on him when we got a New York writer to interview him. You interested?”

And that’s how it all started. Not long after I submitted the article, I was invited to become a regular contributor to JazzTimes… and the rest is history!

Les Davis note

Note of thanks from Les Davis
(click on photo to enlarge)

The photocopy that Les Davis made for me of the back cover of Sing A Song of Basie.
(click on photo to enlarge)

Jon Hendricks article

My profile of Jon Hendricks, the first of many articles I would write for JazzTimes magazine.
(click on photo to enlarge)

Jazz Connect-ing Like It’s 1989

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended the two-day Jazz Connect conference here in New York, a one-off event which brought together members of the jazz community for a series of panels, workshops, and events. Months earlier, the invitation had been posted on Facebook by Lee Mergner, my former editor at JazzTimes magazine (“former” as in the early ’90s) and the conference was in fact co-sponsored by JazzTimes. The other sponsor was the Jazz Forward Coalition, an organization focused on “building, curating and providing tools, knowledge, and programming to the jazz music industry for audience and market development.”

What with the hotel venue and the panels and events scheduled, the vibe was exactly like that of the former JazzTimes Conventions. Held annually in various cities for many years, those conventions were multi-day events presented by JazzTimes which also brought the jazz community together. It was at the 1985 convention–my first–where I met the JazzTimes editors, which started my entertainment journalism career! (See How I Became A Music Journalist). Plus which, every year I worked the convention registration desk–a perfect opportunity to meet pretty much everyone in the industry.

At the Jazz Connect conference, it wasn’t long before I was reconnecting with old friends whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years or more. Among them: bassist Gerald Veasley, a former client for whom I wrote promotional materials; Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, which brought back memories of those meetings we had to plan its formation; concert promoter Julius (Julie) Lokin, on the eve of his 71st birthday; Hank Bordowitz, co-editor with me of the Music Writers’ Caucus News, a publication we’d founded through the National Writers Union.

And of course I made lots of new friends, from radio personalities to artists to promoters and publicists–happily, too many to name.

The whole scene greatly reminded me of the JazzTimes Convention, especially in the way that it could take three hours to travel ten feet: You’d start off down the hall, then meet someone, stand there chatting, then another someone would come along and join the conversation, then introduce you to someone else who was passing by. Walk, stop, repeat. So good. So magical.

After so many years away, it was the perfect setting in which to get updated on the current state of jazz–and the musicians’ positive attitudes despite it. It was nice to hear how musicians have reinvented themselves in the face of all the changes taking place in their industry. All were passionate about their work, their gift, and their reinventions.

And get this: it was so wonderful, I forgot to take photos! As consolation, I went through my old JazzTimes Convention photos and decided to post a few of those instead. Too lazy to scan so I shot photos of the photos. (Don’t judge me, lest ye be slapped!) Different era, but same vibe. Click and enjoy!

How a Music Book Created a Friendship

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When I got home the other night, there was a voicemail message from my longtime friend Roger St. Pierre, wishing me a belated happy new year and wanting to catch me up on the news. As usual, I wondered what country he was calling from–because Roger is a British freelance journalist, and one of his specialities is travel writing. Dude has the wanderlust of a thousand men! You know–today, St. Croix; tomorrow, Antarctica.

Another of Roger’s journalistic specialties is music–and that’s how we met.

When I started reviewing records and interviewing musicians for JazzTimes and Billboard, not being a musician I knew I damn well better start getting educated about my subject. (I remind you that this was B.I–Before the Internet.) So I began to amass a reference library of books about music. There was no science to it: whenever I saw a book that looked cool and had a great price, I’d buy it.

music reference books

Just one of the shelves where my music reference library lives. Like I said: there was no science to it. Behold the eclectic-ness! (click to enlarge)

One such book was The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black Music, published around 1982. Its alphabetical entries covered soul, reggae, R&B, blues, disco, and jazz-funk artists with plenty of photos of album covers and artists, plus brief discographies. I found it very useful for reference, but just as entertaining to read for fun, so when I spotted The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz, I snatched those up too. Years later, someone told me that those books had lots of flaws, but I never noticed any. Then again, the professional researcher in me knows never to rely on any one source; I will cross-check in my sleep!

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black Music

My well-worn copy of TIEOBM, stuffed with assorted relevant clippings. (click to enlarge–and note Roger’s name on the cover)

Anyway, there were eight authors listed for The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black Music, and although the publishing company was Harmony Books in New York, the copyright page stated that all correspondence concerning the book should be addressed to Salamander Books, in London. This became relevant because a year or so after I bought the book, I took my second big-girl vacation: a return trip to London.

My first-ever vacation had only been the previous year, in 1986. When I’d received my tax refund that year, I decided to dream BIG: “Come on, DP.” I said to myself. “Think of a place in the world where you always, always wanted to go.” I squeezed my eyes shut and thought hard. And I came up with… LONDON!!

(Don’t ask me why a black girl born and raised in the South Bronx would dream of England. At the time, I would have blamed it on my big brother Pat, who as an Air Force man had been all over the world. He was full of stories and slang from the places he’d been, one of which was England. He’d say things like “ta” and “how about a spot of tea?” in his best British accent, and he liked to watch old British movies. Decades later, though, after I discovered that my biological father’s people were from Barbados, I considered that the perfect explanation for my Anglophilia. Case closed!)

Fast forward to 1987, and planning my second trip to London. By that time, I’d been writing articles for about a year; in fact, one of my early articles–a review of Baba Olatunji’s album Dance to the Beat of My Drum–had been for a British music magazine called WIRE. So I decided to use the trip as a chance to do a little business. First, I wrote to my WIRE editor Richard Cook, asking if we could meet. Next, just for the hell of it I wrote to Ray Bonds, who was listed as the editor of TIEOBM, at the Salamander offices. He was kind enough to write back, inviting me to his office–plus he provided the contact information for some of the book’s authors! Luckily, with a few weeks left before my trip, there was time to write letters to a few of the TIEOBM authors, one of whom was Roger St. Pierre. Roger wrote back, inviting me to meet him during my visit to London. It turns out that Roger was a freelance journalist–like I wanted to be–specializing in not only music, but travel, cars, and cycling.

When I arrived in London, I met Richard Cook for lunch, and visited Ray Bonds at the Salamander offices, where he gave me a copy of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz–making me the proud owner of both the British and the American editions! And on May 16, I met Roger St. Pierre at the Stockwell tube station. He’d brought along his two children, Nicole and Richard, and their dog Sooty. He drove us to Kent, where we had lunch in a 14th-century pub, and then took a walk in the countryside… where I touched my first cow. (I’m a city girl… what can I say?) Afterwards, we went to his house in London, and I’ll never forget his upstairs office, where he had thousands upon thousands of… records!

chillin' in kent

L-R: Cows; Nicole; Sooty; DP; and Richard–just chillin’ in the countryside in Kent, England, May 1987. (Click to enlarge and see the herd of cows!)

Fast forward even more, to the twenty-first century. Nicole and Richard are now grown up, and Roger is a proud granddad. Over all these years, we’ve stayed in touch via long letters and telephone calls, but now it’s through long emails and long telephone calls. Plus a visit if Roger passes through New York on his travel assignments.

What a friend. What a mentor. I’m still glad that that one little music book brought us together.

How I Became a Music Journalist

Les Davis
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Recently, someone asked me how I became a music journalist. I promised to answer that question on my blog.

A little back-story:

I’m a native New Yorker. The music I grew up on was what we heard at home, on the radio and records. (Home was the apartment of my brother and sister-in-law, where I lived after my mother passed away when I was eight.) At home, there were lots of jazz records with glamorous photos of people like Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, and Cannonball Adderley on the covers. To me they were grown folks’ records, but I remember really liking the mellow atmosphere they created. On the radio, my favorite music was doo-wop, rock & roll, and R&B.

Years later when I moved into my own apartment, I found a radio station, WRVR, that played music I’d never heard before–jazzy and instrumental, but with features of rock & roll and R&B. Names like Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Grover Washington, Jr., and Jean-Luc Ponty became familiar. This music, called “jazz fusion,” became my new favorite music. My favorite WRVR deejay was Les Davis, who not only played the music but explained it too; I began my record library and stocked it because of his lessons.

Then one day–no, it was a certain day. September 8, 1980–the WRVR format changed from jazz to country. Here’s my journal entry from that day:

Monday, 9/8/80
When I got home, WRVR gone country! Oh, I was so, so hurt, I cried & cried. I’d known it was coming & I knew they would go down with their jazz boots on, but it was so sudden. They played it to the hilt–kept it a secret. Oh, how I’ll miss them!!

After the station went off the air, it was Les Davis whom I missed the most. Where had he gone?? I fretted. I needed closure, and I needed to let him know how much he was appreciated. I kept my ear to the ground.

A few years later, while dial-surfing on the radio, I heard his voice! Still in New York, he was broadcasting overnights on an obscure AM station. I wrote him a letter introducing myself and asking if I could interview him for an article. (At the time, I had never had any articles published, but that didn’t stop me.) At first he declined, but I persisted until I got a reply, and an invitation to come to the station. Victory!!

Les was on the air from about 11 PM to 4 AM. I went down to the station, interviewed him, took photos, we had a great time, and it was a true honor for me. I wrote up a nice profile on Les and sent it to the Amsterdam News, on spec, plus I mailed a copy to Les. He sent me a note of appreciation…which was another honor.

Les Davis

Jazz broadcaster Les Davis, after our wee-hours  interview. (click on photo to enlarge)

A few months later, quite by accident I saw a little article in the New York Daily News with the headline “JazzTimes Convention Comes to New York.” According to the article, this was a professional convention of jazz musicians, educators, radio and TV people, and writers all in one place, organized by a music magazine called JazzTimes.

I only had one question: how could I get a piece of that?

The next thing I knew, I was in the Roosevelt Hotel, wearing a press badge in the name of the Amsterdam News, surrounded by the entire jazz industry! Since I was a newbie (and possibly an interloper), my plan was to keep my mouth shut and listen. I drank in the schedule of panels and performances, and wherever I saw a name I recognized, I showed up. Do I need to tell you, I was in HEAVEN???

By the third day, I’d met a few nice people, among them the magazine’s publisher, Ira Sabin. Emboldened by the atmosphere of fun and friendliness, I asked him if his magazine used freelance writers. He said yes, and that I should speak to the editor, Mike Joyce. I found Mike and told him that Ira Sabin had sent me.

Mike smiled at me like he’d been waiting for me all his life. “Do you know Jon Hendricks?”

WHAT?? It was all I could do to keep it together. “I love Jon Hendricks!” I gushed.

Which was no lie. As a young girl, while looking through my brother’s record collection, I had discovered Sing A Song of Basie by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Why I was attracted to this album, I do not know. But when I played it, I was tickled by what those voices did with that orchestra–and the lyrics made me laugh too. I later learned that that technique was called vocalese, a clever method of dissecting an instrumental tune into saxes, trombones, trumpets, etc., then writing lyrics to the passages that each instrument plays. The end result is that the vocal parts mimic the instruments, and to my young ears it was so cool to hear grownups having so much fun with music and language.

Sing A Song of Basie LP

A closeup of the label of Sing A Song of Basie, my first favorite album, by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. And yes, this is that original LP I listened to as a young girl.
(click on photo to enlarge)

(By the way: during my visit with Les Davis, I’d mentioned the album and confessed that I had the record, but not its cover. Whereupon Les mentioned that he had the album, and kindly photocopied the jacket for me. This was especially important, because the lyrics were on it.)

Anyway. Standing there with Mike Joyce, I explained most of this. When I finished, he pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Well, here’s Jon Hendricks’ address and phone number. I promised him we’d do a full-page story on him when we got a New York writer to interview him. You interested?”

And that’s how it all started. Not long after I submitted the article, I was invited to become a regular contributor to JazzTimes… and the rest is history!

Les Davis note

Note of thanks from Les Davis
(click on photo to enlarge)

Les Davis sent me an autographed headshot too...

Les Davis sent me an autographed headshot too… (click on photo to enlarge)

 

Jon Hendricks article

My profile of Jon Hendricks, the first of many articles I would write for JazzTimes magazine.
(click on photo to enlarge)