Happy 2011! We are now on the ones. I'm back in New York from Dakar, having returned well after the blizzard and flight disruptions. I didn't have much jet lag, but here in New York there is always much to do! No lagging is permitted! I'm going for an attitude adjustment as part of my New Years resolution, though. I think I'll call it "Serenity with an Edge." By the way I had started to write some last impressions of my experiences in Dakar on my travel day last Thursday. I just got around to finishing it. Here it is.
"African Music is based on rhythm - the kind of rhythm that makes you move because our music is music to lift the spirits." This Randy Weston quote beautifully describes what the music component of the Black Arts Festival in Senegal collectively embodies and embraces. So many musical genres owe their existence to the sensate quality of African rhythms. I personally found myself while here in Dakar profoundly celebrating the life-giving, spiritual aspects of rhythm. When you receive it, you unmistakably know what it is. I played with T.K. Blue on December 28. It was a beautiful group of artists that included Essiet Essiet, bass, Willie Martinez, drums and Rolando Guererro on percussion. Chico Freeman and Will Calhoun sat in.
I took a pilgrimage to Gorée Island. It was one of the places where Africans were transported as human cargo to the Americas. I stood at the "Door of No Return," and reflected on that tragic and brutal period of history. In spite of that horror inflicted on so many souls, there came to be in the New World, a new African Diaspora of music and dance. That brings me back presently to my truly awesome music experiences in Dakar. Perhaps this Festival actually symbolizes the "Door of Return.", that is, a coming together of all music that is African-based at its roots.
I had a great time reuniting performing with the great Kevin Mahogany last night. Also in the band was guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Santi Debriano and drummer Sylvia Cuenca. Some of the performers who came to perform included the legendary Bootsie Barnes, Jaleel Shaw, Dwayne Burno, Duane Eubanks, Radam Schwartz, Denise King and Pat Tandy. Pianist Aaron Graves (also the Music Director) and Barbara Cooper of Harvest Entertainment made it happen.
The Heart of Jazz, under the banner of the larger event The September Concert, was a space created so that New York's jazz community can gather to express our emotions about that most horrid of days, and create a prayer for peace in the way we best know how -- through the music. Each year, this event offers the healing properties of music -- both for ourselves and our fellow NYers.
This is the sixth year for The September Concert: The Heart of Jazz. http://septemberconcert.org/downloads/archives/press/2010/PartnerPressRelease_HeartofJazz20100831.pdf
“There’s everything in the world to talk about and I like to talk about everything, too!” Abbey Lincoln 1984 (WKCR).
Abbey Lincoln said those words to her interviewer, drummer Arthur Taylor. She had only returned to live in New York a little over two years before and the occasion in the WKCR studios was the previewing of her upcoming release “Talking to the Sun”. It was an album that included her originals and some choice standards. Steve Coleman, Billy and Mark Johnson and I were among the participants. It was her first recording with her own working band. As time went on, the opportunity for Abbey to record expanded thanks to Jean-Philippe Allard, Abbey’s body of work expanded, and the world caught more than a glimpse of her commentary on things both personal and individual. I considered myself quite fortunate to be part of her environment for nine years, 1982-1991. I really learned the meaning of how to live as an artist. With music and life for Ms. Lincoln, it was about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. That was a both beautiful challenge and a life-giving experience to have to live in the moment with her in that way.
During these last couple of years, Abbey had some serious health challenges. The last occasion I saw her she was feeling pretty good. It was shortly after going through a particularly bad time. Her brother and his wife were there as well. She laughed and exclaimed to us, “I survived the survival!” Abbey left this mortal plane, Saturday, August 14th.
Monday, August 9th, I made a solo piano recording at the Klavierhaus, NYC for Jim Luce. It will be a limited-edition vinyl recording and I recorded on a beautiful Fazioli piano. I was asked on short notice by Jim to do it. So I immediately thought about what to do and how to do it. I loved what Bobby Hutcherson advised me when I discussed it with him. Think about getting the right tempo and don’t listen back! I was totally down with those words coming from the lips of a Master. One of the first tunes, I thought about was one that had an early Abbey Lincoln lyric, “Straight Ahead”. I was thinking of her and her recent birthday on August 6th in which she turned 80. Abbey Lincoln often remarked that we musicians are only here for a minute and all we can leave the world with is a song. Well, Ms. Lincoln, the songs you left us with are pure treasures.