The Independent Ear

The Inspiration of Margaret Walker spawns new composition

Randy Klein 1
Composer Randy Klein has been inspired by the poetry of the great Margaret Walker

Jazz composition and what motivates composers is a source of endless fascination for me, as one who appreciates composition on the same scale as inventive improvisation. A recent communication with pianist-composer Randy Klein revealed his current composition project, inspired by the poetry of Margaret Walker. Believing firmly that music composition motivated by a significant achievement or body of work from another art form is always worth investigating, the Independent Ear sought out Randy Klein for some insights into this new project. It should be added here that Klein is also an enterprising musician with his own record imprint, Jazzheads – yet another point of interest, perhaps for further conversation down the road.

Randy Klein: As far as a goal for For My People, it is for the work to become an actively performed work chosen by concert venues to be performed. Of course, I would want to hear it performed at the Kennedy Center or some other equally famous venue. It deserves to have a life. It is worthy. Recently, I have begun to envision it as a performance piece with a through line narrative. This is yet to be achieved. For now, the work is a major choral piece that should be performed a lot. I hope you will see its merits as well.

What first intrigued you about Margaret Walker’s poetry?
Margaret Walker
A young Margaret Walker and one of her watchwords

My attraction to the poetry of Margaret Walker was the result of a New York City subway ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan around 1998. Printed on a placard from the Poetry In Motion series was a poem by Ms. Walker, titled Lineage. It began, “My grandmothers were strong.” As the subway train rumbled on I was lost in the words of this heartfelt poetry. A few days later, I again became aware of the placard with Lineage on it. This time I scribbled down the poem on a piece of paper, got home and composed music for it.

I played the piece for my friend and collaborator, Madison Davis Lacy, who suggested I might want to read more of her poems. I purchased her book, This Is My Century and started to select additional poems to write to. It was a very natural and organic sort of thing. I had no mission or purpose to do this. I simply liked the work and the way she wrote. It connected to me and to the way I compose music.

Margaret Walker’s world is that of an educated southern black woman, raised in pre-civil rights era of our country’s history and mine is of a white Jewish kid from Fort Lee, NJ, sheltered and blind to any of the tribulations that were going on in the rest of the world. And, truthfully, at the beginning, I wasn’t even thinking why her poetry touched me. It was simply, that I liked the way she spoke and I was having fun setting her words to music. It wasn’t until much later in the process that I realized that she spoke of the separation of the classes, the human condition, racism, and social injustice. And, she was speaking out about those subjects by condemning the people who were causing the situation and at the same time she was not afraid to admonish her own people for allowing it to happen to them. It is this universal approach that she so carefully put into words is what I have since learned from the work. It is this universal message that speak to me now and should be heard by all.

Of Ms. Walker’s poems how did you select those particular poems you chose to write music to and what was it about those particular poems?
Margaret Walker 1

There was no particular order to my choosing the poems that have been set. In fact, it was quite random. I was aware from reading through the poems, that Margaret Walker had a few topics that the poems could be classified under. One was obviously human injustice and the other was more anecdotal tales of people she may have known or observed. The story telling aspect of the latter were a natural attraction to me.

Writing music to poetry isn’t like writing a pop tune. Each note is carefully selected to hopefully match the intent of the author. More on this later. The writing of music to the first 10 poems took about a decade. At that point, I decided to take on the challenge of composing the music to Margaret Walker’s most famous poem For My People. This iconic poem has many sections. It took about a year to finish it. When performed, it is a nine minute work. It can be performed as a stand alone work.

I have one more poem to set. This will be written this summer. It is titled, I Hear A Rumbling. Then I feel the work is complete.

What do you mean when you say “her work is more timely now than when she first penned those poems”?

The subject matter of the poems ranges from inflation to Medgar Evers to street demonstrations to the variation in color of the Afro-American’s skin, to the battering of women, to the history of the struggle of civil rights, to outright racism and to wanting to speak for her people. I would say, the subjects haven’t changed much since she first wrote these works.

I think it is the honest approach of Margaret Walker’s words that makes this work ring with more truth now then when first written. Yes, we see evidence that we have come a long way since then, but have we really? Inflation and separate class values, along with civil rights of all is in the subtext of most subjects today. These words are as timely a subject as they were then. WJ…I promise, I am not going to get preachy here. Again, it wasn’t my intention to be the spokesperson for this, but sometimes you don’t choose your calling.

When you present your work “For My People” your commissioned work will include the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa and Michael Harper. What is it about their poetry that resonates with you?

My friend, Dr. Joanne Gabbin, the director of the Furious Flower Poetry Conference called me to ask if For My People and another work Ballad Of The Free could be performed at the conference this September 2014. She told me that this year they were going to honor Mr. Komunyakaa and Mr. Harper. She asked me if I would be interested in writing music to two of their works. I hadn’t read their poetry at the time. I asked her to help me select the work to be set. Out of the poems she sent to me, I was attracted to Facing It by Mr. Komunyakaa, because it spoke so candidly about the Vietnam experience from the point of view of a Vietnam Veteran. I didn’t get drafted because my lottery number was high. I was lucky. But, I have always been always to this subject and I was able to find the voice of this poem.

Dear John, Dear Coltrane by Mr. Harper was a natural for me to choose. The music of the great John Coltrane has influenced my life and I hold it dear. I enjoyed the writing of this work and I hope I found the musical voice for it.

Both of these works took about a year to complete. We are currently working on the choral arrangements. I eagerly look forward to hearing them.

What’s your overall sense of the complimentary relationship between creative music and poetry?

This is a subject for a doctorate in music. My background is in songwriting. I have written more than 1300 songs and I teach songwriting. For every genre of song that exists, there is a technique that needs to be learned. Writing for a character in a musical theatre song is quite different than writing a song for PBS children’s educational shows, and different from writing a pop dance song. Similarities exist of course, they are all songs, but each has its own skill set.

Writing music for poetry is a very advanced form of songwriting. The composer has to be able to read the poem and capture the poet’s way of speaking it. For the most part, poetry and music is a tough match. My feeling is that most tone poems don’t speak in the poet’s voice. It takes a special type of ear to be able to really hear the voice of the poet. There is a saying in songwriting, ‘The lyric dictates the music and the music dictates the lyric’. In the case of poetry, the way the words speak dictate the music. In all honesty, it is the most difficult form of songwriting. Maybe this is why it took me over a decade to finish For My People.
Margaret Walker books
One of the classic works of Margaret Walker.

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A Journey into [personally] uncharted territory

“It’s not about how much you know, it’s how much you hear that counts.”
– NEA Jazz Master Benny Carter (as told to trombonist Ira Nepus; from The Quotable Musician by Sheila E. Anderson)

June has always been a splendid month to visit Italy, and discovering new vistas certainly adds to the experience. And when you add hearing new music to the equation the opportunity is further elevated in the realm of memorable experiences. The city of Bari is a lovely burgh of 350,000 inhabitants on the Adriatic coast of Italy. Imagine the map of Italy in the shape of a cobbler’s delight, cast your eyes southward from the immaculate styling of that boot to assess its sturdy heel and you’ve located Bari’s geographic locale in that beautiful country.

Past experiences in Italia had included several trips to that country’s signature Umbria Jazz festival, with splendid sidebars to Florence, Rome, and other enchanting towns along the Umbrian countryside, including one memorable experience at the Umbria Jazz winter edition traveling with Randy Weston. One Umbria adventure took us to the northern coast and what some refer to as the Italian Riviera and the Adriatic city of Fano. Bari promised a brand new experience in a different sector of Italy, one that my wife Suzan particularly relished with her African American father/Sicilian mother family, Bari brought us one step closer to part of her ancestral lineage, offering yet another opportunity for her to exercise her love of the Italian language she heard and spoke as a child in the home of her Sicilian grandparents in Buffalo.
Bari piazza
Suz (left) on the bustling piazza in the old section of Bari, Italy

Back in ’99 and the early ’00s when I was producing a show called Jazz Ed(ucation) for the late jazz channel BET Jazz one of out most vital shoots was the 2-week summer jazz colony then operated by the Thelonious Monk Institute in the pristine mountains of the Aspen/Snowmass, CO area. I could go on for days about how the core of green young musicians then hard at work learning their craft during those two week sessions are now some of today’s most vital 30-something musicians and music educators. Just for starters they included Marcus & E.J. Strickland, trumpeters Avishai Cohen, Jason Palmer, and Mike Rodriguez, drummers Otis Brown 111 (whose debut recording as a leader arrives from Blue Note this summer) and Damion Reid, vocalist-educator Rosanna Eckert, pianists Danny Grissett and Martin Bejerano, saxophonists Walter Smith and Patrick Cornelius, guitarist Randy Napoleon, trombonists Andre Hayward and Vincent Chandler, and bassists Zach Pride and John Sullivan.

One of the greenest was saxophonist Joseph Omicil, who readily admits to being one of the least experienced players in his class. Yet he’s one who has kept in touch as he matriculated through Berklee and continues an evolving career as a multi-reedist. Professionally known as Jowee Omicil, Montreal-raised and of Haitian descent, the Miami-based reedman has just released an arresting new record simply titled Naked ( For our Jazz Ed shoot I recall Jowee’s modest, thrilled/slightly terrified-to-be-there posture.

Fast forward to 2014, after matriculating at Berklee, Jowee is developing a positive career arc, based in Miami, working internationally with his quartet. His new album Naked is his most creative endeavor to date, with original, strikingly spare tributes to Trane, Ornette Coleman (who has befriended Jowee), and his dad Rev. Omicil. We connected again at the break of June in lovely Bari – Jowee to play some people music thoroughly immersed in the improvisation principle that moved a happy Bari audience to leave their seats for an impromptu jump-up at a stone amphitheater adjoining… a shopping mall! Your correspondent landed at Bari in Jazz (via Jowee’s referral) to deliver a presentation on Jazz in the Caribbean at the local conservatory.
Bari cathedral
The cathedral in Bari; always a spiritual and classic artistry highlight of any Italian town.

You do know Latin Jazz – also referred to as Afro-Cuban Jazz or Afro-Caribbean Jazz – right? Of course you do; not only is that the most extensively recorded stream of Caribbean jazz, not only has that sound long been the signature pulse of jazz in the Caribbean region, it has for the most part been the only stream that has dominated the literature and prints, with John Storm Roberts’ classic treatments The Latin Tinge and Black Music of Two Worlds leading the way. Jowee Omicil being of Haitian descent, which is reflected in certain folkloric qualities of his music, and the emergence of such vital Caribbean voices as saxophonists Ron Blake (Virgin Islands), Luther Francois (St. Lucia), Jacques Swartz-Bart (Guadeloupe), trumpeter Etienne Charles (Trinidad & Tobago), drummer Dion Parsons and DC-based trombonist Reginald Cyntje (both Virgin Islands), such vets as Jamaica-proud Monty Alexander, and Haitian pianist-festival producer Mushy Widmaier, and such second generation artists as UK vocalist Zara McFarlane (Jamaica) and tenorist Courtney Pine (Jamaica). My research was also inspired by a recent reading of Heather Augystyn’s fascinating bio on the late, enigmatic Jamaican trombonist Don Drummond (Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist)- the ska pioneer-with jazz chops. As a result my gaze turned beyond the homes of Latin Jazz – Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic – to the jazz flavors of the English and French speaking islands, particularly Jamaica, Trinidad, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia. Curiously this sector of jazz in the Caribbean has been a virtual underground phenomenon when compared with the robust research and subsequent coverage of the Latin Jazz sector.

Bari fish plate
Enjoying a seafood feast in Bari with two animated Frenchmen, journalist Christophe Chat-verre and musician Mederic Collignon at Osteria al Gambero

Kicked-off by Jowee’s kinetic, crowd-thrilling performance, what ensued was a week of Bari in Jazz concert performances at several city spaces, including the stone shopping mall amphitheater, Bari’s waterfront, a military installation, and a closing weekend at the green space dubbed the Summer Music Village. The latter also encouraged some interesting visual moments as mid-set the local light rail trains occasionally whizzed by stage-rear from the adjacent station. From a personal perspective this was an experience in the largely unknown as, save for Jowee, these were bands from across Europe that were new to these ears. A couple of the bands bore the stamp of Afrobeat, including the Helsinki Cotonou Ensemble (Finland). The African altoist in Cotonou was yet another Motherland presence in a city with a larger African resident presence that I’d experienced in previous Italy experiences. That presence was most strikingly embodied in the director of Bari in Jazz, our affable host Koblan Amissah. As Mr. Amissah related to my wife, he arrived in Bari 22 years ago from the Ivory Coast to attend university, and as he laughingly related fell in love with pasta and made a new home. One lovely afternoon Koblan hosted our small group of journalists on a revealing road trip to the nearby town of Alberobello with its striking medieval-era trulli roofscapes. On return he hosted an amazing grilled fish and pasta feast at Osteria al Gambero, a seaside Bari tradition.

Bari tour 1
The town of Alberobello and its ancient architecture known as trulli

The trip itinerary included the full lineup of Bari in Jazz 2014, striking for promising an artist lineup – save for Jowee Omicil – that was replete with artists and bands about whom I had no preconceived notions… simply because I had not heard them previously! Not recognizing any of the artists meant traveling to a new locale free of even a wish-list of must-see artists; a completely refreshing prospect! That lineup included bands and guest musicians from Finland, France, Africa, and the host nation Italy. Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble, was led by guitarist Janne Halonen, with whom Suz and I had several nice chats. The band bore more than a passing stamp of Afrobeat, apropos I suppose given the fact that their reedman Noel Saizonou is listed in the credits to their bracing new disc Beaucoup Depiment! as playing “African alto saxophone.”
Bari Cotonou
Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble’s latest release Beaucoup Depiment!

The French band Supersonic is a project led by the animated alto saxophonist Thomas De Pourquery. Performing from their record Play Sun Ra, the band breathed new life into selections from the enormous book of Le Sun Ra, a life liberally inhabited by the oft-overlooked brand of humor that Ra’s musicians always brought to the bandstand. “Love in Outer Space” was a particular highlight of their set amidst the occasional commuter train whizzing by in the background, a scene I have no doubt the original Arkestra would have taken full advantage of.
Supersonic 1
The latest news from Thomas De Pourquery and his band Supersonic.

Remembrances of the incredible scene at the Gnawa Festival in Morocco danced across the head as the band Bombino, with guest Italian trumpeter Roy Paci, delivered some Tuareg-inspired joy at the Summer Music Village, to the delight of a reactive, all ages crowd pressing the stage. Therein lies one of the local joys of Bari in Jazz: families and all ages are encouraged by the tariff – it’s free-of-charge!

Our host and director of Bari in Jazz Koblan Amissah arrived in Bari from Cote d’Ivoire over 20 years ago as a student, fell in love with the place and shares that love with visitors.

No mystery here, the cuisine is ALWAYS one of the great joys of any trip to Italy, and Bari was no exception. Also highly recommended for the plates is the ristorante La Locanda Do Federico on the piazza. Dig this plate of pasta and that lovely fresh mozzarella as you savor your trip to Bari, Italy…
Bari cuisine

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Mark Rapp goes Into the Shed

Trumpeter Mark Rapp first came to my attention through our mutual friend & colleague, artist manager Gail Boyd of Gail Boyd Artist Management. At that point Mark had completed what turned out to be a lovely Billy Staryhorn-focused record with another mutual friend, the insightful tenor saxophonist-educator Don Braden. Since then Mark’s discography has increased with Good Eats, his tribute to NEA Jazz Master Lou Donaldson, which also features includes Braden’s tenor work. Musically he has also paid extensive tribute to the music of Miles Davis through a series of performances in the Carolinas. Here’s some video footage to give you more perspective on Mark’s playing and his MD insights.

The Independent Ear has always been interested in the enterprising musician, particularly those who choose to innovate and develop innovative enterprises from locations outside the magnetic sphere of the jazz mecca New York City. Based in South Carolina Mark Rapp’s latest endeavor is with the online music education platform known as Into the Shed. For additional perspective on this interesting development the Independent Ear turned to Mark for some insights.

What is your background Mark?
I grew up in South Carolina and discovered jazz only after high-school. I attended Winthrop University earning a Bachelors in Music Performance and moved to New Orleans to study under Ellis Marsalis earning my Masters in Jazz at the University of New Orleans. During my time in New Orleans, I won performance awards, made a CD, toured Europe, played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and more. I moved to NYC and it took years for me to fight my way to where I was gigging regularly and made my debut CD as a leader with GRAMMY-award winning producer Jason Olaine. I played the Newport Jazz Festival, Fillmore Jazz Festival, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Yoshi’s, Sculler’s, and many other top venues. I was managed by Michael Kline, then Gail Boyd, and lastly Suzi Reynolds – all top managers in the world of jazz. I was holding down a weekly gig at the Carnegie Club and made a tribute to Billy Strayhorn CD with Gerald Clayton, Sachal Vasandani and Don Braden. I moved to Geneva, Switzerland which began a 3 1/2 year stay in Europe where I made a couple more records and toured around as well. My last major recording was for Disney’s “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” in which they also featured Dave Brubeck, Roy Hargrove, Esperanza Spalding, Joshua Redman and others. I’m now living in SC and still working a band I co-lead with Derek Lee Bronston out of NYC called TSP. With TSP, we recorded a direct-to-vinyl record with bass great James Genus. Derek is also the co-developer of

What is Into the Shed?
In jazz, when a musician or student of music goes into the shed, they are said to be diligently practicing with a focused intensity beyond the norm. “The shed” is a time and a place when a musician works to break through whatever wall or limitations they are seeking to overcome and will only emerge when they have done so. was created to be your online place to learn from jazz greats with ease and accessibility like never-before. Imagine getting one-on-one music lessons from a variety of the best jazz musicians in the world. is the place to connect and study with the best and to find artists you would not have imagined possible to reach. intotheShed is an all-in-one platform that makes it extremely simple and secure for these top artists to schedule, promote and sell lesson times, give high-quality live video lessons, and ideally creates never-ending opportunities to teach and inspire many.

There are many different ways to give video lessons, but there wasn’t a single platform that made the process dead simple and brought the best of the best all to one website. In just a few of a clicks, teaching artists can schedule a lesson, promote and sell it. The buying process is equally as fast and simple and the teaching artists receive payments direct to their bank account in 2 business days. Every step of the process is handled in one place. It’s well organized, secure and the quality of the video is amazing. In our testing, we’ve experienced no lag time and can play together in real time.

Mark Rapp 1

Given the many jazz education options available to aspiring musicians or hobbyists, what motivated you & your team to develop this service and what was your development process?
We wanted to create an all-in-one platform that made it fast and easy for the busy touring musician to provide high-quality live video lessons on the go. We wanted to create a service that helps these teaching artists generate income and opportunities to inspire students of jazz. We wanted to create a marketplace for students of jazz to have easier, more immediate access to amazing jazz artists. Lastly, we wanted to combine our passion for jazz, love of teaching and enjoyment of web development into a singular endeavor. would not be a reality if it weren’t for its co-creator Derek Lee Bronston. Derek is a guru backend and iOS developer and is responsible for breathing life into the blueprint and framing of the site I coded.

When I first moved to NYC, Derek encouraged me to learn web development as a way to maintain a steady income while hustling for performance opportunities. And that’s what I did and that’s what Derek did. We’ve been in web development for over 13 years and have each worked on every type of project you can imagine. During that time, Derek made CDs in a variety of genres recording with such legends as trumpeter Tom Harrell and getting his music placed on network television. It’s funny, he had a track used on Felicity. I had a track of mine used in a commercial for women suffering from hot flashes. Anyways, being in the same bands together, working and touring our TSP band, as well as, working on web jobs together, we developed a great working relationship and friendship.

The process for developing was forged in these years of experience, late nights, and plenty of coffee. We worked day and night for months to produce and release version 1 and are steadily rolling out enhancements constantly making intotheShed better and better.

Do you envision Into the Shed as offering further education options that might even enhance the learning process for someone who is currently enrolled in or contemplating enrollment in a high school/college/university jazz studies curriculum?
It used to be, a student in a small town college would study with their regular teacher and maybe, once in blue moon, get a rare chance to hang for a few minutes backstage with some big name artist who came through on tour. But now, with intotheShed, that same student can access a plethora of big names on a weekly basis! It’s equally as personal and it’s a full-on, dedicated live lesson.

With so many budget cuts in music programs across the country, many colleges and universities can’t afford to fly in the big names in jazz, but intotheShed offers virtual masterclasses with these big artists. We can even facilitate virtual adjunct professors via intotheShed for schools who are looking to offer their students extremely high-end talent, but can’t afford to have such a teaching artist on campus. But with intotheShed, students can still meet with their adjunct professor on a weekly basis even if that professor is on tour in Tokyo for example.

As technology advances, how do you see Into the Shed keeping pace with that advancement?
Derek is a guru iOS app developer and is always on the cutting edge of technology. He actually launched one of, if not the, first all digital record labels way back in the early 90’s. He has a very creative mind and is always thinking ahead of the curve. So, I have no worries about intotheShed keeping pace, if not the one setting the pace, moving forward. intotheShed is our baby and we’re always looking for ways to make it the best.

Mark Rapp and his Into The Shed partner, guitarist Derek Lee Bronston, performing “Blue in Green” with Nate Smith, drums and James Genus, bass

To learn more visit: WWW.INTOTHESHED.COM

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LaFrae Sci

I first met drummer-bandleader LaFrae Sci back in ’97 when we decided to honor Ella Fitzgerald with a “Remembering Ella” theme for the 1997 edition of Tri-C JazzFest. In Ella’s honor we placed an emphasis on women artists on the festival, particularly for our artists-in-residence education component. Among our artists-in-residence that year were Joanne Brackeen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marion Hayden, Ingrid Jensen, and Cecilia Smith. One afternoon Ingrid Jensen was giving a masterclass for students and came to a point she wanted to illustrate with a rhythm section. Usually when that happens some eager trio of students is recruited. But on this occasion seemingly out of nowhere a trio of women materialized to assist Ingrid, with LaFrae on the drums. Even a surprised Ingrid exclaimed “where’d you guys come from!”

LaFrae was impressive enough in that role that I made a mental note to watch out for her. But not long afterwards I lost track of her, in part because at that time she went by the name Olivia Sci. Seems she relocated to New York and worked under the name LaFrae Sci, as she does today. Among her many current professional affiliations she’s now an educator herself, including serving as a faculty member for Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Middle School Jazz Academy. In addition to working in jazz, blues, pop, rock, world music, and hip hop settings LaFrae is also a Jazz/Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. State Department. Lately that assignment has taken her to Eastern Europe, including Siberia. For more on that assignment dig this clip from what LaFrae refers to as “the Siberian 60 Minutes”…

The Independent Ear caught up with the fast-moving LaFrae Sci recently for some questions about her far-flung enterprises…

Please give us some background on yourself and how you got to this point.
Willard, I moved to NYC with $600, a drumset, & a backpack of clothes. My foundation is church, to blues to jazz, but I’m an Air Force kid, born in Okinawa, and traveling for my whole life. I also spent early years in dance studios as my Mom was a choreographer for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in the 70s. Lots of drumming there. Later Mom was the director of the Paul Lawrence Dunbar house for over 20 years, and tours with a solo presentation of the African American elocutionist, Halley Q Brown. I studied political theory and economics at Oberlin, and did several internships in D.C. before I was inextricably bitten by a love of swing, jazz, and drumming. I mention these details to suppose that the sum total of those experiences led me to become a cultural ambassador, composer, educator, band leading drummer, firmly rooted in the tradition, and with a developed sense of myself, and my place in the world as an African American woman.

How were you chosen for this cultural ambassador opportunity and where have your travels taken you?
Initially I auditioned for the program that is formerly known as the Jazz Ambassador program that first sent Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie to showcase this beautiful jazz music of ours that embodies the very best of what America can be… democratic, and free.

What’s been the response to your work in the different countries you’ve visited?
The world loves the blues, and every culture has their blues. I teach the folk music of my culture, and in turn I learn other folk traditions. The whole world respects the concept of tradition in some way. This is a real great starting point. Additionally, the music builds a community in the moment, connecting cultures, generations, and experiences. The response has been exponentially positive as social media facilitates international connection. One example is getting 75 friend requests from Montenegrin middle school students who are now finishing college, or getting married, and still say hello.

Talk about some of the education programs you’ve presented as part of this program.
I was an educational consultant/mentor to outgoing groups for the State Department program. I would meet with the bands before their tour a couple of times in seminar settings in the big studio room of Jazz at Lincoln center. What I realized is many “cats” are rightfully convinced of their ability to teach based upon their stature, experience, and station in their career. But this is a different challenge, not a theory class at a Jazz School. Chalk and talk doesn’t constitute teaching in this setting where Masterclass participants may or may not be musicians, may or may not have instruments, AND most assuredly English is not their first language, and with or without an interpreter, it makes things simpler to have clear ways to express ideas in succinct sentences, which requires preparation. Honestly, you can walk into a room and sing Twinkle Twinkle for and hour and smile a lot and talk to people and probably achieve a positive outcome, but I always thought, why not optimize this once in a lifetime mutual exchange moment, find ways to make sure that everyone walks out of that masterclass understanding maybe 3 main points, and a positive personal experience that they can cherish for a lifetime? This requires finding a way to relate the music to every day life, not just potential professionals.

Once we were in Suriname and we arrived to find 70 participants ages 5 – 75. Some with instruments, some without. We had no way of knowing this many people would come in advance, so I had about 10 minutes to assess the space, and formulate a plan for the 2 hour masterclass. Each member of my band is a engaging educator, so we broke the group up and in a speed dating style, rotated the groups and gave them 15 minutes to lean each musical element with their voice, body, and or instrument, then for the second hour, we came together, reflected on the first hours experience, then launched into an amazing jam integrating everyone and creating a vibration that could have thrown the earth off its axis. 🙂
LaFrae teaching

Detail the music you wrote for the Siberian orchestra and how that all came together.
I first traveled to Russia for the state Department. We played a concert for the U.S. Ambassador, and some festivals around the country including Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. While in Siberia I connected with some people who were interested in my work, and I was invited to teach Masterclasses there in December 2012. Someone suggested I read the novel by Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita. I was intrigued by the chapter of the devils ball where the Author described a one hour annual celebration in a great hall with Strauss and his orchestra in one hall, and a jazz band in another hall. I began to imagine, ” what if my band was invited to the ball, what music would we play?” And I wrote that music. I also wrote themes for the main characters in the book.

(Editor’s note: LaFrae recently wrote that the Putin government has now banned the novel “The Master and Margarita” – the first time that’s been banned since the draconian Stalin government.)

I returned to Siberia that summer and taught at a camp for village kids 10 hours out of the main city. Unpaved roads through beautiful, natural nothingness. I met later with the music school director and the head teachers and pitched the collaboration, then I secured the sponsorship of the festival there, which is the largest international festival in Russia that almost NEVER has American participantsts. Next I wrote the American Ambassador appointed by Obama, Hon. Michael McFaul, and he answered my email within 30 minutes on a Saturday, the weekend before the New Year- the biggest Russian holiday season. I’m grateful that this international musical collaboration also has international partnership in funding. It is my dream come true.

Dig LaFrae Sci & 13th Amendment in performance in Paris…

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Vision Festival 19

Charles Gayle

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
— Victor Hugo (from The Quotable Musician by Sheila E. Anderson)

Vision Festival 19 opens on Wednesday, June 11 at Roulette in Brooklyn honoring the indomitable, force-of-nature saxophonist Charles Gayle with its Lifetime Achievement award. Other festival honorees include two recent ancestor champions of the festival, the late trumpeter Roy Campbell and poet laureate Amiri Baraka, whose artistry helped define this uncompromising event. The Vision Festival, whose core programming is “avantjazz”, is based on a foundation of “Art that exhibits a disciplined disregard for traditional boundaries.”
Roy Campbell

The primary movers and shakers of the Vision Festival, which is presented by the not-for-profit Arts for Art (AFA) organization, are dancer-choreographer Patricia Nicholson Parker and bassist William Parker. Regarding more on the philosophical underpinnings of the Vision Festival we recently sought out Ms. Parker with some questions. Following our dialogue is the complete Vision 19 schedule.
William & Patricia Parker

In your latest AFA post on the festival there is this line: “LISTEN TO MUSIC that changes your perspective…” Tell us what you mean by that, as far as the change of perspective aspect.
Most people are most comfortable with what is familiar to them, the known. To stay in the boundaries of what we know to be good or acceptable, greatly limits us. When we ‘get out of our comfort mode, allowing ourselves to experience and contemplate different ideas or new sounds, we have the capacity to grow and our perspective evolves.

When art challenges us – new ways of perceiving the world and our relation to it become possible. For any of this to happen we must wholeheartedly embrace this process of freeing – letting go of all of the must dos, should haves, and could haves – and open our minds to the unknown. If we don’t, the alternative is static.

You’ve expanded the reach of Arts for Art into more of a year-round presenting profile as well as what appear to be partnerships with other presentations of a like mind. How do you see that element of a year-round presenting profile enhancing the core festival every June?
Those things and people who become meaningful in our lives have in common the way that they are consistently present in our lives. If you only exist once a year, you affect peoples’ lives in a much less substantive way.

If the festival is to have impact – it needs to be as present as possible through time. This will then make it possible to make a real difference – for the artists, the audiences and a growing community.

Each year the Vision Festival appears to expand, either artistically or in sheer scope. What broadening of your festival can your audience expect for the 2014 event?
More so than broaden, what I have tried to do is to deepen the understanding of who the artists are and why they have dedicated their lives to sharing their art.

We also are interested in contextualizing it as art and music in present time and history. This lends greater meaning to the art and to the audience’s experience of the art. We don’t just book groups, we attempt to reveal and talk about the Vision behind the art. As opposed to presenting entertainment in a vacuum, AFA endeavors to draw connections, and create context for the music and art. We talk about the back-story (through the interviews, poetry and essays we now print in our Vision booklet) so people have greater understanding of what it all means.

For example, this year, AFA is honoring Charles Gayle and we publish his words on the music to which he has dedicated a Lifetime, so that the world hears about him from him. We honor Jeff Schlanger, the musicWitness, who has been documenting the music in drawings that have since become closely associated with creative music in general and this music in particular. So we are printing his ideas and other artist’s informed ideas on his work so that the audience can gain insight into his process. AFA believes that the artist must have a hand in defining his or her own work.

We are honoring Roy Campbell who is so loved for his craftsmanship and also for defying the boundaries that have been set up within Jazz and for his support of his fellow artists. And we honor Amiri Baraka who loved and supported free jazz and our Vision Festival. Amiri is a constant reminder of the power of art to make a difference. Through his art he defended the rights and dignity of African Americans. By honoring the African American, white America can begin to regain its self-respect. When we belittle African Americans, gays, women, Latinos, Asians and others who have been oppressed- the oppressors are themselves degraded.

At the festival we are honoring Amiri Baraka. We will have a poet reading one of his poems as well as their own. And the panels that are being hosted this year recognize the Legacy of Amiri Baraka: Art in Action. These panels further deepen the understanding of what this music and this festival is about. Amiri reminds us of what it means to be human.

What is the theme of this year’s Vision Festival?
This year the theme is Studies in Freedom – as we try ourselves to deepen our understanding of what Freedom means for us as creative responsible human beings.

The freedom found in music is an indicator of the capacity of inner freedom and the ability to think for oneself and respond in real time to life as it happens. Real freedom is a journey that involves much discipline, self-discovery as one loses the dictatorship of the mind and opens oneself to the listening present. How this kind of music sounds – is personal. I like Charles Gayle idea about titling this music, he prefers the title Personal Music over avant-garde. But nowadays, I am going with Free Jazz.

Who are some of the artists the festival will present for the first time at this year’s event?
For the first time:
Poets: Quincy Troupe, Ramya Ramana, musicians who never performed at all: Susan Alcorn, Antoine Roney and Angelica Sanchez & Omar Tamez & Satoko Fujii New Trio+1 – none of them played except for Todd Nicholson and Mary Halvorson is leading her own group for the first time at Vision and Michael Wimberly is leading a group on the main stage for the first time. James ‘Blood’ Ulmer and Jemeel Moondoc haven’t played Vision for years.

What advice would you have for artists like yourself who want to do something in their community as far as presenting events that either fill a void in that given community or expand the perspectives of their community in terms of the more uncompromising?
Don’t be afraid to tell your truth. Look for the ways that you can be heard. Listen to others. Deepen your understanding of ‘self-determination’ Understand who you are and set yourself free. For example, or to begin with, don’t let others tell you what music is good or not or enforce rules that don’t feel intrinsic to you. Define your music instead of waiting for others to define it. And don’t be divisive. Find commonalities for as even the right wing will say, “Divided we fall’ United we stand.”

Vision Festival

(sponsored by Robert D. Bielecki)

7:00 Charles Gayle Trio + Dance
Charles Gayle – bass & piano Daniel Carter – reeds
Miriam Parker – dance + Guest Michael T.A. Thompson – drums

8:15 Charles Gayle Quartet
Charles Gayle – tenor sax William Parker – bass
Dave Burrell – piano Michael Wimberly – drums

9:15 Quincy Troupe reading from the work of Amiri Baraka + his own poetry

9:45 Charles Gayle & the Vision Artist Orchestra
Charles Gayle – piano, conduction
Kidd Jordan, Hamiet Bluiett, Ingrid Laubrock – sax
Ted Daniel – trumpet Steve Swell – trombone
Jason Kao Hwang, Mazz Swift – violin, viola
Nioka Workman – cello Shayna Dulberger – bass
Andrew Cyrille – drums

6:30 CHILE•NEW YORK•AfghanIRAQ by Michael Lucio Sternbach,
documenting the work of Jeff Schlanger / Music by William Parker & Roy Campbell

7:00 Steve Dalachinsky reading from the work of Amiri Baraka + his own poetry

7:15 Wimberly’s Harlem Ensemble ‘Signs & Rituals’
Michael Wimberly – drums, percussion Larry Roland – bass
Antoine Roney – tenor, soprano sax Nioka Workman – cello
Dyane Harvey-Salaam & Souleymane Bodolo – dance, choreography

8:15 Mary Halvorson + Susan Alcorn
Mary Halvorson – electric guitar Susan Alcorn – pedal steel guitar
9:15 Cardinal Points
Ned Rothenberg – alto, clarinets, shakuhachi
Gamin – piri, taepyeongso, saengwhang
Samita Sinha – vocals Satoshi Takeishi – percussion

10:15 Peter Brötzmann + Hamid Drake + William Parker
Peter Brötzmann – reeds William Parker – bass Hamid Drake – drums, percussion

4:30 Panel:The Legacy of Amiri Baraka: Art in Action: Part 1
Cultural Identity / Self Empowerment / the role of Free Jazz
A retrospective in the First Person Moderator: Mike Burke Democracy Now
Panel : Oliver Lake, Wiliam Parker, Jason Hwang, Mazz Swift, DD Jackson, Fred Moten

7:00 Whit Dickey Quartet
Whit Dickey – drums Mat Maneri – viola
Rob Brown – alto saxophone Michael Bisio – bass

8:00 Ramya Ramana Poet – reading her own work and that of Amiri Baraka

8:15 Women with an Axe to Grind
Kris Davis – piano Shayna Dulberger – bass
Mazz Swift – violin Patricia Nicholson – dance, words, rhythm

9:15 Jemeel Moondoc Quintet Remember Roy
Jemeel Moondoc – alto saxophone
Steve Swell – trombone Nathan Breedlove – trumpet
Hill Green – bass Newman Taylor Baker – drums

10:15 James “Blood” Ulmer Music Revelation Ensemble revisited
James “Blood” Ulmer – electric guitar
Calvin “The Truth” Jones – bass Cornell Rochester – drums

Forum on : The legacy of Improvised Music
Dave Sewelson, Connie Crothers, T.A. Thompson, Lisa Sokolov, William Parker

2/ 4pm Music Is Mine Youth Groups
2:00 Visionary Youth Band–Bklyn / Jeff Lederer, Jessica Jones directors
2:30 Achievement First Middle School Band – Brooklyn / Gene Baker director
3 :00 P.S.182Q – CCNY “Quest Band ” Queens / Michael T.A. Thompson director 3:45 All students (70 musicians) under direction of Jason Kao Hwang + guests

4:30 Panel– The Legacy of Amiri Baraka: Art in Action Part 2
Decolonizing the Music: The conversation continues: Moderator: Basir Mchawi
Panelists: William Parker, Juma Sultan, Ahmed Abdullah, Mae Jackson, Hamid Drake

7:00 Satoko Fujii New Trio +1
Satoko Fujii – piano Todd Nicholson – bass
Yoshi Shutto – drums Kappa Maki – trumpet

8:00 David Mills Poet – reading the work of Amiri Baraka + his own poems

8:15 Matthew Shipp Trio
Matthew Shipp – piano Michael Bisio – bass Whit Dickey – drums

9:15 TarBaby
Nasheet Waits – drums Eric Revis – bass Orrin Evans – piano

10:15 Sonic Projections
Nicole Mitchell – flutes David Boykin – tenor saxophone
Craig Taborn – piano Chad Taylor – drums

2:00 Panel Discussion on The Legacy of Amiri Baraka: Art in Action
Part 3 – The Legacy of Art in Social Action – creating our Future
Naima Penniman, Daro Behroozi, Hamid Drake, Dave Burrell? Luke Stewart

5:00 Angelica Sanchez + Omar Tamez
Angelica Sanchez – piano Omar Tamez – electric guitar

6:00 Fay Victor + Tyshawn Sorey
Fay Victor – voice Tyshawn Sorey – drums, percussion, found instruments

7:00 Jordan + Burrell + Parker + Drake
Kidd Jordan – tenor sax Dave Burrell – piano
William Parker – bass Hamid Drake – drums, percussion

8:00 Poet David Henderson reading the work of Amiri Baraka + his own poetry

Connie Crothers – piano Henry Grimes – bass, violin Melvin Gibbs – electric bass

9:30 Roy Campbell Tribute Band led by Sabir Mateen
Sabir Mateen – reeds, conduction Rob Brown – alto saxophone
Daniel Carter – reeds, trumpet Dennis Gonzalez – horns
Andrew Bemkey – piano William Parker – bass
Hamid Drake – drums

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