The Independent Ear

Catching up with Omar Hakim

Omar Hakim2
The signature electric jazz band Weather Report certainly experienced more than a fair degree of flux in its drum chair, from the brief tenure of their first drummer the kinetic Alphonse Mouzon and for a short spell including the pioneer Tony Williams. Peter Erskine settled the seat down for more than a minute and history will suggest him as the band’s signature drummer. When a young Omar Hakim succeeded Erskine, joining the band in 1981 through its farewell in ’85, he breathed a breath of fresh air into the tubs. But it seems even Weather Report’s broad range wasn’t quite expansive enough for the ever-curious, bright-smiling drummer from NYC.

Omar Hakim’s history reflects the kind of eclectic pallet embodied by more than a few of the 21st century’s most notable drummers, including Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Dire Straits, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Bryan Ferry, Bobby McFerrin, and Daft Punk among a whole raft of affiliations. And now along comes his latest date as a leader under the Omar Hakim Experience rubric, We Are One on his OZmosis imprint. This highly charged tableau begged a few questions of the energetic traps man.

It has been a minute since we’ve heard from you as a leader. What have you been up to recently?
It’s totally true it has been a minute… But I’ve been quite busy with many recording sessions and projects over the last few years. Particularly recording and touring with my band “The Trio of OZ” featuring Rachel Z on piano and Solomon Dorsey on bass. We did a lot of touring in Europe and Asia between 2010 and 2013. Also I was invited to participate on the recording sessions for the Grammy award-winning album by Daft Punk called “Random Access Memories”. I played on half of the album and the hit single “Get Lucky” featuring Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams. We performed on the 2014 Grammy awards; and the band swept the Grammys winning five awards for the album. It was a very exciting night! I also did a very interesting tour in 2012 for a project called “Miles Smiles”. It was a Miles Davis tribute band made up of musicians who either worked with and/or recorded with Miles at some point in their career. The band featured Wallace Rooney on trumpet, Darryl Jones on bass, Robben Ford or Larry Coryell on guitar, Joey DiFrancesco on Organ, and Bill Evans or Rick Margitza on saxophones.

It feels good to get back to doing my own music for a change! I put the finishing touches on the “We Are One” album in January of this year and it was released on March 3rd.

What’s your overall theme & intent with “We Are One”?
This project is a musical celebration of the intrinsic spiritual nature and oneness of mankind. The idea being… to reflect about the spiritual oneness of all people and to remember to connect with GOD, The Creator (or whatever name we give to the Higher Power of our understanding) the true source of music, life and positive energy through sound.

Do you envision Omar Hakim Experience as a touring unit?
Absolutely YES! I’m really looking forward to going out and performing with this band live! We did two CD release celebration concerts in New York City and Washington DC on March 10th and 12th that went really well! The band features most of the musicians that played on the record. Everyone in the band is looking forward to taking the project on the road and bringing the music to the people!

Recently Joe Zawinul’s son has been pumping up the volume for a documentary on his dad, which of course brings the enormous legacy of Weather Report to mind. What lessons did you take from that experience in terms of your own work and future direction
It was an amazing time in my life! To have the opportunity to observe Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter work, compose music and perform alongside them was truly an amazing experience for me as a young drummer and composer. I was a fan of the band before I was asked to join.

One lesson that stands out in particular is the idea of experimenting with different versions of harmonic structure under a melody that you come up with. Joe and Wayne are considered by many to be masters in the creative use of harmony and texture. To witness that process up close proved to be invaluable to me as a composer.

What’s next on your creative agenda?
“The Trio of OZ” will begin recording our second album this spring. Although we won’t release the album until 2015 we plan to drop a few singles out there this year to give our fans a taste of the new direction for the Trio. And of course the Omar Hakim Experience will be on the road a lot in 2014 and 2015!

I’ve spent so much time touring in Europe and Asia over the last few years I’m really looking forward to playing for our friends and fans in America for a change!
Omar Hakim record

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Mimi Jones Hot Tones

The month of March is International Women’s Month, a splendid time to celebrate the efforts of a woman artist who in more ways than one is taking matters into her own hands – as bassist, composer and record label CEO. I first met Mimi as a member of pianist Rachel Z‘s trio on a gig at Nighttown in Cleveland. A few years later she played Tri-C JazzFest with alto saxophonist Tia Fuller‘s take-no-prisoners, fashion-forward quartet and subsequent Mack Avenue recordings.

More recently Mimi has not only made two records as a leader (2009’s “A New Day” and earlier this year “Balance”). Both recordings were made for her own imprint, Hot Tone Music, which on the same release sequence as “Balance” has also showcased two of her talented sister musicians – tenor saxophonist-vocalist Camille Thurman (“Origins”), and drummer Shirazette Tinin – another member of that Tia Fuller band that played TCJF – and her debut recording “Divinity of My Soul.”

“A New Day” was a more vocal recording with a distinct groove orientation, while the somewhat cryptically titled “Balance” comes from a different place. Indeed Mimi is on record as declaring “Balance” a more straight-ahead date. Clearly with all this Mimi Jones’ activity afoot, it was time for some questions...

You speak of your new record as being perhaps a bit more “straight-ahead” than your previous efforts. What was your thinking when you made this record?
I must confess in preparation for the making of the 2nd album, I arranged to create a “straight ahead” record this go round. Although I felt “A New Day” [her first record] did relatively well for a first time jazz album, and was musically pleasing, I felt that it may have posed questions for those who need to categorize music. As I learned about the business, how for people marketing and presenting the music it’s so much easier for them if they could simply say its “smooth Jazz” or “Bop” or “modern Jazz”… record.

I sat down with a conscious effort in mind to make sure the album represented some good traditional “Straight ahead” jazz, but as soon as I allowed my stream of consciousness to enter in the mix, the next thing I knew, I was fusing the genres together for the sake of what the music called for in the moment and in relation to what was happening in today’s world.

That was the moment I thought, well when Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln created “Freedom Day” or the creation of Weather Report or Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters”… they were affected by what was currently going on in the world, and it turned out to be some of the greatest music created, and its in my IPOD… I think it’s great to make sure stuff can be marketed but music should be allowed to come from an intangible place and maybe as long as we respect, study and preserve the previous genres… its okay to create new ones.

Talk about the musicians on this record and why you made the personnel choices you did in order to play this specific program of compositions…
Something I like to do is either write specifically for the players or pick folks that I will micro compose for… its more relaxed, less to have to explain, they just get it, therefore I don’t have to write everything. I’m always observing people and their “stuff” and their behavior too to estimate what would work for a situation.

I knew this album needed to explore the 2 sides of the pendulum… and the different degrees of tension and release, Joy and Pain, abundance and scarceity, involved… sounds that touched people’s emotions… something that somehow connected anyone who listened at a certain point. In order to do this I needed lots of polyrhythms. [Pianist and husband] Luis Perdomo who naturally can play in several different time signatures at the same time, would definitely create tension in songs like “Patriot” and allow for more of a modern Jazz sound like that of [the composition] “Speed” with his touch and vocabulary.

Its funny because Shirazette ended up on certain songs like “Dream”, “Traveler”,“the Incy Wincy Spider” because she brought elements of swing, Afro beats and simplicity to the table… versatility is one of her strengths, and she is golden especially in situations where opposites occur.

Every rehearsal [guitarist] Marvin [Sewell] runs to the piano like a kid in a toy store, so after asking him if we could record ”the Spinning Tree”, with him on piano, and him giving me some crap about there being three “real” pianists in the house [including Perdomo and Miki Hayama and Enoch Smith Jr.], he finally agreed. its funny too cuz he was the only pianist who truly got the sound right.

Ingrid Jensen’s [trumpet] playing is always emotional, no matter what she’s playing its super colorful and unpredictable, which kept the music on edge and created a visual as well.

Miki’s sense of gospel in jazz is extremely soulful in a way very different from Luis’. She plays at church every week when she’s in town, so it’s a different vocabulary but one that is eched in the history of this music and so she was perfect for Dream, she created a beautiful soundscape for “ the Edge of a Circle” as well

I thought it to be a unique way to pay homage to the great Roy Ayers by having Camille do a vocal solo on “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, not sure if its been done before on that song but her skill set definitely brings the song to new heights.

Enoch Smith Jr. and I have big plans of working together and this was a great opportunity for us to start. He has a real talent for deconstructing and rearranging popular songs that truly allows the listener to get the original elements and then wowing them with a new package. So I asked for his skills on [Adele‘s] “Someone like You”, and Sean Harkness added guitar greatness on it as well making it sound more popular.

It was by mistake that the soulful Mala [Waldron] ended up on “Dream”, she was supposed to be doing scratch vocal, but I made an executive decision that her soulful sound needed to be present so that was a wrap.. Ha!

How have you evolved as a composer and a bass player?
I’m not afraid to ask dumb questions, or express that I don’t know “what the hell” is going on. I’m not as nervous anymore, or second guessing myself as much either. I get out the way of myself so I can get down to business. I used to get caught up if certain chords didn’t logically make sense and scrap the music, now I just get it out and figure it out later.

I still want to solo like a horn player, learn to truly be super relaxed in up tempos, and easily read thru changing odd meter. I feel like there’s so much more for me to learn and experience, but I’m embracing the challenge these days.

You’ve played in all-women bands before, like Rachel Z’s trio and Tia Fuller’s band. What is your sense about the current landscape for women instrumentalists?
Yes and those were very educational & fun experiences too! I feel like at a certain point things won’t be sooo segregated. Women will have more bands with men and vice versa. It sometimes gets to be a novelty being “a woman in Jazz”, like a gimmick. I think the more women can make time to shed, develop themselves and look out for one another, either by association, recommendation, or directly hiring of other women the more exposure the more educated people will become. It’s getting better slowly, its improving for sure.

Where are you going from here?
To the moon and back :0)! Hopefully far, I like to save lives with this music, create a movement of improvement, uplift communities, make a great living and enjoy doing it.

So that means you can see me performing: Mostly every week @ Crown 24 East 81st NYC, @ Symphony Space once per week; @ Ginny’ s in Harlem NYC on mar 29th, Playboy Jazz Festival in June, and Marylou William’s Jazz Festival in DC in May… Look out for new albums coming, expansions on the Hot Tone Music Label too!

Mimi Jones 2
Mimi Jones 1

Camille Thurman


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Bruce Lundvall always Playing By Ear

Bruce Lundvall
If you Google the words ‘consummate jazz record man’, a picture and bio of Bruce Lundvall should leap off your screen – at least for the period represented by the latter third of the 20th century and well into the 21st. Lundvall’s first prominent post was at Columbia Records where he was the steward of an unprecedented jazz epoch for that label, masterminding such tenures there as Dexter Gordon – whose much-acclaimed 1980s return to the U.S. was one of Lundvall’s high points – Woody Shaw, Stan Getz, Arthur Blythe, Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, Irakere, Paquito D’Rivera (the latter two following Bruce’s triumphant Havana Jam jazz diplomacy project), and a raft of others. After a stint at Elektra Records, where Bruce oversaw the development of the Elektra Musician jazz-oriented imprint, Lundvall moved over to Blue Note Records where he shepherded the resurrection of that historic jazz label, including signing Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Chucho Valdes, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Norah Jones, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, and Ambrose Akinmusire. I could go on, but we’ll leave the good stuff for the eagerly anticipated new Bruce Lundvall biography, Playing By Ear, authored by Dan Ouellette.

This Lundvall treatment, which arrives as an ArtistShare, fan-funded project (and is available at and other retailers), is Dan Ouellette’s second biography, following on the heels of his Ron Carter bio Finding the Right Note, also an ArtistShare book. Dan Ouellette is a veteran jazz writer who has been a regular contributor to DownBeat, as well as a jazz columnist for Stereophile and Billboard magazines and assorted other periodicals. You may also know Dan as the frequent host of live DownBeat Blindfold Tests at various festivals, notably the Monterey and Northsea jazz festivals. Standing in line with Dan on a blustery January evening at a Times Square Starbucks around the corner from Town Hall awaiting a fine evening of music celebrating Blue Note Records 75th anniversary (which we subsequently reported on in the Independent Ear in January), we talked about the imminent release of Playing By Ear. And a few days ago I ran into Dan again, sharing a table with Bruce Lundvall and ace producer Michael Cuscuna at a superb evening of Dexter Gordon’s music at Dizzy’s Club; clearly it was time to share some of Dan’s insights on his Bruce Lundvall project with IE readers.

Independent Ear Interview:
Dan Ouellette on BRUCE LUNDVALL
Dan Ouellette1
Author Dan Ouellette

What is it about Bruce Lundvall and his career that initially attracted you to write his book?
I’ve always been impressed by what Bruce was doing at Blue Note—signing new, refreshing talent as well as reissuing incredible music that I had never heard from the archives—and I interviewed him for features when I was the jazz writer at Billboard. Back in those days when I was reporting on the jazz scene, I spent a lot of time at Blue Note, during which times I would always say hello to Bruce. A key signing of course was Norah Jones, which revitalized the label and gave the opportunity for several jazz artists to be signed. I reported that entire stretch. With the success of Norah, Bruce was magic in managing the label so as to bring in new jazz talent.

How did you and Bruce Lundvall come together to work on this book?
Bruce and I both attended the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2010, and both being early risers, we spent quite a few mornings talking at the breakfast table. That led to more conversations when we returned to New York. A few years earlier, another writer had started to work on writing Bruce’s biography, but early in the going had to bow out. So Bruce and I sat down for dinner and he asked me if I was interested in telling his story. Soon I realized how broad and all-encompassing his career in the music business was. It was a little daunting to me, but I set a course to find his story in the midst of all the inner workings of the business.
Bruce Lundvall book

What was your process for working together on the book?
We talked. I interviewed him at his desk in his Blue Note office, beginning with his early life and continuing chronologically. Bruce is a great storyteller and he has his favorites, which he often told me twice. Still, I had to figure out the architecture of the book, based on his stories and then interspersed with chapters on some of his most significant relationships with artists. Working with my publisher ArtistShare, I had some 15 artists videotaped where they shared their stories of Bruce and what he meant to their careers. Then I stitched the whole package together. I’d write chapters, send them to Bruce and he would sign off on them—correcting me (Dexter Gordon was in prison in Chino, California, not Chico, for example) and sometimes asking me to lighten up some of his more vehement criticisms of people in the industry he had worked with. We pretty much compromised on that. I also had to do a lot of research to dig deep into a topic or artist when Bruce couldn’t remember all the facts from some 40 to 50 years ago…or in some cases, correcting his recollections. So I worked as a historian as well as biographer.

Give us an example of one of the more compelling “stories” Bruce conveyed to you for this book.
There were several stories that were compelling, including how he resurrected Willie Nelson’s career by releasing Red Headed Stranger on Columbia in 1975 (with an interview with Willie in his tour bus corroborating); of course his Norah Jones story; how Bruce ignited Rubén Blades’ career by agreeing to release his groundbreaking Buscando America; and then how he actually discovered Whitney Houston, but because of politics at Elektra Records when he was ready to offer her a deal became Clive Davis’s star (in an interview with Clive in his Sony office, he did admit to me that, yes, Bruce did see her first, but because he signed her he rightfully gets the credit for discovering her). But I keep coming back to THE most compelling story: Bruce dreaming up Havana Jam in 1979 when he gathered Columbia pop and jazz artists of the day to perform in Havana on a two-day bill also featuring Cuba’s great musicians. His importance to Cuban musicians getting the opportunity to perform internationally and record for Columbia and later Blue Note is fascinating. I spent three chapters of the book digging into the background and outgrowth of Havana Jam—which happened 35 years ago.

In your interviews with Bruce, which of the many artists he has worked with over the years stood out as being particularly special to him?
Certainly Norah is a good friend to this day. Jazzwise, Dexter Gordon was one of his best friends. When Dexter died, Bruce was heartbroken, but then Joe Lovano stepped in as a godsend. I think all the musicians—Bobby McFerrin, Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, Terence Blanchard, etc.—are special in different ways to Bruce. His philosophy in signing is to find an original. All his most important signings are truly originals who he nurtured as artists who are growing and evolving. So, I think Bruce would be hard-pressed to single out only one artist—I found from him that all of them are special.

Ultimately when you consider the arc of the record business in this country and particularly the executives who have specialized in jazz among their pursuits, where do you see Bruce Lundvall in the record industry pantheon?
Certainly among the top executives, if not the top. He signs his biography with this quote: “Life is short, art is long and jazz is forever.” Jazz is what possessed Bruce from his earliest days—listening from his New Jersey home to New York radio broadcasts and stealing away from home as a teen to take a bus to the city to see his heroes. Even though he has become well-known for signing nonjazz artists (Willie, Norah, Amos Lee, Richard Marx), he’s always been the most passionate about jazz and has the “best ears in town,” as Norah says, to recognize true jazz talent. The originals, not the derivatives. As has been testified among all the people I interviewed, Bruce is all about the art form and thus the artists. To Bruce, jazz is the highest form of musical art. All of his decisions throughout his career have had that as the foundation. Other executives may have that same sensibility, but the degree of power that Bruce enjoyed at Columbia, Elektra and Blue Note makes it that throughout his career he has been able to move mountains to get jazz into the world. He has been heroic in that sense—all without the self-aggrandizement of execs who place themselves on an equal plane with the artists. That’s largely why Bruce is not well-known outside the jazz circles (and even within), but deserves to be seen as a jazz hero.
Dan Ouellette
The author amongst his treasures

Ordering links for Playing By Ear, the biography of Bruce Lundvall:

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Helen Sung’s new day anthem

Pianist Helen Sung, besides her growing prodigious piano abilities, is one of the truly bright people in this music. Blessed with a fine wit and a palpable joy of playing, when you see Helen perform you cannot help coming away refreshed by the total package of her skills. The first time I saw Helen Sung was as a finalist for the Thelonious Monk Competition, and I quickly marked her down as someone to watch. Several years later we had her onstage at East Cleveland Public Library’s performing arts center as part of our Tri-C JazzFest young artist Debut Series. That typically adoring audience certainly came away impressed and sold on Helen Sung, from her obvious playing skills to her ability to truly communicate and connect with an audience.

Anthem for a New Day, which sounds like something of a career declaration, is her first prominent label recording. Anthem for a New Day also sounds like the declaration of a new level of composition and playing – which it decidedly is. Time to pose some questions to the Houston-born pianist.

Helen 1

This is your Concord Records debut. What’s your sense of this being your first prominent label release?
Well it’s certainly an honor and a great opportunity to release a recording on a prominent label like Concord Records, which has a strong platform in place to help promote and support the album and music. Everybody I’ve met at the label is amazing: excellent at what they do and a pleasure to work with. So it’s been a terrific experience – I’ve learned a lot, and I’m excited to share my music with a wider audience. That the recording happened to be Anthem For A New Day is great timing also, as I feel this album more completely represents who I am, what I’ve been working on/living with, and where I’m headed, as an artist.

Talk about your background and what brought you to this point.
I was born & raised in Houston, TX, and started classical piano & violin at age 5, more to give me something to do vs. my parents having any grand hopes for me to be a star musician. In fact, they were not happy when I announced I wanted to study classical music for a career. For most of my formative teenage years I studied with a teacher of the Russian school who had strong views about what was “real” music – I remember her saying classical music was the only music worth listening to. Like a dutiful first-generation child (oldest of 4) of Chinese immigrants, I revered this teacher and pretty much followed her ways & ideas lock-step. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t rebel just a little…well, I did sneak off with friends to listen to Michael Jackson, Madonna, etc. so I guess that was a bit of dissent. It wasn’t until I was almost finished with my undergraduate studies in classical piano at the University of Texas at Austin when I was finally exposed to jazz music – at a Harry Connick Jr. concert. My friend lured me there with promises that I’d love “this cute singer” but in the middle of the concert with his big band, he sat down and played some solo piano. I remember being thunderstruck – here was someone playing the piano in a way I had been taught never to do – banging, attacking it in a way that made me want to jump out of my skin.

The music I was hearing was so alive, the rhythms irresistible…I just had to find out more. I felt like a whole new world had opened up before me. Soon after, I enrolled in a beginning jazz piano class, went to the music library to listen to & read whatever I could get my hands on, begged the UT Jazz Piano Professor for lessons, started playing in combos, etc. When I was accepted into the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory – that sealed the deal for me. I missed the chance to get into jazz while in high school at HSPVA (High School for the Performing & Visual Arts in Houston), where I spent 4 years right across the hall from the Jazz Department and never had one musical interaction…unbelievable. I’m very glad I didn’t miss this second chance!

How is it that there seems to be such a strong core of significant musicians among your peers from Houston?
I credit the director (now retired) of the jazz department at HSPVA – Dr. Robert Morgan. Talking with those musicians now (folks like Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Eric Harland, etc.), “Doc” (as they called him) basically gave them an undergraduate level experience in high school. They were gigging, playing in combos & big bands at school – by the time they came to NYC they were ready to make their mark, and boy have they done that! It’s also exciting to see the current director, Warren Sneed continuing this amazing tradition and graduating amazing young jazz musicians year after year.

Anthem For a New Day sounds like your most fully realized record release. Would you agree and how did you go about planning the date?
I don’t know if it’s my most fully realized release – perhaps it has come at a time when I am more comfortable with and confident about who I am (and where I’m headed) as an artist. Not that the searching, experimenting, and growing ever end, but to date, the music on this album does capture ideas and concepts I’ve been living with for the past few years. I see it as both a culmination of sorts and a look ahead into the future. I had been work-shopping this music for the past year or so with most of the musicians on the recording; that they were all available for the date, including the special guests, is a huge blessing I couldn’t have planned. Timing, both planned and unplanned, was crucial to this project, and I’m happy it worked out as well as it did.

Talk about the musicians who helped you make this record.
They are all artists I’ve had the chance to work with or share the stage with, and I love not only how they play in general, but also how they play my music – they bring the project to life! The rhythm section with Reuben Rogers (bass) and Obed Calvaire (drums) – such a swingin’, soulful unit, versatile and flexible, open to experimenting with different grooves and various concepts I have that are more classically based (involving elements like timbre, texture, instrumentation, etc.) – it’s absolutely fantastic and crucial to have this foundation. Then with the added percussion of Samuel Torres – this is my 3rd record that he’s played on and he’s fabulous: knowing exactly what a piece needs and not playing too much or too little: that is masterful musicianship. It was also fun featuring him more front-and-center on the arrangement of “Armando’s Rhumba,” which is basically just him, Paquito D’Rivera (on clarinet), and myself, and some overdubbed hand/foot percussion. And then front line of saxophonist Seamus Blake & Ingrid Jensen – I like calling them my “Canadian Contingent” – what more can I say, I’m sure one can hear how wonderful they are! Finally to have Paquito and violinist Regina Carter guest on the recording – what a privilege and extra-special treat.

I see that your CD release tour is being sponsored by North Coast Brewing Company. Tell us about that support relationship and what it has meant for this release.
North Coast Brewing Company is run by folks I truly admire and respect: if all companies were run with such integrity and compassion our world (and economies) would be in a much better place. Part of their overall mission is to bring commerce and the arts together to build up the local community and from there the world. When their brew-master Mark Ruedrich decided to craft a Belgian Ale, the project was dubbed “Monk” since Trappist monks have traditionally made this type of ale. When it came time for them to name the ale itself, one of their employees said while in Catholic school she called the teachers “Brother John” or “Brother Peter” etc., so “Brother Thelonious” was born. The NCBC folks are also big jazz fans, and VP of Sales & Distribution Doug Moody (in fact, he also had a career as a jazz radio DJ) reached out to the Monk Institute, letting them know they wanted to donate a portion of “Brother Thelonious” sales to them each year to support jazz education programs, and what a success that has been: by April/May of this year, their total contribution will exceed $1 million!

In 2006 I first met Doug Moody (& his wife Deborah) when I played with T.S.Monk’s Sextet for the official launch of “Brother Thelonious” on the East Coast. After that, I would run into the Moodys at various Monk Institute events, and one night at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Doug asked me to write the theme song for “Brother Thelonious” for a recording he would produce. That was a great experience, and when I was recording Anthem I decided to do an updated version which ended up being the lead-off track. NCBC has supported several musical/performing initiatives and I’m thrilled they were interested in partnering for the CD Release Tour for Anthem For A New Day. A cool side-note is most of the venues we will play serve Brother Thelonious – it’s great to see folks becoming new fans of the ale! I’m not a big drinker but I have tried the ale and can make it to 6-7 healthy-sized sips, which is amazing for me (haha!). Having NCBC support this release has significantly reduced the stress associated with the business side of things, making it possible me to hire the musicians I would like for the shows and allowing me to focus on the music. I am so grateful and always ready to tell anyone who’s interested what a great company North Coast Brewing Company is!

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Rufus Reid pays homage to Elizabeth Catlett

Look up the word mellifluous and when it comes to bass playing, the name Rufus Reid certainly applies. The man plays the instrument with a dexterous sense of time and lower end gravity that is complimentary to whatever setting he is called to enhance. A native of Atlanta who grew up in Sacramento, Rufus Reid’s professional career commenced largely in Chicago. For some their earliest sightings of Rufus may have been as a member of Dexter Gordon’s robust 1980s quartet. His affiliations also range from Nancy Wilson, Stan Getz and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra to Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Hill and Henry Threadgill. That sampling alone gives you a sense of the versatility of this sturdily built bassman with the distinguished head of gray hair, ready smile, and eminently approachable demeanor.

Rufus Reid’s current recorded endeavor is the just-released Quiet Pride (Motema), subtitled The Elizabeth Catlett Project, in honor of the late, great visual artist whose artistry obviously had a profound effect on Rufus Reid somewhere along his journey. To find out where this distinguished bassist-composer’s artistic sensibilities intersected with Ms. Catlett’s renowned work, we had a few Independent Ear questions for Rufus Reid. But first, you may recall our dialogue with drummer-bandleader Francisco Mora-Catlett (Archives: November ’13) on his latest recorded enterprise, AfroHorn Rare Metal. As a prelude to our dialogue with Rufus Reid on his new project I wanted to circle back to Francisco to get his sense of this superb tribute to his late mother, Elizabeth Catlett.
Elizabeth Catlett

In our African traditions and in the work with strong African Identity the relationship between diverse Art Forms is always fundamental and more than feeding on each other it complements and magnifies the context in which originally is created. Rufus Reid’s “QUIET PRIDE” a set of compositions inspired in the work of Elizabeth Catlett, in my own interpretation; successfully emphasizes the creative relation between art forms that surge from the traditions of an African identity and its continuity. Dance moves to music, inspired in the spoken word, song tells the literary story, and visual art illustrates it. I became aware of this work some years back, when trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater told me that Rufus Reid had written pieces inspired on my mother’s sculpture work. I remember distinctly my mother asking me, is he playing somewhere? lets go hear him. We did, Rufus Reid was working in a Jazz club in the Village and he was so impressed that Elizabeth Catlett had gone to hear him play; she invited him and his wife Doris to come to Mexico to visit in her Home-Studio in Cuernavaca as to become familiar with the process and way she worked. There are similitudes in the the way you solve an esthetical problem in form and shape as you carve wood or orchestrate music, and sometimes is the wood or the music that establishes the direction in which the work tends or has to go.

My mother always accompanied her work with her music, specially during the last part of her life. You could walk into her studio and hear from Mahalia Jackson, Otis Redding, Louis Armstrong, to Aretha Franklin or Miles Davis while she was working. Rufus Reid’s Quiet Pride brings closer the relationship and the inspiration that we draw from all art.

Quiet Pride is such an inspirational work; the compositions are fabulous, the arrangements are rich, lavish orchestrations with surprising vocal melody effects, and a great choice of master musicians that delivers beauty in these renditions; it is an epic marvelous work inspired by great American Art.
Thank you Rufus, I know my mother loves the work…
— Francisco Mora Catlett, January 30th 2014
Elizabeth Catlett 1

Elizabeth Catlett 2
The artistry of Elizabeth Catlett

Independent Ear: Quiet Pride” strikes me as a work that at least in part is a realization of a dream of yours. Is that an accurate characterization?
Rufus Reid: Actually, you are quite correct, this project has been a dream of mine that is finally happening! A huge part of the dream was to have the music rendered by some of the best and seasoned players around taking the music beyond my wildest dreams. This is my very first professional commercial recording of my large ensemble writing. This is very exciting for me to experience at this stage of my career.

How has Elizabeth Catlett inspired you to write this large-scale work?
Over twenty-five years ago, I acquired a book about her life and her various types art works. To be honest, at that time I knew nothing about her, whatsoever. I did enjoy and frequently did go to art museums, but I didn’t really know much about it at all. I do remember, at the outset, this book about Elizabeth Catlett was impressive. However, that was it. In 2006, I became aware of the Dr. Raymond and Beverly Sackler Commission Competition Prize administered through the University of Connecticut at Storrs from my participating in the BMI Composers Workshop! The main emphasis of BMI Composers Workshop environment was to assist the composers to step outside their “box,” meaning his or her comfort zone. That year was the very first time this commission was offered to the Jazz community. In order to apply, you had to propose what you wanted to write. I had nothing to lose, so I proposed to write music inspired by Elizabeth Catlett’s sculptures. After all, I had this incredible book in my possession. After checking out this book with much more interest, I became more aware of her creativity and totally in awe of her beautiful art. I knew I wanted to create something that would make people more aware of her and her art. At the same time, I wanted people who knew about her to become more aware of the art of Jazz, me, and my music. The challenge for me was to make the music rise to the high level of her art. This was only the beginning of this incredible journey I am on.
Rufus Recording_DavidAppelPhoto
Rufus Reid at the Quiet Pride recording session

So often, unfortunately large-scale works like this become purely recording projects because the cost to stage them is too prohibitive. Do you have anything in the works to stage this work?
Yes, the size of this ensemble does require a lot of money, interest and work to perform the music live, but it can be done. I am happy to announce the CD release performance will be March 12, 2014, at the Jazz Standard Club in New York City. A great deal of energy is being put forward in developing and contacting appropriate venues to have more performances. In addition, another important aspect is that colleges and universities across the country are being contacted to have their music, art, women’s studies departments, and the community at large to collaborate by interacting with one another. In these cases, I would conduct the music and give lectures, etc. So far we have had very successful events at the University of Connecticut/Storrs, the Manship Theater in the Shaw Center For The Arts which is affiliated with the Louisiana State University, and at Bucknell University. The first two venues exhibited selected art works of Elizabeth Catlett coinciding with my concert performances.

I’ve gotten the sense that in the last decade or so you’ve really begun to dig deep and concentrate quite a bit on composing. Is that an accurate assessment?
Yes, you are very correct, indeed. I have always been intrigued about composition. I have had the great fortune to be associated closely with some incredible composers throughout my career. Fourteen years ago, I began to make a concerted effort to learn more about composition and what is necessary to become a real composer. I have never studied composition academically speaking. I just ask question and buy books on the subject. I am totally smitten with the mere process of composition.

When composition becomes such a central quest, is there any sense that your actual playing may take a back seat?
Eventually, one day, I suppose, my playing may take a back seat to composition, but that will not happen for a while. That being said, I do feel a direct impact on my playing has occurred. I now think very differently about “how” I begin, develop, and end my improvised solos like never before. So, in some ways, my soloing has become more thoughtful and that has been a very good thing, in my opinion. My note choices and rhythmic placement have become more important to me than how many notes I can play, more than ever.

How did you go about selecting the musicians to make this work come to life?
Choosing the musicians for this project was easy and not so easy. I really didn’t want a fixed band to work with. I wanted a fresh set of seasoned players who understood the big band setting, but were open to a fresher approach. I wanted players I knew personally, who were focused, strong, and possessed an individual voice already established. I also wanted a mix of genders, ages, and experiences to pool together to become “one.” I was blessed with a group who brought their “A” game to this project. I could not be happier.

Any further reflections on this project?
Meeting and becoming friends with Elizabeth Catlett has truly enriched my life on many levels. Studying more about the art world has also been truly educational. I had no idea that this project, art inspired by art, would be so fulfilling. I have certainly been empowered to continue my path as a creative composer.
Rufus Reid
The master at work

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