Bassist-saxophonist-composer Luke Stewart has firmly established his artistic pursuits on the world stage. As one of DC’s best & brightest musicians, Luke collaborated with many of the DMV’s finest, particularly if they exhibited the kind of forward motion and progressive attitude by which he himself addresses the precincts of his jazz & beyond musical pursuits. His stint as a vital component of rising tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ rangy trio has propelled Luke forward on the world stage as a leader himself. More recently Luke has joined NEA Jazz Master tenor saxophonist David Murray‘s new band.
In addition to his musical aspirations, Luke has actively engaged in activities bent on expanding the DMV musical universe, including co-founding the exceptional music news, presenting and preservation organization known as CapitalBop (www.capitalbop.com), and hosting programs on the DMV’s “Jazz & Justice” radio station WPFW. Let’s catch up with Luke Stewart…
How do you balance all of your different projects and affiliations?
That’s an interesting question, that I get all the time. I’ve always had many interests and musical/artistic pursuits, from starting off musically as a saxophonist, then as a bass guitarist, then a DJ/producer, then a Jazz musician, then a Creative Musician. There’s a lot of inspiration and ideas that I’ve always had, that have been put off delayed or otherwise impossible until they have been allowed to manifest naturally. I believe in the way things have happened in an organic fashion. The balance comes from the passion and dedication I give to each project. With each, I am 110% present and involved, as if none other exist at the moment. For better or worse, this is the case for me. It is also a statement of what i’ve learned from so many of the elders, that it is important to “fire on all cylinders” and to create as much as you can. It is an expression and practice in Freedom, as well as Tolerance, to be involved in so many different projects. I’ve worked very hard, and still a long way to go, to practice Freedom in my work. That is, not to limit myself due to what society or the community or circumstance tells me. Rather, it is through the example of the elders, that you have to chart your own path in the world of Creativity, not being tied down to any dogma. That’s to say also about Tolerance, that I have to have tolerance for myself and allow myself the room to interact with respect and dedication in the community.
With your solo bass record “Works For Upright Bass And Amplifier Vol. 2” why did you choose to place emphasis on your amplifier, and how might that have been a different experience had you chosen to record that record sans amplifier?
As I’ve stated in other interviews, and in other performances and explanations, the title and the works are Literal. I am treating both as instruments, the Upright Bass AND the Amplifier. The amplifier in this case is an electronic instrument. Without the Amplifier, it would be just another solo bass record. I’ve made acoustic solo bass recordings, but I prefer to work through this setup for now.
Would it be fair to say that “Black’s Myths” is a project based in thematic principles of social justice? Talk about your collaborators on that record.
[Blacks’ Myths] is indeed a thematic project, dealing with referential history of Black Americans, in particular. The song names and the vibe are meant to invoke and to stoke these memories, for those who can understand the references. Otherwise, it is a project that continues parts of my background in rock/punk-based music. This one is a duo of Warren Crudup, III and I. We’ve been performing together almost since the beginning of my time in the DC jazz community. We’ve gone through many formative experiences in the Music and otherwise. We’ve played as a duo also for many years, the first one put on by artist Nate Lewis after he saw us perform with Ernest Dawkins/Joe Bowie/Flip Barnes/Adam Rudolph. At this particular performance, the band left the stage and left us to create together. It was a musical rite of passage that spawned the duo that would later become Blacks’ Myths.
What’s the guiding force behind your “Irreversible Entanglements” project?
Interesting question. There have been many things written and said about this project. We are first and foremost a Band, something that has increasingly become rare in what is recognized as mainstream jazz. It doesn’t have the focus of an individual leader, even though there is a “front person” in the form of Moor Mother. Rather, it is a true collective that is clearly making vital music at the moment that speaks to many people. We are able to tour quite a bit around the world for large audiences consistently, which is sometimes rare for jazz, let alone “Liberation-oriented Free Jazz” as we’ve been called. Our guiding force is thus each other in Irreversible Entanglements. Each of us come from very different backgrounds, with varying levels of experience in the world of Creative Music. We also give each other the room for the aforementioned Freedom and Tolerance. In the “IE Universe” we encompass all of our individual and collective projects, much like the examples of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, New York Art Quartet, World Saxophone Quartet, and others. It is in these examples where each individual members were Free to their own musical and creative pursuits. When we come together, the experience gained from those pursuits combine into a truly amazing flow of energy and creation. It is palpable and important in this current moment and for the future.
Including “Bi Ba Doom” recording, how do you see each of these projects intersecting?
Bi Ba Doom was the result of getting together with musical friends Chris Pitsiokos and Jason Nazary while in New York. Being also a “New York Musician” it was an opportunity to explore with other Creative Musicians who also use electronics. This project was specific to this mindset. We were able to tour in EU and Canada upon the release of this album, and added trumpeter and electronic musician Chris Williams to the fold. Hopefully the proper Quartet version of this band will be able to perform again soon.
Talk about your still fairly new affiliation with David Murray and what that means for your solo and bandleading efforts.
David and I first played in 2018, soon after he returned to New York. The first time we actually met properly was during the concert after the inauguration of Donald Trump in January of 2017. It was a Transparent Productions concert that featured Murray in rare solo format, telling stories only he can tell, displaying a unique mastery of his instruments. I had seen David play a number of times before then, but it was here where I noticed truly his virtuosity. For instance, he almost constantly circular breathes in the horn, yet employs solo phrasing as if he were breathing normally. I hear in this question, will I still be able to play solo and lead bands? Interesting perspective in this question.
As in the example of Irreversible Entanglements, as well as so many of David’s bands over the years, there is always creative Freedom to do whatever we want to do, as long as I show up dedicated, focused, and ready to play, which I do at all times with all projects. The brand new Quartet featuring Marta Sanchez and Kassa Overall is a great example of this. He purposely chose band members who are also leaders in their own right. In this he encourages that we pursue our own projects, though of course demands showing up for him, which I am very proud to do. —
In 1972, while living in Tangier, Morocco and operating his African Rhythms Club, Randy Weston determined to present a festival that would span multiple styles of music from Africa and the African diaspora around the world. A tremendous undertaking, the festival presented a vast range of music ranging from Dexter Gordon and Max Roach to Afro pop by the likes of Osibisa, with a multitude of traditional rhythms and forms in between. The festival was a big success, but in its under-capitalized form it left Randy deeply in debt… a condition later alleviated by what Randy always referred to as “divine intervention” – his lone CTI release. Read the saga of how that record date uplifted Randy and his global profile – despite a few trepidations detailed below (excerpted here from Chapter 13 of Randy’s autobiography, AFRICAN RHYTHMS (2010, Duke University Press):
But back to that divine intervention from the Creator: My dear friend Mary Jo Johnson had worked particularly hard to make this festival possible from the stateside perspective. At that time she was serving in a kind of managerial capacity for me and besides her festival duties she was trying to arrange a record date for me. This resulted in the Blue Moses album. She said she went to 15 record companies and nobody wanted to record me. Finally she met with Creed Taylor whose very successful record company in the 70s was CTI. He recorded people like Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, George Benson, Grover Washington Jr., Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, Bob James and others. He made all his records at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous studio using a stable of studio musicians which also included the leaders he was recording.
My idea was to record a program of music focusing on Morocco, and I wrote four pieces for the date: “Ifrane”, named for a small town in the mountains near Fes, was about my first trip through the northern part of Morocco. We had arranged to do some concerts at some hotels in Morocco and I had this little automobile. I drove this car through the Atlas Mountains with my son Azzedin and Ed Blackwell. When we passed through this town called Ifran there was actual snow! Ifran is a skiing village and I didn’t know they had snow in Morocco! I was so moved that I wrote a piece about it.
“Blue Moses” was simply the translation of Sidi Musa. Musa was Moses for the Gnawa people; for them the color representing Moses is the color of the sea, the blue of the sky. When I attended a Gnawa ceremony in 1969 in Tangier it was my first of several Lilas with the powerful Gnawa elders. As I said earlier I was in a trance for a couple of weeks after this ceremony, it was so powerful, and this one particular melody stayed with me. So instead of Sidi Musa I called it “Blue Moses,” based on traditional Gnawa music that I adapted and re-arranged. When I first wrote this piece the Gnawa elders forbad me from playing it in public; but after about a year they finally relented after I pleaded with them that people needed to hear this melody.
“Night in Medina” was about an experience I had when I was living in Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. I stayed at the Hotel Rex, right in front of the old city; the Medina is the old city where the traditional marketplace sells all kinds of Moroccan goods, spices, kaftans and other Moroccan goods. During the day there are hundreds of people on the streets of the Medina, but at night it gets real quiet. One particular night I couldn’t sleep and something urged me to go into the Medina, so I went there at 3:00 in the morning! The streets were deserted and it was very mysterious, sorta spooky. I walked around these deserted streets and this melody came to me. Fortunately nothing happened to me but it was a very powerful experience of having frequented the Medina during the day when it’s crawling with people, then at night when there’s nothing but shadows. I also wrote “Marrakech Blues” in honor of the city of Marrakech, a city that is really magical. The buildings have a wonderful reddish hue. So that rounded out my program for this proposed “Blue Moses” date.
Creed Taylor insisted that the only way he would agree to do the date was if I played it on Fender Rhodes electric piano, which was popular back then. I can’t stand the electric piano but I really wanted to make this record. Creed also insisted on using his regular musicians, which was OK with me because they included Ron Carter and Freddie Hubbard, who had played with me on the Uhuru Afrika date; Hubert Laws, who ironically played the festival in Tangier; plus Grover Washington, Jr., Billy Cobham, and the Brazilian percussionist Airto. I brought my regular bass player Bill Wood and Azzedin to make the date on congas as well. We recorded “Blue Moses” in March 1972. Despite my lack of control over some of these important elements, incredibly “Blue Moses” became my biggest selling record!
Besides his regular crew of excellent musicians, Creed Taylor was known for a certain sound on CTI and his house arranger was Don Sebesky. We recorded the date using Melba’s arrangements of my compositions. I wasn’t happy with having to use that electric piano but the recording session came out much to my satisfaction. So following the session I went back to Morocco and got busy with the African Rhythms club and festival planning. “Blue Moses” was released just before the festival and I remember being in the club when one afternoon a dub of the record arrived in the mail. I immediately put it on the turntable and out burst all this added orchestration from Don Sebesky. I couldn’t believe it! But the true success of “Blue Moses” happened after the festival.
Vocalist and arts educator-activist-radio host Andromeda Turre couldn’t help but start life in deep musical immersion… her parents are music masters, cellist Akua Dixon and trombonist Steve Turre. Currently a program host of Growing Up Jazz at Sirius/XM’s Real Jazz channel, working her singing career ongoing (she has a forthcoming new album), and pursuing her work as an educator via her Growing Up Jazz program (which is also the title of her radio shows), we recently caught up with this busy woman, who is also the lone woman champion on Jazzology, my bi-weekly jazz trivia show aired on the Savage Content platform at www.savagecontent.com.
Being raised by two first-class progressional musicians, at what point in your life did you determine that you wanted to pursue music on your own terms?
I don’t think there was ever a time in my life where I thought I wouldn’t be a musician. Some of the earliest memories that I can recall are sitting and listening to my parents’ rehearsals, which often happened in our living room. I wanted so badly to join them. On my own terms, I feel like I’ve only started growing into that in the last few years, although I have been supporting myself as a professional musician since 2003. It took a lot of living, performing, writing my own music… and failing… to be able to discover my own voice and my own philosophy on the genre.
Once you had made that determination to pursue music, how did your parents encourage that pursuit?
Andromeda Turre & her Mom, master cellist Akua Dixon
Neither my Mom or Dad were surprised that both myself and my brother Orion [Turre], who is a Jazz drummer, pursued careers in Jazz. I think they are both proud and have been encouraging and supportive in a multitude of ways. As a kid they were both great at giving me music to listen to and study, as well as laying foundations for things like ear training and harmony. I remember one year when I was in high school, my Dad gave me a boxed set with 16 CD’s of Ella Fitzgerald recordings from Verve Records. He suggested I transcribe it, haha. But I loved it so much, over the course of the time I was in High School, I ended up transcribing probably close to the whole thing. It shaped my understanding of scat vocabulary and vocal improvisation. My Mom helped me establish good pitch by teaching me violin as a child and we would also sing fun intervals and harmonies as we cooked together in the kitchen.
What was your subsequent music training?
Mom has a cassette tape of me singing a song I wrote when I was 2 years old, I’ve always been a songwriter and creator. I’m grateful that she knew a more formal education would not be the right fit for me.
I started on piano as a young child, studying with Sonelius Smith. She selected him for me because, while she knew he would make sure I would learn proper hand position and technique, he let me be creative with the repertoire and include my own compositions and improvisations. There’s actually a video that my Dad took of my first piano recital on youtube. I studied dance extensively both at the Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey which was a different kind of music training. Being able to examine tempos and dynamics from a perspective outside of being the one creating the music, and especially from the perspective of a dancer, taught me how music gets internalized in a different way. It also taught me to consider audience experience in a much more engaging way. In high school I was obsessed with choral singing and had an incredible teacher, Ms. Axton. I sang in the madrigals choir, the honors choir and the Jazz choir, all of which she directed. I would get frustrated with her sometimes as she would take the score and give me the most difficult intervals to sing, regardless of whether they were soprano, alto or tenor. I was constantly jumping staves. But it stretched my control over my vocal range, sight reading and pitch. I appreciate now what she saw in me and pushed me to do, I’ll never forget her. Another teacher I’ll never forget is Patrick Dearborn, my high school musical theater teacher. He pulled me from the choir out into the spotlight. I learn so much about stage presence, carrying a show and connecting to the story of the lyrics from him. After that I attended Boston Conservatory for Theater but I ended up hanging with all the Berklee cats so I transferred there after a year. I made some incredible friendships there, musicians I still work with today. But a formal college education wasn’t really for me, I left Berklee after a year and a half and went on tour as the last Raelette hired to sing backup for Ray Charles.
When did you develop your Growing Up Jazz program/project and what’s been your mission?
I started developing Growing Up Jazz in 2017 as I was trying to figure out my own voice within the industry. I always had musical instincts that didn’t necessarily align with what I thought Jazz was, so I suppressed them or tried to mold them into sounding more like “Jazz” which never made me happy with the end product, because it wasn’t authentic. At this time, I’d just gotten married and moved into a house and finally took back some of the boxes I had left with my parents. In the boxes were a lot of memories – pictures of me with Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Bowie, a book I got from Max Roach, a program from the Blue Note Tokyo that I had played tic tac toe on the back of with Mulgrew Miller. I started trying to piece together my experiences with all of these incredible musicians I was blessed to grow up with and connect the dots with what they had taught me.
What I discerned is that Jazz is the oral history of the African experience in America. And that each generation of its artists has incorporated the sounds and the struggles of their era into the music as a reflection of the times. Jazz is a living history, not a museum piece. I also explored Jazz through the lens of the many incredible Latin Jazz artists I got to glean from, like Andy and Jerry Gonzalez, both of whom I adored. Latin Jazz is a beautiful example of what we now call inclusion. When Latin music fused with Jazz, it didn’t gentrify it and take it over, excluding its tenets and the people who created it. And Jazz didn’t dig in its heels and reject the sounds and culture that the Latin musicians brought to the table. It became a musical conversation on the world stage that was always beautiful, welcoming and heartfelt from my experience. So my mission with Growing Up Jazz is to teach these sides of the history and to have conversations surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion through the lens of Jazz, which I find makes it more palatable for a lot of people. Since I started developing the program with this impetus, I became certified through Cornell University as a diversity and inclusion practitioner to help facilitate this work. Jazz and social justice have always gone hand in hand.
Talk about some of Growing Up Jazz’s current activities.
Currently I’m offering three versions of my Growing Up Jazz keynote presentation, one for younger kids 5th-8th grade, a slightly more advanced version for high school and a deep dive for adults. I also have an expanded program that builds upon that over several weeks where I get participants, many of whom often have no musical training at all, to write a Jazz song with me. Many of the institutions I have done keynotes for have invited me to continue working with them as a DEI consultant. Everything from creating policy changes to re-examining school curriculums and offering professional development for staff. Probably one of the most exciting things I’m doing under the Growing Up Jazz umbrella, is Artistic Directing cultural events through a DEI lens. I’m most proud of the premier Juneteenth celebration I Artistic Directed for New York City’s Central Park last year, bringing Seneca Village – the Black community that existed there before Central Park – to life. I curated six bespoke performances on a walking tour for visitors, each telling a different story of the former residents there. Of course there was Jazz woven throughout the performances, so it was also a great opportunity to introduce some new ears to the music I love most. I’m thrilled to be Artistic Directing the celebration again this year.
How do you see Growing Up Jazz intersecting with your Sirius/XM radio work and your singing career?
On SiriusXM, I try to bring my philosophy on air in two ways. First, with my Sunday show which airs from 11am-5pm EST. I try to get as many living artists performing original compositions as I can get away with on the air. I will always look at artists’ websites to see if they’re performing anywhere soon and if so, I share that with my listening audience. PSA to any Jazz musicians reading this – update your website! haha. This initiative of incorporating current music and getting people to go out and support the music in person is important to me in order to keep the music alive. We must continue to listen to the masters, but it’s not possible to go and see John Coltrane anymore. However, you can go see Lakecia Benjamin and other such artists that are out there maintaining this music as a living history. My worst nightmare is that Jazz becomes completely antiquated. The other way that I incorporate the Growing Up Jazz mindset is by sharing the history behind so many of these songs. Many people have heard Wynton Marsalis’ Black Codes, but they don’t know what Black Codes were. They’re familiar with Fables of Faubus, but they’ve never heard of Orval Faubus. Sharing these stories is also important to me as Jazz music has always been an expression of social justice.As a vocalist and composer, Growing Up Jazz informs my artistic practice as I create works that persuade the audience to consider new depths of reality and perspectives and incorporate the sounds and struggles of my generation.
My last project, EMERGING, came about as a response to the pandemic. So many of us were coming out of this ordeal wondering how to get back to normal, I wanted to push them to consider going forward instead. While living in Japan for two years to sing with a big band in 2007 & 2008, I learned about the concept of IKIGAI – the belief that everyone has a reason for being. And that reason is a combination of what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs. I’ve let that guide me since, and created EMERGING to take the audience on a journey through self-discovery to look at their lives and their possibilities in a different way. I collaborated with an incredible motion video designer, Kleidi Eski, to create projections to help facilitate a more imaginative and immersive audience experience during the performance. I had actually started composing the music that ended up being for this show right before the pandemic. And when
I was 7 months pregnant with my son, I got a call from a friend who was setting up his new recording studio and asked me if I wanted to come in one day that weekend so he could test things out. I had just written this new body of music so I called some musician friends and we went into the studio. It was all recorded in one room, so it was a bit hard to mix and basically impossible to edit. But I documented my ideas and where I was at that time in my life and it became my last album, SHINE. I tried to get some momentum around it, but I was consistently met with suggestions to present standards or a tribute show of some kind instead of original music. I love standards, I know hundreds of them. But when there are so many things to talk about in today’s world, it feels a bit superfluous to me to do a rehash of something I transcribed in high school, especially when I know I’m not gonna do it better than the Queen, Ella. I’ve only ever been good at being myself.
Currently, I am working on a new project, a suite I started composing with four movements entitled “From the Earth”. The project aims to shed light on the disproportionate impact of climate change on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). The public facing movement of environmental activism often excludes the voices of marginalized activists, so I will be interviewing some of them and incorporating excerpts of their interviews into the music, using Jazz to elevate their voices. Each movement of the four-part suite reflects a different area of environmental decline – From the Earth, From the Ice, From the Sea and From the Sky. If we can all work together as one humanity and include the voices of those most currently affected by climate change, I believe we can problem solve and make necessary change at a much faster rate. I’m also working with an incredible photographer and videographer, Rashida Zagon for this project. We plan to go to these four communities, all of which are here in America, to photograph them and help people see the impact of climate change on BIPOC with their own eyes. I’ll need to source a-typical venues once this is completed that can facilitate the display of the photos and videos during the performance. It’s a huge undertaking to do without any help, currently I do not have a manager, agent, publicist, or any funding for this project outside of myself. But I feel so strongly about its need in the world, I know I’ll find a way to make it happen. Taking on this project is my own way to continue Growing Up Jazz – by expanding the music and using it to reflect the times in a socially relevant way.
Recently I polled some jazz business professionals asking the following question: If a young person (or otherwise) were to ask you how best to get started with their budding interest in jazz music, who/what would you recommend they listen to and what would you recommend they read to get a real ground floor sense of jazz and it’s evolution?
“I always tell them a great first step is to find the jazz station in their area… usually at the left end of the dial. I also tell them to look for jazz via other sources, such as satellite radio (i.e. Sirius/XM’s Real Jazz), though that’s more for listening (often there’s not the context you might get on an indie station). The next thing I tell them is to look for a few artists and/or styles of jazz that they like, that speaks to them.
In the “old days” I would tell them to go out and get those albums – or in more recent times, CDs – and to READ THE LINER NOTES!!! I still say that today, but not sure how many folks are still purchasing “hard copy” materials. I think that with liner notes you can get a good foundational knowledge from which to learn and develop a deeper understanding of the artists and the music.
I tell them to use the internet to research the artists and the music they like, and this will usually lead to other discoveries. If they read that one person that they like was greatly influenced by someone else, then they should seek out that person’s work, and then, like dominoes, follow the leads and see where it takes you. As an example, when I was much younger, I loved Chuck Berry‘s music. I read that he was greatly influenced by Elmore James and Louis Jordan. I followed those leads and it led me in two very different directions. On the other, I got into the blues. At the same time, I was listening to ragtime and learned of Eubie Blake. I read up on Eubie Blake and started working forwards from there. Eventually it all converged and “the bigger picture” emerged. YouTube can also be a good source of performance videos, interviews, etc.
I would also ask them what other kinds of music they like, and try to get them to name specific artists so I can get a sense of what they like and point them to things they might find interesting. For example, if a Jimi Hendrix fan wants to explore jazz, I’d point them to the Gil Evans/Hendrix disc. If they enjoy classical music I might point them to someone like Maria Schneider… or Jacques Louissier.
For those wanting a deeper dive: I would point them to some of the foundational folks: Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Coltrane, Davis… always a good starting point. I would urge them to go and hear LIVE music and would point them to specific clubs and venues in their area. I would suggest that they explore some of the courses offered at local universities if they want to take a formal course, say, on the History of Jazz.”
Tim Masters, Jazz radio host: Jazz Masters/Thursdays 8-10pm WPFW 89.3 in the DMV (livestreamed at wpfwfm.org)
“First I’d ask them if they played an instrument and which one if they did. If not, what instrument speaks to them the most from what they’ve heard already. Are they into music at all? As far as reading material, I’d probably give them [pianist] Hampton Hawes [autobiography] Raise Up Off Me” and then when they’re finished, play [Hawes’] “Blues Enough”. Depending on their age, let them read back issues of [the periodical] Straight No Chaser back issues or current issues of [periodical] WaxPoetics.
Cannonball Adderley‘s “Mercy, Mercy”, Trane’s “Love Supreme”, Betty Carter‘s “The Audience With Betty Carter”, Ahmad Jamal‘s “Jamal Plays Jamal”, Rahsaan Roland Kirk‘s “Bright Moments”, Charles Mingus‘ “Oh Yeah”, Miles Davis‘ “In a Silent Way”, and “Water Babies”, and Horace Silver‘s “Song For My Father” would be in a playlist. And then I would ask them what spoke to them from that playlist. But you should also be ready for the result that the person just might not be moved that way by music or in particular, jazz, though with so much diversity in jazz over they years, I’m sure there is a genre or period or artist that will speak to them.”
Brian Michel Baccus, Producer/Curator/Consultant
Find a trusted jazz mentor and form a peer group
First jazz record: Miles DavisKind of Blue
First Jazz books: The Story of Jazz (Marshall Stearns), Jazz Styles: History and Analysis (Mark Gridley)
Jazz Radio Stations: WBGO, WRTI (at night)
Jazz publications: DownBeat; JazzTimes; Jazziz; Hot House Jazz Guide
National Jazz Venues: Jazz at Lincoln Center; SFJazz
Jazz Record Store: Jazz Record Center (NYC)
Frequent as many live gigs as you can. Subscribe to a musician’s website. Use YouTube…
Eugene Holley, Jr., Journalist
“Listen to John Coltrane, A Love Supreme“
John Gilbreath, Earshot Jazz (Seattle, WA)
“It depends on where they are coming from. It also depends what they want: perform on pro or amateur level, learn more to listen and expand their knowledge. I’d first send them to a local show and/or jam session that I think is good. The first thing is to show the sense of culture and community around the music. It has to be a part our lives. Then whatever they have heard, I give them more of that or whomever is the person that inspired that artist. If they like Beyonce, I’ll play her scatting and with her horn section and then go down the list of gospel and R&B singers that do this and hit on our wonderful scatters. Then I’ll point out riffing and say that’s the blues and play Dinah Washington, Robert Johnson, George Benson…
I want them to find their own path that services their needs but keeps them involved in the community as much as possible so it’s not just a music of the past, but music of today.”
Alison Crocket, vocalist-educator
“When I was young, there was a show on Sunday afternoons in New York, Dial M for Jazz. It was hosted by this guy who was a priest and they called him the jazz priest. It was pure luck that I tuned into it when I was about 12 years old and saw Wes Montgomery playing. I was dazzled by his style and his amazing proficiency on the guitar. But to me, it was all about the feel of the music and that’s how I would approach it with a younger person. [Wes]’s trio was fantastic.
It’s all about the feel between the musicians that played the music. Albums like Kind of Blue where the interaction between the musicians is flawless, and yet so melodic and hypnotic, it can take anybody to the right place ad get them into jazz. Another album that really had an effect on my was Ahmad Jamal Live at the Pershing Room. I heard “Poinciana” once, and was totally hooked and looked for rhythms like that, because it was totally funky and intoxicating for its time.
So what am I saying? I think you keep it simple and something that feels good and that a young person can feel inside… nothing too far over their heads. That comes as they understand the language more, but the most important thing to me is that they feel the music and they feel this is something that they could build on.”
Jason Miles, musician-bandleader-author
“The most important thing a student can learn if they want to participate in any musical genre is about its history and evolution. All genres – especially jazz – are borne of cultures and evolve in relation to those cultures. If you play, simply knowing the mechanics and theory behind the music is not enough. You have to be aware of how the music functions and communicates with its audience. You have to understand the culture.”
Eric Gould, pianist-composer-educator
” I would first ask them what music they like, and then draw from there what streaming platforms they use. Let’s say they like Kendrick Lamar and then point out about the jazz musicians who work with him and then trace roots to Herbie Hancock, Miles, etc. Point them to a general jazz Spotify list for jazz, show them videos of people their own age performing jazz, show them percussive and melodic jazz (i.e. “Manteca”, “Caravan”). Show them how jazz is a social commentary of today – Max Roach, Samora Pinderhughes, Terri Lyne Carrington… Take them to see a jazz show.
I had a friend who is 30-something who was not into jazz until I took her to her first live performance, which was Emmet Cohen with Houston Person. She fell in love with Emmet but also couldn’t believe that Houston was 88, and then dug in to finding more music by Houston.”
Lois Gilbert, JazzCorner
“I would have them (as I do) listen, listen, listen… to 1950s jazz. The Modern Jazz Quartet, Chet Baker,Lester Young, Miles Davis (before Kind of Blue), Brazilian jazz, etc. I personally think 1949-1959 is one of the greatest periods in jazz… if not the greatest! We seem to have gotten away from (and I am including myself int there as well) listening as a teaching tool. “Classic jazz” still resonates with interested young people. I think listening should come first, then books, technique and theory should definitely come later. Listening is hard…”
Paul Carr, saxophonist-educator-producer, Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival
“If we are talking about getting, as you described “…a ground floor sense of what jazz is”, including an understanding of “its evolution”, I would put together an objective listening list that represents main jazz eras and styles, regardless of my, or this imaginary person’s “musical preferences”. I do not think that any potential listener needs “courting” or “enticing” to get into jazz and fall in love with it. I firmly believe that jazz has a compelling beauty of its own that does not need to be “sold” or “forcefed”. Representative of the eras and styles (from the top of my head) of jazz and its evolution are:
Black spirituals; Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, Carmen McRae, McCoy Tyner, Eddie Jefferson, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Elvin Jones, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter, Randy Weston, Ornette Coleman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders. This could probably include a specific tune or album attached to each artist.
Instead of “reading about “jazz” per say, I would encourage them to first and foremost get a grasp of the culture and history of those who created this music, and those who continue to create it; meaning sociological, psychological, cultural aspects of where this music came from. Deeper understanding of African American history enhances the listening experience of a person trying to get to know this unique music form and decode what lies between the lines.
I would recommend reading the following books: Blues People by Amiri Baraka; African Rhythms composed by Randy Weston/arranged by Willard Jenkins; Why Black Men… by Rajen Persaud; Ain’t But a Few of Us edited by Willard Jenkins.
I would recommend staying away from major jazz venues, major jazz magazines, radio and TV programs, as well as major jazz awards and competitions in this present time because I don’t feel that – for an un-informed new listener – they reflect the best of the best; but in a sad majority of cases, the lineups and playlists cater to whomever has the most aggressive agent, or the musician with the highest number of Instagram followers, and so on. Live and recorded jazz music chosen for the true genius and talent of the artist, but [instead] by their so called “draw power”. So I would not advise anyone who is trying to get to know jazz for the first time to try to do it through current jazz magazines and other outlets, jazz clubs, and festival rosters, and so on. Thank goodness, there are precious exceptions in the media and industry who still treat jazz with actual integrity. However in my view, there “ain’t but a few of you…”
Billy Harper, musician-educator
“Listening shouldn’t be and need not be hard. It should be fun. If you’re trying to transcribe a solo, count intricate polyrhythms, identify harmonies… it may be difficult due to the complexity of materials, but listening is not intrinsically harder than seeing, touching, smelling, tasting… Like those senses, it may be a skill that can be refined. But open your ears and sounds are everywhere. Now make some sense of them.”
Howard Mandel, journalist-critic (Jazz Journalists Association)
“I would just say be aware and listen and be ready for surprises. I grew up in a non-jazz household, so my love of music came from listening to ’60s AM pop radio (waiting for the next Beatles single to arrive). I found that what I loved most about my local station was that it would fill in one-two minute segments of instrumental music at the end of each hour to be right in time for the news at the top of the hour… just snippets, but I was fascinated… then on to Chicago Transit Authority [later known as simply Chicago] because I loved the horn arrangements; then on to prog rock like Yes (lots of twists and turns) and especially King Crimson (what an ear-opener on its debut [album] In the Court of the Crimson King, with the title song full of jazz/free jazz/classical/psychedelic rock)… So my ears were open beyond the acoustic guitar time frame for me and as I went to college the free-form FM stations always played instrumental cuts (i.e. jazz, though I did not know what it was called then) within a set list that included lots of rock (Jimi Hendrix, Yardbirds, etc.).
In search of good music, I went to local clubs including the Rusty Nail in Hadley, MA where I was introduced to NRBQ, which again opened my ears when they played their rock built around jazz renditions of Monk and Sun Ra tunes.
Again, I’ve used the term “opened my ears”… that’s the key element… listening and being open to the newness that jazz offered even in the midst of the rock world.
When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, for my first years living south of Hollister the only radio station I could listen to was KFAT, where I learned a ton about country music. When I moved to Berkeley, my new music friends there had radio shows with an eclectic mix that included lots of jazz… I started following their leads and I began consuming music that I was attracted to… Dave Holland, Charles Mingus Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra… and it all grew from there… from listening a lot, then reading in the local papers about jazz and eventually starting to write for those papers about jazz artists coming to town and the burgeoning local jazz scene led by Peter Apfelbaum (who befriended Don Cherry who was living in SF and opened the door for me to interview him) and the just-launching Charlie Hunter. Listening and then experiencing jazz live fueled my organic sense of loving the music and insatiably reading about it and its history… graduating from Jazz 101 to a post-masters in the music, and surrounding myself with the new music, especially at festivals – from Monterey to Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy, to Cape Town, South Africa, to Beijing.
My advice in short… keep your ears open and seek the mystery of jazz in whatever music-loving environment you are in… even some of the top Grammy-winning pop stars have their ears open, and some even discover the life force that jazz offers.”
Dan Ouellette, journalist-author
“Being a Motown baby, I found the classic CTI recordings from the 1970s was a great segue into jazz (Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Hubert Laws, and of course Randy Weston…)
There is something about the sound and groove of those recordings that was quite attractive and compelling for someone growing up steeped in R&B, soul, etc… I also agree one must know about the history and cultural aesthetic of any art form to truly appreciate its existence. Dr. Billy Taylor’s Piano Jazz book is a great addition to anyone listening to jazz for the first time. Also anything by Amiri Baraka is quite valuable. There is also another book on John Coltrane which focuses on the parallel correlation between jazz’s evolution and the social/civil rights movement in the USA.”
TK Blue, saxophonist-educator
“I think many of the jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and so on are important, but if I were to recommend, I’d think out-of-the-box to unique women in jazz [who] bring about a view and understanding of the term “force-of-nature” is viscerally revealed in a quite profound manner. I was introduced to Betty Carter, Cassandra Wilson, Linda Sharrock, Abbey Lincoln, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sarah Vaughan and so on – these quirky, intelligent, gifted women bring about a feeling of creativity through personality, audience engagement and performance that can inspire a rounded flash of fresh identity.
I think in 2023, documentaries are important; I would recommend young people choose any artist and explore live performances via YouTube, and stream documentaries to learn history. Then explore libraries for books to get an in-depth understanding of jazz history and the lives of artists would inform and create deep analysis and knowledge. I have ben teaching about the learning process more than specific artists, eras and materials so young people can dive in with a sense of freedom, and self-guided discovery.”
Jordannah Elizabeth, journalist
“I’d do my best to hip them to great music being made by their generation, then let them find their way back up the many tributaries to the historical river of jazz.
Here’s a very short list (and no disrespect to any name left off): Lakecia Benjamin, Gerald Clayton, esperanza spalding, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Melissa Aldana, Shabaka Hutchings, Veronica Swift, Jose James, Kamasi Washington, Ambrose Akinmusire, James Brandon Lewis…
Let them see this music isn’t a museum piece. It lives, breathes and grooves with everything that’s happening in culture today. They need to see themselves in this music – their age, style, and sensibility – the same way we did coming up and the artists we sought out.
On reading I’d suggest DownBeat is a great place to start!”
Frank Alkyer, Editor & Publisher, DownBeat Magazine
Earlier this year one of the most vibrant musical social justice projects was Black Lives – From Generation to Generation, an exceptional, cross genre 2-CD set that included artists from an array of musical pursuits and from across the globe – from such masters as saxophonist-composer Oliver Lake to one of his musical grandsons, altoist Immanuel Wilkins, as well as voices from the striking mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran to South Africa’s Tutu Puoane. The project is executive produced by Stefany Calembert, whose spouse – bassist Reggie Washington – also contributes to this project (including as his alter ego DJ Grazzhoppa). Clearly we had some questions for Stefany Calembert after Reggie hooked us up.
Where are you from and what’s your background in music? I was born in 1978 in Brussels, Belgium into a family of music lovers. We had the radio in the kitchen where we spent the most part of our time. My childhood was filled with jazz, rap, funk, rock, classical, pop, world music and reggae. I have always loved to sing and to dance. Music brings me a lot of energy at different times in my life. Around 10 years old, I was listening to a lot of funk music from a friend of mine that had family in the USA and would bring cassettes from there (Troop, Guy, Bell Biv DeVoe, After 7, Hi-Five, Johnny Gill, Tony! Toni! Toné!). Then we had our first CD player and I started playing Tracy Chapman, Janet Jackson, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and many others.
In 1989-1990, the movies “Do the Right Thing” and “Breakin’” had a huge influence on me. There were school strikes for months because the teachers were not happy and so we were hanging out in the streets instead of going to school. At that time, many teenagers from different neighborhoods got together and had the big radio playing cassettes in the streets, make a circle and everybody was dancing. Dance was important and a way to express ourselves. Of course, the police arrived at a moment or another to control us checking our ID with power and aggressively like we were criminals, but we just wanted to have fun with the music.
I continued to hang out in the streets of the city for the next 5 years (I was never home) and learned a lot about other cultures, people and life. I continued to follow the music I loved which was funk, rap, jazz, reggae, world music for the most part. At 17 years old, I began traveling in Guadeloupe, Sénégal, Tunisia and listen more and more to jazz music (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Monk, Abdullah Ibrahim, Bill Evans).
Around 19 years old, I started playing some djembe then tried Capoeira. It was nice to learn about the different history of each music. I had my apartment and was living alone so the music took a huge place in my heart. It was a long story of love, no doubt. Music was in my house from morning to evening, in my car, I was going to concerts then parties to dance and then back home with the music playing loud. For years, I was attending concerts and meeting musicians who often explained to me the difficulties of managing themselves as artists.
In 2004, I had a big car accident and spent several weeks in the hospital. During this time, I reflected upon my passion and the role of music in my life. When I was discharged from the hospital, I was determined to start managing and organizing concerts, and a few months later I created Jammin’colors. [Editor’s note: Jammin’ Colors is the production company Stefany developed, which eventually produced the Black Lives compilation under discussion here.]
What compelled/inspired you to produce this Black Lives project? We were in the middle of the pandemic, and it felt like the end of the world. I was thinking of bringing something positive that could help us all. I was also in pain to see all the horrible events in the United States with the police brutality.
I asked myself how can I bring people from different parts of the world together? We need to do something and scream our pain, our love, our hope to this world. The best way to do it was to unite peacefully through the music. Music expresses things better than human beings. Another thing that pushed me to do this project is some conversations with some white people that were denying racism.They think it does not exist because they do not live it. It is hard for white people to understand how hard things have been for Black people.
When I started to speak more and more about how White people treated Black people horribly for centuries, they told me I was extreme. Then I said to myself this goes too far. I need to speak more about all this.
What was your planning process like and when did you begin to put this project together? In December 2020, I took out a loan from the government. It was a catastrophic period where we had no more income, but I was ready to give everything I had to this project. It was more important than anything else. COVID was very present. We were all confined in Europe, America, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and musicians could not play live music.
The first thing was to contact all the composers I had in mind. Then see who would accept to do this project and from there start thinking of the number of songs, the sound engineer, the album cover and artwork around the project. It took from January to June 2021 to have all the songs composed and recorded. June, July and August were the mix of the 20 songs with the genius [Grammy winning recording engineer] Russell Elevado. Late August – early September we did the mastering.
From September to November 2021, I started to work on promotion, found the publicist I wanted to work with, put together the promotional material with video and pictures and then spread it to all the journalists in Europe, USA and UK. In March 2022, the double album and vinyl were released.
How did you go about selecting the artists you wanted to approach to contribute to this project? The first thing was to choose composers that touched me musically and that were beautiful human beings. The other thing I loved with these musicians was the fact that they could all play different styles of music which is very rare and shows how excellent these musicians are. I wanted to have different generations from 20 to 80 years old from different parts of the world and to have different testimonies from different places and generations. That was very important.
The hardest part was to find women composers that would accept to compose a song. They were either too busy with their families or their own projects. All these composers were and are still engaged about social justice and equal rights.
For years Cheick Tidiane Seck, Oliver Lake, M-Base Collective, Jacques Schwarz- Bart, Alicia Hall Moran have been manifesting about the injustices of black people. It is a part of their art, of their voices. These artists deserve a lot more recognition worldwide for their huge work. You could listen to them with Hank Jones, Joe Zawinul, Roy Hargrove, Meshell Ndegeocello, Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, Jef Lee Johnson, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorte and many others. Their contribution to the music is prodigious.
Why these particular artists?` They all have a positive message and they all can play different styles of music. You can go listen to the songs they are on, and you will understand why :-). They are hard workers, their music is smart, powerful, and bright. It speaks right at you. For me, they represent a big part in the history of the music. They influenced so many others.
Also, I have to say that they are like family for me even if there are some of the composers on the album that I never met physically. I was listening to Reggie when I was around 11 years old without knowing it was him. I was listening to Cheick Tidiane Seck at 16 years old and thinking his album with Hank Jones was some of the most beautiful music I ever heard.
The first time I went to New York City, I was blown away by the sound of Marcus Strickland. I discovered the music of [Marcus’ twin brother and drummer] E.J. Strickland as a leader and really loved it. I listened to Andy Milne, Gene Lake, David Gilmore, Oliver Lake through Reggie. Wow, what a beautiful musical world. I learned a lot.
I was very curious and touched by the voice of Alicia Hall Moran that could go from Opera to Motown music. I discovered Stephanie McKay with Roy Hargrove and RH Factor, she has such a powerful voice. Tutu Puoane is one of the most natural and pure voices in jazz today. The first minute I listened to Immanuel Wilkins, I felt good. It is rare to have such a strong personality at 25 years old.
I discovered Sonny Troupé and Grégroy Privat through Jacques Schwarz-Bart about 15 years ago and saw how they evolved with their music. It is very impressive all what they have accomplished in that time. Jeremy Pelt is one of the most creative sounds on trumpet today. I started listening to Adam Falcon at the beginning of the pandemic. He performed on a few online shows. I directly loved his work and vibe.
As far as Jean-Paul Bourelly, he has something no one has. One of his colors that touches me is the blues. I met Marvin Sewell with Jef Lee Johnson and his way of playing guitar is unique and deep. All these different colors together are beautiful.
Were you seeking a blending of musical genres with this project? Not especially, because I like to mix different people and different styles as the label is named “Jammin’colorS”, but I was happily surprised by the 12 songs with vocals. I thought there would be more instrumentals. What I like is that the songs with vocals have magnificent solos. This music speaks from the heart all through the 20 songs.
Were the themes of each track selected by you or the participating artists? It was totally free. Each composer chose what they wanted to do. Some preferred to be in solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet … there is even a choir of Malian girls from 7 to 13 years old. The most important thing with the album was to stay FREE. I trusted all the composers from the beginning of the process to the end.
Do you have plans for a sequel to Black Lives? Yes, we have a tour in November 2022 and will record some of the live concerts. We will also go in studio to record some new songs. Very exciting.
The first album was during the pandemic time where the conditions to record were very hard. The second album will be with the musicians recording all together. Nothing better than spending days together to create.
I want to continue this project on a long-term period because unfortunately … we all know that racism is not ready to leave. Just look at the world and you see all these extremists and fascists. We need to unite but peacefully and we need to continue to express what is in our hearts. Being honest, real and open a dialogue with the world about this taboo subject.
I would love to bring more composers and musicians into this collective. Things will go naturally. This is what’s important. Let people express themselves. Stay thankful and faithful to humanity. Nature made us like we are and there is no reason to destroy each other. Let’s unite and share something positive for the next generations that will have to face this future world.
Here are the European tour dates for this project:
EUROPEAN TOUR with Black Lives – from Generation to Generation