The Independent Ear

Remembering Geri Allen

Geri Allen interview 5/21/99
In the late ’90s I was engaged by Betty Carter and 651Arts to serve as a consultant to the program Jazz Ahead, which Betty was laser-like focused on developing as a learning environment for young musicians, and which at the time was hosted by 651Arts at the classic former Majestic Theatre (now the Harvey Theatre in honor of Brooklyn Academy of Music founder Harvey Lichtenstein) at 651 Fulton Street in Brooklyn and in its current 21st century iteration is hosted by the Kennedy Center. In ’99, among the teaching professionals for Jazz Ahead were Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and Geri Allen. This interview with Ms. Allen was conducted with that Jazz Ahead teaching/mentoring/learning environment in mind, relative to how Geri developed her craft.

Willard Jenkins: Where did you begin your study of this music?
Geri Allen: From listening; my dad’s record collection was a source of information for me as a kid, he was a big fan. So I would say hearing that music around me all the time was the organic beginnings of it. I had started playing the piano at around 7, I think from having the music in me that way, although I was playing classical piano and taking lessons in that, I still would always go off on my own and try to figure out things, exercise my ear muscles, without even really knowing what I was doing. I think it was in me.

What kind of records did your parents have?
Charlie Parker was the main staple in the collection. In my classical lessons I was fortunate to have a teacher that wasn’t intimidated by jazz, so when she saw my interest she supported it, she didn’t try to purge it like a lot of [classical] teachers. I’ve heard stories from friends of mine that [teachers] would tell them things like they were gonna lose their technique if they tried to play jazz, they discouraged it and told them it would interfere – I hate this term – with their legitimate technique. My teacher wasn’t like that at all, she was very open, and even though she knew nothing about [jazz] she supported the creative process I was going through.

At what point did you come into direct contact with professional jazz musicians?
In high school; I started as a freshman at Cass Tech in 9th grade. Right away the premier ensemble to be associated with was the jazz ensemble, and there were a lot of really good ensembles. I had already made a decision that I wanted to be a professional musician, and jazz was my vehicle. Even though I was studying a lot of different things I was trying to learn to be a professional, which meant that I would have to cross over genres – at least that was what Marcus Belgrave was telling me. Donald Byrd was another person who was around Cass, his alma mater. He came back and did things with us students; we did “Cristo Redentor” with him live, and he helped us raise money to travel to Australia. And I performed in the madrigal group, in the orchestra, the harp and vocal group (which Dorothy Ashby came out of) and just a really rich environment. But the jazz ensemble was one of the most competitive.

Trumpet & teaching master Marcus Belgrave was a powerful early influence on young Geri Allen

What other professional musicians, besides Marcus Belgrave and Donald Byrd, had an impact on you in those years?
I would say Harold McKinney, Kenny Cox, Roy Brooks… I played in a group called Endangered Species with George Goldsmith and it was a great time for a young person because all of them were available and they were especially supportive of that. If you were there for the music, they were there for you.

Endangered Species was one of your earliest bands outside of school?
I played in Roy Brooks’ band Artistic Truth. Marcus [Belgrave] is the one that I really spent the most time with.

So he had the most impact on your training?

Obviously it was a rich environment for you to learn, in Detroit.
Things like [independent Detroit jazz record label] Strata was going, and the musicians were really self-empowered, and the community was really strong and loved the music. There were places outside of the mainstream circle where music was happening all the time. We used to have a jam session at Northwestern High School, with Ernie Rogers, and we used to be there until 4 and 5 in the morning. All of us aspiring players would be there every Saturday; that was real important to be there. There were a lot of different things that kept you going.

Those organized jam sessions were obviously very important to your development, but those kinds of situations are not available now as much as they were then. Many of the jazz musicians that are arriving now come solely from the conservatory. What do you think is missing from their training if they aren’t able to be involved in that kind of jam session, nurturing environment?
I don’t think it’s unfortunate just for the new generation of players, I think its unfortunate for us as a [jazz] community. I think we all need it, and I think the listeners that are involved in coming out to hear those jams gained a lot from that too. I think the tilt on it generally is that it’s the young players coming out that miss out, and that’s true. Something like Betty [Carter] created [Jazz Ahead] is a [positive alternative, although we really still need those kinds of environments in our community. I think Jazz Ahead is an opportunity for them to rub elbows with the musicians, the great musicians, in the same way we grew up being able to do it. We could do it more often, on a day to day or weekly basis, which is what I think people need to be able to do to perfect their craft, but at least they get a taste of what it is; which will hopefully inspire them to go out and maybe even find ways amongst like minds – even though they’re young too, but we found ways to rehearse at each other’s house and play each other’s music and work things out. Maybe that’ll inspire them to maybe search out the people that are there. In every town there are great musicians and these people really get a lot of energy being able to share that knowledge.

At what point did you come in contact with Betty Carter?
I first met her at Howard University, around ’75-’76, and she had a great band with Kenny Washington, Curtis Lundy, and Khalid Moss. It was really exciting to watch her perform, she inspired a lot of us. We were all there, everybody came away with a real big excitement – she brought that. I remember not really talking to her, but just the impact of that.

Then I met her maybe three or four years later in Pittsburgh. Nathan [Davis] had told her that I was a musician who admired her work. She was sitting on a panel and I don’t think she knew me from Adam, but she invited me to join her on the panel, and I thought that was really generous since I didn’t really feel like she knew my work. But I think she was trying to encourage me. We had an opportunity to talk, we had lunch, and we started developing a rapport. I remember her piano player was late for the sound check for the performance, so she invited me up to sit in, and that was the first time I played with her.

How did your relationship develop and evolve through the years?
She was always really supportive and positive. Once I got to New York it took me some time to get on my feet. I started doing some things as a leader in ’82, which is when I got out of [University of] Pittsburgh; ’83-’84 I started being able to take my own trio out. I would see her at different places and she was always real positive. Her music was always a source of inspiration for me.

It wasn’t until the late 80s that I actually hooked up with her; she managed me for three years under BetCar. So Ora Harris and Betty took care of me and that was a major turning point in my career, in terms of legitimizing me. I did lots of things with her: we did duos, lots of performances just us. We performed in Europe. We did a duo on ”Droppin’ Things” and people started calling she and I to do duo concerts and we did a number of things. I think from that experience, when the idea came up to do the quartet with Jack [DeJohnette] and Dave [Holland] she put me in there. That was a great opportunity for me to be out there with this strong situation, to be on the road with Betty. We did all of the summer festivals [1994].

Even though you were working with Betty with very experienced musicians, there was still a lot of mentoring?
With [Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland] too. They both worked with Betty when they were up and coming players. They both respected her greatly and so they looked up to her in the same way I did. On the bandstand every night there was something unusual that would occur. I came away from that environment with the tools to be a much better player. There were real specific things that she would help me to make it to the next step as a player; that environment was key.

So I guess you were learning from Jack and Dave as well.
Definitely; to play with Jack and Dave, they have that quality that makes you have to rise. I had played with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian in a great trio environment; and I got to play with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, which was a great trio environment. Playing with Jack and Dave prepared me for that environment. I look forward to that opportunity to play with them again because I came away a better player.

Considering those and your earlier experiences what’s your sense of younger musicians learning from older jazz musicians?
There’s no other way [laughs]. It’s like what is your sense of breathing air…. you have to breath, there’s no other choice. I think that’s why [Jazz Ahead] is important. Most of the cultivating is going on in the universities, so I highly recommend that students today go to those places where great players are [teaching], because that’s gonna be their opportunity to kind of get a feeling of what that experience was of learning on the streets, and of coming up that way. I have always hoped that the scene will kind of turn around and there will be more such environments city to city so that the music can be thriving in the communities again. I know that there’s a demand for it because whenever you play for people that come around and they are really energized by the music, and you hear a lot of wishing that there was more available. With these young people coming up, their excitement has to help fuel that. There’s a great love for the music out there, and its missed, I hear it from people all the time.

Are there other mentors out there like Betty Carter that young musicians can learn about?
I think they are out there, and the more that they seek these people out, the more possibilities there will be for them. But there is a certain amount of homework involved in being put in a position like that. I speak from the standpoint of coming up in a place like Detroit, you were afforded the opportunity if you were serious and if you were really out there trying to get better. The discipline aspect of the arts and music is a necessity, it cultivates more than just your ability to play, it cultivates your personality, it helps you get a sense of what life is.

I know for certain that the public schools created that opportunity for me. I took private lessons, my parents made that possible for me so I’m very grateful for it. But I also had the opportunity to experience music daily in a very disciplined, organized, and inspired environment. I think that’s very fundamental, that every young person through their school system have that opportunity. I just hope there is more support of that, because that’ll make a big difference. Through the public schools you should be able to access the great musicians in the city that are just looking for the opportunity to share the music with young people. Somehow it has to be gotten across that this is a viable thing to do. I think that is a big way the music can thrive again, through the public schools, through searching out these musicians whether they have degrees or not, to come in there and share their knowledge and their years of experience.

How will you and Jack work with the Jazz Ahead student musicians for the June program, what kind of environment are you going to develop for them?
Creativity! It’ll be about making the music, it’s a hands on thing. You get in there and… just the process of polishing things and trying to get them to the performance level is the whole approach to how I learned. I’m going to work through this with great respect for Jack, of course. The ideas that he’ll bring in will be such a great opportunity for those kids. The idea is to use this as a workshop with a performance opportunity. Basically jazz is workshop, you’re in workshop for your whole life, honing your craft so you can get better.

What is the greatest legacy that Betty Carter left here for us?
Self-determination is a big one. She was always a person who was connected with her body, there was like a continuous… Betty was able to always be busy, always working, whether she had a major label behind her or not.

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Clairdee does Lena

The San Francisco Bay Area-based vocalist who goes by one name, Clairdee, is one of several very underrated jazz singers from that part of the country; two other faves from that fertile corner of the jazz world would include Madeline Eastman and Kitty Margolis. For her latest release A Love Letter to Lena Clairdee paints a loving, and at times fierce, biographical portrait of one of the most beloved artists of the 20th century, vocalist-actress-social activist Lena Horne, who certainly wore proudly the label race woman. Seldom considered in the pantheon of jazz singers, nonetheless Lena certainly earned her stripes in that arena, but tribute projects like this one are rare, which certainly prompted some questions for the delightful, exceedingly agreeable Clairdee.

You’ve declared that your “mission is to engage, uplift and build community through music – creating a narrative that inspires beyond the stage.” How specifically are you striving to meet that mission?

Respect, integrity, kindness, and compassion are the principles that guide my life’s journey and these principles are integral to everything I do — performing, my work as an educator, mentor, mother, wife, sister, friend, and as a fellow human being. I believe these principles can build community and bring about positive change. My parents taught me to strive for excellence versus perfection. Quality versus quantity. Purpose versus popularity.

My favorite quote is by Dr. Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel,” which is another way to describe my mission. The music I present is a reflection of who I am. It’s the way I carry myself onstage and off, and how I conduct my business. I want to make people feel good.

One of the more striking aspects of your new release, “A Love Letter to Lena,” are the spoken word interludes. Did you write those yourself, or where did you find those? What was your intentions in terms of including those spoken word interludes?

I believed the spoken interludes would help coalesce the music — bring Lena Horne to life, as it were — effectively putting the songs in context with various events from her life. I wrote the script based on anecdotes and quotes culled from my research over a 10-year period. Rather than me doing the narrative, my producer Jon Herbst and I agreed that having a voice different from mine would be an ideal and unique way to set the songs up. I knew immediately that my friend, actress/director/playwright Margo Hall, was the “voice” we were seeking.


So, I sent Margo the script with notes describing the mood I wanted conveyed in each interlude. When she came to the studio, Jon and I had her listen to the music to get the feel for the project, and together the three of us fine-tuned the script. My instincts were spot on. Margo nailed it!

I consider the spoken interludes, or more precisely vignettes, serve as mini-history lessons. Beyond Horne’s exceptional beauty and the song, “Stormy Weather”, I discovered that many people really didn’t know much about her — particularly her civil rights activities and struggles with discrimination or her close friendship with composer Billy Strayhorn.

Given Lena Horne’s long, multi-faceted and productive career, how did you approach coming up with a workable program of songs related to Lena for this record?

Lena sang a broad range of material and recorded 80 albums. So, there was a lot from which to choose. As in any project I present, I chose songs that resonated with me and fit into the concept of the album — songs that help illustrate the story of the woman — not the star — and her personal struggles, as well as her happiest times working at Cafe Society. With the exception of “Stand Up,” all of the songs on the recording were part of Lena’s extensive repertoire.

You’ve clearly taken your time with producing and assembling this release, when did you first come up with this viable idea and what was your process for putting this record together?

I have admired Lena Horne since I was four years old. My parents spoke of her with great reverence and instilled their admiration for her intelligence, dignity, talent and willingness to fight for what’s right in all of their eight children.

I started thinking seriously about putting together a tribute album to honor Horne back in 2009, which was two years after my mother passed and a year before Horne died. Over the next few years I researched songs, read books, watched video, movies, everything I could find about Lena. Among the songs I originally considered were the obvious standards, “Stormy Weather,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “The Man I love.

Then as a result of the 2016 election, a truly purposed approach to the project became apparent to me. I decided the album would reflect my parents’ hopes for their children through the lens of Lena’s efforts for civil rights and equality. And I decided to include a few songs that people may not be so familiar with. The process was pretty organic. Once I settled on the songs, things fell into place quite easily.

There is a very successful contemporary air about this record, as opposed to your efforts being more along the lines of a period treatment. What was your sense of producing the musical canvas on which to paint your portrait of Lena Horne?

It’s very risky business honoring an iconic artist. People have expectations about what songs should be included or may make comparisons to the original recordings.

I allowed the lyrics and Lena’s story to direct the arrangements and the flow of the project. I never thought about whether the overall feel of the album would be contemporary or a throw back or anything like that. In fact, when we were finished recording, I remember thinking, “Wait! There’s not one swing tune on here!”

Jon and I wanted to create a colorful and varied palette of rhythms, and instrumental and vocal textures throughout the album: rhythm section, tenor saxophone, trumpet, background vocals, and a string trio. I am over the moon to have my dear friend, violinist Regina Carter, featured on Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For”.

Perhaps what helps give the music a contemporary air is the addition of background vocals. The San Francisco Bay Area is a gold mine of great musical talent. And in keeping with the theme of community, Jon and I brought in some of the premier singers and instrumentalists to lend their talents. The background vocals are sung by three members of the a cappella group, SoVoSó, which is an offshoot of Bobby McFerrin’s group Voicestra.


What I know for sure is that the arrangements definitely reflect my musical personality and my love
and respect for Lena.

Overall, what has Lena Horne’s career and her example meant to you and your career development?

Thanks to my parents, Lena Horne’s examples of dignity, excellence, and commitment to fighting injustice are embedded in me.

Lena’s examples show me that it’s okay to follow my own path. That it’s okay to say, “No”. That my ideas are valid and valuable. We’re all in this together. It all comes back to my mission: to engage, uplift and build community through music — creating a narrative that inspires beyond the stage.

“A Love Letter to Lena” is my way of saying thank you to Lena for how she touched the lives of my family and me. It is also a way for me to honor my parents’ legacy and those of the millions of women and men who fought for civil rights. The lessons of their lives are resoundingly relevant right now and it is up to us to continue their work. This is my 21st century call to acknowledgement and action.

Considering the time you took to realize this project, what’s next on your artistic plate?

I envision an expanded evening-length concert designed for performing arts centers that is richly layered with history and multi-media, including vintage footage, photographs, additional original music, and film commissioned especially for the show.


Posted in General Discussion | 2 Comments

JImmy Katz also has an intrepid ear

One of the more prolific, keen-eyed photographers operating in the music arena is Jimmy Katz. Doubtless future generations will recognize Jimmy Katz in the pantheon of jazz photographers, alongside Herman Leonard, Chuck Stewart, Bill Gottlieb and other greats of the medium. Though his photography career continues to evolve, more recently Jimmy has seized opportunities to act on his passion for jazz recordings, through his own new imprint Giant Step Arts. At least one of his initial Giant Step Arts releases, drummer Jonathan Blake‘s 2-disc trio date Trion, garnered significant note in end-of-year 2019 critic’s polls – including significant spins on my own radio program, Ancient/Future Radio (Wednesday nights 10-midnight on WPFW in the DMV market, live streaming worldwide at The Giant Step Arts release from tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is among his most extended form, original work yet recorded, and trumpeter Jason Palmer‘s Rhyme & Reason Giant Step Arts date is likewise among his most engrossing recorded work. With all this in mind, clearly some Independent Ear questions were in order.

With such a successful career as a photographer, what was it about making records that so intrigued you?
As you may know, I have been a photographer in the music business since 1991 and I have shot more than 200 magazine covers and been hired to participate in more than 550 recording projects. I got to work with a lot of my heroes and hear a lot of amazing music, but in this time I also saw the recorded music industry contract. As a lifelong record collector, I always had in the back of my mind, “Would some of these recordings be stronger if the musicians had recorded all in one room in front of fellow human beings?” I discussed this with a number of musicians who said they played better in “Live” situations, rather than in the studio. Musicians said that when playing “Live,” they could be more creative and play with greater freedom and abandon. Right now there are a lot of terrific studio recordings being made but some are quite controlled. It’s wonderful music, but I thought that I wanted to produce projects that would tap into the source of jazz, music that comes out of “Live” venues. Even if they are not the perfect venues to record in, they are often places where inspiration and creativity are at the highest level. Fans know that history remembers the “Great Performances” and many of those are “Live” concert recordings. So as an engineer I try to achieve good sound, but the real goal is to capture “Lightning in a Bottle,” the magic of an inspired “Live” performance. That is the focus of Giant Step Arts.

Almost three years ago I was approached by donors who wanted to have a positive impact on the jazz community. They realized that the record business was in a state of shambles and more importantly that musicians were not being properly compensated. Giant Step Arts, LTD is a unique 501(c)3 (editor’s note: a not-for-profit tax designation) and we don’t sell anything or own any music. We collaborate with each of the artists we choose to work with. For a music project, we pay the leader and everybody in the band for two nights of recording and a rehearsal, but the leader owns the masters, gets digital files to sell and gets 700 CDs to sell, free of charge. I engineer the “Live” dates, I mix and master with the legendary Dave Darlington and the visionary Ann Braithwaite does all our publicity and promotion. Dena (My wife) and I do all the photography and we design the CD packages as well. Within this framework the musicians can create music that is free of commercial constraints and all we ask is that the musicians make a profound artistic statement. In addition, we are not afraid of music that explores themes like social justice, racism, sexism, politics or the environment. Right now we have limited resources, so our projects are by invitation only.

Talk about the recordings you’ve made thus far on your Giant Step Arts label, and why you felt it was important to record those particular artists.
To be clear, Giant Step Arts is not a record label. We do what a record label does but we don’t sell anything. The musicians own the masters and get all the proceeds from the sales of their music. Also, we are trying to promote musicians who have already been validated by their peers, so we are looking for musicians who have a deep connection to other creative musicians of this era. The leader’s mission is to make a bold artistic statement with original material and that has a unifying theme. Jason Palmer, Johnathan Blake, Eric Alexander and Michael Thomas have all been wonderful to collaborate with. They have each put together all-star bands featuring the best and the brightest of this generation and they are presenting profound, original material.

The records you’ve made thus far have been live performance recordings. Will you continue to concentrate on live recordings?
“Live” recordings are the focus of what we do.

What are your recording plans for 2020?
We are releasing another double CD with the trumpeter Jason Palmer that is the music that he wrote for each of the paintings that was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston 30 years ago. We are releasing it on March 18th 2020 the 30 anniversary of the theft. Later this spring we are releasing a project with the grammy nominated alto saxophone Michael Thomas that is inspired by new technology and in early summer we will release another project led by the great drummer Johnathan Blake.

We often partner with another New York City not-for-profit, The Jazz Gallery, and on May 21st & 22nd we are recording the powerhouse alto saxophonist Darius Jones who is doing a project called “In August of 1619.” As you know this is when the first African slaves landed in North America and Darius has written an extraordinary suite of music inspired by this event. We are also recording the great trumpet player and composer Marquis Hill in August. His project is called “Free To Be” which will include the fantastic, Jazzmeia Horn, Marcus Gilmore, Joel Ross and Junius Paul. Also in August we will be recording another Jason Palmer project with jazz giants, Mark Turner, Joel Ross, Ben Williams, and Nasheet Waits. With a micro level of support, on February 28th & 29th, we are collaborating on a project with “The Leap Day Trio” which is Matt Wilson, Mimi Jones and Jeff Lederer. It’s going to be the first “Live” record made in the newly opened Cafe Bohemia in 60 years. I am really excited about all of these projects.

What’s your overall sense of the jazz recording industry?
For a number of reasons, over the last 20 years, the income flow to musicians from recorded music has dwindled to a trickle. To make matters worse, if 43 million Pandora streams of “Happy” earned Pharrell Williams $2700, where does that leave jazz musicians who have far fewer streams? Streaming may be great for the streaming businesses and consumers, but with streaming, the individual who has created the music, has often been ELIMINATED from the revenue flow. This makes the act of delivering music through streaming, a profound and seminal event in the history of recorded music. In our small way, Giant Step Arts, is trying to create a model that is different. The income from recorded music may continue to be small, BUT WE WANT ALL OF THIS INCOME TO GO TO THE CREATORS OF THE MUSIC. Also, what we do is easily scaleable, so the more funds I can raise, the more musicians Giant Step Arts can help and the more artistic statements can be completed. I would encourage your readers to check out and to purchase our projects directly from the artists we work with.

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The indomitable Bobby Hill

There is a deeply admirable earnestness and a steadfastness about concert impressario and radio producer Bobby Hill (currently heard on Takoma Park community radio station WOWD) that I’ve always admired. Back when he founded Transparent Productions and began presenting thoroughly uncompromising improvisers of many stripes around Washington, DC, he established that with the same sense of urgent purpose with which he piloted his equally uncompromising weekly radio shows at WPFW. A quiet, relatively soft-spoken, always deeply thoughtful soul, there remains a kind of zealotry burning deep within Bobby Hill when it comes to some of what more than a few folks might consider the more far-flung strains of modern music. And that’s precisely why when I came onboard as artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival in 2015, I immediately sought out Bobby to engage him as part of our festival’s Jazz in the ‘Hoods family of DC jazz presenting entities to present some of his programs during the festival. For those of you who don’t know him, meet friend and colleague Bobby Hill…

What is it about what is the often freely improvised music, and is always uncompromising, original music, that you’ve championed in both your broadcasting and presenting efforts all these years, that continues to stimulate your senses.
Simply put, such music brings me endless sounds of surprise. You know I call my radio program This! Music, and I don’t mean to present the naming emphasis lightly. I discovered jazz through John Coltrane’s ‘By the Numbers’, from his The Last Trane’ recording, which was his final release on the Prestige label. . The year it was released (1966) was the same year that Trane recorded ‘Live in Japan’. Two very different sounding forms of jazz, one more traditional and other, far less so. The latter forms bringing more original patterns and flows, of extemporized ‘jazz’ music. I can air play every note of Trane’s ‘By the Numbers’ by heart and memory, but only the spirit of his ‘Leo’. This! Music is how one it’s founder’s founders of jazz’s avantness, drummer Sunny Murray, describes this early 60’s form discovery. Presenting and broadcasting it is further influenced by the many early WPFW programmers that preceded me, folks like Art Cromwell, Greg Tate, Ken Steiner, and many others.

My friend and colleague, longtime artists manager and attorney Gail Boyd, has developed a Facebook group called Alternative Venues for Jazz. I’ve always considered Transparent Productions as an ultimate “alternative venue for jazz”. How did Transparent Productions develop?
In 1997, when the premier presenter of such music in the DC area, District Curators, was transitioning to other presenting avenues, a few fellow WPFW programmers – Larry Applebaum, Herb Taylor, Thomas Stanley, and myself, plus new area member Vince Kargetis – got together, talked, and figured we could collectively try to keep such presentations of this music, happening. In collaboration with District Curators, “Dare to Be Different – Jazz Arts ’97 Washington DC Festival”, our first offering was a duo performance between saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Michael Bisio at the know defunct Food for Thought restaurant. It was great music and a well-receiving audience. It was followed by bassist William Parker performing solo at an also now-defunct Kaffa House cultural space. The Parker audience was overflowing, evoking the renowned bassist to speak about the colors that he sees in the music that he plays and hears. After this well-received and attended performance by Parker, we said ‘we got this’, and have been now doing it for over two decades, and nearly 400 performances. We have presented a wide range of specially curated offerings, including the world premier of William Parker’s Electric Band, and pianist Matthew Shipp solo, playing and speaking on the influence of writer/activist Jean Genet on his life and music. There have been many other such original performance offerings.

Special thanks must go to a longtime and original support, Zinnia, who housed many of our artists, including Parker and Shipp, in her lovely NW D.C. home, before moving out of the country.


Considering that 100% of the proceeds go to the artists, how does Transparent sustain itself, and how do you avoid the label of presenting what musicians often dread – the proverbial “door gig”?
Again, it’s always been a joint collaboration of doing what needs to be done to make things happen. From curating artists, arranging performances space, flyer creation and distribution, and more. The supporting audiences are the true hub. The only label that we enjoy using is ‘Free’ (music, not cost).

Thinking about the reality of alternative venues from purely the home for Transparent Productions aspect, talk about some of the venues where you’ve presented performances and what those actual venues have meant to your presentation?
Our performance moniker reflects words from saxophonist Henry Threadgill: “Live music is it. There’s nothing like live music and spirits”. Many venues have made it possible for us to share such spirits. From smaller spaces like Takoma Park’s Sangha Fair Trade (our first home), to many other small clubs and restaurants like Electric Maid (Takoma Park), Mr. Henry’s, & Chief Ike’s Mambo Room (D.C.), churches (Westminster), museums (Hirshhorn) M.O.M.A.), colleges (George Mason, George Washington, UMD), area embassies (French).

What have been some of your favorite moment’s in Transparent Productions’ history, those moments when what you present have been most meaningful to your evolution as a presenter?
A great part of our evolution was the near decade that we presented at the historic, but now-closed Bohemian Caverns. I was raised just around the corner from its 11th & U Street location. The owner, Omrao Brown, allowed us to facilitate an ongoing series called Sundays@7@The Caverns. We kicked off the series in with a performance led by guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, and ended it with a performance by cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog, for which these artists donated the full door back to Transparent, as thanks for our work there. Our offerings have also witnessed changes that have occurred in the city’s landscape, over the years, via gentrification. Bohemian Cavern’s is just one of many spaces no longer here. But new spaces seem to always come.

How has your now 40-year broadcast career dovetailed or positively interacted with your Transparent Production’s activities.
My first thoughts of presenting began in the early 80’s (when I was also just starting at WPFW radio), as an assistant for singer Arnae. Arnae was producing the Smithsonian’s Jazz In the Palm Court series, under the guidance and leadership of singer and Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Reagon. The series enabled artists to focus on the music of an ancestor artist. One very memorable one was when the late pianist Geri Allen did a program on the music of the great Lovie Austin. So WPFW sparked Jazz in the Palm Court, ultimately sparking Transparent Productions. So, it’s has definitely been a positive dovetail. I’ve met so many great audience members, artists, and heard and presented such great and original music.

What is the next evolution for Transparent Productions?

Thursday, February 13, 2020@8PM, KAZE@Alleyworld, w/Satoko Fujii on piano, Kappa Maki, Christian Bezos on trumpet, and Peter Menard on drums.

Sunday, February 16, 2020@7PM, Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble@Rhizome, w/Kahil El’Zabar on multi percussion/composition/voice, Corey Wilkes on trumpet & percussion, and Alex Harding on baritone sax & percussion.

Monday, March 9, 2020@8PM, Steve Swell Quartet @ Rhizome, w/Steve Swell on trombone, Rob Brown on saxophones, William Parker on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020@8PM, Tim Berne Sun of Goldfinger @Rhizome, w/Tim Berne on alto saxophone, David Torn on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums.

Sunday, April 5, 2020@8PM@Rhizome, w/Joseph Daley Tuba Trio, w/Joseph Daley on tuba and euphonium, Warren Smith on drums, and Scott Robinson on saxophones.

Friday, June 12th DC Jazz Festival collaboration (artist TBD)

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The intrepid sessions detective

A few years ago some distinctively packaged recordings arrived on the scene that at first glance appeared to be new additions to the re-issued jazz recordings landscape that has been a steady reality in the music since the late 1970s/early 1980s when record labels first woke up to the reality that there was gold in them there vaults. Upon closer review however it was clear that these recordings, primarily released under the Resonance Records imprint, were in fact recordings made by master level artists that had not previously been available in the marketplace.

Not long after Resonance began to quite positively impact the jazz records marketplace, I was contacted by the producer largely responsible for these first-time historic recordings – which auspiciously began with some prime Wes Montgomery performances – an excitable man named Zev Feldman. Seems Zev’s mom lived in the DMV in suburban DC, where he was raised, and he wanted to come on my WPFW radio program. We met there for an interview, followed by my contributing an essay to “Manhattan Stories,” a date featuring Charles’ band with Gabor Szabo and Ron Carter largely as a result of programs I’ve produced for Tribeca Performing Arts Center’s ongoing Lost Jazz Shrines series. One year our Lost Jazz Shrine was the notorious East Village haunt known as Slugs (“In the far East”); infamous as the scene where the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan was tragically gunned down by his confused lover – a vivid account of which can be found in the 2016 documentary “I Called Him Morgan.”

The laudable efforts of Zev Feldman, and his label head partner George Klabin, have continued at a good clip, including such 2019 Resonance and affiliated imprint releases from such giants as Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley, and an essential 7-disc box set of early (1936-1943) recordings by the pre-American songbook Nat “King” Cole. Seeking an update on his activities prompted some Independent Ear questions for Zev Feldman.

The intrepid Zev Feldman

How did you get started on this quest to develop the Resonance and affiliated labels?
I had been doing strictly sales and marketing the first 15 years of my career, then I met Resonance Records founder George Klabin and he made me a proposition that if I could go out and find previously-unissued jazz recordings he would let me produce them for release. Not reissues, but what I like to call ‘archival discoveries.’ That was 10 years ago and I’ve been fortunate through my work for Resonance I’ve been recognized and given the opportunity to work with a number of other unaffiliated labels such as Blue Note, Verve, Real Gone Music, Elemental Music, Reel To Real Recordings and many others.

How long have you had the sense that there are so many undiscovered recordings out here, and particularly recordings made by great masters?
I’ve been noticing more and more ever since I started doing this work 10 years ago that there are all these important recordings yet to be uncovered. I’ve been privileged to learn of a number of things that exist because of all of the great press we’ve generated at Resonance. Our first archival release was Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue in 2012, followed by Bill Evans Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate that same year. For the Evans release, I worked with George Klabin’s original tape archives of concerts that he had recorded himself and that helped me pick up some great experience in this realm.
The most recent Wes Montgomery “discovery”

What kinds of relationships have you forged that have enabled you to access some of the previously “undiscovered” recording sessions you’ve uncovered and released thus far?
I’ve cultivated a number of important relationships over the past 10 years of doing this work. Access to this kind of material comes from a variety of places, such as artists and their families, government tape archives (ie, French, Dutch, etc.), radio archives, club owner archives and personal collectors. I’ve befriended the custodians of a number of these entities that have over time learned to trust me in this area of this business.

Is it your sense that there are a lot more such discoveries to be made?
Absolutely. Every day we’re discovering new things to explore, even with jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Bill Evans, where one might think everything has been unearthed already.

What’s been the market response to these previously undiscovered recordings?
The market response has been great. I’ve been very fortunate to receive a consistent stream of editorial accolades across many of the productions I’ve been fortunate to be involved with from all different labels. Resonance has really set a new standard for deluxe archival jazz releases, providing high quality presentations like museum pieces that are timeless and tell captivating stories. The booklets on these releases are investigative music journalism and in many was are just as important as the recordings themselves.

What have you got up your sleeve for 2020?
It looks like things are stacking up to be a real barnburner for Resonance, and Blue Note, in 2020. I can’t go too deep into anything yet, but be on the lookout for archival projects from Bill Evans, Art Blakey and many others from my orbit coming real soon.

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