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Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

At the turn of the century in the 1900s between Reconstruction and the first World War there was born a man who was one of America’s most significant musicians. Tall. Black. Poised. A leader. A soldier. An organizer. And ultimately a tragic martyr who died at the hands of one of his own men.

His name was James Reese Europe. Born February 22, 1880 in Mobile, Alabama. When he was 10, his family migrated to Washington, DC. When he was 25 he set up permanent residence in New York City. He died May 9, 1919 in Boston, the victim of a jealous drummer in his band. He was only 39 years old.

Most of us have never heard of him. Although, during his life time, he was often billed as a king of jazz and a maestro of ragtime, today he is overlooked. Under appreciated. His life and musical compositions seldom cited.

Indeed, I was not consciously looking for him when a reference flashed on screen while I was online searching for something else. Even though I had recently included him in an essay I wrote for a presentation at the U.S. Mint in New Orleans on Esplanade Avenue at the Mississippi river, I did not have him in the top of my concerns. I am ashamed of myself. How could I forget so important a figure in our musical history?

Jim Europe was in demand in the major East Coast metropoles. He was admired, sought after, and constantly employed. In 1910 he organized the Clef Club, an all Black organization for people in the music industry. The Clef Club not only sponsored performances, it also served as a musician’s union and booking agency. In 1912 he gave an historic concert at Carnegie Hall, over a decade before George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman. For the concert, Europe assembled a 125 member orchestra. In 1913 he was among the first Black ensembles to make recordings on Victor Records.

Look at him. In 1916 he enlisted in the New York national guard. During the war years, Lieutenant Europe not only organized and led military bands he is credited with taking ragtime and jazz to Europe as a member and officer of the 369th Regiment, aka the Harlem Hellfighters in which he was both a band leader and the lead officer in a machine gun squad.

As I sat scanning my computer, all it took was one mention in passing, and the seed that was planted deep in my subconscious sprung awake. In less that five minutes on the internet I was able to reclaim Mr. Europe’s legacy.

Here are three videos, arranged in order of significance.

First is a brief animated introduction that gives an overview of Europe’s life.

The second video features footage and period photographs focusing mostly on his World War I experiences.

And the third features pianist Jason Moran giving an informal lecture about the work of this great man with piano demonstrations and ending with a mini-concert that includes three students on flute, saxophone and sousaphone.

Don’t be slow. Get in step. Learn about the greatness of James Reese Europe.

 

This composition was on Ornette Coleman’s 1959 album The Shape Of Jazz To Come. Dig it or not, Ornette totally reshaped an approach to jazz. I have said before, in jazz, all the best vocalists want to sound like horns, and all the best horn players want to sound like singers. That kind of lyricism regardless of what they are playing. But with Ornette there was another element, his alto horn had a deep blues under flow. Whether his sound appeals to you is another matter, but there is no denying the blues inflections. And perhaps never more so then on one of his signature compositions.

I dug the song so much—and that’s what this composition was, a song—that I wrote a poem to it. Years later, I recorded the poem with Courtney Bryan on piano. I suggested she play off the melody and the feel of the tune. Only toward the end do we hear the distinctive melody, which I deeply love.

Here, let me step back a second. Up until 1959, most critics were praising the Modern Jazz Quartet as the most original jazz ensemble of the fifties era, and perhaps they were given the proclivity toward the so-called “cool” jazz stylings with their ornate, even at times baroque stylings. The MJQ, especially with Milt Jackson on vibes, was steeped in the blues, even though the majority of their Atlantic albums often were tinged, or sometimes even outright purveyors of classical music. But even then, Bags (as Jackson was affectionately known), although playing an instrument not associated with the blues, had a way of bringing the noise. There was jazz before Ornette, and certainly after Ornette, but the turn toward the classical was an MJQ forte, and that is what was being upended at the end of jazz’s fifth decade. Bags made it clear it was back to the blues.

But what was also clear is that the fixed notes of the piano, or the vibes, for that matter, made it difficult to master the blues, especially those flattened tones, all that whooping and hollering. Sounding like a black baptist preacher on communion Sunday, or better yet, somewhat like Reverend Gary Davis (and if you don’t know who he is, you best get yourself together and check him out), or even more better, Ornette be like a raucous Son House. And as if to make the blues references clear, even to those with tampered scales in their ears, check out Ornette in a trio format, actually mostly a duet with bassist Charlie Haden, who had been a member of Ornette’s trend setting quartet.

Ok, that’s enough for one session.

—kalamu

 

 

“The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

 

Here is a short documentary about Frantz Omar Fanon. You need to see it.

Especially because in the 21st century, most of us do not read. We are consumed by and with the convenience of the internet. And if not consumed, we are oriented toward the internet for the bulk of both our entertainment and education; to enjoy ourselves and to learn about the world we live in. But if one is serious about life, we ought to supplement the easily accessed internet with selected literature that both exposes us to what we don’t know as well as challenges us to struggle to learn more than we already know.

To most of us Frantz Fanon is just a name. There are few pictures. No generally available recordings that I know of. And, although lionized in selected intellectual circles, as far as the general public is concerned, in the 21st century there are only superficial mentions of Fanon’s ideas in contemporary publications. So here are both a video and a recent collection of Fanon’s writings, to supplement his major works popularly available. The video and book combination also serve as critical tools for those interested in a serious study of Frantz Fanon the writer beyond Frantz Fanon the t-shirt icon.

The man from Fort-de-France, Martinique became a psychiatrist for the world. Not just the so-called third world, mind you, but the entire of this spinning blue and green spheroidal-shaped cosmic object we call planet earth. Fanon trained as a physician focusing on the mentally ill. While serving in the French administration he was assigned to Algeria. He eventually joined the Algerian liberation movement and became an ambassador of the tri-continnetal struggle of Africa, Asia and Latin America. At the same time he was adopted as a prophet among radical European and American intellectuals and activists.

Fanon’s name, work, and writings rivaled any theorist of revolution, including Marx, Lenin, and Mao. His intellectual depth was staggering in the mix of philosophical profundity and revolutionary relevance. He was the one who taught us that when guided by conscious theory grounded in social reality, violence could be revolutionary and not just reactionary.

His life was short. July 20, 1925 – December 6 – 1961, not even a proverbial forty years. It is even more shocking that he died in Washington, DC, which he considered the heart of worldwide imperialism. When cancer struck he reluctantly traveled there for leukemia treatment.

 

He was the author of three impressive analysis of the social and psychological conditions of third world people: Black Skins, White Masks (1962) which ripped the covers off the psychological damage done to victims of colonialism; A Dying Colonialism (1969), grounded in his medical work and subsequently revolutionary work on behalf of the Algerian revolution; and The Wretched Of The Earth (1961), his magnum opus often described as the handbook of the revolutionary movements of the sixties and seventies.

The reaction to his output was universal. He literally was studied worldwide in both formal schools and indigenous huts, on industrial streets and in agrarian fields, throughout both metropoli and backwaters. Everywhere the poor, the oppressed, and those who resisted their birth conditions existed, that is where Fanon was sought and studied.

In the anglophone west his writings were not published in the chronological order in which they were written. Moreover, he wrote far more than is generally known. Fortunately there is a massive collection now available in English that offers a more fulsome appreciation and cataloguing of Fanon’s significant body of literary work. Frantz Fanon Alienation And Freedom (2018, initially published in Paris, France 2015) is 796 pages with sections on Fanon’s scripts for the theatre; his psychiatric writings; his political writings; his correspondence in France and Italy; and, concluding with a cataloging of Fanon’s library plus a brief but revealing chronology of key dates in Fanon’s life.

“What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

 

Samm sangs — yall know what that means; “sangs” means another step beyond merely singing; means going into the deep self (both conscious and subconscious, as well as the unconscious)  and pulling up a sound that springs from the four major areas that provide fertile ground to root, grow and enable your sound to flower. The total locus and motion of that is located in the head, heart, gut, and groin. And don’t forget, we are considering all of this within the context of music by Samm Henshaw.

The head part is the expression of all your thoughts. Some people are expert at making clear the logic, and possible inevitability of all their ruminations, their ponderings, their meditations, analyzations, conclusions, hunches, intuitions, all the things that run through the brain and can be expressed in word and/or sound (sometimes there are no words but there is a sound that perfectly expresses whatsoever be going on). I do realize in some cultures, sight is the way, might even be smell and the taste/texture of good food. There are many ways to express ourselves. Could be a dance, or something else entirely. Anyway, that’s the head part.

As an artist, Samm Henshaw is a shifty halfback with the power of a fullback. He goes where a lot of songs don’t go. Most so-called love songs be focusing on lust and sex. Samm has a more profound understanding hence he also emotes about agape and companionship, or like the old Jackie Wilson R&B song go — he wants “a woman, a lover, and a friend”, which all collectively profiles his particular gender preferences (i.e. woman), his sexual desire, (i.e. lover), and ultimately his need for companionship (i.e. friend).

> “BETTER” — The Sound Experiment – EP

The heart is the art of feelings, of expressing feelings, sometimes a gesture, or a deed, not always a word, or a letter written to or about a person, but could be a moment, maybe an especial experience, whatever righteously generates a serious emotional reaction. We don’t necessarily know how come or where from, we just feel the thing is real, because as any fool know and the wise certainly understand, ain’t nothing like the real thing. And guess what, stuff that’s plastic (regardless of plastic’s seemingly inexpensiveness or its convenience, still) ain’t nothing like. . .

By the way, there is an important book, A General Theory Of Love, that offers a fuller understanding on the multifaceted aspects of this thing we call love — uses scientific observation and deduction to explain the metaphysical and spiritual elements of love, I think you will dig it.

Now the gut, well, the gut is not just a hankering to satisfy a physical hunger. The gut be about survival and what any of us will do to keep on keeping on. Survival is a mean master, will have you up early in the morning looking into somebody’s mirror and asking that reflection is that me? Am I really here cause I crave a tasting of whatever or whoever bees up in this here room?

The fourth center is the groin, which is deeply misunderstood, deeply diminished in terms of its full function in the human context. I once heard the groin crassly described as a sewerage plant and an amusement park combined into one. Except physical elimination is absolute necessary for the health of the human body; and, of course, procreation is necessary for the survival of the species. If you think about it, that viewpoint puts another kind of spin on the groin.

Philosophically, music is a serious upliftment when we deal with the totality (head, heart, gut, and groin) of human existence. For a fuller understanding thereof, some of us go to church, some to the mosque, some to the synagog, some to the temple, some just commune with nature. All of us be seeking something outside of ourselves to complete the inside of ourselves, the thoughts and feelings of ourselves, the yearning for communication and embracement, to communicate with the force beyond ourselves, indeed, the force that created the self (even though our individual consciousness might be totally sui generis). In any case, those who are seekers seek a reciprocal relationship, i.e. to embrace and to be embraced. Love, then, is actually a quest for howsoever we fulfill that need, that yearning to embrace and be embraced; embracement far beyond just someone’s warm and welcoming arms. When you listen to the sweep of Samm’s striking sounds, the way he sangs, you can hear and receive aspects of all that.

 

> “CHURCH”

By the way, my man sound like he must be Otis Reddings’ second cousin’s grandson, or something like that. He got that river deep all up in his voice, and then come to find out he of Nigerian heritage, living up in the UK, doing music that often employs that bad, Black (African American) back-beat. This must be what heaven sounds like. Or maybe, might even actually be heaven when we sound like this.

 

P.S. — Ok, O-Kaaayyyy! Here’s a little lagniappe, some solo Samm. If you’re of a mind to, do so deeply enjoy.

 

—Kalamu ya Salaam / May 2019 – New Orleans

Lupita Nyong’o Is Tethered To This Genius ‘Us’-Themed Tap Dance Routine

The Academy Award winner was impressed with this dance routine that taps into the Jordan Peele horror hit.

Lupita Nyong’o received critical acclaim for her performance in Jordan Peele’s “Us,” and now the Oscar winner is applauding another performance inspired by the movie.

The “Black Panther” star shared a video on Instagram on Friday showing a group of tap dancers performing to a film-score version of Luniz’s ’90s hip-hop classic “I Got 5 on It,” which was featured in the movie and trailer

“Talent!” Nyong’o wrote on Instagram. 

The tap dancers are a part of a Los Angeles group called the Syncopated Ladies. The dance, choreographed by Emmy Award-winning choreographer Chloe Arnold, incorporated the movie’s theme of living among doppelgängers, who are referred to in the film as the “tethered.” 

The Syncopated Ladies have previously made headlines for their dance routines. In 2016, their performance to Beyoncé’s “Formation” was widely shared on social media ― even by the Queen Bey herself.  

“Us,” which hit theaters March 22, had the largest ever opening weekend for an original horror film, according to Variety. 

 

> https://www.huffpost.com/entry/us-movie-lupita-nyongo-tap-dancers_n_5ccda08be4b04e275d4b0e24?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

 

She is not a big woman. Some might say slender. I think she is steely. Strong. Smiling, not overly loud, but definitely strong. Minnesota winter strong. Surviving war ravaged East Africa strong. Somali. Yeah, say it: strong. K’naan probably got a song for her strong.

Long before she was born October 4, 1981 in Mogadishu, Somalia, I remember being in a marketplace in Tanzania at the 6th Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam the summer of 1974. Looking around, I fit in long as I didn’t open my mouth. There was the hum that you hear in buying, selling, and bartering places up and down the motherland. And then it suddenly got quiet. I looked up. Three very tall men were walking through the throng. Not saying a word. If I remember correctly, one of them may have had a spear, or was it a heavy walking stick? Masai. Much respect. They didn’t have to say a word. Well, Ilhan is strong, commands respect like those men.

English is not her first language. She will make her share of linguistic flubs, mistakes, inexactitudes (i.e. words that do not fully express what she means to say); not often, and definitely not repeatedly. She is better at a language foreign to her, than any of her states-side critics are fluent in her mother tongue. Plus, she dances better than any of the dunces who complain about her being anti-this or anti-that. When really she is a pro–pro-freedom, pro-black, pro-humanity!

And she won’t back down.

So, salud. We should. We must. Stand with Ilhan!

 

NPR radio on Ilhan.

 

 

> Trevor Noah interview with Ilhan Omar

 

 

> Angela Davis & Barbara Ransby on Ilhan Omar

As best I can remember, it was late 1962, maybe early 1963. (When I looked up release dates, I found out that the song I later referenced was actually released in March 1964.) I was still in high school. Back then, the disc jockeys on radio station WYLD would give away 45-records to the fifth, sixth, or seventh caller. Occasionally, Groovy Gus would announce he was going to take “caller number two.” The only time I ever won anything on the radio was when I got lucky calling in for I’m So Proud by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. 

You used to have to go over to the station to pick up the record you won. The next day I was down there. And then the five-mile-plus bus ride back home, proud of myself, with my prize, the valued forty-five disc, firmly in hand.

Vivian was the girl in the next block. We kind of, sort of, was boyfriend and girlfriend. Our big daytime dates was going out to City Park, reclining on the grass, playing kissy-coo with each other. She was the recipient of my quick on the dialing-finger award. Yes, rotary phones was what people used back in the fifties and early sixties.

As most initial teenage love affairs inevitably do, our relationship didn’t last even two summers long. Vivian and I lost track of each other. We didn’t go to the same school. She was the oldest of a large brood of siblings and often had baby sitting duties.

By the summer of 1964, after my senior year of high school, I had a for real girlfriend, and also had been offered a scholarship to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I didn’t last long way up on the opposite end of the Mississippi River. The fabled waterway, which flowed about fifteen blocks away from our home in the infamous Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, had its origins up in the Minnesota cold clime where I briefly attended college. Late August to late March was about as much as I, in my confused state, could deal with up there. It was still snowing when I left.

Shortly after retreating like a war weary soldier, sullenly heading home, unsure about what I wanted to do, my life underwent an unforeseen but profound development. I had not signed up for the draft on my eighteenth birthday as the law required, so some months afterwards, in order to avoid going to Nam, I went down to the recruitment station saying I would volunteer to go anywhere but Viet Nam. The recruiter laughed at me. I responded that I was sure they had some jobs that they didn’t employ in Nam and I wanted one of those jobs. He told me, they did, but I had to take a test to qualify for such a position. I told him, “give me the test.” As I expected, I passed the test.

A year on both ends of my three year stint found me stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I spent my middle year on a mountaintop in South Korea. I was responsible for the electronic maintenance of the Nike Hercules missile and that included arming the nuclear warhead.

The army was another kind of education. Especially on the weekends after payday. Man. We would head out to the little entertainment strip in black El Paso. Get there early, scoff up a plate full of greens and chitlins, and then go around the corner to the lil joint that passed for a sho nuff nightclub and dance our asses off to We’re A Winner. Of course, we had all the appropriate hand motions to go with Curtis’ evocative lyrics. Right after that song came out in the spring of 1968, Dr. King was assassinated on April 4th. My army service ended in June of that year.

After becoming a G.I., the only other time I ever saw Vivian was once when I was home on leave. We were glad to see each other but nothing became of the meeting. I was returning to base the next day.

When I mustered out of the Army, June of 1968, the times had changed. The Civil Rights movement that I had happily participated in while a high school student, had morphed into the Black Power struggle. I, of course, was eager to jump smack dab in the middle of that volatile mix. Also, not too much later, by the beginning years of the seventies I was married with kids. 

Throughout all those youthful years, Curtis Mayfield remained one of my favorite artists. Mayfield became a mega-popular singer/songwriter with his classic 1972 soundtrack for the hit of that summer: Superfly. But as tremendous as Superfly was, the 1973 Back To The World follow-up album was the music that really touched me. I’m sure that particular recording was meaningful to a bunch of young, black men recently returned from the armed forces, and especially so for those who were still serving overseas.

Many years afterwards I can never forget attending a concert. Curtis Mayfield was the honored artist. This program was well after the horrible August of 1990 accident when a massive piece of stage equipment fell over and nearly crushed Mayfield to death. He was paralyzed from the neck down. At the tribute program that night, water was in my eyes after Mayfield was literally wheeled on stage and spoke softly but strongly from his wheel chair.

By the end of the nineties decade, Mayfield was gone. He died the day after Christmas in 1999. Although I often proclaim myself a “Coltrane freak”, the total truth is that I’m also thoroughly in love with Curtis Mayfield. Mayfield. The poet. The musician. The man. The survivor. A paraplegic who, I’m told, recorded his prophetic last album, New World Order, flat on his back, fitfully singing into a tube, because he was unable to stand. It even took too much effort to sit up and sing. So he was recorded in bed. Damn. Mayfield, you the man. A true definition of persistent manhood. Right on. Right on for the Mayfield.

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Go HERE and HERE-2 for a January 1972 Curtis Mayfield set.

 

-kalamu ya salaam / May 2019

 

 

 

 

A few years back pianist Courtney Bryan and I went into a ninth ward/Marigny area studio in New Orleans, right off the Mississippi River, and recorded six selections. I never got around to getting the work released to the world. And then… Courtney attended the 2019 Professor Longhair Symposium at which I was the keynote speaker, and we chatted. She was a few months away from going abroad after winning a major residency in Europe provided by the American Academy in Rome. I prodded myself, I needed to get the duets out.

About a week later I did a poetry gig. Anne Waldman was the headliner on the bill with me. I did four selections. Two of the poems I performed at that gig with Waldman were included on that earlier session I had done with Courtney, and so, there it was. A reminder. Don’t delay. Get some of this out.

Courtney is a deep, deep pianist who expertly and seemingly effortlessly covers the waterfront of jazz piano. I love the way she plays, how she listens and responds, as well as creates, improvises, does not need to be told what to do. Even though she reads music she does not need direction to make the magic of meaningful music. She is gifted enough to fashion beautiful creations out of the air guided solely by her internal imagination.

So here are two selections: “On Visiting My Ex-Wife Of 16 Years” (which I did solo on the poetry gig) and “Who Travels With The Night”. Enjoy.

kalamu / 27 April 2019