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Archive for May, 2011

Remembering Gil

Posted by dlockeretz on May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday (May 27th, 2011) at age 62. Best known for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“, and “Home Is Where The Hatred Is“, Scott-Heron has often been considered a sort of godfather of rap and hip-hop. His spoken-word performances touched on a lot of difficult topics: racism, drug abuse, poverty and more.

“Revolution” became a sort of mantra for me when I discovered it in my early 20s, about the same age as Scott was when he recorded it.  Whether Gil Scott-Heron would have been insulted, amused or flattered (or any combination thereof) by my adopting his anthem to my own drama, I’ll never know, but what I do know is that for a while, that song meant something to me as few others have.

While I have never been a huge fan of hip-hop music, I have always been discouraged by people who are dismissive of the entire genre (or any genre of music, for that matter).  No, it doesn’t all sound the same, any more than the Beatles sound like the Police, than Bach sounds like Stravinsky, than Ellington sounds like ‘Trane or than Johnny Cash sounds like Zac Brown.  There are some things about Gil Scott-Heron’s work that still sound out, more than a generation after it  was created:

  • Very little profanity, other than the occasional “God damn.”
  • Celebration of a culture, notably in “Lady Day and John Coltrane.”
  • Hope for the future, as in “Save the Children.”  (The message in this song is a lot easier to take coming from a 21-year old Gil Scott Heron than it would have been coming from a couple of suits phoning it in.)
  • Calling out people on self-destructive behavior (“I know you think you’re cool because you’re shooting that stuff in your arm”) and for ignoring their history (“It’s a little too easy to forget that you were a Negro before Malcolm.”)
  • Humor (“Talking about blowing the white boy away; that’s not where it’s at, yet”); (“I think I’ll send these doctor’s bills air mail special…to Whitey on the moon.”)

Add this to some great musicianship from a cast that includes jazz legends Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Bernard Purdie, and you’ve got quite a package, one that certainly evokes a certain time and place but still sounds relevant today.

While “Revolution” and the rest of Scott-Heron’s catalog eventually moved out of heavy rotation on my playlist, I’ve always been impressed by the emotion and energy he put into his work.   He’ll be missed.

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The R.P.M. Jazz Trio and the Joshua Bell Factor

Posted by dlockeretz on May 9, 2011

Yesterday (Sunday, May 8th) I attended a jazz performance by a friend of mine, drummer/producer Paul Tavenner, at a church in Santa Monica.  It was the first time in a while I really sat and listened to live jazz, and it was very enjoyable.  Bassist Matt van Benschoten turned in a solid performance on his electric upright, and 17-year old jazz virtuoso Rachel Flowers brought the goods, mainly on piano, sometimes on flute, and simultaneously on one song.  She played with a mix of traditional influence and originality that is unusual, especially for someone her age.

The group played a nice variety of standards, including Coltrane’s “Naima”, Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and “Dolphin Dance” and more.  When I saw a toddler bopping up and down to the music, it reminded me of another story I heard about the famous violinist Joshua Bell.

In January of 2007, Bell dressed anonymously and stood in a Washington, D.C. subway station during rush hour and played for 45 minutes.  Most people walked by; some stopped and listened for a little while but soon were on their way.  Apparently, several children showed some interest–just as the little girl in the church did–but their parents hurried them along.

The point of the article was that virtually none of the thousands of commuters had any idea what they were listening to.   Another parallel between the violinist and the jazz trio occurred to me: while this performance was attended by probably close to 100 people, most residents of Santa Monica, and indeed the greater L.A. area, probably had no idea that on this Sunday afternoon, they could hear some great jazz.  Perhaps some might even have walked right by the church without knowing what was going on inside.

Even musicians themselves might learn a thing or two: many (certainly myself) are guilty of bemoaning the current state of the music business, especially jazz, but closer looks reveal that the art is alive and well.

For a video of Joshua Bell’s subway performance, click here.  For an article about Rachel Flowers, click here.

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