Black and Brown: The New Color of Modern Composers

“A man’s best accessory is confidence.” — Greg Sato

The music industry has produced many composers and arrangers in the popular music and jazz genres. It’s also had close ties to the television and film industry as well. Composers like Maria Schneider, John Williams, Henry Mancini, John Barry, Michel Legrande, Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, Gil Evans, Mitch Miller, and Johnny Mandel, have given the world a musical pallet thats crossed all music genres as well enhanced their art in both film and popular music. When it comes to composers and arrangers of color, the doors are few and far between. In fact, the names I just mentioned, have their works still played and commemorated by jazz and orchestral ensembles like the Boston Pops and Jazz at Lincoln Center. But the African-American experience in music, especially jazz and pop, still fall short on the radar.

Musicians like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington,Mary Lou Williams, and Earl Hines created compositions and musical themes that took place in black America. The big bands were conducted and performed by people of color and produced some of the greatest jazzmen and woman as jazz music became the darling of popular music during the early 1900’s. Still, many of these corporate and privately funded orchestral ensembles today only focus on a few of our pristine black musical icons like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Rarely, do I hear about a music tribute to Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, or Melba Liston on their works of their compositions or arrangements. Ironically, those names I just mentioned have somehow performed, conducted, arranged, or produced music for film, jazz, pop, and soul music. What’s even more disgusting is that Quincy Jones has scored iconic movie scores like “The Color Purple,” “In The Heat of the Night,” “The Pawnbroker,” and “Roots,” and continues to be only recognized for his commercial efforts, not the brilliant suites or serious music scores which he’s contributed to for nearly 50 years. I won’t even mention the endless jazz records he’s arranged, produced, and performed on ranging from Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, and Count Basie.

"Q"

Composer/Arranger/Producer

Another lost and yet forgotten arranger was the late Oliver Nelson. The St. Louis native played for and arranged for the likes of Wild Bill Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, and Johnny Hodges. Oliver was well studied and learned alto saxophonist as well as heavily involved in jazz and orchestral education. He went on to score music for television shows like: “The Bionic Woman,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Night Gallery,” and “Columbo.” Yet, he was never given the credit nor respect that he was due and died at the age of 43 of a heart attack on October 28th, 1975.

Composer/Arranger

As of last few months, I’ve witnessed a lot people of color again changing the musical landscape behind the scenes here in New York on Broadway and in jazz music. Grammy-Award Winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard is conducting and scoring the runaway Chris Rock and Annabella Sciorra Broadway play, “The Motherfucker With the Hat.” This is a feat that was last experienced by Stew, the Tony-Award Winning writer and composer of “Passing Strange,” the first time since “Dream Girls” in the early 1980’s presented music written and perform by and for people of color on the “great white way.”

Live at the 2011 Detroit International Jazz Festival

Composer/Arranger/Trumpeter

Another Grammy-Award winning trumpeter and composer has also decided to raise the bar as a musician is Nicholas Payton. The Nicholas Payton Television Studio Orchestra is the most innovative and brash project in jazz music. Trumpeter, composer, arranger, and vocalist Nicholas Payton is coming out of his own shell and making the music he wants to record. The Orchestra played a week of sold-out dates at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. Nick’s compositions range from hip-hop inspired tunes to his homage to the classic and historic sound of his hometown of New Orleans. His love and vision for the music has allowed him to fuse all of the projects that he’s recorded throughout career like Sonic Trance, The Nicholas Payton Sexxtet, The Nicholas Payton Quartet, Bitches Mix Tape, and his tribute to musicians like the late Louis Armstrong and Doc Cheatham. The ensemble features some critically acclaimed and seasoned musicians like Robert Hurst, Patience Higgins, and Anat Cohen, to up-and-coming talent making waves on the New York jazz scene like Erika Von Kleist, Michael Dease, Chelsea Baratz, Ulysses Owens, Jr, Mike Moreno, and Lawrence Fields.

Philadelphia native Orrin Evan’s latest Posi-Tone Records release “Captain Black Big Band” continues the legacy of the Thad Jones and Oliver Nelson tradition. Both Jones and Nelson were heavily influenced by their deep roots connection to jazz and soul music, Evans features 38 musicians that range four decades who embodies the true essence of black roots music.  Recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York City and Chris’s Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, the big band’s arrangements are extremely bold and rash. The band just played on the anniversary of the day of the recording over Easter weekend last year at the Jazz Gallery. Compositions like “Jena 6” and “Art of War” are just a few numbers in where Orrin reflects the tenacity and confidence of a musician that’s in control of his musical destiny.

It’s about time that both Orrin and Nicholas have stepped up to the plate in creating music for large big bands and ensembles. Both of these guys are in their mid-thirties and have a new approach to music outside the traditional trio and quartet setting. Terence Blanchard, like his contemporaries Wynton Marsalis and Robert Hurst, have been scoring films and lead and conducted music on a grand scale since the early 1990’s. Although they were part of that  great 1980’s ‘young lions’ class of jazz musicians, these guys chose to adventure musically to uncharted territory like Quincy Jones and Oliver Nelson during the 1960’s. Theres still a lack of musicians of color being acknowledged as fine conductors and arrangers via jazz and Hollywood. But, with the latest tide of musicians of color impacting the music scene like Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Orrin Evans, Robert Glasper, and Igmar Thomas; there’s new and uncharted doors that are opening due to their vision and dying courage to carry on the rich and short legacy of our jazz icons.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com

"The Captain Black Big Band"

Live at The Jazz Gallery, NYC

“The Universal Mind and Sounds of Mr. Odean Pope”

Founder of the Saxophone Choir

The Odean Pope Live at The Blue Note in New York City

Recently, the Mental Health Research Association stated that: “More than two million American adults or 1 percent of the age or older in any given year have bipolar disorder.” Mental illness is one of the many illnesses in the African-American community that rarely gets discussed nor addressed due to lack of health insurance and the negative stigma about mental illness. Bipolar disorder is triggered by a variation of many extreme changes in mood. One can go from being manic which could lead to the following behavioral patterns: poor judgement, being easily irritated, happy feelings, start of substance abuse, and paranoia. Also, bipolar disorder can lead to forms of depression. Depression can lead to behavioral patterns that could lead to: lack of energy, thoughts of death and suicide, lack of appetite, risk-taking behavior, feelings of sadness, and increased restlessness.

I was saddened to learn one of jazz musics’ brilliant luminaries has bipolar disorder and been dealing with it for well over 30 years. Tenor Saxophonist, Composer, and Bandleader Odean Pope has been a major music jazz figure for well over 50 years. The Philadelphia native came out of that wonderful musical group of jazz lions he grew up playing with during the 1950’s that included: McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson,Lee Morgan, Archie Shepp, Spanky DeBrest, Lex Humphries, Jimmy Garrison, Jymie Merritt, and Kenny Rogers. While growing up in Philly, Pope was mentored by the legendary John Coltrane while he was also in transition to becoming one of the most innovative and important music figures in jazz music. It was Coltrane’s recommendation to organist Jimmy Smith that he replace him so he could join the new Miles Davis Quartet.

Although Odean played with many jazz greats, he’s a well disciplined and trained musician. He studied at The Graniff School of Music and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in Philly, which was one of the top music schools in the city. Always craving to develop his own sound, he studied with Ron Rubin of the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. Eventually he left for Paris where he studied at The Paris Conservatory for Music with the legendary Kenny Clarke.

Throughout his career, the saxophonist was the musical director for drummer Max Roach from 1979 until 2002. While many of his musical buddies made their dent the world of jazz and the record industry, Odean stayed in his hometown of Philadelphia where he became a well-noted musical icon and music teacher, which continues to do when he’s not touring.

Recently, Odean just came out and disclosed that he’s been battling a bipolar disorder for 30 years. Triggered by his brother’s death and the pressures of being on the road, the stress took years to build up internally, yet Odean continued to play and compose great works with his trio and the Saxophone Choir. Last month many of Odean’s friends and fans attended a fundraiser for the struggling musician as he wanted the Philadelphia and music world know that this is an illness that can be treated and diagnosed early. This marked the first time in a while that Odean performed in front of an audience and with the Saxophone Choir. Those who attended in support of Odean’s benefit were: Dr. Bill Cosby, Gerald Veasley, Kenny Barron, and poet Sonia Sanchez. The fundraiser took place at the famed Philadelphia Clef Club. This event couldn’t have been possible without the of support and vision of Deena Adler, Lifeline Music(Graziella D’Amelio and Warren Oree), Ars Nova Workshop(Mark Christman), WRTI’s J. Michael Harrison, Joe Sudler, and the Jazz Bridge Organization. The event was a complete success selling out right up to the day of the event. Odean adds, “me having this disorder didn’t prevent me from not playing, just made come to terms on seeking the right treatments and proper medical help.”

Although he hasn’t played music for almost a year, he recently made a big comeback playing the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City. The Odean Pope Saxophone Choir turned music fans inside out with Odean’s fresh and innovative horn arrangements. Even Odean looks and sounds a lot stronger now that he’s taken time off to regroup and take stock of himself. This also comes at the same time his latest Porter Records release “Universal Sounds” is receiving stellar reviews. “Universal Sounds” is an exploration of musical freedom via jazz and life experiences. The disc features Pope’s usual musical suspects including the great Marshall Allen on alto saxophone/electronic wind instrument, Lee Smith on Bass, and Warren Smith, Craig McIver, and Jim Hamilton on drums.The latest disc from saxophonist Odean Pope

Although Odean is getting back on his feet again, he still needs your support and donations. The Jazz Bridge Project, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to professional Philadelphian jazz and blues musicians, set up an online fund for Odean. Those who’d like to make a donation to Odean, make all checks to:

The Odean Pope Fund

Jazz Bridge

3008 Limeklin Pike

Philadelphia, Pennslyvania 19038

Or, you can donate online at http://www.jazzbridge.org.

Odean, like many of those who struggle with some kind of mental disorder, need help. He’s one of many that decided to ‘take the bull by the horn’ and seek help. If you have a mental disorder, please seek help. There are many free health organizations that can assist and direct you to the right forms of treatment and help.

For many years I’ve supported and admired the work and music-forward tenor saxophone style and technique of Odean Pope. Many musicians in the jazz field have hailed and praised Pope’s musical vision ranging from Joe Lovano, James Carter, Jeff “Tain” Watts, David Weiss, and Terell Stafford. I believe the world is about to hear and witness the second coming of Mr. Pope. Please continue to support and uplift Odean in his need to reconnect to his music fans.

To order Odean’s latest disc “Universal Sounds,” please visit http://www.porterrecords.com. For upcoming Saxophone Choir and Odean Pope Quartet dates, visit Odean online at http://www.odeanpope.com.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

http://www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com

Live at The Blue Note, NYC

The Musical Self Discovery of James Blood Ulmer

James Blood Ulmer with the Memphis Blood Blues Band featuring Vernon Reid"The Meeting of The Minds"Americas roots music existed out of an outlet to release and express many forms of happiness, anger, and praise. Blacks and whites have always been the innovators of the music and culture that has evolved as the blues, jazz, and gospel. From the back alleys of the bayou in Louisiana, to the brazen blues oriented stride piano origins in Harlem, to the gut bucket gospel oriented vocals of the late Howlin’ Wolf during Chicago’s thriving blues scene, the music was created and developed here in the United States far from any European influence or existence.

From the late 1600’s until mid-1800’s, millions of Africans, Spaniards, Haitians, and other indigenous cultures were taken from their native homeland and countries and brought over to what was call the ‘new world.’ These innocent people were taken and forced to nothing but shackles and brutal abuse to endure a new life as a slave. Many came to a new land, yet worked for free and lived under their master’s care. While at the same time, many of these indentured servants still passed down the oral and cultural tradition of their native country and ancestors.

Work songs, chants, tribal dance rituals gave way to certain forms of gospel and the blues that developed here in the country.Part of the oral and musical tradition gave way to organized gospel and blues music that exploded at the beginning of the 1900’s. Gospel and blues music are structured similarly in that depending on the mood and vibe, you can be lifted both secularly and spiritually at the same time. In church, people attend to praise and receive spiritual guidance and fellowship. Blues music, on the other hand, does the same, but was heard in dusty juke joints or bars, occasionally joined by a cocktail and dance or two. Gospel relied on big choirs, organs, piano, and percussion. Where the blues was performed with a guitar, fiddle, piano, bass, and drums.

Again, both forms of American music gave birth from the south and later exploded all over the country. Even some forms of this music branched off unto other forms this music. Country music, which is an extension of the blues, was played by whites in the south and eventually expanded out west. Many country musicians used the same instruments that the early blues musicians played, but gave their music a unique voice. Whereas, Bluegrass was an extension of country music and the blues, but came from rural Appalachia(the eastern Midwest and Southwest).

Guitarist, composer, and innovator James Blood Ulmer comes from that rich history of American roots music. Not only has he lived an interesting life, but all of Ulmer’s musical accomplishments have been of self-discovery. From playing gospel music as a child, to backing and playing with some of Rhythm and Blues‘ vocal greats, to playing jazz and rock, and now the blues, Ulmer’s progression has allowed him to become one of the country’s blazing musical pioneer’s.

But to truly understand James’s genius, one must know about his beginnings. Born February 2nd, 1942 in St. Matthews, South Carolina, his father got him started early in music. He sang in his father’s traveling gospel group and was exposed to singing at revivals and special church services. Ulmer’s very strict religious background forbid him to play or listen to secular music. Also, due to his family’s tight financial issues, he always wanted to play the saxophone but was given a guitar when he was a teen.

During his late teens into his late 20’s he moved to Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Detroit where he played and backed many Rhythm and Blues and funk bands. In fact, he was part of the house band at the famed 20 Grand, one of Detroit’s elite night clubs where many of the greatest soul acts played during the day. It was at the same club where another group would follow in Ulmer’s similar funk musical stylings, Parliament/Funkadelic, featuring George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, and Eddie Hazel.

In early 1971 after playing with legendary jazz organist Big John Patton, James moved to New York City where he played and recorded with saxophonist Joe Henderson, drummer Art Blakey, and drummer Rashied Ali. It was by a chance meeting through drummer Billy Higgins where he introduced him to Ornette Coleman. While playing with Coleman, Ulmer’s guitar playing changed as well as his whole approach to music. Coleman’s Harmolodic theory, which allows the musicians to play with a improvised and non tonal approach. With Ulmer’s style being more of the rock and blues tradition. Although he played with Coleman for almost ten years, he produced James’s first disc “Tales From Captain Black” which was released in 1978 on Columbia Records. The album catapulted his career and developed him on a national scope as an innovator as a guitarist as well as an accomplished vocalist.

It was his landmark “Blackrock” recording that is hailed by many, that put rock on the map again since the late  guitarist Jimi Hendrix in the early 1970’s. “Blackrock” was so influential to many musicians of color from Prince, to Vernon Reid of Living Color, to other groups like Fishbone and Bad Brains. Ulmer’s guitar style mixed with funk, punk, soul, and blues allowed him play venues that weren’t receptive to people of color or those that played the rock genre. He opened the door for many blacks to play rock again, something earlier innovators of rock like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Charles Brown gave birth to and stylized on the genre.

From the gate, his music startled critics and fans because of many different musical styles and ensembles hes recorded with. The Music Revelation Ensemble was a hybrid of funk and free-form jazz that featured musicians such as Ronald Shannon Jackson, David Murray, Sam Rivers, Hamiet Bluiett, and Arthur Blythe. The group Odyssey, both he and violinist Charles Burnham and drummer Warren Benbow gave music fans a slice of the blues and avant-garde jazz to rave reviews.

Over the last decade, producer and guitarist Vernon Reid has produced three critically-acclaimed blues recordings on the late Joel Dorn’s Hyena label. His 2001 “Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions” was a direct blast and reunited longtime violinist and Ulmer sideman Charles Burnham. Recorded at the famed Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, Ulmer went back and rediscovered and recorded blues greats like Son House, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Otis Rush. His follow-up: “No Escape From The Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions,” was recorded at the famed Electric Lady Studios in New York City. Again, he pays homage of the great blues tradition and legacy with renditions of “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Trouble In Mind,” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” Ulmer’s “Birthright” is one of the most personal and intimate recordings of date. Reid took him to the studio with him and his guitar and recorded a solo album. On “Birthright,” James revives the whole blues vernacular with how he plays what he see and feels. Songs like “White Man’s Jail,” “Devil’s Got To Burn,” and “I Can’t Take It No More” are what Son House and Robert Johnson conveyed as musicians on the emotions and realness of life.

I titled the name of the television segment “The Musical Self-Discovery of James Blood Ulmer” because he discovered musically his musical roots by living the music. James’s art and talent was so authentic and real that at his age, he still continues to discover his gift. Also, he’s never been afraid to be himself in the midst of how the record industry and critics view his music,especially at a time when the pubic cares less about our culture . Ulmer has and always will be a musical gem. What he continues to bring to roots music is proof that he’s an extension of gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, jazz, and rock.

To order James’s cd’s or to find out his upcoming tour dates, visit him on the web at http://www.jamesbloodulmer.com.

 

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com

Guitarist