“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.
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.
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.”
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,
The Pace Report