Friday, April 10, 2015

Jose James bring thes music of Lady Day to Atlanta

Billie Holiday was as iconic a jazz and cabaret singer as has ever lived. The endurance of her legacy in popular culture is on par with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean or Frank Sinatra. She would have been celebrating her one hundred birthday this year on April 7th. Fittingly, many musical artists have been releasing their own  take on some of her memorable repertoire.  On Monday in NYC, there was an induction ceremony of Ms. Holiday’s name on the walk of fame at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Singer Cassandra Wilson opened for her first time at the Apollo there on Tuesday, while simultaneously releasing her tribute album titled Coming Forth by Day. Coinciding with this event, Legacy Records, released a twenty song re-issue of some of Holiday’s most memorable recordings under the title Centennial Collection.
On a Saturday night before Easter the singer Jose James came to resurrect the spirit if not the sound of Miss Billie Holiday at the Variety playhouse in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. Mr. James, a silky smooth baritone with a voice that is a mix between  Lou Rawls and Johnny Hartman, has his own album celebrating Lady Day, titled Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday. The show at the Playhouse was the start of his tour in support of the release of this new album.  

The opening act at the Variety featured  the popular  Detroit based trio of producer/drummer Brandon Williams. The core group of “Duke” ( just Duke) on electric bass, the talented Baron Davis on piano and keyboards and Mr. Williams on drums, played  rhythmically driven series of songs with rotating lead singers. There were at least six different singers brought on to the stage and each offered a different take on vocalization, all in the neo-soul vein. The set opened with local talent Cleveland Jones. Songs from  Mr. William’s latest album  XII , included  Matt Cuson singing “Everything”, powerhouse Anesha singing  “I Love You” and free improviser  Joi Tiffany  stirring up the crowd with her stylizing free form vocals. Deborah Bond soared on “Make Believe” and  the crowd pleasing Anesha returned for the finale. Despite the revolving door of singers, the music was a bit repetitive for me, with an excessive use of vocal gymnastics used by the singers in lieu of restrained soulfulness. Carrying notes into the stratosphere might be impressive to some, but can quickly be overbearing for me. Despite my reservations the crowd was thrilled and responded enthusiastically. This production  by Mr. Williams was a crowd pleaser,  but  his use of the multiple singer formats gave the performance the feeling like one was watching singers compete in a talent show.
Mr. James’ set started at a little past nine thirty. He was joined by Leo Genovese on piano and keyboards, Solomon Dorsey on bass and vocals and Nate Smith on drums.  In each of his renditions of the Holiday songs, Mr. James interjects his own brand of modern sensibility. On “Good Morning Heartache” he uses the hip-hop technique of repeating words like a skipping record to enliven the old standard. Mr. Genovese was particularly creative with his solos, often extending the melody to parts unknown only to corral his excursions back to where they become familiar to the tune.
Mr. James claims inspiration from Holiday and rightfully so. Perhaps his most direct claim to her legacy is his ability, like Holiday’s, to bring both pathos and sensuality to a lyric. On “Body and Soul” James sonorous baritone exudes a sense of sincerity that can be quite moving, but he also has learned that a sweet tone is not the only tool in a singer’s arsenal. He effectively employs unusual phrasing,  a  signature feature of the Holiday sound.  As a singer steeped in the blues Ms. Holiday could make a song drip with mournful emotion and so too can James sing the blues. On “Fine and Mellow” Mr. James conjures the  soulfulness of the great Low Rawls and Mr. Dorsey plays a mean and lowdown bass solo that rocks the house.

Mr. James caressed the audience with a deeply sensitive version of “Tenderly,” which he named his all time favorite ballad. He continued with one of Holiday’s most memorable  songs “Lover Man” which he treated using a modern vibe, repeating the song’s phrase “where can you be” in a hip hop inspired syncopated refrain. 

To many, jazz has become music of the mind instead of music that moves the body as it once did.  Mr. James previous work promised that he would always have one foot in each world- the world of jazz and the world of neo-soul/funk. True to form,  Mr. James took up his guitar and performed one of his earlier compositions, the easy swaying “Come to My Door,” from his popular 2013 album of the same name. His voice blended beautifully with Mr. Dorsey’s tenor creating a moving harmony. This is soulful pop music at its best.  It was the start to a few crossover songs that successfully project Mr. James to his listeners that extend beyond the world of jazz.  With a solid in the pocket groove laid down by drummer Nate Smith, James and company proceeded to do his own  version of D’Angelo’s  “One Mo’ Gin” to the delight of the crowd. The group immediately charged into James’ contemporary hip-hop “Park Bench People” from  2008 which he performed  in a quick paced free style rap.

Mr. James returned for a gospel inspired  encore performance of the iconic  “God Bless the Child. The man can make you come to Jesus with the power of his voice.  He  sang  a soulful  version of Sam Cooke’s “ A Change is Going to Come” accompanied only by his own guitar. Ultimately  Mr. James finished his set  with a startling a cappella rendition of “Strange Fruit.” Using rhythmic clapping and multiple overdubs of his own voice, James created an eerie, emotional y charged chant that gave the song’s content revived meaning.

Mr. James codifies that he is not just another pretty voice. Much to his credit with  Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday the singer shows he has the ability to take well established material and energize it with his own contemporary style.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

JackyTerrasson and his Quartet heat things up at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club Saturday December 13, 2014

Jacky Terrasson

The Anglo-French pianist Jacky Terrasson brought his latest quartet to the intimate surroundings of Smoke  Jazz & Supper club for a three set, three night engagement this past weekend.  A young talent from the start, Jacky gained widespread recognition after winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk competition in 1993 at the age of twenty-seven. Now in his forty-eighth year, Terrasson has established himself as a major voice on the piano with his imaginative medleys, where he re-works  songs from the American songbook, combining them with more contemporary classics. In this gig he was joined by his bassist Burniss Travis III, drummer Jonathan Pinson and percussionist Mauricio Herrera.  Terrasson is an in-demand pianist who performs at many festivals as well as prestigious piano showcases around the globe. It was a special treat to get to see this ebullient artist up close and personal and the superb surrounds of  Smoke, with its outstanding acoustics and room for a Steinway grand, is the perfect venue to catch such a performer.

Terrasson is as energetic and artist as you will find and it is this joyful energy that makes his “live” shows so appealing. It is amazing how many kilowatts this slender man can generate when he sets himself at the keyboard. He can be delicate or brash with an attack that is sometimes stabbing or appropriately gentle.  Clad in red shoes and striped socks, his feet are constantly in motion, keeping time, setting the pace; sometimes torrid, sometimes languishing. Bassist Travis held constant eye contact with the pianist, sensing his moves, reacting to the changes and anticipating the breaks in tempo.  Drummer Pinson peered watchfully from behind his cymbals; at times propulsive, but often delicately transitioning with whisper accents all according to the direction taken by the leader. 
Terrasson started the set off with a repeating vamp eventually blossoming into his own percussive version of the Rogers and Hart standard “My Funny Valentine.”  He included brief references to the traditional folk song “Billy Boy” and introduced swinging interludes that sent the crowd to cheering. Forever the performer, Terrasson eventually morphed the song into a cha-cha with some spectacular pianistic runs, before returning to the main theme in his own inimitable way.

On Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” Terrasson started the song by using the inside soundboard of the Steinway to create a slowly building, driving beat.  The band joined in, all using their instruments percussively, creating a rhythmic backdrop of sound that led into the familiar melody.  Terrasson is an extremely animated pianist, part a moaning Keith Jarrett part a dancing Jerry Lee Lewis, always kinetic in his approach. The pianist discarded his jacket allowing himself more freedom of motion and you could see the perspiration dampen his shirt rapidly as the enthusiasm oozed out of his pores.  The man loves playing and it shows. He again morphed the classic “Caravan” into the Michael Jackson tune “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” to the audience’s delight.

Terrasson started the next song moaning along with his slow and sensitive introduction to the classic “You Don’t Know What Love Is” before introducing elements of other songs into the ballad. Pinson was particularly deft at creating a barely perceptible beat with his soft mallets. Burniss had a poignant solo on bass, as Terrasson stabbed at a note on his piano in the background creating the clang of a school bell.  A brief side road into smaltz was heard as Terrasson introduced  the theme to the film “Summer of 42” into his playing before he raised the tempo a notch with a funky vamp that had a strutting quality to it, eventually returning to the coda of the original song. 

During his “live” performances there is always a sense of bearing witness to the music being spontaneously created. Even within the confines of  a practiced repertoire, no two versions of the same songs are ever played alike. Terrasson can change direction at any time, with his band mates having to be prepared to instantly adapt to wherever the leaders imagination takes them.

The Miles Davis song “Nardis,” famously associated with the Bill Evans trio, was the next selection of the evening. Terrasson noodled on the theme, along the way interjecting snippets of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” along with whatever else struck his fancy. Once again, as he does so well, he transitioned the Davis tune into a rendition of the Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck classic “Take Five,” with its syncopated 5/4 beat, before eventually returning back to the Davis original. “My Favorite Things” was another brief detour and then a rousing reprise of the Desmond classic at the end.

In true Christmas spirit, Terrasson ended the set with a little taste of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” before leaving the stage as the crowd applauded appreciatively. Jacky Terrasson’s latest album is titled Gouache .

Friday, December 5, 2014

NOTES ON JAZZ The Best of Jazz 2014

This year was an interesting one the wide diversity of music that was offered from a myriad of artists all operating under the all inclusive umbrella that is known as jazz. Like always, for one to try to limit one's appreciation of such diverse musical richness to a "top ten" is an exercise in futility and speciousness.

Here is my list of some of the most interesting and in my opinion worthy offerings that were released this year. There very well maybe some deserving artists and releases that for whatever reason I was not able to get a chance to listen to, so my apologies.This is a very subjective listing, but I believe an inclusive one making room for different genres; for new as well as established artists.

Here in no particular order is my list of the best " JAZZ" of 2104 :

Ernie Watts Quartet : A Simple Truth- Flying Dolphin Records A masterful album from a masterful musician whose sound is all his own.

Dr. John  Ske De Dat De Dat The Spirit of Louis Armstrong- Proper Records

Jane Ira Bloom Sixteen Sunsets- Outline records

Joe Beck -Get me- Whaling City Sound

Adam Unsworth/Byron Olson/John Vancore- Balance   A brilliant compositional tour de force.

Michael Blake-Tiddy Boom- Sunnyside Records. Just a wonderful album.

David Ullman 8 Corduroy- Little Sky Records   A great new work by the ambitious guitarist/composer

Click here for a sample of  Corduroy 

Matt Wilson Quartet with john Medeski : Gathering Call - Palmeto Records

Dan Weiss Fourteen- PI Records

Denny Zeitlin Trio Stairway tot the Stars- Sunnyside

Dewa Budjana Joged Kahyangan- MoonJune Records

Ben Allison: The Stars Look Very Different Today- Sonic Camera Records

Pete Robbins: Pyramid- Hate Laugh Music

Janis Siegel : Nightsongs- Palmetto Records

Jimmy Cobb: The Original Mob- Smoke Sessions

Freddy Bryant-Dreamscape-GJK Sound

Jeff Ballard Trio: Time's Tales- Okeh/Sony Masterworks

Elizabeth Sheppard- Rewind- Linus Entertainment

Dhafer Yousef: Birds Requiem-Okeh

Steven Richman's Harmonie Ensemble/New York: Henry Mancini Music for Peter Gunn - Harmonia Mundi USA

Michael Wollny Trio- Weltentraum- ACT Music

Zara McFarland: If You Knew Her - Brownswood Recordings

Sammy Figueroa/Glaucia Nasser: Talisman- Savant Records

David Bixler's Auction Project: Slink-Bixler Music

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance: ECM Records

Marc Weinstien: Latin Jazz Underground: Zoho 

Click here for a sample of Latin Underground

Enjoy all of this great music and support the musicians by buying their cds and going to see them "live" whenever you get the chance. Have a wonderful holiday and keep listening and reading!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Michael Blake's Homage to Pres and Hawk "Tiddy Boom"

Saxophonist Michael Blake with Frank Kimbrough on piano

Saxophonist Michael (not Mike) Blake is one of those artists who have a sustained appreciation of the tradition and for those who have come before him. In 1984 while still in Canada he had an opportunity to work with jazz stalwarts Cecil Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and Steve Coleman. The Canadian born musician has been a New York resident since1987. Blake paid his dues backing artist like Chubby Checker and organist “Brother” Jack McDuff among others.  In 1990 Blake was catapulted into the eclectic world of multi-disciplined artist John Lurie and joined Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, a critically acclaimed group that included Lurie and his brother Evan, guitarists Marc Ribot and Dave Tronzo, bassist Billy Martin and trumpeter Steven Bernstein. The group has maintained a transient presence in the downtown New York music scene for over twenty resurfacing occasionally for special occasions. Blake also became the solo saxophone voice of the group Slow Poke and worked extensively in his own groups and in groups led by the progressive young bassist Ben Allison.

Michael Blake: Tiddy Boom Sunnyside SSC1396

Blake’s latest release Tiddy Boom, is a reference to a phrase Blake once heard idol Lester Young call out to a drummer on a film clip. Pres asked the drummer  to give him “a little tickity boom, please.” Blake proves that good, swinging music played in a style reminiscent of the old masters like Young and Coleman Hawkins can be just as powerful and compelling as it was when these iconic saxophonists were alive and wailing. Blake has mastered that deep throaty voice on his instrument that was popular when these giants ruled the bandstand. He plays with a legato sound that wrings the essence of a note out in a sultry, lingering way. This lushness can be heard on such songs as the loping “Skinny Dip,” and the rhumba inspired title song “Tiddy Boom,” “ A Good Day for Pres” and the beautifully paced “Hawk’s Last Rhumba,” one of my favorite pieces on the album for the resplendent sound Blake gets on his horn in homage to Hawkins. 
While the music is derivative it is never copied and the group backing Blake is superb. Ben Allison’s plucky bass lines strut majestically throughout and Rudy Royston’s tasteful cymbal work and feathery brushes are a delight. Pianist Kimbrough subtly shines with his piano accompaniment and he and Blake often have a sensitive interplay that is palpable, especially on the boppish “Coastline.” Kimbrough’s solo on “Letters in Disguise” is a swinging display of masterful keyboard work derivative but contemporary, and Blake breaks loose with a solo that shows he too is not stuck in a time warp.
The jaggedly modern “Boogaloop” let’s you know these guys have progressed to a level of musical sophistication that has reached beyond their masters. The last composition titled “The Ambassadors” is a musical declaration from Blake and his cohorts that this music will always have its representation in the repertoire and these young lions will be both respectful ambassadors of that sound as well as creators of their own. There is something here for everyone.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A River Runs Through the Manhattan School of Music's Borden Auditorium

The MSM Jazz Philharmonic and Conductor Justin DiCioccio

On Friday November 7, 2014, the Manhattan School of Music School’s  Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, under the able direction of maestro Justin DiCioccio, produced  a river of sound that washed through the school’s Borden auditorium to a packed house of music lovers.

The occasion was the  World premiere of University of South Florida’s distinguished professor Chuck Owen’s  masterful suite River Runs in its
entirety. The 2013 recording was among the nominees for the 2014 Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Instrumental Composition for Bound Away,and Best Instrumental Arrangement for Side Hikes: A Ridge Away. Both compositions are part  five-movement concerto, combining a full symphony orchestra with a jazz ensemble and jazz soloists on violin, guitar and saxophone. The soloists were the tenor saxophone firebrand Donny McCaslin, the sensitive violinist Sara Caswell and the masterful guitarist Jack Wilkins.

The music is an exhilarating compositional tour de force, combining the multiple musical voices, colors and timbres that a full orchestra can command with the individual jazz expressions of the featured solo instruments of electric guitar, tenor saxophone and violin.

On this night maestro DiCioccio was exuberant in his direction of the music, as his orchestra produced brilliant tones and waves of sound that swept over the audience in the music’s ebbs and flow. The music was conceived by Mr. Owen as a representation of multiple adventure trips he has taken canoeing and rafting down various rivers in this country. Each movement is a musical depiction of various aspects of these trips. 

The opening composition “Prologue: Dawn’s at River’s Edge” is an impressionistic  piece, all about the anticipation of waking up to nature in the early morning ready to embark on another challenging journey down the mysterious waters that lie ahead.

The Grammy nominated “Movement I: Bound Away” is a musical recollection of the shimmering light reflected off the rippling pools of the Greenbrier and New Rivers of West Virginia. The trip meanders through a gorge where the thunderous sound of the approaching rapids is the clarion call that Owens' music recreates.

“Movement II :Dark Waters , Slow Waters” is a representation of Owen's time on the Hillsborough River in Florida, A river edged with drooping cypress and lined with murky pools of ominous swampy waters. The music becomes much more tranquil as you go on a more languishing journey through the humid, moss covered banks of the Everglades. There is a sense of foreboding in this piece, an ominous feel of not really knowing what to expect around the next bend of the route.

“Movement III : Chutes and Wave Trains” is a depiction of Owen's time on the Chatooga River as he makes his way down through Georgia and South Carolina. The music compresses and swells at times, similar to the way the water is compressed when funneled through a restrictive chute carved out of the architecture of the river banks; building up pressure and speed, only to be released on the other side of the obstruction, into the opening calm.

“Movement IV: Side Hikes- A Ridge Away” This Grammy nominated composition is inspired from Owen's trips to the Green River in Utah and the Colorado River in Colorado,  and was also adapted from the CD Ridgelines, a recording made by the saxophonist Jack Wilkins ( no relation to the guest guitarist) who was the featured saxophonist on the original recording. The unifying factor in both pieces is the concept of reaching a nearby ridge for an overview of your surroundings. Finally reaching the ridge you see many other ridges in your horizon, many never to be experienced, always just a “Ridge Away” from your reach. The composition appropriately creates a wistful  sense of longing for the next great adventure.

“Movement V: Perhaps the Better Claim: The River  of No Return” With a line borrowed from Robert Frost’s haunting poem “A Road Not Taken”, Owen's chooses this title for a musical trip down Idaho’s Salmon River, a river known for its fierce rapids, its deep canyon, its treacherous terrain and its stunning scenery. The musical depiction sent the occupants of this auditorium-on-pontoons into a swirling and satisfying conclusion.

The music was masterfully played by the MSM’s Jazz Philharmonic, who conquered the suite's demanding musical nuances, creating the atmosphere that so brilliantly depicts the natural musical sounds of the river rafting experience.

The soloists were in top form. Ms. Caswell was particularly poignant when her violin was featured as a soloist and at times in counterpoint to her two fellow soloists. Saxophonist McCaslin is a firebrand of a player. He always brings a sense of energy and excitement to his work. He was particularly effective producing a "waves of sound” deluge that flowed from his horn much like the rapids of Owen's compositions. Guitarist Jack Wilkins was playing a Fender Telecaster through an amp and the sound was unfortunately somewhat muted from where I sat. Wilkins is one of those players whose technique is precise and immaculately clean; a consummate player whose melodic solos, (the ones I was I was able to hear clearly), were fluid, fleet and precise. His interplay with McCaslin was particularly noteworthy as the two fed off of each other brilliantly. 

Mr. Owen was in the audience for this performance and in speaking to him briefly afterwards he was obviously gratified to see his music performed so admirably.

To be able to imitate the sounds of nature; to be able to magically reproduce the rapturous feeling one can get from communing in the woods on such an endeavor as white river rafting or hiking is an extraordinary achievement.  I related to this album when I first reviewed it back in July of 2013 ( click here for a link to that review.) Now having seen it performed live by the MSM Jazz Philharmonic it only reinforces my original convictions. If you get a chance to see this work performed live and you enjoy commuting with nature you will not be disappointed with this brilliant piece of music.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Philosphy of the Spiritual: Part Three of My Interview with Bassist/Educator/Activist Richard Davis

Richard Davis

Richard Davis has always followed his muse throughout his career. A world class bassist, an avid horseman, a respected educator a socially conscious activist. 

Whether it be as an accomplished studio musician on mainstream albums by the likes of Barbara Streisand or as a pivotal driving force on a seminal album by Van Morrison or the rock steady bassist behind in inimitable Ms. Sarah Vaughan, Davis has always left his mark. As an important member of the progressive ensembles of Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Sun Rah  and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Davis has always let his music speak for itself. People noticed.

His ability as a classically trained bassist, had at one time, inspired a younger Davis to pursue a symphonic career. Racism often reared its ugly head and he was repeatedly rejected by the firmly entrenched white establishment that dominated the symphony scene in the fifties, sixties and seventies. He was often times not given the courtesy of a call back, even when it was obvious that he was the most accomplished of the contestants applying for the position. Undeterred, the talented  Davis could not be denied, eventually playing with such classical luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller and Igor Stravinsky. Cream inevitably rises to the top.

Leaving the established jazz community in New York in 1977, where he was a respected member,Richard Davis's career took another turn, this time assuming the role of educator and mentor as a professor of classical bass at the University of Wisconsin, where he still teaches. Along the way Davis has made some beautiful music and inspired scores of aspiring musicians. Despite his generous spirit and stated goal to pass on his accumulated knowledge to the next generation, Davis, as a Black man in a predominantly white state, has seen and felt firsthand the ugly effects of racism, even in the bucolic setting of the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he lives. Undaunted by a lifetime of racially motivated slights, both real and perceived, Davis steadfastly maintains a surprisingly positive attitude and believes in sowing the seeds of racial harmony and acceptance. He supports education about racism and its roots and is hopeful that with open conversation between the races, we can come together in harmony.

As a musician and educator he has formed the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, which promotes educating students on the bass at an early age. As an activist Davis, formed the Retention Action Program (R.A.P.), an organization dedicated to increasing the retention levels for students of color at U of W. He is also President of the Madison Wisconsin Institute for Racial Healing, an organization dedicated to understanding the history and pathology of racism, with the goal of hoping to heal racism in individuals, communities, and institutions both in Wisconsin and throughout the USA.  So it was of great interest to speak to Mr. Davis about his experiences and listen to some of his philosophies about racism and how we can educate ourselves to prevent its continued proliferation to the next generation.

NOJ: Let’s get some of your views on the state of race relations in this country. In the nineteen sixties do you think you took a militant stance against racism?

RD: No I didn't take a militant stance, because militancy defeats the purpose. I didn't take any particular stand, I just thought it was something that I didn't like. I didn't go parading around.

NOJ: You have been an educator at University of Wisconsin in Madison since 1977. What made you leave New York?

RD: I just decided that I wanted to start teaching some younger people what I had learned.

NOJ: How did you find Wisconsin?

RD: Cold.

NOJ: Were the people of Wisconsin receptive to you as a Black educator in a relatively predominantly White state?

RD: Wisconsin has a reputation for being a racial state. I think … some people feared me because I was Black. They thought I was aloof, but I had to protect myself….Wisconsin is very racist.

NOJ: I take it you were a bit of a pioneer there?

RD: What do mean by a pioneer?

NOJ: Somebody that went ahead of other people and blazed the way. I take it by now there is much more diversity and integration in the school system?

RD: It’s still the same, nothing has changed.

NOJ: Well, that’s disheartening.

RD: I’m still working on diversity. I have some allies. I have lots of allies and I have a lot of people who don’t even realize that it exists there.

NOJ: Has affirmative action helped Wisconsin integrate more people of color into the educational system?

RD: When you look at the numbers there is still 3% Black and 8 % people of color and I don’t know what they are doing about that.

NOJ: You are now 84 years young. You have won numerous awards and accolades throughout your career including the nation’s highest honor the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship Award just this year. You have formed the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, The Retention Action Project (RAP), and SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) all reach out programs that inspire harmony and love. You've said you wanted to live to be 137 in order to do the things you still want to accomplish. What are some of those things that you feel remain undone for you?

RD: Well I think that going on a global quest will influence every part of your life. I talk about the oneness of humankind, the fact that we all come out of the same womb of an African woman. Only one tenth of one percent (of our genetic makeup) accounts of the difference is our skin color.*

* "If you ask what percentage of your genes is reflected in your external appearance, the basis by which we talk about race, the answer seems to be in the range of .01 percent," said Dr. Harold P. Freeman, the chief executive, president and director of surgery at North General Hospital in Manhattan, who has studied the issue of biology and race. "This is a very, very minimal reflection of your genetic makeup," Quote from a New York Times article August 2000, entitled "Do Races Differ, Not Really, Genes Show" by Natalie Angier.

Somewhere along the way it has been forgotten and we see each other with different skin instead of looking at each other as ourselves; one person, one human being. That theory, if it is practiced and gets a resurgence of the truth, it will cease a lot of problems. Like that shooting in Ferguson, MO. That’s because the police are afraid of Black people and Black people are afraid of White people. It comes from fear and ignorance. If we can gt past that fear factor and that ignorance factor we will make tremendous strides. You see,  this country is not built on equalization for everybody.  It is built on that fact that some of the White people are oppressors and the Black people are being oppressed by this attitude. A White kid gets treated different then a Black kid. Have you ever heard of a White kid being shot down by the police? So it is just a matter of equal treatment of each other and this will all go away.

NOJ:  Do you think both sides can reconcile their differences?

RD: Sure I think so, especially if there is enough going on and if people gather and talk to each other. Most of all White people have to talk to White people; Black people talking to White people is a good thing, but they have to start talking to each other. The police department already has an impression of what they are faced with when they see Black people. If you have five Black people standing on the corner talking, Police come by and they think something bad is going to happen. If they see five White people standing on the corner, they think nothing of it. That has got to change.

NOJ: It’s unfortunate but historical experience can sometimes create stereotypes that can be dangerously wrong. What has happened before is hard to erase from people’s minds and once established it is hard to break impressions and habits.

RD: Well I call it (being) emotionally attached. That is why some people are still singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” where so much of that is not true. They are singing “the home of the brave and the land of the free.”  People are singing that with fervor. Everybody is not free, but they continue to sing it.

NOJ : There is a national pride and sometimes people wrap themselves around the flag for the wrong reasons, but I would prefer that people believe in their country than not. Sometimes that belief is not validated by actions. There will always be things that are wrong in this country, but do you just stop people from showing some amount of patriotism?

RD: Well I am not a patriot. I am not a patriot because the country does not look at me in a way that they look at (White people.)  An American is not me; an American is a White person. When you talk about a Black person they are treated different. …I will be an American when I am treated like an American. But that …”land of the free and home of the brave,” wait a minute, let’s really look at the truth with intelligence, to see if it is true where we can continue to tout those things. I don’t consider myself an American, because I am not treated like a White person, an American is a White person.

NOJ: If you are not an American than what do you feel you are?

RD: I am an African-American misplaced in a land that does not accept me on the basis of my race.

NOJ: Well that is upsetting to me as a person who would hope by this time we have made our way to acceptance and inclusion and have made more progress than that.

RD: Well there should be more people like you who exercise that (sentiment.)  If a Black kid in school if he does something wrong they suspend him and take him to the Principal’s office. If a White kid does the same thing they just slap him on his wrist. So it is not a fair representation of saying we treat everybody with equal respect. Did you see the show Democracy Now. You should go to and look for the edition for August 19, 2014 and you will see a man named John Powell. He will explain this so well. He elaborates very elegantly on what I just told you.

NOJ:I’d be interested in knowing as a Black man in this country who has been around for many decades, what do you think of the current President and how effective he has been?

RD: I don’t get into politics that much. I know he is in a position that is very sensitive because he has to speak for White and Black people. He can’t show favor for one or the other and he is somebody who is in that position. It is not the Office of Dignity that is going to change anything.  He could be the President of the World; it is the individual person, walk around everyday life person who is the one subjected to this and the only one who can change it. 

NOJ: With all the evil that seems to be cropping up all over the World. Do you believe music and specifically jazz music can be an answer to some of the problems that we have in communicating with each other across sectarian, racial and ethnic lines? Do you see music as a vehicle that can bridge this gap?

RD: Basically speaking, no. There has been a lot of jazz recorded, there have been a lot of protest songs recorded talking about race, but have things changed? You might get a few converts, because of what you are saying, but not enough to make an overall general big change. It won’t come from one entity; it has to come from the heart of the person.  Even with the laws that they they have in place, that doesn’t change anything, it has to come from the heart of the person. I have many White associates who would say the same things that I just said who are making a difference, and (they are) mostly females!

NOJ:  How does that heart get changed, how do you think that change can come about? Is activism the answer?

RD: First you have to be educated to a high level of education. I have tons of books in my house, most of them written by White people, who are anti-racist. I go to conferences where all these people gather together and try to discuss these things and then take it back to their homes and try to promote an attitude. Some of the teachers, who are white and want to go to these conferences, they ask their administrators for the money to go and some administrators will say that  is a good thing we will give you the money and some say  what is the use of all that? It’s been like that for four or five hundred years.

NOJ: Do you think that the races will eventually undergo miscegenation to the point that it doesn't really matter anymore?

RD: it’s happening now. The minorities that they talked about in the last decade are no longer the minorities; they are the majority in some cases. People don’t use that word minority anymore because there is more Hispanic growth that is making them change. That is frightening some White people because they see themselves as not the majority anymore. The whole thing is a transformation of attitudes and that takes a long haul.

NOJ: So the answer is time. Time equalizes everything.

RD: Well used time. See, the education system is racist, the prison system is racist, the judicial courts are racist, the Religions are racist, so you have a whole system of institutionalized racism that has to be readdressed and reassessed. There are more Black people in jail then Whites. There are teachers who don’t regard their Black students as well as they regard their White students. So the whole thing has capitalized on organized institutional racism.

NOJ: Do you think that if there was more economic equality and opportunity in the country that the differences in the races wouldn't be as exacerbated?

RD: Well economics is a good part of the problem, because it gets to be classicism not racism. How many Black people are making the same amount of money that an ordinary White person is making? I must say that impoverished people are just not Black people either; there are many White people that are very impoverished. But their skin color gives them an advantage, even their names gives them an advantage. You see many violations on the scene where racism crosses over to classicism. A middle class White teacher teaching Black kids-first of all she is afraid of them, she is not going to hang out with them, accept anything that they say as worth anything, she won’t even call on them when they raise their hands ( In class).

NOJ: How-if you have a young White, woman teacher, who is working in a predominantly Black school, and she fears for herself and her safety- how do you overcome that embedded fear?

RD: First of all that is a lot to overcome, because (in many cases) all of her life she was never subjected to knowing about a culture other than her own. So she was involved with people who look like her, think like her, act like her and she has, what you might call, a shell around her existence in relation to other people. Even when college students come here from neighboring towns around Madison, some of them have never been around people of color. So they come in here with their naiveté and their non-exposure, looking at Black people and they are afraid of them and consequently they react to them as if they are their enemies. I will give you an example; a White woman gets on the elevator at the University, the elevator stops, and a Black man gets into the elevator and she starts screaming. The police come and they say “What has he done to you, mam?” and she says “He startled me.”

NOJ: That is just sad.

RD: Well it shows that her experience with a person of another color is fear. She heard they were going to do something to her. A White woman worked for me for three years at the campus. One day she came to my office and started crying. I said “What’s wrong with you?” She said “Well my mother told me that if I was ever going to be in a small room with a Black person I would be raped.”  Now this woman had been working with me for three years and all that time I would give her work and we would be in a small room. Now for all that time she struggled thinking, “He is going to rape me one of these days,” and she wanted to tell her mother that she had scarred her mind with this concept. That is what it is; the parents perpetuate a racist attitude. I have seen White women clutch their purses when I go near them, or standing in line behind them, they will clutch their purses.

NOJ:I guess it is hard to relate to this as a White person. 

RD: We just don’t know each other. I live in a very plush house; it is on the South Side of Madison, lakefront and I am the only Black person in this neighborhood. Now, there are White teachers in the public (school) system in a town that is only ten minutes away from here, that will not go into the supermarket that I go into, because they are afraid. My girlfriend is White and I asked her, when she goes into this market how many people does she see that are Black? She says “maybe about three.”  It was all White people that went to this store. So these teachers perpetuate racism by telling their friends “don’t go onto the South Side of Madison because something will happen to you.” I live on the South Side. I have been here since 1987, but they are afraid to go and they have never even been here.

An Administrator from the University, when they built a new building on the dividing line between North and South (Madison), she asked me “What should I do?” I knew what she was implying; now she was going to be going to work on the South side. I said Get your laptop and your chair with wheels on it and roll on down to the South Side with it.”

Things are changing on the South Side now because gentrification is coming in. They are building a lot of plush apartment buildings and other things. Then those White people will feel better about coming on the South Side, because more people that look like them are coming. The Black people in the neighborhood, some of them will have to move out, because they can’t afford it anymore. It is all around me where I am living. Now they have a Dunkin’ Donuts here… and tall buildings and hospitals, it’s gentrification and it will change the attitude of people being afraid to come here. I have never been to my neighborhood supermarket where I see more Black people than White people, but people who don’t live here think there are only Black people going in there.

NOJ: I hope things will change and I would like to believe that we are better than that and strive to be better and be open.  I agree with you that it has to start with us. It has to start with us teaching inclusion to our children and then they doing the same with their children.

RD: I always say, you know how people put pictures up on their refrigerator? Well put some Black people up there. (Laughter)

NOJ:  I really appreciate your time Richard. I am sure the readers will enjoy the conversation. Thank you.