Thursday, January 31, 2008

Upcoming...Incoming, NYC Area: Black History Month (Post#2)

(See Post #1 here)

Monday February 4, 2008
Film Screening: 365 Days of Marching—The Amadou Diallo Story,
Written, Produced and Directed, by Veronica Keitt

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard (corner of 135th street)
Reception 6pm –
Movie Screening 7pm
Tix: $25, (and going fast... according to the film website)

"Join us for a Memorial March in remembrance of Amadou Diallo and all the Victims of Police Brutality. All participants are asked to gather at 5:30PM sharp on the corner of 125th Street & Malcolm X Boulevard to proceed to the Schomburg Center at 135th Street & Malcolm X Boulevard.

"365 Days of Marching tells the story of how the death of a young African man—shot down by NYC Police Officers, sparked a movement which ultimately changed the shape of New York City and America's history. "No Justice, No Peace" for Amadou Diallo became the battle cry for all of the social ills that plagued New York City during that time—i.e. affordable housing, education, jobs etc."

For more information: check the film's website

Sunday February 10, 2008
Honoring Our Elders at Medgar Evers College:
A Tribute to The Last Poets
Fathers of the Spoken Word Movement

Abiodun Oyewole, Don Babatunde Eaton, and Umar Bin Hassan

President’s Conference Center (Room B-1008)
Medgar Evers College, The City University of New York
1650 Bedford Avenue | Brooklyn, NY 11225
3:00 – 6:00 pm

"It is a longstanding tradition for the Black History Month Committee at Medgar Evers College to honor the elders in our community. This program is always on a Sunday and this year, The Last Poets will be honored for their unwavering commitment to the arts and community...

"Additional readings will be offered by award-winning performance poet MO BEASLEY, emerging spoken word artist CHRIS SLAUGHTER, and a high school student representative from the Center for Black Literature's CUNY Arts/College Now Spoken Word-Hip Hop class.

Travel by Public Transportation:
Subway: #2, 3, 4, 5 to Franklin Avenue (walk to Crown Street)
Bus: B44 to Nostrand Ave. at Crown St. (walk to Bedford) or B48 to Franklin
Ave. at Crown)

Febuary 2 - 17, 2008
Celebrate Black History Month at the Brooklyn Museum

This program includes Javaka Steptoe's collage-making workshop based on the legacy of artist Romare Bearden; film screenings of Theodore Witcher's Love Jones, Stan Lathan's Beat Street, and Yvonne Welbon's documentary on African American women film directors Sisters in Cinema; a discussion of creative artistry with writers Staceyann Chin (pictured above right) and Kiini Ibura Salaam; as well as concerts by bluesman Taj Mahal (pictured below right) and "jazz-rock trio" Harriet Tubman.

See the Museum's Black History Month Event Schedule for more details

Brooklyn Museum of Art
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, New York 11238-6052
Telephone: (718) 638-5000
TTY: (718) 399-8440

Thursday • February 21, 2008
Film Screening: Malcolm X
Presented by the Malcolm X Museum
On The 43rd Anniversary of the Assassination of Malcolm X
(El Hajj Malik Shabazz)

6pm to 9pm
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Malcolm X Boulevard at 135th Street
Harlem, NY
FREE Admission

"Narrated by James Earl Jones, this 90-minute film is based on Malcolm X's own autobiography. Made after his assassination, it also includes an inquiry into his death as well as a eulogy given by the late Ossie Davis. This historic work was an important early non-fiction film about the African-American experience and an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature in 1972.

"Audience discussion will follow the film showing."

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Words of Wisdom: Esperanza Spalding - Bassist

Esperanza Spalding is a composer, performing bassist and vocalist, and and leader of two groups, The Esperanza Trio and The Esperanza Spalding Group, plus she holds the bass chair in the Ray Charles Big Band. Spalding is also an instructor in the Bass Department at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I happened upon her faculty page recently and found her words on artistic commitment:

"Most of my students have been playing longer than I have. My students look at me and they say, 'Wait a minute. If she's just a few years older than me, and she's doing stuff that I don't know how to do, it's not because she's been playing longer than me, so let me listen to what she has to say.' They see that sometimes it's just about looking at something in a different way.

"You have to be a good listener to be a good bass player. So I try to get students to calm down and listen to themselves first. I'll start by asking a student to play me four bars. Then I'll say, 'Okay, what did you play in the last bar?' And they don't know. It's like a paradigm shift where they realize, 'Omigosh, I'm not listening to myself.' And if you're not even listening to yourself then (a) why should anybody else listen to you? and (b) how can you even listen to anyone else?

"I say to students, 'You decided to be a musician. This is your job. It's fun, and it's cool, but this is your job. Treat it like it's your work—your part in society—and live up to that. So every time it's been a week out of your life and you didn't work on yourself musically, that's like disrespecting everybody in the world.' That may sound kind of extreme, but I really mean that." [emphasis mine]


• More background on Esperanza Spalding from the International Music Network.
• Article on Spalding from when she was a student at Berklee (just 4 years ago) here.
• Spalding's video "Cantora de Yata"
• Spalding's first album Junjo (2006) (pictured right)
• All About Jazz review of Junjo.
• Spalding on "How Singing Helps Your Bass Playing" in Bass Player Magazine.

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Elizabeth Hines on Black Women's Votes & Visibility

I haven't commented on the presidential race because there are a number of people who are writing/blogging on it in a capable and incisive fashion and I'd rather direct attention to their work. Speaking of which I just read Elizabeth G. Hines' take on the role of black women voters in this race, and their particular impact in South Carolina. I didn't want to forget her perspective, or where I found it, so I'm providing a short excerpt and a link to the full article below:

What Black Women's Votes Mean for the Presidential Race

Elizabeth G. Hines, Women's Media Center

I've been giving thanks quite a lot this election season: thanks that the
field of candidates looks different from ever before; that we who are not white men can believe that our nation has a place for us in its leadership, too. And I've been giving thanks that the advent of this diverse slate of candidates has created just a little space in which we Americans can begin to address, on a national level, the issues of race and gender that have plagued us since our very beginnings as a country. We may not yet be good at talking about those issues, but at least now we're trying.

Today, however, I am here to admit that my greatest measure of thankfulness
has recently settled on nothing so predictable, for a black woman, as seeing Clinton and Obama's faces plastered across every newspaper and television screen from here to Tallahassee. No, today I want to give thanks for the state of South Carolina.

Read the full article at

By the way the photo at right
isn't an endorsement, but one of the results of a keyword search using the terms "black" "women" "vote." Including it here seemed appropriate given the results of the South Carolina Democratic Primary.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Catherine Russell + Carolina Chocolate Drops @ Joe's Pub 1/12/08

Part II: Catherine Russell (for Part I: Carolina Chocolate Drops go here; Russell reportage delayed on account of travel and bad-bad virus)

To think I almost didn't stay for Catherine Russell's set. I was suffering some sonic exhaustion from recording most of the day followed by interstate travel with heavy equipment. It was the coat check person saying "What you're not going to stay? There's another set!" That struck me in some way, reminding me that live versus online .mp3 performance can be a 180 degree experience. See, I listened to the Russell sample on the Joe's Pub site and well, it didn't really strike me one way or another. But Russell live is another Concha Buika situation. Live, even from 50 feet away Russell can stroke you cheek like a sistafriend, and make you blush deep like a favorite aunt talking about the ardent good lovin' of the man that you know simply as Uncle Joseph, as she's hippin' you to the complexities of a woman's sensuality. At a self-proclaimed 50 years old, Catherine Russell (pictured above right) is all that and a bag of honey-kissed plaintain chips--no lie.

After hearing her live I can't help revisit that energy upon listening to her studio recordings. And it is indeed a pleasure. Fortunately, she's playing Joe's Pub again on February 27th, a full set this time--and she'll be celebrating the release of her latest CD, Sentimental Streak. Russell comes from a highly impressive musical lineage (more on that below), and has performed or recorded with a host of talented and celebrated musicians such as Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Madonna, and Rosanne Cash among others. She has studied and performed withing a wide variety of musical genres, but when it came time to record her album she found herself drawn to her great love of string-band and early roots music and jazz. Her work shows her to be a true aficionado and mistress of this era.

On Saturday Russell started out with an unexpected knockout punch for the audience. A warning for an ardent but unwanted suitor, "My Man's An Undertaker (And He's Got A Coffin Just Your Size)" (by Eddie Kirkland and Mamie Thomas?), which she delivered with wit, perfect intonation and timing, and a womanly charm that made even her "jump back jack" delivery so seductive you almost felt sorry for the chump. But not quite. Most of her songs from the evening came from the 1920s and 30s and weren't just songs they were full stories of a particular moment, a way of life, or an attitude. She introduced Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans" by telling the story of her Panamanian father Luis Russell's having chosen the city as the destination of his first journey outside Central America, and his new home, after winning the lottery. Her audience rapport was warm and inviting from the first. One thing I learned after this second song is when Russell rears back her petite frame to deliver a note, know you're in for a treat.

The next offering was from 1927, a song that both Alberta Hunter (pictured left) and Fats Waller recorded back in the day, but I haven't been able to determine if Waller is its author. "My Old Daddy's Got A Brand-New Way to Love," (by Mike Jackson?) started out with Russell singing, "I gotta man who's gotta a new way of making love/ and an old daddy with skin like a silken glove with such conviction that the experience she conjured was almost cinematic, thanks in some part to the great lighting person at Joe's Pub (more on that later). It's no wonder that Russell has also taught voice (at Berklee College of Music in Boston), her vocal technique is really so married to her performance technique that one doesn't notice the distinction between the two. But they aren't the same technique, it's just that Russell has honed a method of singing from the heart and solar plexus with an open throat that makes the air molecules around her vibrate with sound as though it's flowing around and from her immediate presence. Her band unobtrusively backs her up with great timing and seeming ease (they really make it look effortless). What's obvious in how they play as an ensemble is considerable respect for the storied jazz songs of this early 20th century period as well as Russell's respect for this band.

Russell then smoothly transitioned to the latter half of the twentieth with an arrangement of Sam Cooke's "Put Me Down Easy," on which she played mandolin. Russell's mother, the bass player (she plays a Fender)/guitarist/pianist/arranger/vocalist Carline Ray (pictured left) was in the audience. Russell acknowledged her as "my best teacher" quoting her mother as saying, "there are only two kinds of music: good and bad." Her double bassist Lee Hudson gave her great support on this tune, as did guitarist Matt Munisteri (a New York native bluegrass banjo player from age nine!),--giving her accents and supporting the floor of the melody. Then during the bridge, Russell played backing rhythm on the mandolin (a Gibson) while Munisteri soloed. The band, which included Mark Shaw on piano, was great at not crowding her on this tune that has an undercurrent bass tugging below a flowing slower vocal. On this tune as well as the ones prior the light person contributed to focusing the energy of the set, by progressively closing in Catherine Russell's ideal lighting which is a warm, bluish-magenta. Wow, what a great mix of gels that was for Russell's presence.

Next was a tune from 1929, "I've Got That Thing," co-written by her father, the aforementioned Luis Russell (pictured right) who was Louis Armstrong's arranger and musical director. As Russell indicated, the tune has one of those titles you can interpret as you like, "Whatever that 'thing' is to you." She also played a mandolin with a pickup on this song, with Munisteri playing a 6-string banjo into a mic (6-string banjos don't have great sustain, but some have pickups for amplification). The song featured lines like, "Before all the fellas wouldn't look at me/but now all they're ready for my company."

Russell started to close the set with a Pearl Bailey tune, "I'm Lazy, That's All" adding the aside, "another tune that's not social commentary, just how I feel sometimes." This was a reference to the song she'd started the set with "So Little Time (So Much to Do)" from her forthcoming CD Sentimental Streak (February 2008). Russell delivered these playful lyrics with a little grit of lethargy in her voice. Delivering lines like "People say you know you ain't good for nothin'/But nothin' ain't so good for me" with humorous apathetic arrogance as though even doing "nothing" is just too much to consider, brought appreciative chuckles from the crowd. But when she languidly repeatedly the line "I had a man, and he was really sweet/but making love took too much energy" surrendering the "much energy" to a prolonged melodic yawn, the crowd roared and heartily applauded her dead-on timing and musicality.

The set ended with Bessie Smith's "Kitchen Man" which she started by thanking everyone at Joe's Pub, "lights, sound, tip your waitstaff and bartenders well." From behind the bar, near where I was standing, came the heartfelt comment, "I love her." Well, Russell let us know "I love his cabbage, cream his hash/I gotta have some of that succatash...Just wild about his turnip tops" When she laid a strategically placed hand her thigh with the line "Nobody else will ever touch my hams," the crowd hooted and howled. I thought the front row was going to go up in smoke. These are classic lyrics but their delivery can go the way of pure camp; still genuine fun but positioning the suggested sexuality solely in the land of the fantastic. Russell put forth the melody and words in manner that made us all true believers, and the great lyrics continued, "When I eat his donuts all I leave is the hole..." We were being treated masterful Church of Pleasure testifying, and then came that penultimate line "His bologna never fails to satisfy." It's not as though I had never heard Kitchen Man before, but I knew I was hearing a singular version that evening, an inspiring instilling of sensuality and spirituality, plus historical legacy come to life. Wow. What can I say but, wow, an amazing performer--it was concert, master class, and live cinema rolled into one. So glad I stayed.

• Catherine Russell website and MySpace page
• Her CDs: Cat (2006) and Sentimental Streak (2008)
• Catherine Russell on Tavis Smiley on September 13, 2006
• Her mother, Carline Ray, multi-instrumentalist, arranger (and second generation Juilliard School of Music graduate) on NPR's Jazz Profiles: Women in Jazz and at The Jazz Museum in Harlem in 2005
• Her father, Luis Russell's bio and discography at

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Upcoming...Incoming NYC Area: Black History Month + AWP Book Events, & March 2008 National Black Writers Conference (Post #1)

(See Post #2 here)

If only I had five embodiments of myself and no need for sleep, but alas, no such luck, and I do like actually sleeping now and again. Or just germinating...

But in the hopes that I get to see some of this, I'm listing it below and will probably add to it as I hear about more events. Along with various Black History Month events New York City (and surrounding environs) is also hosting the Annual Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP). Plus announcement has already gone out for the 2008 Ninth National Black Writers Conference to be held at Medgar Evers College (CUNY) in Brooklyn (see below)

Along with the February 9th Leroy Jenkins tribute at the Brooklyn Public Library, here are some more Black History Month Events, with off-site (and more or less affiliated) AWP events listed first, including a historic Latina/o poetry reading on February 1st (see below):

•••Selected AWP Events•••

January 30, 2008

2nd Annual Cave Canem Fellows Reading
The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery
New York, New York
Cover: $10
Time: 10:00PM

"Cave Canem: A Home for Black Poetry" and so much more, people...come out and support the legacy & continuing history...
Fellows Michelle Berry, DeLana Dameron, Kyle Dargan, LaTasha Nevada Diggs, Krista Franklin, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Richard Hamilton; Myronn Hardy, Randall Horton, Marcus Jackson, Amanda Johnston, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Ana-Maurine Lara, Ernesto Mercer, Dante Micheaux, Indigo Moor, Nicole Sealey, Shia Shabazz, Evie Shockley, and Bianca Spriggs take a poetry marathon to New York City’s literary hot spot. $10 cover charge.

Directions to Bowery Poetry Club: foot of First Street, between Houston & Bleecker
across the street from (what was CBGBs--R.I.P.)
F train to Second Ave, or 6 train to Bleecker
Cave Canem Calender

January 31, 2008
• 6:00PM
The Affrilachian Poets @ The Nuyorican Poets Café
236 East 3rd Street, between Avenues B and C
(Closest Subway Stop is "2nd Avenue" on the F Train)
Admission: $7 student, $10 general
Featuring: Kelly Norman Ellis, Ellen Hagan, Parneshia Jones, Amanda Johnston, Hao Wang, Mitchell L. H. Douglas, Bianca Spriggs, Natasha Marin, Marta Miranda and special guest Rane Arroyo. Web:

• 6:00PM
Harlem Book Fair Presents: Grace Edwards
Teachers & Writers Collaborative
520 Eighth Avenue, Suite 2020
Cost: $20 admission includes free, signed copy of book.
I'm not a fan of Edward's Mali Anderson mystery series, but this is a part of the Harlem Book Fair's 10th Anniversary Celebration series. Plus Teachers & Writers Collaborative has a number of interesting upcoming author readings including Thomas Glave, Tracy K. Smith, and Yusef Komunyakaa.

• 7:00PM - 10:00PM
Courting Risk: Multicultural, Multi-genre, Multidimensional Women
Macaulay Center
Macaulay Honors College
35 W. 67th Street
Cost: Free
Complimentary refreshments will be provided. There might even be some music and interactive performance art thrown in. Stick around after for a book signing and art sale. For more information, please visit our website: Featured Readers: Esther Belin, Naomi Benaron, M. L. Brown, Ching-In Chen (pictured below right), DéLana R. A. Dameron, Ashaki M. Jackson (pictured above right), Anne Liu Kellor, Natasha Marin, Maureen Owens, Khadijah Queen, Susan Southard.

February 1, 2008

Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase
Historic Assemblage of Latina/o Poets
"Acentos brings you this historic reading. Please come out and support. This reading will be the biggest gathering of latino poets under one roof. This is your opportunity to meet legends." (photo: Acentos staff with Martín Espada (seated))

ACENTOS SPECIAL EVENT: A Gathering and Celebration of Latino and Latina Poets @ Hunter College, School of Social Work,
129 E. 79th Street (Corner of 79th and Lexington),
New York, New York
Cost : Free

To coincide with the AWP conference, Acentos and El Centro de Estudios
Puertorriqueñ Puertorriqueños at Hunter College present a celebra more than twenty emerging and established poets of Latino/a descent. Scheduled readers include: Martín Espada, Rafael Campo, Sandra Maria Esteves, Aracelis Girmay, Willie Perdomo, Diana Marie Delgado, John Murillo, and many more! Hosted by Rich Villar.

Directions: 6 Train to 77th Street. Walk two blocks north to 79th Street and Lexington Avenue. The School of Social Work is located on the northwest corner of 79th and Lexington.
Fish Vargas
Acentos MySpace Page

• 7:00PM
A Reading of Queer Writers of Color
Teachers & Writers Collaborative
520 Eighth Avenue, Suite 2020
2020 VISIONS: Felicia Luna Lemus, Jericho Brown (pictured right), and Thomas Glave. Free wine and cheese and other goodies.

February 2
1:00PM - 3:00PM
Book Celebration: "On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail"
NYPL, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Join Charles E. Cobb, Jr. in celebrating the publication of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail. With real grassroots stories in the words of those who lived it, Charles E. Cobb leads us from Washington, D.C., through eight Southern states to visit the places where the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement fought for freedom. A book signing will follow the presentation.

Month of February 2008
Brooklyn Academy of Music hosts Chris Rob (pictured right), Nadir, Soul Summit and the Black Rock Coalition (featuring Dragons of Zynth, Honeychild Coleman (pictured below left [with a little nod to Tom Terrell, R.I.P.]), Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, and Rachid is Rasalus among others) at BAMcafé Live during February.

Check out the full program here

BAMcafé Live is curated by Darrell M. McNeill

February 16 - June 29, 2008
African Voices + The Big Read Honor Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
• The Big Read Kicks-off in the Big Apple at the Schomburg Center
Saturday, February 16th
3:00PM - 6:00PM

Actress Ruby Dee, Author Lucy Anne Hurston will join NYC’s Celebration of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Big Read arrives in the Big Apple next month with a series of book-centered events honoring Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. The Big Read is a nationwide program designed by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to revitalize the role of literary reading in American culture. Actresses Ruby Dee and Kim Brockington, author Lucy Anne Hurston and other special guests will join African Voices and the Brooklyn Public Library on Feb. 23at the Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza. The Big Read will officially kick-off on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 3 pm at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (135th Street & Lenox Ave.). The Brooklyn Public Library is hosting 18 book discussions and two film screenings in neighborhoods throughout the borough.

For information call
(212) 865-2982 or visit African Voices Magazine Big Read 2008
Zora Neal Hurston Big Read Schedule
See also, the Schomburg Center Programs Calendar

Friday, March 28, 2008 - Sunday, March 30, 2008
2008 Ninth National Black Writers Conference

from the press release:
CONTACT: Chris Hundley, 718-270-6926
For Program Information, 718 270-6976

The Ninth National Black Writers Conference

Black Writers: Reading and Writing to Transform Their Lives and the World

"NEW YORK - The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY will host the Ninth National Black Writers Conference (NBWC) Black Writers: Reading and Writing to Transform Their Lives and the World on Friday, March 28, 2008 through Sunday, March 30, 2008. The Conference is dedicated to the centennial of Richard Wright's birth. Featured authors include Randall Robinson, Cornel West, Julia Wright and the notable Susan L. Taylor as the Honorary Conference Chair.

"The three -day conference, to be held on the Medgar Evers College campus in Brooklyn, NY, will feature discussions, youth workshops, talkshops, author readings and signings. In addition, an array of vendors will be on display at the NBWC marketplace. Early registration at discounted rates for the biennial conference has already begun.

"The 2008 Ninth National Black Writers Conference: Black Writers: Reading and Writing to Transform Their Lives and the World draws upon famous novelist Marita Golden's concept of the transformative power of literature and focuses on the ways in which black writers use literature to transform their lives and the larger global community. It examines this concept of literature as transformative from historical, cultural, and political perspectives...

"As part of its tribute and recognition to black writers, there will be a special Awards Program and VIP Reception on Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 6:30 pm. Conference attendees must register for this program. Sonia Sanchez will receive the lifetime literary award. Other honorees for the Conference include Susan L. Taylor, Randall Robinson, Cornel West and Cheryl and Wade Hudson of Just Us Books.

"The Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza will host a special pre-conference Reading on March 9th at 1:30 pm by acclaimed author John Edgar Wideman. Wideman's most recent book is Fanon: A Novel.

"The NBWC's list of confirmed participants for the main program consist of such literary visionaries, scholars, poets, and publishers as Amiri Baraka, John Edgar Wideman, Jerry Ward, Brenda Marie Osbey, Thulani Davis, Quincy Troupe, Kevin Powell, David Durham, Terry McMillan, Nancy Rawles, Jabari Asim, Valerie Kinloch, Eisa Ulen, Thomas Bradshaw, Valerie Boyd, Fred Beauford, Regina Brooks, Martha Southgate, Tayari Jones, Thomas Glave, William Jelani Cobb, Angela Dodson, Jaira Placide, Kassahun Checole, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Thomas Ellis Sayers, just to name a few.

"For further information about this historic literary event and for conference updates, please call 718 270-4811,, or visit the conference website at

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You Gotta Be Kidding Me? Texas Instruments Asian Equivalency Test?

This Texas Instruments ad was put up on YouTube by the proud commercial director who produced it. Is this a gag, or did this really air somewhere? I can't believe there wouldn't have been some kind of uproar...

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Upcoming...Incoming: Tribute to Leroy Jenkins + Faith

Saturday January 26th, 9pm
@ Castaways
w/ Thousands of One
413 Taughannock Blvd
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 272-1370

Cost :
$6 advance/$8 at the door
"All Ages Welcome BUT
UNDER 18 must be accompanied by PARENT ort GUARDIAN
not dropped off... no older sinblings or aunts/uncles in their 20's... you get our meaning"

Leroy Jenkins: A Celebration
Saturday, February 9, 7:00 PM

Central Library, Dweck Center
Brooklyn Public Library
Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Center for Contemporary Culture,
10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
Tel: 212-868-4444

From the Brooklyn Public Library Events Page:

"Wadada Leo Smith, Myra Melford, Thomas Buckner, and Flux Quartet honor composer and violinist Leroy Jenkins. Jenkins bonded sounds associated with the black music tradition while bridging with European styles. Presented in Partnership with The Brecht Forum, Meet the Composer and American Composers Orchestra. Celebrate Black History!

"* Tickets are $10 ($7 students and seniors). Buy tickets online at or by phone at 212-868-4444. Cash sales are available at the box office an hour before the performance."

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Library of Congress Film Registry Picks for 2007

Well the list is out, and there are no films directed by African Americans, Latinas/os, Asian Americans, or Native Americans/American Indians on that list.

There are some films on the list for which I have fondness, and others that were just interesting to read about.

The ones for which I have fondness are as follows:

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) Dir. Dorothy Arzner
By the time this film came out Arzner was the only female director who was working at a major studio--as a director anyway. This film stars Maureen O'Hara as a struggling ballet dancer giving a feminist turn at a burlesque house. A really strong performance by O'Hara, and a meaty delivery by Lucille Ball as a fellow dancer.

In a Lonely Place (1950) Dir. Nicholas Ray
I know that people love Rebel Without A Cause, but this is my favorite Ray film. Starring the often under-rated Gloria Grahame (who was then married to Ray) and Humphrey Bogart as a WWII veteran whose war experiences have left him an awkward mixture of ethical misanthrope, and unstable vulnerable soul--perfect for his work as a screenwriter, but sabotaging his life as a human being. Grahame delivers a nuanced performance as the intelligent and sensual actress and neighbor with whom he has a love affair. Beautifully shot and emotionally intelligent film noir. The classic line in the film is "
I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

The Women (1939) Dir. George Cukor
When I saw this title on the list I was stunned. Not at the appearance of the title, but at the fact that it took until 2007 for it to be selected. Classic Hollywood cinema at its best with screenplay by
Clare Boothe Luce. Probably the anti-thesis to Dance, Girl, Dance, since they-who-shall-not-appear-on-screen, The Men, are at the center of the action, every motivation and thought, enacted by the all-star cast of women of the film's title.

Check out the rest of the list here

Endnote I:
A Raisin In the Sun (1961) Dir. Daniel Petrie
from a screenplay by Lorraine Hansberrybased on her play of the same name, was added in 2005, as was the documentary Hoop Dreams (1994) Dir. Steve James
Neither of these films were directed by African Americans, though aspects of African American life wholly comprised their subject matter. 2006 saw the inclusion of legendary jazz short, St. Louis Blues (1929) with Bessie Smith singing the title track, directed by Dudley Murphy who would also direct the jazz short Black and Tan (1929) featuring Duke Ellington and Fredi Washington, and The Emperor Jones (1933) with Paul Robeson in the title role, as well as the social drama One Third of A Nation (1939) about the horrors of tenement slums. 2006 also witnesses the addition of The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West (1916), but without credits it's unclear who wrote or directed this silent film short. Then there's Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles (1974) with Cleavon Little getting lead billing opposite Gene Wilder in this satire about the wild west. Finally, The T.A.M.I. Show (1964;I have yet to find out what this acronym stands for) which features performances from some of the best rock and r&b acts of the 1960s including James Brown doing some peerless dance moves. No directors of color among this, however some important African American and Asian American screen performances guaranteed to be preserved at least for the duration of the Library of Congress' existence.

Endnote II:
Thanks to Reggie H. for the info on T.A.M.I. = Teenage Awards Music International

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Carolina Chocolate Drops + Catherine Russell @ Joe's Pub 1/12/2008

Part I: Carolina Chocolate Drops
Part II: Catherine Russell here

I have to say this was one of the odder experiences I've had going to see a live show--but odd in a kind of weird fuzzy I-hit-my-elbow aftershock kind of way. I've been excited to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops perform since rock journalist Kandia Crazy Horse gave them a shout out in her interview with Rob Fields at Bold As Love. I hustled back from visiting and recording with a friend up North I hadn't seen in months in order to get there to see them. As a result I had banjo and luggage in tow. The first question I got asked as I queued up behind some folks who turned out to be with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) was if I was one of the performers--I said no "No, I'm just carrying my stuff."--"A logical question" came the reply. Well not exactly; I really wouldn't want to be showing up for a gig at a supper club 45 minutes before the gig started because that would likely mean I'd have missed the sound check. Read: People are seated and eating and drinking; you don't have access to the stage until the set starts. Your set is 40 minutes, and you don't have either your instruments, mics, or sound levels set up. Ouch. Never a good thing. (above right, Carolina Chocolate Drops, l-r: Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson)

But hey, these are the things with which audiences aren't supposed to have concern themselves, and perhaps even some arts presenters leave these details up to their house crew. Next I was at the door and one of the Joe's Pub staffers asked me if I was one of the musicians. When I said no, he smiled and told me if I said yes, that I'd get in for free--gee I hope so! (When they reached this staffer, the white and middle-aged couple behind me dryly intoned that they were among the performers, eliciting a chuckle from the staffer--if they hadn't looked so surburban maybe.) I responded jokingly that I thought once the musicians got on the stage my ruse would be revealed. Hmm, maybe not. After both artists' sets, I was departing luggage and banjo in hand, and someone passing so quickly in the other direction I didn't even see them briefly clasped my arm and called out, "great show!" I actually stopped in mid-step (which is harder than it sounds when you're carrying a banjo in a hard case), and shook my head calling back in half-voice (sotto) with a rueful half smile, "Not me." And no, I don't look anything like two African American men or one woman that comprise the Carolina Chocolate Drops, nor do I look like the European American male musician, the skilled and amiable Matt Munisteri, who was playing banjo and guitar with Catherine Russell.

It probably won't be surprising to discover that the audience was 99% European American. But I was surprised. I was so sure--what with the Oprah appearance at the end of last year, and their appearance in The Great Debaters, and their four songs on the soundtrack--that African American roots music aficionados would be in full effect. But I didn't even need a whole hand to count the black folks in the room, and the show was sold out. I didn't have a table reserved, and had to stand at the bar (no they don't have bar stools at Joe's Pub--the "pub" being short for "Public" as opposed to referencing a drinking establishment where everyone knows your name). (left, the new cover for the re-released, Dona Got A Ramblin' Mind from the Music Maker Relief Foundation)

The place kept filling, with people arriving for their table reservations up until 5 minutes before the show. A few exasperated people who had expected to be able to come in at 6:40 for a 7:00pm show and get a table, milled around the bar area. Well, maybe under regular conditions tables might still be available, but APAP was in town. It's a huge conference. One of the attendees perks is being able to get into shows at no or low cost. These Arts Presenter Showcases are a big deal for the performers as well; in one shot they get to perform in front of art presenters who control the booking schedules and purse strings for arts venues across the United States. No small opportunity that, which was clear from the laser beam energy with which the CCD's manager was moving through and scanning the crowd, presumably for VIPs he would need to connect the CCD with during the post-show autographing and public greeting.

At 6:59pm the lights dimmed and at 7pm (on the dot) the Chocolate Drops hit the stage. The group is comprised of Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, who both are natives of the hills region of the North Carolina Piedmont, and Dom Flemons who is from Phoenix, Arizona. The three met at the Black Banjo Gathering that occurred in 2005 at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and apparently had instant chemistry. Flemons moved to North Carolina and the group was born. OK, well first Flemons dedicated himself to playing banjo starting when he was 20 years old (he's around 25 now), three years before he met his bandmates. Giddens had studied opera at Oberlin, and then got deeply involved in the contra dancing community, and Robinson was a classical-trained violinist who heard an NPR report about Joe Thompson, reputedly the last black string player of his generation who lived and still lives in Mebane, N.C. Thompson was a featured presenter/performer at the black banjo gathering and eventually became mentor to the three who visited him weekly to learn songs. My understanding is that this apprenticeship model is typical in string/roots music--younger/emerging musicians seek out older ones and learn songs from these musical elders by ear. Hence the importance of preservation efforts and new generations of players connecting with older ones before the latter pass on. The other option is learning songs from recorded archives such as those created by the Lomax family and the Smithsonian. But this doesn't afford newer musicians the opportunity of the more traditional apprenticeship. (above left the Chocolate Drops with mentor Joe Thompson; photo Lissa Gotwals)

Flemons, Giddings, and Robinson are each highly talented, energetic, and charming performers. Flemons, who plays 4-string, 5-string, 6-string banjo and jug, clearly possesses the most overtly gregarious stage persona, and throughout was working the some of the country vaudevillian, twirling his resonator guitar in his lap, and then playing out a rhythm on the back and twirling it front again in time to give a hard emphasizing strum to accent a beat. A key showcase for his effusive style was the song "Viper Mad," different versions of which appear on Flemons' and the CCD's respective MySpace pages. Robinson was the most laid-back, almost shy, of the three. I noticed in this performance and on YouTube videos of their performances that Robinson is the most internal singer of the three--he seems to be singing from the back of his throat which keeps his volume lower and his voice somewhat muted. Meanwhile, Giddens alternated between the two poles. An animated and personable entertainer, who plays fiddle and 5-string banjo, at one point she gave us some contra dancing and high stepping moves and in another ably handled simultaneously belting out a strong soprano vocal and fiddling into the same mic (no easy feat since the two instruments were claiming some of the same frequency range, despite their timbral distinctions). In other moments she assumed more of a more supportive role, backing up her bandmates. (above right, the Carolina Chocolate Drops playing with Thompson)

They came out and asked folks how they were doing and when they got a reticent response, Giddens asked again this time getting more energy from the crowd. She announced that they were the Carolina Chocolate Drops and they were going to give us some music from North Carolina--one whoop came from the crowd (what, only one Carolina native in the whole audience?). The CCD came on strong from that first song, which I'd like to say was "Black-Eyed Daisy" (Flemons: Resonator guitar & harmonica; Giddens: Fiddle; Robinson: Fiddle)and didn't let the crowd go. After that first song was done there were plenty of whooping hollers from the crowd. Subsequently Giddens encouraged that crowd acknowledging though she knew they were in New York where everyone is cool and wears the fashions "we copy down south, but feel free to do what you feel like doing--singing along, dancing, bopping your head, or just listen if you feel like it." At which point Flemons interjected "Wait a minute, we're not doing the avant garde," at which the crowd laughed. He continued, "We're all a community here. So do what you want to do but make sure we're all together." After the subway rumbled past ("Something's going on down there" commented Giddens with a tinge of playful wonder) the Drops performed the rollicking Joe Thompson tune "Georgie Buck" which might be a good PSA soundtrack for health-motivated caution in southern cuisine (Georgie Buck is dead/ Don't put no shortening in my bread). Afterwards it seemed like wisps of smoke ought to be coming off the stage, or that the floor boards should be buckling from the energy summoned by their playing. The Joe's Pub lighting tech was doing some nice work accentuating the rhythmic high times of their tunes, and in between songs Robinson looked up and noted with wittily dry southern sincerity, "The lighting changes make us feel professional" (I don't know if folks from other regions of the U.S. can carry off the dry delivery concurrent with the actual sincerity--but it makes me nostalgic). After this came "Don't Get Trouble in Your Mind" and the aforementioned "Viper Mad." These were followed by a short history lesson from Robinson on the origins of drum and fife music and "Rickett's Hornpipe" which again featured some enthused musicianship from Flemons on a shoulder-strapped snare drum played with brushes and on which the Chocolate Drops substituted fiddle for fife. Robinson had lead vocal on "Jack o' Diamonds" which they adapted from a Lomax archive recording. They ended the set with the same song that ends their latest CD, "Sourwood Mountain" which Giddens repeated for us again slowly noting that a number of audiences have had some trouble making out the title through their Carolina accents. It was a hell of a way to go out, and the crowd was on its feet giving them a standing ovation, which they definitely deserved.

So it pains me to say that nevertheless, in the end, the show felt like the showcase it was, as opposed to an actual show, which I sense is the better circumstance under which to see the CCD. The Joe's Pub set was a serious--here's all we can do and then some--presentation, but it didn't exactly feel like a regular concert date for the group. Still the fact that they are individually all rather young (Giddens is the "eldest" born in 1977, while her bandmates were both born in 1982), and they've only been together as a group for two years, makes their collective acumen and professionalism, not to mention chemistry, all rather astounding. I personally missed the range of work represented on their latest CD Dona Got A Ramblin' Mind, no mid-tempo tunes like, "Sally Ann" or "Short Life of Trouble" where Robinson opens up his voice, or the haunting "Little Margaret" or "Another Man Done Gone" both of which feature Gidden's soprano. The music, while excellent and fun, was all fast and faster rollicking, head-bobbing and foot-stomping tunes. As a final offering, their arrangement of Blu Cantrell's "Hit Em Up Style (Oops)" demonstrated their connection with modern music and the possible connections between the fiddle-ready string-evocative samples (such as the one that loops throughout the background of Cantrell's cut) and percussive elements hip hop, which can be played out on the percussive stringed-drum of the banjo. They had the predominantly white multi-generational group clapping along with Flemons who led the hand-claps, on the beat. Bringing home the connections between wronged hip hop shorties, maligned early 20th century hilltop gals, the exclusive predominantly white upper middle-class late-20th-century first wives club members, and everyone else. The Chocolate Drops gave a heartfelt acknowledgment of their mentor, Thompson, and announced he had recently been recognized with a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, and not posthumously as is so often the case. Thompson turned 89 in December.

Granted much of the music they're mining is toe-tapping dance music, but that's not all of their musical focus. I'd be interested in hearing them again at a regular gig; goodness knows they're playing out enough. A November 2007 Boston Globe story on the group indicated they were booked into 2009. Their website has them playing back to back dates until the lighter scheduling of May/June of 2008, and then fully booked again in July and August. So if they're going to be at a venue near you, run do not walk to get your tickets while they're still affordable and available.

At the Joe's Pub show they mentioned that they were touring in a 12 passenger van with all their gear and merchandise, which was a step up from their previous minivan situation. Nevertheless, the schedule sounds grueling, and while I understand the import of taking advantage of the present moment with all the recognition they are getting as the only African American string band out there, and not just with the ethnic identity question, but the fact that each of them is an accomplished musician who is seriously committed to this area of music history and performance. Add to that the spotlight from positive reviews for their latest release Dona Got A Ramblin Mind, and the exposure on Oprah, and The Great Debaters, and it is a hot moment. But you just hope they can take it all in, enjoy it, and not get burnt out with the heavy performance/travel schedule and increasing demands on their time that are the flip side of increased recognition. (DGARM is actually a re-release through the The Music Maker Relief Foundation which has its own label, a small roster of artists, and is committed to helping "the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs.")

Endnote I:
Boston Globe article about the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Independent Weekly article about the Carolina Chocolate Drops and mentor Joe Thompson.
• Susan Budig's Carolina Chocolate Drops profile on Minnesota's Gather community blog.
• Website for the documentary film, Black String Revival in which the Carolina Chocolate Drops and other African American string revival performers and scholars appear.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tom Terrell Memorial, January 19, 2008 @ 2pm

The amazing soul that is Tom Terrell (souls never die, just keep on living on another plane, and in the lives of those they touched on this one), the multi-talented music writer/DJ/A & R rep/ artist advocate/promoter/manager will be memorialized by those that knew and loved him at a public gathering at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn on Saturday, January 19th at 2pm.

More about Terrell from Greg Tate here and from my first NYC-area blog here (which includes a sweet response from the man himself).

Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church
85 South Oxford Street
Brooklyn, New York
(718) 625-7515
Google Map


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kenya Blogs on the Post-Election Crisis

Performance scholar Tavia N'yongo, who is also one half of the creative force behind of the Bluegum music and culture blog, recently sent photos from the protest by Kenyans for peace and democracy in front of the United Nations in New York City on January 3rd. Then I read on Bold As Love that Tavia had started a blog on the current crisis surrounding the recent Kenyan elections, Kenya Patriot (subtitled: "Democracy in Kenya ... Sunrise or Sunset?"). Bold As Love noted another blog on the crisis as well, Kenyan Emergency (subtitled: "A Political Mugging in God's Own Country."). This site is authored by Emeka Okafor who also has a blog on African entrepreneurship, which like Bold As Love was recently noted by for its contributions to the blogsphere. In addition, there is of course Gukira's blog, the origin date of which predates current events by a number of years. In keeping with his usually rich meditative eloquence, and incisive eye he has written lately of the issues of responsibility and the potential human failings amongst even those for whom he has great respect and love. (above right, Kenyan protest outside the United Nations; photo courtesy Afrofuturist)

I briefly looked for some Kenyan women bloggers on the KenyaUnlimited Blogs Aggregator and found R's What An African Woman Thinks which lists posts under the days of the week, but no dates. R, the author, is currently living in Kenya.

I send thoughts for peace.

Update 1/7/2007
e-drum listserv moderator Kalamu ya Salaam has recommended these two blogs as well:
A photoblog: INSIGHT KENYA
An ongoing report from a Kenyan blogger focused on the complexities of the current socio-economic and political situation tHinNker'S rOoM

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

St. Clair Bourne NYC Memorial Information

via e-drum:

To All of Saint's Family, Friends, Colleagues and Admirers

By now you are probably aware of the shocking news of St.Clair’s sudden passing.

Early morning, on December 15th, just before he was to be released from the hospital following the successful removal of a benign tumor from the surface of his brain, he developed blood clots, which traveled to his lungs.

We all remain heartsick and know that you share our grief and distress. The warmth and support that has been extended by so many has been essential to our retaining some balance in these circumstances. Saint’s ashes were interred with those of his parents at the Cypress Hills Cemetery on Friday, the 28th of December.

If you have internet access, you may wish to “Google” St.Clair Bourne. You will be astounded at the immense outpouring of grief and emotion about Saint’s death. There have been numerous newspaper articles and internet and blog postings concerning his stature within, and contributions to, the documentary filmmaking community and African-American social and political life.

St. Clair's passing is particularly mourned by his devoted sister Judith L. Bourne of St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands, numerous cousins and other relatives both in the USA and in Antigua, West Indies, dear and faithful friends Tinoa Rodgers and Faith Childs, former wives and continued close friends Sylvia Azure Bourne and Dr. Linda Miller, and a vast host of colleagues, associates, partners, protoges and friends.

A Memorial Service will be held at 7:00 pm on the 25th of January 2008 at The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, Manhattan, with a reception following.

A small group of family members, Saint’s closest friends, and a couple of his oldest and closest colleagues are involved in the planning of this celebration of his life.

Despite his accomplishments, Saint's financial circumstances were difficult and many of you have asked how you can contribute to this event. Contributions should be made payable to Judith L. Bourne with a note in the memo line for the St. Clair Bourne Memorial and mailed to Saint's long time accountant and friend:

Barry Kornblum
Pomerantz and Company
245 Fifth Avenue, Ste. 2203.
New York, NY 10016

Judy Bourne is also working on establishing a fund or other not-for-profit entity to continue some of Saint's mentoring and community nurturing activities.

Thank you

St. Clair Bourne Memorial Planning Committee

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