Music   Literature   Dance   Cinema   Theater   Art

 

Music

         Cassandra Wilson, weaves images with her music.  Seeing her perform for the first time at the Planting Fields in Oyster Bay, Long Island, she did live up to my expectations as being one of the premier jazz vocalists on the scene today.  I can see why Time magazine picked her as their #1 singer for 2001, Downbeat put her at the top of their jazz vocals 2003 list. Out on tour to support her current CD release Glamored, Wilson truly is an American artist.  Her style clings upon the rich "American" music lore of the American pop, folk, bubble gum, blues genres, when she performs Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan,  Abbey Lincoln, Willie Nelson, Sting and The Monkeys classics, but gives them that unique Black stamp of originality, such as in, "Last Train To Clarkesville", "Lay Lady Lay", and "Fragile" which supersedes the original idiom.  'Glamoured' is a Gaelic word meaning ‘to be whisked away,’" says vocalist, producer, and songwriter Cassandra Wilson, explaining the title of her latest project. "It's like being in a daydream, those split seconds when you're transfixed and your eyes don't move and you have to shake yourself out of it. This album captures the feeling of that reverie."

        Her scene is truly a jazz influence, but Cassandra weaves her own web of distinction, trapping styles from countless others before her.  Nameless and famous folk who just sang, playing music from their selfless, simple soul.  Simple songs, with simple messages, given at times simple arrangements, using light percussion, acoustic bass or acoustic guitar with a sweet harmonica on top, that creates complex sounds which are mixed gingerly and tenderly, creating a powerful artistic statement.  You feel Cassandra's heart.  It pounds as she sways with a gentle sexy swing that makes you want to dance with her musical soul.  Her percussionist Jeff Haynes (who use to sit in with my group FEBOP back in the day) has established himself as one of the most innovative hand drummers around.  Now I am not just saying that because I know him, I am saying that because it is true.  Having come up in the same music circles with Haynes, although he has certainly risen high above the local music scene, I know what was then and what is now.  His playing is never boring or overpowering of Wilson.  His musical caring, of what  percussive sounds he likes and how he is directed by Wilson, gives a balance to her performance.   An accomplished composer as well as musician, her originals balance her live stage performance with the classic covers.  She is very fortunate to have musicians that keep her studio work and live performances with a solid standard of quality, that holds up live as well as when recorded.  Wilson is a consistent, steady and self-assured  piece of quality, seasoned, meaty professionalism.  Whether on the stage or in the studio, the true form of her exceptional talent explores every facet of her imagination.           

Live Performance 4 notes  Studio Performance 4 notes Listen To Glamored  

Literature

     Bernice McFadden, weaves images with her wordsA rich tapestry of experience, Camilla's Roses, has all the ingredients of what a reader would want in drama.  The title to which gives no hint to the complexities of the title character's life experiences, McFadden creates characters of real fiction, of real life.  Powerful fiction that reflects gems of the circumstantial jewels of life, cannot be sidestepped, it meets you head on.  McFadden's expertise at creating cinematic literature is extraordinary.  She is not a heady Toni Morrison, but a gifted writer who can experiment from each book, without lowering her creative standards with a familiar niche.  I started writing this review and was on a serious roll when I accidentally deleted my file.  What started out, so I thought, as brilliant writing, later became despair, because of the lost Camilla’s Roses book review file.  The struggle to find the file, which I labored for hours over, became desperation because I did not want to re-write the review that I read and re-read, but now could not remember what I said or did, just to get all the words and phrases the way I wanted them to flow.  Laboring over a comma placement was meticulously pondered.  One word flowed after another into sentences, and then to paragraphs, which formed a page, an idea, a concept.  The experience gave me newfound respect for talented writers like Bernice McFadden.  Book after book Bernice refines her trademark of visual literary style.  The process, by which fiction writers write, for me, is an intense relationship between your intellect and your imagination.  After a nightlong vigil of search and rescue for the lost files, my mind was still struggling to remember what I said to myself, because nobody other than me read the piece.  The first review, I do remember dealt with McFadden’s ability to paint a picture or create a sound with her words.  In Camilla's Roses, you hear the echoed sounds of the street hustling drug-peddling preacher; preaching to Jesus junkies, while strung out heroin addicts moan and groan, reaching for another hit of invisible smack.

        Camilla’s Roses takes a generational view of a South Jamaica, Queens, New York, working class Black family’s rise and stability, in their efforts to try and reach for the middle class brass ring.  Camilla sees her chance to escape the pain of being the byproduct of a teenaged heroin addicted married couple, during a time when most could not escape the war on drugs, no less poverty, stupidity and insanity. Raised by her maternal grandparents, Camilla, who wins a prep school scholarship, decides to ride the Black Bourgeois train to middle-class freedom, on the “forget where you came from” express.  In prep school, she starts to express that denial when she buys her first jar of bleaching skin cream, to fade away the pain and horror of her family circumstances and noticeable skin tones of a darker hue of a racial inferiority complex forced on her by a societal view of "white is right, black get back and yellow is mellow".  McFadden paints an intricate piece of fiction that is so real you begin to know the colorful folks who made the Great Northern Migration, only to survive the affirmative action poverty programs, and strive for a better life for each generation.  You follow the path of prosperity from small southern towns to large urban cities following the dream of "good day work".  Not only is McFadden a storyteller, she is an historian, painter, and composer. The reader sees, hears, and relives the history that got us to where many are here today trapped in middle-classed materialism.  Just as her characters in Camilla's Roses do not just jump off the page when you are first introduced, they as well as the history, need to be unraveled to revel the broad strokes of everyday survival in the American white-sheeted corporate status structure.  

        McFadden has solidified her literary technique to become a true visual writer.  Not to be catalogued into some 21st century neo-Black Renaissance movement, although some scholarly friends of mine have compared her to Zora Neal Houston, she is character driven, thus far in her writings, that include her acclaimed novel Sugar.  The dialogue of Camille's Roses is character driven. The plot is as well. The characters in Camilla's Roses, engrossed with deep personality intensity, cannot help to have a story.  Every life has a story and every story has a life. The background is richly painted on the plot and story-line canvas that is expertly drawn in detail.  Blank faces are revealed as the author draws with her vivid words in her distinct, unique visual style.  The image is sharpened as McFadden outlines each character and then paints in between the lines.  She is not quite an abstractionist, nor impressionist.  There could be some cubism or surrealism at times, but mainly Bernice is a stark, true-to-life, literary realist illustrator.  She is a Norman Rockwell pen and ink that is so highly executed with minute attention to detail one would think it was a photograph. McFadden has that strong sexually exotic nature of a Paul Gauguin portrait of an indigenous Tahitian woman, bare breasted, full-bodied, with a little touch of Matisse, a master of color and form to convey emotional expression.  Stylistically, her writing compares with a Rembrandt, who expressed a profound understanding of human nature, whereas, Bernice twists her story that is topped off with the psychological intensity of a moody, somber Vincent van Gogh oil.  Vivid colors splash on the page as you read about the multi-leveled characters lives and their co-dependent relationships with each other.  Bernice McFadden grabs you at the end of Camilla's Roses to remind you that you can never forget your past.  Your past will always track you down generation after generation and haunt you until you reckon to its calling.                          (Photo Credit: Peter Chin)

Cay Fatima for Entertainment Media News Services

Four Pens                                                                                                                                            For More Authors  

Performing Artists

Dianne Reeves is one of the pre-eminent jazz vocalists in the world today. She was awarded the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for each of her last three recordings—a Grammy first in any vocal category.  Reeves’ singing draws upon a world of influences; she is tied to a powerful storytelling instinct and her virtuosity and improvisational gifts are singularly breathtaking. In 1987, Reeves was the first vocalist signed to the reactivated Blue Note/EMI label. As a result of her unique R&B and jazz stylings, Reeves has since captured a huge following and tremendous critical acclaim throughout the world.  

 Reeves has recorded with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and was the featured soloist in a recent performance with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. She has also recorded and performed extensively with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

 Additionally, Reeves was the first Creative Chair for Jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In this role Reeves had overseen the scheduling of jazz programming and educational workshops at both the Hollywood Bowl and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. An Ella Fitzgerald Award recipient, Reeves performed at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and appeared and sang on a season-ending episode of Sex and the City.

 

  Qatar . The Peninsula , Qatar ’s preeminent English language paper said of Reeves, “A starburst of song exploded onto the stage…a musical front moved through Qatar on Thursday evening changing the musical landscape forever.”

 In late 2004, Dianne’s first holiday recording, Christmas Time is Here, was released to outstanding reviews. Said Ben Ratliff of The New York Times “Ms. Reeves, a jazz singer of frequently astonishing skill, takes the assignment seriously; this is one of the best jazz Christmas CD's I've heard.”  

Reeves closed-out 2004 with performances throughout Europe and Asia and was delighted to be the featured performer at UNICEF’s Annual Gala in New York City .  Look for Reeves in an upcoming PBS special on Billy Strayhorn (composer of the Duke Ellington signature “Take the A Train”) as well as in George Clooney’s upcoming “Good Night…and Good Luck.”

 

Najee

is a saxophone force to be reckoned with.  Soft, serious, sensual, sexy, straight-ahead, Najee has developed into a master of a late 20th century urban style of instrumental improvisational African-American music.  For the life of me I cannot remember when I met Najee for the first time.  What I do remember is a very humble, soft spoken man with a lot of talent. One of my favorite photographs of him was taken at the Beacon Theater in which I use the stage lighting to add dramatic effect. Najee’s drama is with his mastery of his instruments, soprano and alto sax, as well as flute. Simply put the gentleman is sweet; simply sweet.  With two platinum and four gold albums, Najee is one of the pioneers of what is commonly known as contemporary jazz. They [the record and radio industry] started calling this style of Black music "Smooth Jazz", a combination of jazz improvisation and R&B, this genre forms a bridge from the jazz fusion of the late 70s to the jazz pop of the mid 80s.

As a native New Yorker Najee began his career playing clarinet and later saxophone and flute in his hometown Jamaica, Queens New York. While in high school Najee began studying under the direction of Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, and Billy Taylor at Jazzmobile in Harlem. Najee also studied flute with Harold Jones at the Manhattan School of Music.

In 1980 Najee along with his brother Fareed attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston with a concentrated study in performance and composition. In 1983 Najee and Fareed moved back to New York where they were asked to tour with the R&B songstress Chaka Khan. Through his association with Melisa Morgan who was a background vocalist for Chaka Khan, Najee met Charles Huggins of HUSH Productions. Charles invited Najee to record his first debut album through his production company and in 1986 Najee released his first album on EMI.

After the release of his debut album, Najee embarked on a US tour with Freddie Jackson. Najee's Theme went platinum and was nominated for a Grammy music award in 1987. His sophomore album "Day By Day" also went platinum in 1988. This is about the time I met him.  OK now I remember, in the plush offices of Hush Productions, the 80's powerhouse production, record and management company, Najee and I sat down to a one on one audio interview.  The man with the Midus touch had hit albums  "Tokyo Blue" (1990), and followed by"Just An Illusion" (1992; in which both of these albums went gold. In 1994 Najee recorded "Share My World" to not so much acclaim as previous installations.

Najee's 1995 recording on EMI records was dedicated to one of his favorite artist Stevie Wonder titled "Najee Plays Songs from the Key of Life: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder".  In 1998 Najee with his brother and producer of his last seven albums, released "Morning Tenderness". This was the first project released on their new record label FAN. This critically acclaimed album went to number one on the jazz charts in 1998.

Najee is the recipient of many music awards including the Soul Train Music Award for Best Jazz Artist in (1991 and 1993), and he received a Grammy nomination for Najee's Theme in 1987. Najee has toured in the U.S. , Europe including England , France , Italy , Spain , Asia and Africa . While in South Africa in 1998, he performed for Nelson Mandela for the South African leaders birthday celebration. In 1999 Najee was a guest of President Bill Clinton in a special performance at the White House honoring President Jerry Rawlings of the Republic of Ghana Over the years Najee has worked with many great artists such as Quincy Jones, Patti LaBelle, George Duke, Lionel Richie and Jonathon Butler. Most recently he performed as a special guest artist on the "Hit and Run" tour with Prince.