JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, LISTEN TO AND ADMIRE – April 12, 2017
by Dee Dee McNeil
April is a month dedicated to the celebration of jazz. Set up in 2001 as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), it was established to promote jazz both as an historic and contemporary art form. Jazz, created by African Americans, is the only indigenous musical art form born and bred in the United States. Celebrated worldwide, Jazz Appreciation Month is recognized in 40 countries and every state of the United States. This month, I decided to feature some WOMEN IN JAZZ.
When I got a call from my good friend and phenomenal bassist, Tomas Gargano, who currently resides in New York City, he told me about a young vocalist named Jazzmeia Horn and my interest was piqued. Her new album is titled, “A Social Call” and is scheduled for a May, 2017 release on Prestige Records. Check her out!
JAZZMEIA HORN is an East Coast based vocalist who brings a fresh, sincere and carefully honed voice to the forefront. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she started singing in the church and her singing background was originally tinged with gospel, rhythm and blues. However, she was hungry for more freedom of expression and she had a desire to challenge her artistry. That’s when she discovered Sarah Vaughan and jazz. Winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition and the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, Jazzmeia Horn is definitely a youthful, exciting talent who I predict, if she continues along this musical path, will become a bright star for the jazz generation to come. She’s a singer unique in both presentation, creativity and style. I’ve been awaiting a female singer like this for many decades. A young voice who combines jazz with poetry and is not afraid to tackle social issues. She also displays a tenacious desire for freedom and dives into this music without fear or restriction. That’s the true mark of a jazz artist. Check her out on youtube.com.
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SYBIL COKER KEEPING JAZZ ALIVE ONE TALENT AT A TIME
I have admired Sybil’s tenacity and determination over the years. She has been keeping her beloved husband’s name alive and supporting the legacy of jazz by investing in talented youth for the past 34 years. Two such people are cousins and grandchildren of the great drummer, Donald Dean Sr.; Jamael & Darryn Dean.
“Tamir Hendelman and Jason Goldman came through Dolo Coker Foundation. Robin DeMaggio, who played drums on the Arsenio Hall show came through Dolo Coker. Eric Reed is doing very well. He won three years in a row, first place. And Kamasi Washington is one of my children,” Sybil Coker shared with me proudly.
Sybil J. Thomas Coker is the President and Founder of the Charles (Dolo) Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation. Scholarships are awarded to full-time high school and college students who have demonstrated an aptitude in jazz. Her Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $400,000 to date. Applications are available on-line at http://dolocokerjazz.org
Parents with talented, jazz-minded, music students take note! And all you jazz music students who are in school full time and need financial assistance should consider applying.
The Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation is a tax-exempt, non-profit established on Wednesday, April 13, 1983 in memory of pianist extraordinaire, Dolo Coker, and to assist talented students pursuing careers in the field of jazz. The hope is to perpetuate jazz, America’s only musical indigenous art form.
Recently, I acted as one of several judges for the Dolo Coker Scholarship Auditions. I was astounded by the amazing, young, local jazz talent that filled up the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center. They were all trying to qualify for a scholarship by showing off their proficiency on a variety of instruments. There was even a young jazz vocalist among the Auditioners,(Darynn Dean), sounding a bit like a fledgling Sarah Vaughan. The young people were multi-cultural and came from as far away as San Diego to audition. It was exciting to see and hear so many young musicians pursuing jazz.
Let me tell you a little bit about the woman who makes all of this possible. Sybil Coker was born in Elizabeth, Louisiana. Her parents decided to relocate to Southern California and Sybil told me their emphasis was on her getting the best possible education.
Sybil Coker is a perpetual lover of music. Like many African-American girls during her early childhood, Sybil was encouraged to take vocal and piano lessons. Later, while attending Cal State Los Angeles and working on her Elementary School Credential, she once again studied piano.
“And then I went to West L.A. College and took piano. I was doing pretty well until I lost Dolo in 1983 and in 1987 I lost my father. My mind was so unhappy, even though the teacher begged me to please keep up my piano studies, I had to stop. When you lose someone that significant to you, sometimes you wonder will you ever laugh again or will I ever be happy?” Sybil explained.
Although Sybil and Dolo never had children of their own, both had several Godchildren and Sybil always had a desire to inspire and teach children. She spent 48 years in our public school system, both teaching and counseling youth until she retired. While teaching in the Los Angeles public schools and Headstart arenas, Ms. Coker also worked as a respected journalist for many years and wrote for the Entertainment Digest. She has been an active historian for the Los Angeles Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Chapter and was Chapter journalist for a number of years.. She was the women’s editor for the Herald Dispatch and also wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier. In fact, while she was on assignment for the Courier to write a feature on Kenny Dennis, Sybil was first introduced to the man who would become her husband; Dolo Coker.
She told me, “Kenny Dennis (the iconic jazz drummer) introduced me to Dolo. It was on Adams and Western at the Rubiyat. It was a black owned hotel and on Monday nights they had jazz. So Kenny had Dolo (in the band), Richie Kamuca and I think Leroy (Vinnegar). I was doing a story for the Pittsburgh Courier on Kenny and when they finished the set he called Dolo over and said, Come on over here. I want you to meet this lady. So Dolo came over and said in a very proper and super formal voice, ‘How do you do?’ Then he went over to the bar and pal’d around with his friends and that’s how we originally met. We dated nine years. He wanted to be debt free. He wanted to be able to provide for us when we married.”
And provide for them he did, while playing with numerous historic and iconic jazz musicians like Ben Webster, The Heath Brothers, Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, Philly Joe Jones, Dexter Gordon, Frank Morgan and he recorded four albums for Xanadu Records featuring Harold Land, Leroy Vinnegar, Blue Mitchell, Frank Butler, and Art Pepper as part of his ensemble.
Sybil told me “The Dolo Coker foundation’s application process is easy and it’s on the website.
“Auditions happen annually, the third Saturday of March, and applicants need to bring their bio, two letters of recommendation and verification that they are full-time students. They can be in public school, private school, on-line, home-schooled, or in charter schools, as long as it’s legitimate, licensed and can be verified.”
I asked her to name some of the students who have been funded by the Dolo Coker Foundation and who have gone on to become professional, active musicians.
“Tamir Hendelman and Jason Goldman came through Dolo Coker Foundation. Robin DeMaggio, who played drums on the Arsenio Hall show came through Dolo Coker. Eric Reed is doing very well. He won three years in a row, first place. And Kamasi Washington is one of my children. He and Miles Mosley came and played at my retirement celebration. Vernell Brown (Jr)., I don’t know what Vernell is doing at this time, but he was endorsed by Yamaha piano; wonderful pianist. Michael McTaggart was on the deans list every year at USC. He’s a guitarist and he also was a gold ribbon winner of NAACP ACT-SO program for years, every year.”
The NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics is a year-long achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. ACT-SO includes 26 categories of competition in the sciences, humanities, business, performing and visual arts. More than 260,000 young people have participated in the program since its inception.
In fact, one of the young performers I witnessed during the Dolo Coker Foundation auditions was Aaron Shaw, who won the 2013 ACT-SO, Silver Medal in Music Composition award. Another was Jamael Dean, who won in the Music Contemporary competition, also garnering a Silver Medal. His cousin, Darynn Dean, who I mentioned as the youthful vocalist who is influenced by Sarah Vaughan, won the Gold in the Vocal Contemporary competition.
“Ryan Porter and Corey Hogan, we bought their first instruments when they were students at Washington Prep,” Sybil continued. “See, because a lot of these school musicians only get to play the school instruments when they are at school. Patrick and Eliot Douglas were our first two scholarship recipients. Eliot lives in Las Vegas and he’s under contract to the New York New York Casino.”
Other names you may recognize who have received encouragement and support from the Dolo Coker Foundation are Los Angeles bassist, Ryan Cross. Mahesh Balasooriya was a 1st Place Dolo Coker Award winner in 2001 and 2003, winning for his amazing piano skills. Bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux won first place in the vocal category and went on to achieve success with her jazz quartet, and Donald Vega Gutierrez, a former Nicaraguan student at Crenshaw high school, won first place in 1996 and later recorded his “Spiritual Nature” CD with Christian McBride and Lewis Nash making up the rhythm section. See his mini documentary on this Resonance Records recording project by clicking the Video tab with this story.
In 2012, Joshua Crumbly won first place and went on to perform with Terence Blanchard among others. And, in 2013, Teira Lockhart Church, a junior at UCLA, won the vocalist award, and Aaron Shaw, an 11th-grade tenor saxophone player, tied with her for first place. The list goes on and on.
In 2011, Sybil Coker was honored at Linda Morgan’s “Living Legend” Awards program for her amazing and supportive work with youth over the years and especially her interest in supporting young jazz artists. You can honor her and her non-profit foundation by donating today or attending her upcoming event on Sunday, April 23, 2017. This will be the Thirty-fourth Annual Tribute to Dolo Coker and will take place from 2:30 PM to 6:00 PM at Macy’s on Crenshaw; the third floor inside the Museum of African-American Art; 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd; Los Angeles, CA 90008. James Janisse will emcee the event. Featured artists in concert that afternoon include the legendary Ernie Andrews, Betty Bryant and The Donald Dean Jazz All Stars plus special guests.
For more information contact The Charles Dolo Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation, Inc. at P.O. Box 480028; Los Angeles, CA 90048 or call Phone/Fax (323) 935-1374, or go to http://www.dolocokerjazz.org
Note: This article appeared ‘in part’ at http://www.lajazz.com in 2014 as part of my jazz column.
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ANGIE WELLS & RAPHAEL LEMONNIER – “LOVE AND MISCHIEF”
Angie Wells, vocals; Raphael Lemonnier, piano; James Leary, bass; Kenny Elliott & Washington Rucker, drums; Mathis Haug, guitar; Harry Kim, trumpet; Bili Redd, guest vocals.
Sometimes a CD cover can snatch consumer attention and create interest in a recording project before one even listens to the artist. Angie Wells delivers on such a cover, classy in her white, skin-tight dress with a large, red flower decorating her shoulder. The music is as dynamic as the gorgeous photo cover by Chad Finley. Wells opens with Blossom Dearie’s jazz standard, “Peel Me A Grape.” She has her own unique sound and style. This artist exemplifies, from her very first tune, that she’s willing, able and determined to put the “S” in Swing. I love the Kenny Elliott drums on this production. Those drums push the group and accentuate the crescendos and excitement inspired by the vocalist.
“The Moon is Swinging on A Line” is an original composition by pianist, Raphael Lemonnier, with lyrics by her guitarist, Mathis Haug. Wells also contributes to the lyric al content. It’s a haunting ballad, with bluesy changes that engage the artist’s smoky voice to deliver the story of a New Orleans street and a lost love affair. She sings with expressive conviction. The tempo and minor changes are dirge-like, with Haug’s guitar prominent on the fade and during his solo. I wish I could have heard more of Haug’s rhythm guitar licks throughout. I feel he is mixed way too low during the mastering of this project. “She Ain’t the Kinda Girl” is another original by Lemonnier & Wells, arranged as a blues shuffle, where James Leary pumps his upright bass like a weight-lifter pumping iron. He lifts the bar and makes the music sweat, while Lemonnier pounds the piano in a raucous, downhome-bluesy way. His solo is outstanding and gospel tinged, reminding me a lot of the late-great Gene Harris. Wells sings lyrics with raw emotion and sincerity. You hear this quite clearly on “You’re My Thrill.” Harry Kim is sensitive and tasty, with trumpet improvisations that enhance the vocalist’s delivery and sweeten the mood of the song. I love those Elliott mallets on “Nature Boy” that percussively propel this ballad into a Bolero. Bili Redd brings his silky, smooth baritone to a couple of duets with Ms. Wells, on an “I’m In the Mood for Love” medley incorporating “Moody’s Mood for Love” and also on “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This Is a fine start for a premier recording that introduces us to a naturally endowed jazz singer on her way towards a propitious outcome.
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“WORDS & MUSIC” BY JEANNIE TANNER
Tanner Time Records
Jeannie Tanner, trumpet/composer/lyricist;Dan Murphy, piano/Fender Rhodes/ Hammond B3 Organ/arranger/producer; Cory Biggerstaff, bass; Neal Alger & Andy Pratt, Guitar; Darre Scorza, drums; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Elaine Dame,flute; Adam Thornburg, trombone; HAWK string Quartet: Katherine Huges & Carol Kalvonijan, violins; Benton Wedge, viola; Jill Kaeding, cello.
This is an unusual project in that the songwriter/composer, Jeannie Tanner, is listed as the ‘Artist’ but instead of performing, she has written a collection of songs and hired twelve of Chicago’s talented vocalists to sing her compositions. In other words, this is more like a collection of high quality demos, normally used to promote the songwriter. Ms. Tanner is an award-winning composer, vocalist and trumpeter. She performs and records with her own band in the Windy City, known as the Jeannie Tanner Quartet. Her original music has already been licensed for both television and film.
With this recording, you, the listener, can sample the composer’s work and enjoy a compilation of various Chicago vocalists. Each one puts their own spin on Tanner’s songs. Dan Murphy is persuasive on piano, always keeping the melody in the forefront, even when he improvises. He aptly accompanies these singers with sensitivity and care. Drummer, Darren Scorza, makes a powerful statement on his trap drums, especially on the introduction to “Reflections in Mirrors.” In fact, Tanner’s musicians carry this unique project with their professional talents, lending the perfect stage for this sampling of singers and songs. Favorite cuts: “Wait For Me” featuring Jeff Meegan; “You Can Kiss Me into Anything” and “I Am Strong,” featuring Typhanie Monique; “You’ll Always Have My Heart,” a swinging arrangement featuring Abigail Riccards and “Promise Me the Moon” featuring Rose Collela, with tasty horn licks by Chris Madsen on saxophone.
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CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA – “IN2UITION”
Dash Hoffman Records
Pianists: Otmaro Ruiz, John Beasley, Gary Fukushima, Varden Ovespian, Karen Hammack, Jane Getz, Bevan Manson, Dave Moscoe, Llew Matthews, Josh Nelson. Violin, Calabria Foti.
This is a double set CD, minimally produced, and basically featuring Cathy Segal-Garcia singing with various jazz pianists. Having worked many years as a duo in various hotels myself, I know how serious and demanding duo work can be. Garcia is up for the challenge and so are her hand-picked accompanists, many of whom are international recording artists in their own right. Starting with Josh Nelson on “I Love You,“ Garcia spices the song up with scat singing, seasoning the familiar standard with her improvisational skills. John Beasley is the next pianist performing with Garcia on the Thelonious Monk composition, “Ruby My Dear”. Beasley was nominated for a Grammy this year for his own orchestrated work of Monk. He is an exceptional accompanist and a master musician who brings beauty and a strong sense of individuality to his music. Garcia performs, unintimidated, deft with full-bodied tone against whatever creative chord Beasley throws at her, holding the melody like a baby, precious against her bosom. I believe her when she sings this story of a broken-hearted woman named Ruby. Beasley’s solo performance is as breath-takingly beautiful as Garcia’s lyrical interpretation. He turns the grand piano into a very hip and unprecedented music box. On Garcia’s original composition, “The Room” she adds a violin played by Calabria Foti to compliment the piano work of Karen Hammack. This song is very folksy and not jazzy at all. I remember when Nina Simone used to record in this fashion, throwing in a pop song or a folk song on a recording or concert of serious jazz. I suppose it’s the artist’s prerogative. “Bonita, a Jobim composition, features Otmaro Ruiz on piano. He prepares a solid foundation for the vocalist to sing this beautiful ballad. I long for Latin rhythms, instead of classical chording, but it is a very beautiful production by the two artists, despite my personal desire for some Brazilian fire. This is followed by another ballad and then a burst of energy with Gary Fukushima on, “I Want To Be Happy.” Disc #1 ends with the popular Rodgers & Hart tune, “It Never Entered My Mind.” David Moscoe sensitively accompanies Garcia at a very slow, melancholy pace, allowing the listener to hear her draw each note out and hold those whole tones with very little vibrato and unabashed technique.
Cathy Segal-Garcia explains this recording in the liner notes. “I’m a person who loves varied possibilities. In my musical life, I’ve played with so many wonderful musicians. At this moment, I feel change in the human existence. Relationships are almost the only important thing in the here and now.”
I must agree with her assessment that our positive relationships with each other can be a catalyst towards peace and love. It would seem, using this production as the measure, that her relationship with these various pianists reflects intimacy and trust. She ends Disk 2 with Llew Matthews playing a soulful, gospel arrangement of “America.” America, America, God shed his grace on thee…. Cathy sings. That prayer seems to be very appropriate these politically challenging days.
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PATRICIA TERRY-ROSS – 2017 KRESGE EMINENT AWARD RECIPIENT
“My grandmother said to me when I was six years old that I was given a gift and it’s not a gift unless you can give it away; and to do honor to my gift. I’ve been playing with the opera for 30 years. I’m the longest serving member.”
So said Patricia Terry-Ross from the Stage of the Opera House in Detroit, Michigan on a recent video presentation I viewed.
As many of us know, the world calls jazz ‘America’s Classical Music.’ When I wrote songs for Motown, it was the local jazz musicians who were recording all the studio work and thus, developing the famed ‘Motown Sound.’ I wanted to highlight Patricia Terry-Ross, who is a classical harpist, educator and was one of those session players of Motor City fame. Back in the day, she played her harp on several Motown hits like “My Cherie Amour”, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” as a sought after studio musician.
Today, seated at the harp, her close cropped white hair sparkles in the spotlight. In her youth, she was once a music major, attending Cass Technical High school, where she was drawn to the harp. At the time, she was a competent pianist, with music as her passion. Jazz harpists, Alice McLeod-Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, also attended the famed Cass Technical High School, as did trumpet master Donald Byrd, pianist, Kirk Lighsey, iconic guitarist, Kenny Burrell, bebop singer, Sheila Jordan and many more. So many jazz artists graduated from Cass Technical High school that I published an entire article about them in Michigan History magazine. Cass has the oldest harp program of any public high school in the United States and has the only harp and vocal program. Mrs. Terry-Ross later headed that harp program at her Detroit alma mater that once inspired and educated her years earlier. This year, She will be honored by the Kresge Arts in Detroit Program for her outstanding work in music. Congratulations to this exemplary woman, musician and educator.
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