Archive for August, 2017

HEAVENLY HORNS

August 24, 2017

HEAVENLY HORNS

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
August 24, 2017

MANNY ECHAZABAL – “SHORT NOTICE”
Independent Label

Manny Echazabal, saxohones; Tal Cohen, piano; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums.

Manny Echazabal is a young composer and reedman who has written everything on this CD. His compositions are smart, lyrical and inspire improvisation by his talented band members. There’s something pensive and sexy about tunes like, “Out of Sight Out of Mind.”

The title tune races swiftly into the room with the rolling drums of David Chiverton pushing the energy ahead like a bowling ball. When Tal Cohen joins the scene on piano, the pins fall. He strikes with 2-handed ferocity.

I enjoyed “The Green Monk”, a tune with shades of Thelonius peeking through the unforgettable melody. Echazabal is impressive with his composition skills.

Inspired by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Dorham, Echezabal is a native of Miami and has been developing his style and approach as an aspiring jazz musician since middle school. In high school, he joined the band, where he expanded his talents to playing tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet. Respected as both a composer and bandleader, two of his compositions have already won Downbeat’s award for Outstanding Small Group Performance. (i.e. “Unknown Identity” and Spt”). This is an artist to keep an eye on and an ear out. September 17th is the expected release date on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

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OSCAR FELDMAN – “GOL”
Zoho Records

Oscar Feldman, alto/soprano saxophones; Antonio Sanchez, drums; John Benitez, acoustic/electric bass; Leo Genovese, piano/keyboards; Guillermo Klein, keyboards/vocals.

Feldman is a native of Cordoba, Argentina. His father was Director of Culture and owned an art gallery. So he has always been around art, music and diverse artists. His love of saxophone started early and he formed a band, “Los Musicos del Centro.” He also worked with a couple of South America’s most influential artists, Hermeto Pascoal and Dino Saluzzi. This led him to relocate to the big city of Buenos Aires. In 1992, Feldman won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. This scholarship brought him to the United States, where he settled into the fast pace of New York City. Consequently, this recording is a compilation of cultures and creativity.

When I listen to reed instruments, I’m always listening for the sound and style of the player. Oscar Feldman’s alto saxophone approach reflects a thinner sound than I am drawn to, but it’s still pleasant. I enjoy the way he refreshed the Paquito D’Rivera arrangement of “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” by elongating the tune’s meter. He and his band stretch the outer-limits of the melody like a thick rubber-band.

His soprano sax on “La Cancion Que Falta” is sensitive and sweet. The translation of the song title into English means, “The Song That Is Missing”. It follows a spirited, straight-ahead production and that makes this song sounds like it should be on another CD, featuring easy listening tunes. Their arrangement took me abruptly out of the jazz groove set by their first song, and for some reason, vocals were added that didn’t seem properly mixed into the music. I was perplexed by this song.

“Viva Belgrano” is Feldman’s only original composition on this CD. The melody is poignant and lovely. On this tune, he returns to his alto saxophone and the straight-ahead jazz I love so much. This song celebrates a famous goal that his hometown football team made. You can hear the crowd in the background of the music and the sports announcer’s voice is also mixed in. The title of his CD also celebrates this goal, i.e. “Gol”. Leo Genovese plays a spectacular piano solo and Feldman investigates the outer limits of his horn on this piece, travelling to Avant-Garde places.
Drummer, Antonio Sanchez, gives a long and exciting solo at the song’s fade.

“Murmullo” is a Cuban bolero and it’s beautifully produced, featuring Feldman on soprano saxophone. I appreciate the sound and tone of his soprano saxophone, more so than his alto. I feel his spirit on this song and I wonder if it’s the song or the instrument. I can hear an obvious comfort level. On this 1930 ballad, Benitez gets an opportunity to show us his bass chops, brief but powerful.

This CD begins and ends on a high note. “I Feel Fine” is as exuberant and intoxicating as the first cut.

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DIAL & OATTS; RICH DeROSA & THE WDR BIG BAND – “ REDISCOVERED ELLINGTON”
Zoho Records

Garry Dial, piano/arranger; Dick Oatts, soprano/also Saxophones/flute/arranger; Rich DeRosa, conductor/arranger/big band orchestration; THE WDR BIG BAND: Johan Horlen, alto sax/flute/clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer, alto sax/flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone/bass saxophones/bass clarinet; TRUMPETS: Andy Haderer (lead); Wim Both (alt lead); Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls & John Marshall; TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, (lead); Shannon Barnett & Andy Hunter. Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/flute; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Reedman, Dick Oatts, pianist, Gary Dial and arranger/conductor, Rich DeRosa, have embarked on a project to find and record rare and unheard music by the great Duke Ellington. This is one of the most exciting tributes to Duke that I’ve heard in recent years.

“Hey Baby” is ten-minutes of high energy instrumentation with improvisation propelled by DeRosa’s smart arrangements. The production is very modern, leaving a lot of room for the horns to harmonize and the soloists to be spotlighted. On the second cut, “ Let The Zoomers Drool “, pianist Gary Dial is outstanding and sparkles above the arrangement like the Big Dipper on a clear night. These arrangements are a horn player’s heaven.

The Ellington compositions are fresh, some are unfamiliar, but all are beautifully produced. The WDR Band is sourced with exceptional musicians who captivate with their star-studded performances, whether soloing or playing in concert. This is a project I could not stop listening to and I played it at least seven times before I wrote a word about this exceptional jazz. I am so appreciative to the artists who are featured and to Dial, Oatts and DeRosa for this treasured gift of musical history and legacy.

Stephen James, the nephew of Duke Ellington explained, “In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years. Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington. ‘Rediscovered Ellington’ will bring this beautiful, rarely heard music to the public eye. Garry Dial, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa, along with the WDR Big Band, have managed to capture the essence of Ellington. I am proud of their swinging contribution and I know my mother and uncle would be smiling.”

There’s not a bad cut on this recording; not an ill-chosen composition. Everything here is the epitome of excellence. It’s definitely a collector’s item.

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DARREN BARRETT – “dB-ISH – THE OPENER”
dB Studios

Darren Barerett, trumpet/keyboards/percussion; Santiago Bosch, piano/keyboards; Alexander Toth, bass; Anthony Toth, drums; Clay Lyons & Erena Terakubo, alto saxophone; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel & Nir Felder, guitar; Chad Selph, keyboards.

At first listen, I had a 1950 & 1960 jazz flash-back and I mean that in a good way. That didn’t last long. This is a surprise package of infectious music. First cut, “The Opener,” and title tune sets the energetic precedence of this recording. A fluid piano solo sets the tone for Darren Barrett to flex his trumpet muscles. He brings fire and fury to the bandstand, with drums that sound like gunshots when Anthony Toth pops them. Barrett builds on themes and grooves in a very modern jazz way, but at the same time, his compositions are melodic. His chord changes leave enough room for the power and excitement of talented musicians to explore improvisation and freedom. There’s an element of ‘Hip Hop’ and fusion in the way he produces his music, with loops and grooves prevalent.But on top of it all is undeniable ‘Straight ahead’ jazz.

Cut #3, “dB-lemma” is a perfect example of this and gives bassist Alexander Toth a perfect platform to solo in a very tenacious way.

Impressively, Darren Barrett has composed, arranged, engineered and produced everything on this album of quality music. Barrett is thoroughly entertaining and pushes the boundaries with his horn, with his compositions and his unique production ideas. I was completely entertained and pleasantly pleased from the first cut to the last.

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JORGINHO NETO COLLECTIVE – “HARLEM”
Maria Record Label

Jorginho Neto, trombone/composer; Sidmar Vieira, trumpet; Robson Couto, bass; Gustavo Bugni, piano; Vitor Cabral, drums,Alexandre Mihanovich, guitar; Thiago Alves, contra bass.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice echoes through my living room, muffled by heavenly horn sounds featuring a prominent trombone and an interlude piece based on the gospel song, “Amazing Grace.” Dr. King is speaking his historic speech about the possibility of his not getting to the mountain top, and it moves me back in time, to our struggle for civil rights and the man who believed in non-violent protest. The background music, titled “Gracie” reminds me of a Louisiana funeral procession. But the music of Martin’s day during the 1950’s and 60’s celebrated revolution and change. I recall the year that Dr. King was murdered, Sly & the Family Stone were encouraging people to “Stand” and James Brown was screaming “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In the jazz world, Miles Davis was sweeping the jazz world with his popular, “Sketches In Spain” CD, and Coltrane and Don Cherry were collaborating on the LP, “Avant Garde.” John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” changed that Broadway song into a jazz classic. That’s what was happening during Dr. King’s activist days. but, I suppose this young artist was trying to reference the Christian church with this very dirge sounding music rather than the popular music of that time in history. And of course, that makes sense. I admire that Jorginho Neto wanted to celebrate this Peace Prize recipient who gave his life for good.

The very next tune that blasted onto the scene was full of Funk and Fusion. It’s the title tune, “Harlem.” That’s when I turned to the liner notes to read who Jorginho Neto really was. I discovered he started his musical life playing his beloved trombone in church at the age of thirteen. I discovered he’s Brazilian. I could see by his performance, on-line, that indeed he is a young and talented player and obviously, someone who admires Dr. King, but he was not here in our country for that struggle.

His compositions, after the first cut, are all very Herbie-Hancock-like or Fusion jazz. The solemn beginning interlude fades to a joyful sound. Dr. King would have liked that.

But I still wanted to know why he had Dr. King at the top of his CD project and why he named the project, “Harlem.” His CD sleeve is written in Portuguese, so that was no help to me. I called his publicist and asked permission to send a few questions to this talented, Brazilian, trombone player. Here is what he told me.

DEE DEE: Who were your biggest music inspirations?

JORGINHO NETO: “Frank Rosolino, JJ Johnson, Raul de Souza, Tom Jobim, Herbie Hancock, and especially the álbum Head Hunters.”

DEE DEE: Why did you name this CD Harlem?

JORGINHO NETO : “The name of the CD Harlem, because in 2013, I played at the Summer Festival Brazil, in New York. I had the opportunity to stay two weeks in Harlem. I Identified with African American history and culture.”

DEE DEE: Does anything about Harlem and its people remind you of Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, the People of Harlem remind me of the Brazilian People in some ways. The people have have similarities in Joy, perseverance and Struggle.”

DEE DEE: Why did you quote Dr. King? What does he mean to you?

JORGINHO NETO : “Martin Luther King Jr is one of the most important leaders and symbols in the world for all people. Especially African Americans, of course, but he is admired by Brazilian people as well. He is a warrior for racial battles, something the Brazilians experience in our own way too. His “I Have a Dream” speech resonates for all of us.”

DEE DEE: Do you struggle for civil rights in Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, Brazil has struggles with civil rights to this day. I live in a poor neighborhood in Sao Paulo in Brazil and I see injustice economically and racially in my country first hand. There is a lot of corruption in Brazil. Through my music I try to share some of that message and use it as a force to fight against the corruption that plagues us.”

DEE DEE: Music touches all cultures. What do you want people to take from your music?

JORGINHO NETO : “I want people to feel more love. Regardless of color and race or immigrants or not, we are all the same in the end.”

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LANCE BRYANT, CHRISTIAN FABIAN, JASON MARSALIS – “DO FOR YOU?”
Consolidated Artists Productions, Inc (CAP)

Lance Bryant, sax/vocals; Christian Fabian, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums; Special Guest: Gates Thomas, keyboard.

Here is a tenor saxophone tone and style I appreciate. Lance Braynt’s horn is steeped in blues. His melodies are crisp and succinct. No sliding to notes or squeaking tones. This reedman is virtuostic. I like the first tune, “Five Min Blues,” where he and the bass start by playing in unison, strongly selling this song’s melody and then improvise proficiently, from start to finish. This is a unique project by three uniquely gifted musicians. Christian Fabian is substantial in his rhythm position. Without guitar or piano, the trio members must each stand independently strong and yet unified as a connected band. There is an occasional exception when special guest, Gates Thomas adds keyboard effects. Everything was going great until Lance Bryant started to sing. Why do musicians always think singing is easy and disposable, like a wet diaper? I was so upset by this disrespect for vocals that I had to discontinue this review. Too bad, because I started out loving this project.

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THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES: HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES:
HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

When I think of Spanky Wilson, I think of someone who can swing a song as hard as Muhammad Ali punches. But she can also vocally caress a lyric with so much emotion that it stuns an audience into absolute silence. Still vibrant and youthful, her musical legacy stretches over a period of six decades, because her very first recording was made when she was only four-years-old. But I’ll let her tell you that story.

SPANKY: “My father played guitar and sang. He sounded just like Nat King Cole. My mother told me I used to hear Nat King Cole on the radio and I used to point and say, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ He had that smooth, soft voice like Nat Cole. He was in a group called The Four Blotches. I used to tease him and say, no wonder you all never made it with that name. He used to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t my idea baby.’ He said they chose that name because of the Ink Spots. They all played guitar and sang. No piano or drums. My mother loved him ‘cause he was a real handsome guy. She was from Lewistown, Pennsylvania and daddy was performing in Lewistown. Daddy was there to entertain the troops. It was whatever shows they used to have that entertained the soldiers. Mom went to one of those dances and that’s how they met. After they got married, she started getting jealous, because all those ladies were flirting and fanning their you-know-whats in front of him. So, she wanted him to quite singing. I told him, daddy, I don’t know if I could ever give up singing for anybody. But he gave it up and started working on the docks in Philadelphia. He really loved my mom. He would come home from work and we’d sit on the steps in the evening. He’d teach me all these songs. Just me and him and his guitar. I was three or four-years-old.

“I keep tellin’ people this, but they don’t believe me. Back in Philadelphia, you used to be able to go into a music store where you could buy the sheet music, stuff like that and 78rpm records. You could go in there and they would have booths and the walls were glass. They had about four booths. You could make a record of your own for a certain amount of money. It was a 78rpm record and you could do two songs; one on each side. You paid them and you would leave with the record. I asked daddy, (after I started singing and moving around) what happened to that record we made when I was four years old? ‘Cause I remember the song was ‘Knock Me A Kiss.’ The other song was ‘Without A Song.’”

NOTE: In 1942 Erskine Hawkins had a 78rpm record out with vocals by Ida James, who originally recorded this song. I found it on http://www.youtube.com

SPANKY: “Oh, I was daddy’s little girl and my brother was mama’s boy. Daddy’s the one who gave me the name Spanky, ‘cause my real name is Louella, you know, like Loulla Parsons the journalist from back-in-the-day. Remember her? She used to write a gossip column. I asked my mother, why would you do that to me? You couldn’t even find that name in the baby book. I was always getting into trouble. I was a tomboy. So, he names me Spanky, after that television show. ‘Spanky and Our Gang.’ “

Several amazing entertainers were born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, like Billy Eckstine, Paul Chambers, Kenny Clark, Earl ‘Father’ Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll garner and Ahmad Jamal. Spanky Wilson, although a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Pittsburgh around all that great jazz. As a teenager, she gained notoriety singing around town. Although she loved to sing, she was still shy and insecure about performing on stage. But the local musicians took note. They recognized her blossoming talent and unique voice. That’s how Stanley Turrentine heard about her.

SPANKY: “Stanley Turrentine gave me my first gig. It was on the weekend; Friday and Saturday. The musicians around town knew I could sing, but I was always scared to sing. So, he was looking for a singer and somebody recommended me. When he got in touch, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t remember the name of the club, but it was a famous club on Fulton Street. That was a very popular street in the heart of the Black community. It was 1957 and I was seventeen. I remember very well because Angie was born in 1958. Every time I’d leave my husband, we’d break up and then I’d sneak off with him and make-up. Next thing I know, I’m pregnant and I end up going back to him. I have four children. My last daughter is by my second husband who plays guitar.”

But settling down and being a homemaker was not in the cards for Spanky Wilson. The music bug had bitten deeply. She was hungry for pursuing a career as a singer. In 1967, she joined the Jimmy McGriff band. They piled into a car and drove across the country, gigging from city to city. After a six-week tour, it was June of 1967 when they rolled into Los Angeles.

SPANKY: “We were at Shelly’s Manne Hole. H. B. Barnum heard me there and expressed an interest in my talent. After the gig, I left and went back home, thinking I would never hear from this guy again. … And in September of that year, he called me to say he was ready for me to come back to California and record. I couldn’t believe it. So, He sent for me and I came out here to make a record. I was supposed to be out here no more than two months. So that’s when I went to Smitty’s house.”

NOTE: Smitty is a nickname for Howlett Smith, a prolific L.A. based composer who has written hit songs for both Spanky and Nancy Wilson i.e.: ‘Let’s Go Where The Grass is Greener,’ recorded by Nancy.

SPANKY: “I went to Smitty’s house every day to learn all the songs he had written for me. I went there for five weeks studying songs and then H. B. would choose the ones he liked the best for our session. Then he started getting me these background gigs with O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls, and the great African singer, Letta Mbulu. I kept saying, hey, I wanna go home. I mean I have children. I want to see my kids. I’ve been away too long. So now it’s the end of November, almost Christmas. I said either you send for my kids or I’m leaving. So, he ended up getting me a nice house to live in in West Covina. … I didn’t want to live in the city because they had more decent schools in Covina. I moved here in 1967, brought my kids out to California and re-established myself. I was just giggin’ around town, but I was happy doing that.”

The move to Los Angeles proved lucrative. H. B. Barnum’s production garnered Spanky Wilson an unforgettable jazz record in 1969. Howlett Smith’s hauntingly beautiful song, “The Last Day of Summer” went soaring up the music charts. Jazz stations all across the country were playing it like crazy. It was followed by an album on the same Mothers Records & The Snarf Company label titled, ‘Spankin’ Brand New.’ Her career was on fire. The next album was titled, ‘Doin’ It,’ released in 1969 and followed in 1970 by her third album titled, ‘Let It Be.’ After this release, Spanky decided to leave the label. In 1975, Spanky signed with 20th Century/Westbound Records. The new album was titled, ‘Specialty of The House,’ with the title tune released as a popular single. Spanky sounded wonderful on this recording. Her voice was bell clear. The songs were well-written and the production was lush with horns, strings and background vocals. There were plenty of songs on this album that could have been big hits for the crowd-pleasing singer. However, in the record business, unless you have a strong promotional team in place, a record can die on the vine. Spanky poured her heart out on “I Think I’m Gonna Cry.” There are some songs that were obviously produced in the Motown vein, with Diana Ross Type productions like, “I’ll Stake My Life on You, Boy.” When I looked up the credits, a Motown arranger, (Paul Riser), had arranged this song. That explained why the song reminded me so much of Motown Records. No problem! Spanky rose to the occasion, showing that she could sing anything and proving she had cross-over ability. That’s probably what the record company was looking for at that time. Her song, “Easy Lover,” reflected the appealing impression that Barry White’s hit-record productions had made on 20th Century Records. Her production sounded similar, with Spanky handling the David VanDePitte arrangements with finesse and power. This album offered her fan base and the general public a little taste of everything.

For a few years, she toured America, spending quite a bit of time in my home town of Detroit, Michigan and working at Watts Mozambique jazz club owned by Cornelius Watts. Later, she appeared at Richard Jarrett’s club, “Dummy Georges.” During that time, she was a guest on a recording by Houston Person and Etta Jones titled, “Live at the Club Mozambique” for Eastbound Records. She also was recorded by Ace Records on a compilation album, pairing her with a list of all-star artists including Jack McDuff, Melvin Sparks, Gary Chandler, Etta Jones, Houston Person and Bill Mason titled, “Together.”

Anybody who’s been in the business of making records knows that the real money an artist makes comes from being on the road, not from selling records. While record companies are busy raking in the cash from the artists’ talents, an artist has to perform in concerts and clubs to pay the bills. Ms. Wilson let no grass grow under her feet. She’s performed in thirty-five countries including Algeria, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, the Congo, England, France, Germany, the island of Guam, Ireland, all over Japan, in Luxemburg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, in virtually every big city in Spain, in Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia and coast-to-coast in the United States. She also toured with the great Benny Carter as part of his “All Star” band.
I asked Spanky about her time leaving the United States and living in France.

SPANKY: “I went there in 1985. Sweets Edison got me a gig there. I had left H. B. Barnum’s label and also the 20th Century Records deal was done. Red Holloway used to use me at the Parisian Room and then Sweets Edison used to get me opening act gigs. That way, I was working all the time. So Sweets and I got to be friends. I was one of the ‘cats’ with those guys. Sweet’s started telling me I should go to Europe and they would love me over there. But I said, hey, I don’t know nobody in Europe. I’d been to Japan and Rio de Janiero in Brazil, but never Europe. But then I said – ok, hook me up, man.

“He got me a gig with the Woody Herman Band in the South of France; in Nice. So I get there, but dig this. Woody Herman’s hands were messed up. He had the Arthritis real bad and he couldn’t play, so he sang a little big. Consequently, he didn’t need a singer. So I’m there, but I’m not going to sing. OMG. I thought, what the hell am I going to do now? I can’t turn around and go back to Los Angeles after I told everybody I was going to this gig in France. So wait a minute. I knew this guy who had something to do with the jazz festival and he said, let me see what I can do. Well, the musicians all stayed in the same hotel. I used to sit in the lobby and try to learn the language and practice my French speaking. You know those dogs that used to save people that had the little canteen around their neck? St. Bernard! Well, I love animals and one day I’m sitting there in the lobby and this guy walked by with this big, huge dog and I said, oh my God, he’s so beautiful! Is he friendly? So, I started talking to the dog. And every day, he would walk down there with the dog and I didn’t know anybody but Sweets and the musicians. Funny, but me and the dog got to be friends. Finally, the dog would see me and break-a-loose from whoever was walking him and jump up on me. To make a long story short, Sweets says hey. I made an appointment for us to go up and see the head man who runs this hotel. It was the Meridien Hotel. I said, ok. He took me up to the guy’s suite and we knock on the door. Some guy opened the door and here was the dog. He jumped up on me and was so happy. He weighed about 500 pounds. That was a huge dog. But this really handsome man steps forward and says, so you’re the one that my guy was telling me about. He had heard there was a lady that sits in the lobby and that his dog was in love with this woman. I said, oh yes. That’s me. So, the hotel manager says Sweets tells me that you can really sing. I’m just going to take his word for it. I don’t need to hear you sing. How would you like to work in Paris? I said I’d love to work in Paris. He said, I’m going to send you to the Meridien Hotel there and the group is already working there. You can sing with them. I said, ok. That’s fine with me. So, the next day, I went to Paris. The Lord works in mysterious ways. They hired me for two weeks. That was in July. I wound up staying there until September.

“Just like we celebrate the Fourth of July here, well everybody that lives in Paris leaves to go on vacation in the summer. Consequently, they never book an international act in the Lionel Hampton room during summertime. They only had a local band. I was working with them. They were called, The Four Bones, and it was four trombones and a rhythm section. Francois Guin, Jean Christophe Vilain, Benny Vasseur and Raymond Fonseque were the trombone players. The pianist with them and the bass player were like my brothers. While I was there, people were coming from different clubs who had heard about me or whatever, and I got work in other clubs after I finished working there. That’s how I ended up staying for a while.”

Unlike America, in France and many parts of Europe, jazz music is embraced, culturally respected and played on the popular airwaves. You might hear Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Spanky Wilson all played on the same radio station. Our art form of jazz is highly respected and revered in Europe. Spanky Wilson found steady work and appreciation overseas and she found love. After living together for several years, she married her musical conductor, Philippe Milantia. She explained.

SPANKY: “Yeah, Philippe was my pianist. He is a hell of an arranger and a pianist too. Neither of us wanted to get married. We got married because someone else won the election and the new president was talking about separatism. He said France was for the French. If you didn’t have papers, you had to go home. But I had told Philippe, I didn’t want to get married. I’d been there done that and didn’t want to do it again. He said he didn’t want to get married either, because his mother terrorized his father. I said, well, I ain’t your mama honey, so you don’t have to worry about that. But we had lived together for some time. We only got married to keep me in France. We were together for 13 or 14 years. We married in 1992.

“I’ve met so many record collectors, I mean serious record collectors in Europe. They can put on a record and tell you every guy who’s in the band. That’s how serious they were about jazz. And my husband was one of them. He was an expert on Count Basie. People would call him from all countries to say they had this old record, but they don’t know who’s playing on it. They would play it and he would tell them everybody who was in the band. He played with Count Basie a few times when he came to Paris. The band knew him. Jazz is like a religion to them. Here, in America, it’s stepped on, kicked around. Even the French people that have clubs don’t want French people to sing it. I had friends I met over there who were good singers. I mean really good singers. But they couldn’t get hired, because they weren’t American. They’d say Spanky, could you talk to this guy and tell him that I can sing jazz? The club owners wouldn’t even let them try out. So of course, I spoke up for them. Some of those girls were singin’ their asses off! They had a little accent, but you could understand every lyric they were singing. I helped out two or three girls who were trying to get booked in some of the clubs. You don’t have to be American to sing jazz.”
During her time in France, Spanky continued recording. In 1991, Big Blue Records released, “Singin’ and Swingin’” and another album titled, “Ornicar Big Band/L’Incroyable Huck,” featuring Spanky Wilson. In 1996, she was a guest vocalist on Christian Morin’s “Paradis Melodie” album on Une Musique label. In 1999, she recorded another solo album titled, “Things are Getting Better” for Jazz Aux Remparts label. The last CD she recorded was outside the realm of jazz, with an English group; The Quantic Soul Orchestra, “Live in Paris.”
As her stellar reputation grew, Ms. Wilson was invited to sing with some of the top musicians and French bands such as Gerard Badini’s Swing Machine, Christian Morin and Francois Biensan’s “Ellingtomania,” Marc Laferrier’s group, Claude Tissendier’s “Saxomania” and she appeared regularly with Philippe Milanta’s Trio.

Spanky worked with the iconic reed man, Teddy Edwards, over the years and in 1993 his “Teddy Edwards Quartet” album was released on Verne/PolyGram/Gitanes featuring Spanky Wilson as a special guest along with Christian Escoudé. In 1993, she was also a guest star on “Old School Band/35th Anniversary” on the OSB label.

This lovely lady with the big voice and even bigger personality was flying high. Then the unexpected happened. Both of Spanky’s parents became critically ill at home, in the United States.

SPANKY: “I came back because my mother and my father both were sick. My mother was in a nursing home in Pittsburgh and my father had cancer; Prostate. He lived in Philadelphia. So, I was hopping from one city to another, flying from Paris to Pittsburgh for two weeks. Then, jetting to Philadelphia for two weeks; back and forth. I was coming home every time I could. But you know, that costs money unless you plan it a month in advance. So just to say I’m going today, you spend a lot of money. I was taking my money and then my husband’s money to fly home constantly. I was busy working and I had to beg for days off. I mean listen. Talk about dreams. I thought I was living in a really bad dream.

“When I decided to come back home, I had already told Philippe, hey – I have to go home. I said, you can come with me. He said he didn’t want to come with me, because America is one of the most racist places he had ever heard of. I said, but we’re going to live in California. He said he didn’t give a shit what color you were, but Americans did care about that. He wouldn’t come.
“So, anyway, I had packed up all my stuff and put it on a ship, sending it back to L.A. The week after, I put all my stuff on the ship, my father died. So, back on the plane I went, to buy my father. … I was going back to Paris after I buried him, but then I found out my mom was in a comma. The same day my father died, my brother’s wife went to the nursing home and told my mother that my father had died. I guess when she found out that he had died, she wanted to die. … She always brainwashed me and my kids, saying don’t let them keep me alive on machines. Let me go. … When they took her off the machine, she lasted about fourteen hours. This was about four days after my dad died.

“So when I went back to Paris, all my belongings were on the way here. I had just put my stuff on the ship one week before they called me and told me my daddy had died. I felt like maybe it’s meant for me to come home. They said it would take six weeks for my things to get here, so I stayed in Europe with my husband for about five weeks, caught a plane and came to California.”

Being gone all those years didn’t make it easy to come back to the United States and pick up her career. She had lost her father, her mother and was separated from her beloved husband, who did not want to deal with the racism in America. It felt like she was starting over.

As we know, life always happens while we’re making plans. Without any warning, just as she started gigging and getting settled into Los Angeles living, Spanky was diagnosed with an illness that threatened her life. She returned to Pennsylvania to be with her children, unexpectedly leaving Los Angeles and her career for a few recuperative years.

I was so thrilled to hear that she was returning to California and in August, a year ago, I had the opportunity of welcoming Spanky Wilson home and in-concert at the historic Maverick’s Flat nightclub on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. She performed to a packed house with a swinging band and all the gusto and excitement that a performer of her stature always brings to the stage.

Welcome back, Spanky. We missed you.

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SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW

August 11, 2017

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW
AUGUST 12, 2017 – Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

By jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil

Tracy Nicole Chapman does an incredible job of portraying the character of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an American icon, in the musical play, “Shout Sister Shout”. Rosetta Tharpe provided a pathway for women in Rock and Roll to follow, long before it was acceptable for a female to play guitar and entertain along-side of male musicians. Tracy Nicole Chapman exhibited a powerful voice Thursday night, along with the thespian skills to persuade us she was Ms. Tharp.

Starting from the very first song, an original composition by Rosetta Tharp titled “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air” she had the audience in the palm of her hands. Logan Charles also is to be complimented on his beautiful voice, playing the part of Isaiah, who is a suicidal young man who wants to play guitar like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. God has asked Ms. Tharpe to inspire and save this child from his demons. She is expected to accomplish this before she can leave earth and go to heaven. Rosetta shares her story of triumph and tragedy with the young man, in order to give him a sense of purpose and spirituality; strength and determination. Certainly she had to use those traits to survive in a world that frowned on her dreams and criticized her personal life decisions, while she was in search of her own identity and values. The choral trio who sang “Lay My Burden Down” brought the gospel church into the crowded Pasadena Playhouse. Boise Holmes, Armando Yearwood, Jr. and Thomas Hobson played interactive parts throughout this production with strong voices and dancing abilities. They got the audience to clap and participate in the joy on-stage. Rosetta’s mother is played by Yvette Cason, whose lovely and powerful voice echoed through the theater like an electricity bolt. Her rendition of “The Lonesome Road” was spellbinding and I was truly touched by her interpretation of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Angela Teek Hitchman was persuasive in three key roles. She played a church woman who tells Rosetta’s preacher husband that she saw her playing guitar and singing in a juke joint. She also plays Marie Knight, Rosetta’s love interest after three unsuccessful marriages and adds her tenacious voice to the ensemble pieces, as well as singing memorable duets with Tracy Nicole Chapman.

We learn that Rosetta Tharpe and her mother were Evangelist preachers and singers with a strong belief in the holy bible. But Rosetta’s talents on vocals and guitar were established early on and she longed to play other music. After her first marriage to an older preacher-man, she went back to making music as a solo artist. She was the first to cross-over gospel music into the realm of pop and blues; performing at the Cotton Club and even Carnegie Hall. Chuck Berry stole his famous duck-walk from none other than the popular Rosetta Tharpe. She was the first to do that move on stage. She was also the first cross-over gospel star to work with the Lucky Millander Orchestra. She was one of the few African American artists featured in the popular Life Magazine and Rosetta inspired and encouraged artists like Little Richard and Johnny Cash.

I wish the character Isaiah had turned out to be one of the many famous people that Rosetta inspired during her climb to fame like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis, rather than a non-descript person. I think that would have added to this treasured biography, because those men were influenced by Rosetta. However, all in all, this is an enjoyable musical full of history and happy music.

The band is spectacularly led by Orchestra Conductor/pianist, Rahn Coleman. Ron Bishop is superb on piano/keyboard and organ. Quentin Dennard propels the aggregation with his drums and Carl Vincent plays a mean upright bass and electric bass. Charles Fearing is the wonderful guitarist behind the scenes, who adds spunk and believability to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s outstanding guitar solos. This is a musical play for the whole family to enjoy and an important piece of music history. It runs through August 20, 2017.