Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

3 Comments

Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

I Like the Sunrise : Duke Ellington’s “Liberian Suite.”

William V.S Tubman assumed the Presidency of the Republic of Liberia in January of 1944 with the end of World War 2 still over 18 months away. The nation was 3 years away from it’s Centennial, which was no meager accomplishment. The small nation with it’s delicately balanced population of repatriated peoples of African descent and Africans indigenous to that land had struggled to maintain it’s reason for being, black political independence, on an African map that featured a mere two shapes not administered by the English, French, Portugese, Dutch or Germans : Liberia and Ethiopia. And Ethiopia itself had just been mired in a tragic yet heroic battle with fascist Italy. Only Liberia and Hati existed as Black governed constitutional republics. image

Liberia’s position in this reshuffled deck of cards was a vital one that was growing in importance, with Firestone National Rubber already on year 18 of a 99 year lease by 1944. Because of that lease agreement and the low cost rubber it afforded the Allies, Liberia and her underpaid rubber tappers were a part of the American war effort just as surely as the soldiers on the battlefield and the industrial workers cranking out tanks, planes, guns and bombs in the repurposed American factories.

The weakness of the European world powers in the wake of the calamity would pave the way for the United States position as the dominant world power. The inability of these colonial powers to maintain their possessions would also pave the way for the anti colonial movement and the creation of new African states. President Tubman understood these forces and sought to take advantage of them in order to move Liberia forward.

Liberia’s position was unique, being more closely aligned to the new world power than any other African nation. For the preceding 100 years of Liberian independence this relationship produced little of tangible benefit, as the white supremacist guardians of power in the States had no interest whatsoever in assisting Black governance’s viability. Ironically, the new countries that had suffered the indignities of colonial domination would receive more in the way of roads, hospitals, schools, health care and education than Liberia ever would from the U.S.

image

But President Tubman more than understood the game. He sought to invite U.S development not through the humanitarian missionary’s who had always rendered brave and selfless service to Liberia. He sought to open up Liberia to foreign business investment, which would sky rocket in the new post war business investment climate. Part of this out reach to Liberia’s “step mother”, the United States, would be directed at the sons and daughters of Africa in America. There is a famous Jet magazine with an open letter from President Tubman admonishing Black Americans to remember Africa. And for the 1947 centennial he would commission two great black artists to produce works to represent the history and the potential of the Republic, Melvin B Tolson, the famous black poet was commissioned to write an epic poem on the founding of Liberia he titled, “Libretto for Liberia.” Liberia would also commission a musical suite from a man who’d already been recognized as the most advanced composer and progressive practitioner of African derived musics in the world at that time, Edward Kennedy Ellington, the “Duke”.

image

The Duke was already recognized as the most original and diverse Black composer in American history to this point, and was also beginning to be recognized as the greatest and most original American composer of all time, a position that increasingly became chapter and verse as his career progressed. His music was seen as a totally original combination of Afro Diasporic rhythms, Black traditional melodies, Afro forms like the the Blues and the rhythmic vamp, blended with European harmonies, and forms like the musical suite. Yet, even his advanced harmonies often contained notes of dissonance, and it seemed everything he did musically, including his percussive piano style, retained a strong “Negro”, African origin. By the time he received the commission to do “The Liberian Suite”, he’d already been in the music industry almost 25 years, with his hits, “It Don’t Mean A Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing”, “Black Beauty”, “Black and Tan Fantasy”, “Creole Love Call”, “Caravan”, “Don’t Get Around Much”, “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me”, Take the A Train”, and many more already staples of jazz and pop music, as well as American life.

Ellington in particular had a reputation for the specific ability of his music to represent African American life, from the disembarkment from the slave ships, on through cotton, tobacco, sugar cane and rice fields, through the black triumph of the Civil War on to the position of Black people in the cities in the modern era. His titles and music , “Black Beauty”, “Harlem Air Shaft”, “My People”, “Black, Brown and Beige”, “Drum is a Woman”, Creole Rhapsody”, very specifically covered topics of Black pride and what was then called “Negro life.” Ellington was what was known in the ’20s as a “race man”, an individual who had devoted his talents and voice to the sophisticated, deliberate progress of the Negro race, all over the world. He had been raised with this strong sense of racial pride by his parents in Washington D.C, where there was a strong educated black community even in the years after the Civil War. During his 1920s residency at the Cotton Club his orchestra provided the music for scandalous dance shows featuring lightly tanned female dancers doing dances in jungle outfits and settings for Jazz Age white patrons. He came up with an imaginative style called “Jungle Music” by some, featuring the powerful growls of trumpeter Bubber Miley. This music with it’s reimagining of Africa was hailed as a major musical innovation.

20150601-141931.jpg

Make no mistake, getting Ellington to compose music for the Liberian centennial was a major coup for the nation that deserves more attention. Liberia was getting possibly the freshest and most original composer recording music at that time. It was also however, a special opportunity for the Duke. Ellington premiered his extended suite “Black, Brown, and Beige” at Carnegie Hall in 1943 and it was met with condescending criticism, mainly of the sort that jazz was not a music suited to demanding longer forms. “The Liberian Suite” would be not only Ellington’s first international commission, but also his first commission from a Government of any sort. The suite was performed at Carnegie Hall twice, but to my knowledge has yet to be performed in Liberia itself.

The suite begins with the beautiful hymn like ballad “I Like the Sunrise”, performed by the Ellington bands velvet voiced Baritone, Al Hibbler. The song was meant by Ellington to invoke the yearning for freedom and independence of an enslaved person in America, with the land of the rising sun, Africa and the east, being the symbol and focus of hope. This song is therefore a theme song for those hoping to find freedom in Liberia, which if we study history closely, includes many more people than the Americo Liberians of the 19th century. It also includes tribes like the Fanti, Mandingo and other tribes, West Indians, many people from other parts of Africa during the times of colonial domination, and many other Black Americans who came to Liberia in the almost 170 years since it’s original founding. Ellington is writing of Liberia as a land of hope, promise and freedom from soul draining bondage.

The song begins with a beautiful trumpet obbligato and features quiet restrained backing as Hibbler sings of the promise of Liberia. This song has also been interpreted over the years by people such as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

The rest of the suite is instrumental, organized around 5 “Dances'”. Ellington here uses the motif of rhythm and dancing as both a vital connection to Africa, her music, and the idea of freedom contained in the Liberian story. The music is a combination of bluesy themes, solo’s from his band members, and Afro Diasporic rhythms channeled through Latin America and the Caribbean. My personal favorite is “Dance No. 5” which has the most infectious, funky bass figure of the whole piece.

“The Liberian Suite” is a unique musical accomplishment for Liberia, Duke Ellington, and the African diaspora as a whole. Here a small black nation, as old as a long lived human, recognized and commissioned an extended work from an American Black artist who’d go on to be recognized as one of the greats of all time. Liberia proved here to be a sponsor of black talent from all over the world, it was a small symbolic glimpse of the grand dreams the nation has always nurtured. “The Liberian Suite” then should by no means be confined to the margins of history, but it is up to Liberians to embrace it and make it their own. For instance, it would really be an honor to have Wynton Marsalis, an artist who considers himself the heir to Duke’s musical legacy, perform this suite with his Jazz At the Lincoln Center Orchestra at a gala affair in Monrovia in the near future. It would also deepen the piece if it’s performed in collaboration with African musicians, as Marsalis did with The Ghanaian musician Yacub Addey in his “Congo Square” suite. It would also be a point of pride if this suite were added to the music curriculum in Liberian schools, it could be studied and integrated with indigenous music to form a kind of classical musical language for Liberia. Because my fondest hope of all is that the Liberian bicentennial, Liberia itself would have produced it’s own Duke Ellington to compose music that reflects the nation and where it will be in 2047. That Liberian musician will be faced with a great task I hope they are well prepared for, both honoring the nation in sound and following in the foot steps of the great Duke Ellington!

1 Comment

Filed under Liberia/Africa, Music Matters

Blues for Albert Murray 1916-2013

3f7dc060ada026917fecf110.L._V192251936_SL290_

“I’m leaving it up to you to decide. Maybe I really broke the bed down and then again maybe I ain’t done nothing but hit it a lick and promise. Maybe I ain’t no certified cocksman yet, but that goddamn chick is pregnant doc, you examine her. Maybe it’ll be a nine pounder and maybe we’ll have to put it in an oxygen tent, and maybe it’ll be a fucking miscarriage, you examine it”- Albert Murray in a letter to Ralph Ellison, taken from “Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.”

Albert Murray was one of the more interesting literary men I got into and one that broadened me out from some of my preconcieved notions. Like many young black readers of my age and generation, the writings I was exposed to the earliest were by men like Malcom X, Richard Wright, and Eldgridge Cleaver, not to mention your Iceberg Slim’s and Donald Goines’ of the world. Murray represented another viewpoint of the south, the blues, black music and culture and black people’s place in America. That view articulated very accurately the experiences of an older generation, namely the Black portion of the “G.I generation”, the so called “greatest generation” that won World War II and led America to her position as a superpower. Murray was not affected by the move toward Afrocentrism and Black Power in the ’60s because he felt Black Americans had already contributed something that was inextractible from the strands of American life. He appreciated the efforts to do something of many in the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, but he felt some were misguided in their enthusiasms as well. His main view of life was a literary view, that “evil” as such was not a factor that human beings could eliminate from the world, but that true human heroism was displayed in our efforts to keep evil at bay, and the only way to do it was with slick, swinging, smooth style. The Blues was the sound of this struggle, of heroism, and therefore he’d clown you in a New York minute if you expressed the tired cliche that blues music was sad music for sad people.

Albert Murray was born in Nokomis, Alabama in 1913. His southern upbringing and his viewpoints about the south form one of the core components of his philosophy and ideas about African Americans, America, and American history and culture. He was highly opposed to the terrifiying view of the south presented by Richard Wright. He understood why Wright presented the south as he did, and felt it was for the best of causes, the freedom and equality of black people in America, however, he did not feel it was a full picture. Murray felt his experiences in black neighborhoods, black schools, and black institutions were very positive and resisted the idea that a predominantly black environment was limiting as racist itself, and while he was against segregation, he felt supporters of equality needed to be careful about what their assertions about raciscm were saying about blacks and other minorities. His experiences growing up are fictionalized in his novels, “Train Whistle Guitar”, “The Spyglass Tree”, and the “Seven League Boots”, as well as in his travel book, “South to a Very old Place.”

Murray’s south, was a place of wise black elders of all types, who were interested in all types of things that the average racist, or even snobbish northern black person would not imagine southern blacks to be capable of interest in. His book, “The Omni Americans, a fresh, refreshing book of essays’ dealing with the perceptions of race in the 1960s, call for a broader view of American culture. His assertion is that American culture could never be called “white” culture, that American culture, as American bloodlines, are a mixture of Black, White, and Native American. His arguement was that the movement back to African culture that blacks made in the ’60s was redundant because Africans in America had already contributed so much of what made America, America. The primary conduit for that was the dance beat emphasis from Africa that is the lifeblood of blues, jazz, and rock and roll.

Murray was harshly critical of books that sought to paint the inner city and all black neighborhoods in the worst light, in order to display the insurmountable odds their protagonists overcame. He felt these books in their protest were really inspired by communist propagandists who didn’t understand black life. His problem was not with communism or any philosophy per se, but with any philosophy that reduced black life in America to one of problems and pathology. For instance, the communists once banned jazz becuase they felt it was an expression of capitalist decadance. Whereas Murray would say jazz was an expression of African plasticity and rhythm orientation using European instruments and song structures that represents a heroic, thinking on your feet method of surviving and thriving in modern complexity. Murray would tell both Afrocentrists that we’re no longer in the village bush or the age of great African trading Kingdoms, and Eurocentrists that we were no longer in a world of fuedalism, the divine right of Kings, a dominant church, and colonialism. Meaning we’d have to take the best from those old times and make them work today.

Murray’s answer to presenting the black struggle in literature and art was that of heroism. One of my favorite books of his was his lecture in book form, “The Hero and the Blues.” In it, he makes a compelling arguement that blues music, with it’s jumping, good time beats and its ironic, humorous lyrics of how life always has a twist for us, is a Black American heroic reaction to the troubles of modern life, including racism and the vissictitudes of late capitalism. He puts forth a life philosophy that one can either rail against the injustices of life, or see oneself as a hero who has the power to conquer them. To Murray, the whole black struggle is a story of heroism and dragon slayers, from the first slaves in the New World, to Toussaint L’Overture, to Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglass, to Nat Turner and John Brown and Phyliss Wheatley, to those unamed ancestors who had to live so we could be here to pontificate.

Murray was a friend of the great teacher and resarcher of myth, Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell also influenced George Lucas and Star Wars. It’s interesting to me that Murray and Lucas both fall under the astrological sign of Taurus the Bull, and they both share a faith in heroism and heroic action. Lucas has been criticized at times for being too simplistic and happy in his view of good and evil, and he has gone on public record as saying his films were a response to all the darkness in ’70s film, such as Taxi Driver, Superfly, A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, and many other crime and violence laden, morally ambigious ’70s epics. Interestingly enough he went back to the World War II era of the 1940s for his Star Wars inspiration, and Murray himself was in the Air Force in that time period.

Murray’s literary goal, was very similar to George Lucas. He wanted to create a black heroic story that would inspire Americans of all shades and that would give blacks particular pride and insight on how to use their cultural heritage to create more freedom in their nation which is supposed to be about freedom, the United States of America. He acknowledged the dragons of racism, self doubt, self hatred, and economic privation, but felt that dragons existed to be slayed, existed to prove the metal of the romantic hero.

His book “The Hero and the Blues” used examples from some of the greatest literary men from Murray’s time, Hemingway and Faulkner, and Malreaux, and in particular Thomas Mann. Murray was particularly enamored of “Joseph and His Brothers”, by Thomas Mann. There is a great book by Bruce Feller entitled “America’s Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America”, that puts forth an interesting hypothesis that Moses and the story of Moses may be even more central to the national character of America than the story of Jesus Christ. Certainly the story and metaphor of Moses was very important to African Americans as one that represented freedom from bondage, total freedom from bondage as well as resettlement in a new land of our own. Murray however, embraced the story of Joseph, as expounded upon from the biblical version by Thomas Mann in “Joseph and His Brothers.” Murray felt that Joseph, known as the “Dreamer”, slick and handsome, able to tell a story, survive years in jail to become the highest man next to the Pharoah, and to prepare a way for his people in a time of famine, was a more accurate hero for Blacks for whom America is home. To focus on Moses is to focus on total liberation, but to focus on Joseph is to focus on the slickness and manuverings of getting over when total liberation is impractical. Murray also viewed Joseph’s improvisational ability as marking him as a blues and jazz idiom hero.

Murray strongly believed in the idea of “antagonistic cooperation.” That without a great enemy, one could never become a great hero. He held up blues and jazz as the antidote to those who would say blacks in America had no culture. Those musics retain the dance beat, transformational emphasis of African culture and put them in a modern context of technology and complex social dynamics. Murray felt this black cultural grouding could both direct a way for black individuals to live and thrive, as well as provide a template for black literary heroes, triumphing not in spite of black culture, but because of the insights gained from it.

Murray had an appreciation for the finer things in life. He felt this was a “southern thing”, his south not only encompassing those states below the Mason Dixon, but extending to all southern parts of the globe, the Carribean, South America, Southern Europe, and Africa. He believed in a kind of a “southern enjoyment of life”, that included fine clothes, dancing, drinking, romance, celebration, and enlightenment , ideas and education. He didn’t share the Black Power generations interest in Africa, although he acknowledged Africa as the origin point of black people and black culture, he also like many blacks of his generation, was fiercely proud of being an American and how blacks have helped shape America. He also reminds one of most immigrants to America in the early part of the 20th Century, who didn’t teach their kids Spanish, or Polish, or Yiddish, but insisted they learn English and believed in assimilation. Murray is of that generation that saw American greatness and therefore believed in America fiercely. Still, he also believed in incorporating the best from around the world, and he was never intidimidated, nor did he feel left out or embarresed by European culture. He was able to find the commonalities in all cultures and identified the slaying of dragons and the search for fine living as central to all.

Murray lived a long, fruitful life. He was friends with Duke Ellington and Romare Bearden two men who were examples of his sophisticated, cosmopolitan blackness. He influenced Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis and many who wanted to restore jazz to a high place in American culture and he was largely successful in that goal. His best known friendship was with Ralph Ellison, and their book, “Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray”, is one of my favorite books of his and a real treasure. It’s a pleasure to hear what these two black literary men REALLY thought, way back there in the mid 20h century. They curse, laugh, joke, talk about great books and writers, the Civil Rights movement, clothes, photograpy, music, and write each other from far flung locales such as Casablanca, Morroco.

By most accounts Albert Murray was not as successful in his fiction as he was in his theorizing. Although his novels are praised for the language and the way his words flow lyrically, in a jazzy blues style, they are also criticized for their wordiness, and the heavy preaching of his ideas, filling his books with protest against protest! He was criticized for this by one of his own students, Stanley Crouch. But I do feel that in his ideas, a very interesting concept is contained, and it will be interesting to see how people develop those ideas in this new multi cultural, Omni American world that he not only foresaw, but told us was the essence of the nation from it’s very beginning.

image

3 Comments

Filed under All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, Book Recommendations, Music Matters

Anticipation: The Great Gatsby & We the Peeples

imageimage

Typically remakes or movie editions of books leave me frigid. The general statement that is spat out of my lips is, “haven’t they already done that?” Or the alternate (but complimentary), “They need to leave that one alone.” As an avid reader, I appreciate the internal dialogue and sense of perspective that books give us that film has a hard time capturing, however, as a resident of the modern world, I can’t deny the power of imagery that the cinema bestows upon us. Due to the fabulous, decadent 1920s setting, and the quality of the cast, Baz Luhrmann’s version of “The Great Gatsby” is a movie I eagerly anticipate.

There is much I’ve read over the years about F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby” and the signifigance it has had in American culture, and in African American culture in particular. The novel is set in the jazz age of the 1920s, the age of Prohibition, on the Long Island shore where the fabulously wealthy of the time “summered.” The 1920s of course, were also the time of the Harlem Rennasaince, of Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington playing what they called “Jungle Music” at the famous “Cotton Club” (damned racist name I know), which was music the great composer dreamed up to fit the super exotic African jungle dance shows performed by the “tall, tan and tempting” light skinned beauties who danced for the all white patronage of the storied Jim Crow club. Of course, this world would come crashing down in October of 1929, Black Monday, the stock market crash that was a major factor in the onset of the Great Depression. Various allusions were made to this time period in the 1970s as well, by groups such as Chic, Dr. Buzzards Savannah band, etc. Something about the glamour of the period as well as the historical vision that this grand decadence was the equivalent of dancing right up to the cliff.

The 1920s though, with its great black migration up to the northeast, and the flourishing of jazz through Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Lunceford, Cab Calloway, and several other great artists, as well as the creation of the blues record industry, and the contributions of black writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, and Lawrence McKay, were the beginning of something like Black Americans being able to express themselves on their own terms. So in the world of “The Great Gatsby”, African Americans have started to make an impact, not only started tomake an impact, they’ve begun to make an impact with their own perspective coming through as they want to express it. The Jazz Age was also the time period of white people going “slumming” through Harlem to enjoy it’s cultural attractions, and the birth of the phrase “If you could be black for one saturday night, you wouldn’t want to be white anymore.”

Due to the Jim Crow nature of the times, there are no major black characters in the world of Jay Gatsby. But the character that resonates for black people and America as a whole is Jay Gatsby. Jay Gatsby is a gangster, a bootlegger, though his crimminal activities are kept backstage. Gatsby is a striver toward the American dream who took the back route, and strives for acceptance through his fabulous lifestyle. We find also, his attainment of the American dream is not so much to impress the many, as it is to impress the one, a lady named Daisy. But there is something quintissentially American, and therefore, quintissentially Black about Jay Gastby. He could be Berry Gordy, Frank Lucas/Nicky Barnes, Huey P Newton, or Sean “Diddy” Combs. Gastby represents the American Dream, which is not simply to get rich, but to get rich and gain legitimacy through a process of self creation and recreation, that allows you to leave your old background and caste status way behind. I’ve always thought the great thing about America is the promise it gives us to free us from the old systems of heirarchy in England, India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, etc. However, the Great Gatsby also proves that this freedom from status is highly illusory as well, though the American elite may be relatively new, there is still most definitely and elite.

Many comparisons have been made over the years of Gatsby and his connection to hip hop. I remember a fashion spread being done by Diddy based on Gatsby, it was right around the time Diddy took on his own “Jerome”, Fonzworth Bentley. But in truth, it seems Diddy’s whole career has been influenced by figures such as Berry Gordy, James Brown, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Andre Harrell, Russell Simmmons, Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas, and this fictional character by the name of Jay Gatsby. I mean, all white parties in the Hamptons, where no rapper has gone before? Gatsby. Gatsby is almost the ultimate in “getting over”, though even he doesent quite make it. I am definitely in love with this versions choice of Jay Z as music supervisor, and a soundtrack that includes hip hop.

The decadence of Gatsby’s 1920s setting is reminiscent of hip hop in the late 1990s, which KRS ONE in his book “The Gospel of Hip Hop” refers to as “The Platinum Age.” Diddy’s parties look like a carbon copy of Gatsby’s. And yet, is there any happiness in them? Of course, as I’ve mentioned to several friends, another aspect of appeal for me is the dynamite, suited and booted, handcrafted 1920s wardrobe. Also I understand that Bryan Ferry takes one of my favorite songs from his Roxy Music time period, 1975s disco funk workout, “Love is the Drug”, and does it Duke Ellington Jungle Music style, sounding like “Black and Tan Fantasy” or something of that ilk. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were prime artists in bringing that 20s-40s swing image and glamour into pop music of the ’70s, being a prime influence on the image of the disco funk overlords, Chic.

I feel that Gatsby and this film version in particular can be another one of those books that will work in the urban setting to teach kids about American history through literature, and also enhance appreciation for American literature. The signifigance of the “jazz age” setting, the multi racial all American archetype of Jay Gatsby, the attention to sharp dressing, the elements of criminality, legitimacy, and MAKING IT, and the connection to hip hop in both imagery and circumstances can all be used to defuse that perennial question kids have when being given something to read: RELEVANCY. So sometime in the next week or so, bad reviews be damned, I’m going to engulf myself in the superslick fantasy world of the Great Gatsby.

imageimageimageimage

“We the Peeples” is simply one of those movies that is a must see because I love the cast, and I can relate to the story line. It’s about a regular working dude with a beautiful girlfriend who is about to meet her parents. It is complicated by the fact that her parents are wealthy, bourgeois people, and they also just happen to be Black. I’ve always had this feeling that black bourgeois people were even harder to please than whites. Maybe this is partly a result of old stories and myths, but some of it comes from dirty looks and personal experience. It’s been pretty much a fear of mine of meeting some girl and going through that with her parents, so, I like to see it played out to comedic effect. “Jumping the Broom” tread in similar territory, but the difference there was that although the male lead was from a humble background, he was successful in a white collar proffesion and very much someone who tried to adapt his life to the middle class lifestyle, Craig Robinson’s character is much more solidly blue collar in this film. Also in “Jumping the Broom” the mother of the bride was the one with the misgivings about her daughter marrying below her station, but in this one, the male lead must contend with pops himself.

The cast is one that excites me as well. Coming red hot on the heels of her dramatic television success in “Scandal”, and her cinematic success in “Django Unchained”, is the ever lovely Kerry Washington, a lady I have lusted after since Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me” (no lie). She’s exactly the type of woman I’d like to imagine in the situation. Craig Robinson is an actor I’ve been a huge fan of through his roles in Seth Rogans movies, and I feel his unassuming, intelligent, sarcastic humor is highly unique among black comedians working in film. It’s a sense of humor that is much closer to myself and many people I’ve known growing up. Of course, David Allen Grier is the OG of the game, a man I’ve long admired from “In Living Color”, and I like to visualize his character in this film as the grown up version of the reporter he played in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” (I got made fun of because I couldn’t speak Jive/and like, the only dance I knew was that dance Springsteen did in the Dancing in the dark video……”In the words of our Negro poet, Don Cornelius….). In short, a movie I can actually relate to in terms of lifestyles and the perfect movie to take mother and girlfriend to!

Leave a comment

Filed under Moving Pictures