Tag Archives: Miles Davis

Farewell, Bra’ Hugh

The world lost one of it’s greatest musical ambassadors of Pan Africanism the day it lost Hugh Masekela, known as “Bra Hugh” in South Africa and much of the world. One of my best-received blog postings on “riquespeaks” dealt with the history of Masekela in Liberia during the 1970s. As exciting as that period was for me personally, it was only one small portion of the truly incredible life Bra Hugh led.

Hugh’s South African origins put him in a unique position to understand the African diaspora, and he parlayed that into one of the most unique bodies of work in musical history. His musical journey through life started in South Africa and took him to the United States, both New York and Los Angeles, Lagos, Nigeria, Ghana, Zaire, Guinea, and many other points along the Transatlantic world. He parlayed this unusual cultural fluency into a songbook that covers a wide array of Pan African experiences, such as “Stimela”, “”African Secret Society”, “Grazing in the Grass”, “Bring Him Back Home”, “Mama”, “Mami Wata”, and many others. He utilized his fellow South African natives such as Philemon Hou (the composer of “Grazing in the Grass”), as well as Los Angeles by way of Houston, Texas musicians The Jazz Crusaders, and at other times, the Ghanian musicians who made up Hezbollah Soundz. Truly I can not think of too many other musicians who have covered so many points on the African diaspora as Bra Hugh.

It all began as a young jazz loving man in South Africa. Hugh, born in 1939, was a youth during the years that the Apartied system began to become more strictly codified into law. The Apartied system itself was inspired by the Jim Crow system in America, and also had many things in common with the suppression of Indigenous people in the States. One of the insights I got from his autobiography that surprised me was that, looking at American movies that featured Black people way back in the ’40s and ’50s, Hugh and his compatriots viewed the United States as a progressive place where Black people had freedom, as the thought of white Boers making movies that featured Blacks was totally inconceivable at that time. He would soon get the chance to come to America and see the strain of racism that influenced that of his country.

Masekela grew up in the unique position of being an African who had a strong connection to the culture of African Americans, through the language of jazz music. He was a huge Louis Armstrong fan, in addition to following the newer be bop school as represented by Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He actually received a trumpet from Louis Armstrong himself, mailed all the way from the States to South Africa. Eventually, he was sponsored by Harry Belafonte to come to the States to study music, and he would come to be mentored by Dizzy Gillespie, another one of his childhood trumpet heroes.

Of course, now would be the perfect time to mention his relationship to Mama Africa, Mariam Makeba. Mariam was actually several years older than Hugh and it seems their relationship was more of an infatuation on Hugh’s part in the beginning. But Miss Makeba played a pivotal part in Hugh’s life, setting up his connection to come to America, housing him when he got here and in general, teaching him about the facts of life. Eventually, this would include their famed marriage, which also put him in a rarefied jazz club, along with great artists like Max Roach and Miles Davis, in terms of being a jazzman and having a wife that was a well renowned creative force in her own right.

Makeba facilitated life in New York City for Hugh, where he studied music on scholarship from Belafonte and immersed himself in the early ’60s jazz scene. The early ’60s was a fertile creative time for jazz, although not the absolute height of the music’s popularity commercially. During that time period, representatives of every school of jazz existed, from New Orleans trad, to Swing, to Be Bop, to Free Jazz, Soul jazz and the different schools that would dominate the ’70s, including fusion. It was a somewhat daunting environment to learn in, with the music existing and yet going through so many changes. It was Miles Davis, himself a searcher for new forms who told Masekela, “Don’t try to play the shit we playing here. Take what you learn here and do what you know from over there (Africa) and do some shit that NONE of us can play.”

That is exactly what Masekela did when he recorded Philemon Hou’s “Grazing in the Grass.” The lazy, funky instrumental, replete with cowbell and a beautifully soulful melody, became one of the signature hits of the late 1960s. Masekela took that success and hit the very heights of the entertainment industry from a social standpoint, marrying Cab Calloway’s daughter and hobnobbing with stars like Sly Stone.

Masekela was in a very precarious position however, and as the open nature of the ’60s passed on, it was very hard for him as a South African banned in his own country to sustain hits in the United States. He covered all the bases, and yet lacked a base of his own at the same time. And his music began to become more and more political after the feel-good triumph of “Grazing in the Grass.”

So he took his music to Africa, and what he did there was very unique in its time and even today. He left the United States and put his musical celebrity behind trying to bring African music more to the forefront. His ban in his home country of South Africa facilitated his development as a Pan Africanist musical impresario, as he began to focus on West Africa during the ’70s. He worked with Fela Kuti and recruited bands from the West African region. The albums he recorded during the ’70s with Hezdollah Soundz, and on his own record label with Crusaders producer Stewart Levine, Chisa, are all worthwhile Afro Funk workouts that could easily satisfy modern crate diggers.

Hugh also cast his personal lot in Africa at that time, living in Guinea and Liberia. He also was instrumental in organizing the concert that paired with the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight, featured in the movies “Soul Power” and “When We Were Kings.” The concert was even more of a Pan Africanist festival in its planning than what it eventually turned out to be, as the list of artists that didnt make it included Fela Kuti, Stevie Wonder, Barry White, Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin. Hugh was cheated out of the proceeds of that concert by Don King, but the achievement of putting it on still looms large in Pan African history.

Hugh never again had a hit like “Grazing in the Grass” but that does not negate the body of work he made that was largely autobiographical, especially when you listen to songs such as “You Told Your Mama Not To Worry”, and “The Boy is Doin’ It”, which detail his long life away from South Africa. As the tide was eventually turned against Apartheid, Hugh was a key musical fighter in those battles as well. Re-examining his body of work will unearth a treasure trove of musical bounty.

His autobiography “Still Grazing” is one of my absolute favorite books and one I recommend to any fan of his, lover of music, Pan Africanist, historian of the ’60s-80s, and every bibliophile and lover of a good story. One of the things that struck me was the similarities his life had to that of his hero Miles Davis, although their personalities were rather different. But they had many interesting parallels and points of intersection, from Miles advice to play a mixture of American Black and African music, to their marriages to powerful female entertainers that they both tried to downplay ( Hugh to Mariam and Miles to Cicely), their drug addiction, the turn they both took away from pure jazz into a music that fused R&B and rock with jazz, and they also had many points of intersection in New York City, even dating some of the same women, and the impact Hugh had on Miles during Miles silent period, playing at the Nightclub Mikell’s. It also has much in common with that other jazz trumpeter who made it big, Quincy Delight Jones. All of these make for complelling reading and a story that brings a wider view of Jazz and popular music in the changes of the 1960s.

Mainly, when I think of Hugh’s life, I’m happy for him more than I’m sad that he passed. He survived both Aparteid and the pain of being away from his country for 40 years while also making music and recieivng love from many people. And he lived long enough to see majority rule return to South Africa and to serve as a respected cultural ambassador for his country, spending the last 20 plus years at home in South Africa. It all adds up to one of the most incredible lives imaginable and one we should be happy was set to music.




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Barry White/Miles and Prince 1987 into 1988-2017 into 2018

Well, I’ve had a fantastic time chronicling some of the best records of 1987 on Riquespeaks, and just as 1987 moved into 1988, 2017 is moving into 2018. I still have a few lose ends to cover in the music of ’87 that I will complete this January, including talking about Stevie Wonder’s wonderful, “Characters” album. But for New Years Eve 2018 I wanted to bring something a little special from New Years 1988. Two of my favorite artists, Barry White and Prince, did very special shows on NYE 30 years ago. Barry, bouyed by his comeback album, “The Right Night & Barry White, performed a concert in one of my absolute favorite places, Paris, France on NYE ’88. I’m including a clip of it here, but the full concert can be enjoyed on YouTube.

Prince also played a New Years Eve show on the last day of 1987, at his own, then brand spanking new Paisley Park complex. The concert was notable, coming off the triumph of his 1987 “Sign O The Times” album. Also, the audience that night was graced with the presence of the great Miles Davis, resplendent in a Purple suit and playing on top of Prince’s brand of Purple Funk!

I share these concerts in appreciation for reading Riquespeaks in 2017 and in partying anticipation of an even better 2018. Here’s to health, prosperity, and funk!!!!

Here is Barry White’s triumphant ’87 comeback single, “Sho You Right”, live from Paris

Miles and Prince Jamming over music from Prince’s “Madhouse” album!!

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Music 4 the Next 1 “Loose Ends edition”: “Franceessence” by Robert Glasper

When Don Cheadle set out to assemble the creative team for last years Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead”, he was very much concerned with assembling a creative team for the film that would reflect the ways in which the great trumpeter and musical conceptualist bandleader’s musical conceptions remain relevant in the 21st Century. After all, Miles was a musican who grew up with the blues, swing and bebop, and was collaborating with Prince and Easy Mo Bee in his last years. The films late ’70s setting also meant that someone like Wynton Marsalis with his more conservative outlook would be totally inappropriate. The musician Cheadle settled on for the film was pianist Robert Glasper, a jazz pianist who’s relative youth and involvement in Neo Soul and Hip Hop mark him as a successor to the musical and social values of musicians like Davis and his most famous collaborators, such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Michael Henderson, Mtume Heath and Reggie Lucas, and a host of others. Glasper responded with two albums, one a score of the movie, and another an album that featured modern takes and remixes of mostly unreleased Davis material. The song “Franceessence” is a song that plays underneath a tender love scene in “Miles Ahead” between Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis, and Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Davis. The song itself is a beautiful Fender Rhodes driven tune that in its own beautiful way harkens back to Miles ballads from albums such as “Neferetiti” and other albums in the early stages of his involvement with what would be called “fusion.”

The song begins with a beautiful downward stepping chord introduction from a lushly chorused and vibrating Fender Rhodes. The downward stepping “Call” is then responded to by the piano itself, with acoustic bass underneath, both playing a phrase that goes up an interval and comes back down. Just like that a languorous, romantic, candlelit/twilight mood is struck. In the background a sweeping, wind like effect gathers like a storm. A beautiful melody comes in, with a very complex sound playing a simple, tender melody. The melody sounds as if it’s being played by flute, flugelhorn and Rhodes together, which in itself is a very Quincy Jones like combination of sounds. After the melody makes its gentle statement, the Rhodes punches in sharp chords and a muted trumpet fills in. The next time the melody is stated the flute sound is predominant, while Glasper runs arpeggios underneath and the trumpet ornaments the phrases. The flute improvises for a while while the trumpet adds poking and pleading phrases in at sparse intervals. The short interlude plays out beautifully as a duet for muted trumpet and flute as the track floats into wonderland.

I had “Miles Ahead” on one day at my home when the love scene flashed on, and besides being enjoying the romantic maneuvers on screen I was struck by Glasper’s tune. I thought it was a Miles tune from those days I somehow missed, and it also reminded me of the early fusion ballad sound that Quincy Jones would use both in his movie scores and on his albums. I must admit I actually had to resort to the “Shazam” app to find out who made this song! Which was sad because I already had the CD from the week it came out! “Francessence” is a lovely mood tune in the tradition of electric jazz film music and another example of the versatility of Robert Glasper in composing music to suit many different occasions and eras.

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Music for the NEXT One Purple MusicLives Edition : “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” by Wallace Roney

 

The only way I’ve been able to really come to grips with Prince’s passing has been through the artistic medium he mastered the most during his lifetime, music. Today’s “Music for the NEXT One selection, “Virtual Choclate Cherry” has several layers of musical and personal associations with Prince’s life and music. Wallace Roney is one of the “Young Lions” of Jazz who appeared on the scene in the 1980s. Unlike Wynton Marsalis, who although greatly influenced by Miles’ second Great Quintet, allowed himself to be positioned in the media as a sort of Anti Miles Davis, Wallace Roney embraced the broad, “Social Music” concept of post “In a Silent Way” Miles. He did this with a tone that was so Miles influenced that the members of the second Great Quintet, with all the original members save Miles himself, used him to take Miles place when they staged a reunion tour during the ’80s. Roney is also reputed to be one of Miles few trumpet students, and he supported Miles at the 1991 Montreaux Jazz Festival, with Quincy jones conducting Gil Evans classic arrangements from his collaborations with Miles. Of course, Miles and Prince were mutual fans of each other’s work as well as their mutual Gemini complexities. One of my big musical “what ifs” is imagining how the music would have sounded if those two Giants were able to record more. There are a few examples of their collaborations, but today’s song, “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” by Wallace Roney, might be the best example I’ve yet heard of a Miles musical attitude in a Prince type of musical environment. Roney takes Prince’s classic from the “1999” album, “D.M.S.R” and keeps the party going with room for the musicians to solo, and a fascinating new mix of synthesized pop and acoustic jazz textures.

The song begins at the beginning with the 8 note funky synth riff from “D.M.S.R”, played on a synth, sitting right on top of Lenny White’s drums. White’s drums have his classic, full, wide marching jazz sound, playing a funky, laid back variation of Prince’s original Linn Drum beat. In the 4th bar the acoustic bass comes in, and it has the freedom to improvise different funky lines as the electric piano plays a bluesy sounding riff. There is an electric wave sound in the background most likely added by co-producer Kareiem Riggens. At this point in my first hearing of the song I knew I was hearing “D.M.S.R” but I didn’t know how far Roney and company would go.

When the five note “D.M.S.R” blues riff comes in (DA-Da-DAAAH-DADA) you realize they’re going all out into full Purple mode! The synth hits with Mineapolis sound gospel chords as the acoustic bass begins to play Prince’s classic line. The Acoustic piano of Geri Allen takes over the playing of the introductory line played on synth. Wallace Roney comes in playing his variation of Prince’s vocal melody from the song, and he Tounges his trumpet very aggressively, spitting out staccato, funky notes, with the same type of bluesy tail off that was a trademark of the Miles Davis sound. Underneath Roney’s melody, Lenny White plays funky drum rolls, which he builds up to crescendo’s that pop right along with the synthesizers at the end holes in Roney’s melodic phrases (Wear lingerie to the restaurant!!!)

About 1:33 in, a very Minneapolis sounding keyboard riff comes in that moves the song through several keys, supported by Whites drums. This is the setup for the instrumental solo section of the song, which is still very well arranged through Roney’s solo. The first time around it serves as a cue for Roney to play the melody from the top again. The second time it appears it serves as a bridge to a serious minor key groove, which White begins by playing a James Brown style stop and start funk beat while the piano plays some dark sounding, ominous phrases. This serves as the launch pad for Roney to play some very Miles style things, one moment he’s playing a well shaped phrase and leaving space between it, the next he’s soaring like Miles in the ’60s and tumbling back down the horn. What makes it unique is he goes from ’60s Miles to playing things more reminiscent of an ’80s album like “Star People.” The sax and keyboards come in and play a unison line taken from Miles Davis song “Star on Cicely.” As the sax solo plays the piano stabs out well stated chords.

After the sax solo, a Fender Rhodes solo is introduced, quite tellingly it’s not the lush Rhodes sound we know and love, but the brittle, time heavy Rhodes sound from Miles recordings with Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in the ’60s. After that piano comes in and plays a groove supported by synth. The Mineapolis key changes again bring us right back to the top, with Roney playing the “Dance Music Sex Romance” melody, the band laying down some calamitous jazz funk, and trumpet and tenor playing a duet on the way out that Roney leaves with an abrupt trumpet call, leaving it to the Tenor man to play us on out.

I love “Virtual Chocolate Cherry” because it realizes in a musical sense, the deep love and respect Miles Davis had for the music of Prince. It Los gives us a taste of how the ’80s could have sounded if the soul jazz musicians like Jimmy Smith, Lou Donaldson, and Jimmy McGriff could have gotten their hands on Prince’s music and created true fusions of electronics and acoustics in line with their ’60s records. The mixture of Prince’s composition and arrangement, Roney’s rearrangement to fit a jazz style, and Miles way of musical thinking, trumpet sound (through Roney), and even some phrases and instrumental textures from “Star People” and “Bitches Brew” make for an incredible, never heard before musical combination. And a good way to console ourselves in this time of a Prince’s passing and “Miles Ahead” in the theaters, thanks to musicians like Wallace Roney and his band, Jazz, Miles Davis music, and the music of Prince will live on!!

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Music for the Next ONE 10/17/15 : “Fela 1” by Nicholas Payton

This weekends post is in honor of the worldwide celebration of Fela Kuti’s life, music and political activism known as the “Felabration” which falls yearly around his birthday of October the 15th. This celebration was inaugurated by his daughter Yeni a year after his death, in 1998. It has been exciting to see this festival grow in Africa, Europe, and The United States as the legend of Fela has continued to grow bigger and broader. Today’s tribute recording, “Fela 1” is the first part of a two part Fela suite on Nicholas Payton’s 2003 album “Sonic Trance.” Payton is one of my favorite musicians and he shares the sign of Libra with Fela. The song also will remind you of a man who was an influence on Fela and Nick, and who was himself inspired by Fela’s music later on, Miles Davis. “Fela 1” combines a Fela Kuti inspired rhythmic setting with a texture based environment that recalls the fusion work of Miles Davis and his bands on albums such as “Bitches Brew”, “Get Up With It”, “Jack Johnson”, and other now legendary records. The album marks an ever ongoing broadness in Payton’s work and worldview, in which he has substituted the term jazz for the term “Black American Music”, or #BAM.

The tune starts off with Vicente Archer playing a strong, archetypical Fela Kuti bassline on acoustic bass. I must say right off the bat, this is what hooked me on the song first, the incorporation of Fela Kuti’s style of funky African bass, being played with the timbre of the acoustic bass, which we associate with “jazz”, is a new sonic texture that opens new possibilities in sound. The funky strut of the bassline is soon joined by sizzling, consistent hi hat/cymbal work from Adonis Rose on drums. The piano gets going with some dark sounding, minor key/whole tone sounding arpeggios that capture the dark Miles Davis type melodic flavor of the piece. The percussion work by Daniel Sedownick adds to the rhythmic foundation, as the drums come in with kick drums placed in a manner similar to Africa 70 drummer Tony Allen.

After the rhythm is set, the horns play a short, dark blue melody that’s is kind of Monkish, kind of Milesian. Saxophonist Tim Warfield then goes I to a ex tended solo on soprano sax that recalls Miles’ saxophonists of the fusion period, such as Steve Grossman, Wayne Shorter, and Gary Bartz. The Fender Rhodes piano, overdriven here to “Bitches Brew” darkness as opposed to Ohio Players lushness, makes statements and comps in the back, with the horn sometimes answering the piano. As the solo reaches it’s peak and falls, a Clavinet line is introduced that doubles the Afro-Beat bass line. The Rhodes adds texture as Nicholas Payton comes in on wah wah trumpet. The solo he plays is more atmospheric, based more on manipulation of the wah wah and it’s rhythms than on telling a story by running through the scales. He hits low growl notes and ends his solo with the wah wah opening up slowly as he manipulates the notes to color the groove.

“Fela 1” uses the mighty musical ancestory of Fela Kuti and Miles Davis to provide Nicholas Payton with a way to escape the prison that he regards the term “jazz” as. It’s thrilling to hear Afro Beat rhythms enrich improvisational music. Jelly Roll Morton often spoke of “The Spanish Tinge”, a rhythmic flavor that was essential to jazz. Well, Jelly Roll’s era was so racist it could not acknowledge the African roots of this “Spanish Tinge”, with it’s congas, shakers, clave’s and dance rhythms. The inclusion of Baba Fela’s beat, which itself was inspired to become more African by musicians such as James Brown and Miles Davis, is a wonderful expansion of the transatlantic conversation of the African diaspora. It’s my firm belief that if more “jazz” took on this funky challenge, it would receive it’s rightful credit as the soul moving music it is. But it needs a new dance beat. My man Nick Payton finds it here with Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, letting Miles oversee it all! “Fela 1” is a fine tribute song for this weekends “Felabration” as well as an example of how Fela’s music can help the world of music as a whole move forward.

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