Category Archives: the Freshness

Eddie Sings The Blues

(originally published in the December 2020 installment of the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s JazzGram)

Chicago saxophonist Eddie Harris is perhaps best remembered as an unabashed experimentalist, famously playing the Varitone electronic saxophone on albums like Plug Me In (1968). He also utilized an early tape looping mechanism (now so en vogue) on 1969’s Silver Cycles. So, Eddie Harris Sings The Blues (1972) stands less as an outlier than as a further testament to his legacy of sonic risk tasking.

Sings The Blues opens with the track “Please Let Me Go”. AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams employs an RMI Electra-piano, all flickers of chunky, reverb-drenched notes. This unusual fanfare sets the scene for Eddie Harris to serenade us, very literally singing to us though the mouthpiece of his electric horn, which he further muddled through a wah wah pedal. Naysayers and purists might be tempted to stop reading here, but the truth of the matter is that Eddie achieved an absolutely spellbinding effect on this album with indefinite vocalizations that defy casual listening. After Eddie sings a few plaintive bars on “Please Let Me Go”, a gorgeous swell of strings blooms on the otherwise sparse track (rounded out by Rufus Reid’s upright bass), enveloping his vocalizations flawlessly. The strings come courtesy of E. Zlatoff Mirsky, Sol Bobrov and the rest of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strings that played on countless Chicago Soul music recordings in the 1960s and 70s (from Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” to Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and beyond), so you know they can swing.

This album may not be an outlier in Eddie Harris’ catalogue in terms of sheer novelty, but it reflects the cross-pollination found on the Chicago music scene circa 1972. For further proof, the horn section on “Walk With Me” included Willie Henderson & Burgess Gardner, record producers and players responsible for hits by artists like Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back The Hands Of Time”) and Barbara Acklin (“Am I The Same Girl”) at Brunswick Records.

Eddie Harris Sings The Blues (1972) stands less as an outlier than as a further testament to his legacy of sonic risk tasking.”

Andre Fischer (of the rock band The American Breed [“Bend Me, Shape Me”], and later of the funk band Rufus featuring Chaka Khan) played drums on that track, as well. Marshall Thompson (a member of The Chi-Lites) even contributed percussion accompaniment on a handful of tracks. And the strings, horns and vocals on the album were arranged by Richard Evans (of Chess/ Cadet Records fame) who had proven at that label to be as deft at working in soulful modes as he was with jazz and blues.

The title of this album is reminiscent of the Billie Holiday standard titled “Lady Sings The Blues”, and Eddie’s hazy, blurred out voice on “Please Let Me Go” and “Eddie Sings The Blues” bears more than a passing resemblance to Ms. Holiday’s (particularly in regards to his phrasing). And on “Please Let Me Go” in particular, arranger Richard Evans dials up an arrangement befitting a gardenia-adorned torch singer. However, this album was not recorded as a cash-in response after the release of the popular Diana Ross film Lady Sings The Blues (a fictionalized account of the life and death of Billie Holiday). Eddie Sings The Blues was recorded months before the film’s release, and contains no material that was previously recorded by Holiday. But Eddie definitely had a sense of humor (even releasing an infamous album of comedy monologues in 1976), so it very well may have been recorded anticipating the film’s ultimate success. Besides, any level of confusion related to the album’s title would likely have pleased him.

But, ultimately, the album’s ambiguous connections to a Billie Holiday biopic are not what makes this album notable. Eddie Harris Sings the Blues is a fairly lean album (weighing in at 6 tracks, soaking wet) that somehow delivers the sort of blues that begs for a Formica bar stool and a stiff gimlet on “Eddies Sings The Blues”, moody, big band jazz on “Please Let Me Go”, the sort of soulful jazz you might find on a Young-Holt Unlimited album on “Walk With Me”, and even a playful, positively angular, Latin-tinged romp through “Giant Steps”. In short, it’s a deeply soulful album flecked with avant touches and a flair for the dramatic that never teeters into schmaltziness.


Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago through a kaleidoscopic lens

1340_010 DuroInstallation view, Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, 2020. Photo: Kendall McCaugherty.

The Seeing Chicago exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago(curated by Duro Olowu), immediately bombards you with powerful works by Chicago-bred artists. AfriCOBRA and Judy Chicago alongside Amanda Williams. But what it offers is even more than that.  It’s a reflection of Chicago’s kaleidoscopic lens, trained towards the world.

Seeing Chicago is at the MCA until May 10th, 2020. Audio of Duro Olowu and Naomi Beckwith was provided by the MCA and produced by Antenna.

This piece originally aired on Reclaimed Soul with Ayana Contreras. Catch a full two hours of soulful power on Thursdays at 8pm (CST) or Sunday at 8am on Vocalo 91.1fm in Chicago, streaming live worldwide here. Or you can catch a one hour fun-size version on Friday night at 10 on WBEZ 91.5fm.


Ayana Contreras Shares Her Mid-Year Best of Chicago Music 2019

Ayana hosts Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo and WBEZ and co-produces Sound Opinions on WBEZ. She also can’t stop digging…

Top Chicago Releases of 2019

This has been an incredible year for Chicago music, so far. Here’s a short list of releases I’ve fallen for:

a2808259986_10.jpgThe Oracle – Angel Bat Dawid (International Anthem) This woman’s bright and powerful spirit is all over this record, as is her connection to the deep well of spiritual jazz that has come before her (particularly out of Chicago). The record feels very immediate, and was for the most part recorded and dubbed by Angel on her phone while touring. She is of this time, but out of this world. 

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Resavoir (International Anthem) A tight collective of musicians led by Will Miller, this album is absolutely refreshing. With features by Knox Fortune, Sen Morimoto and Brandee Younger, this album is full of freshness while steeped in a jazz-funk tradition that rings true to me.

 

VF330_Outer_3mm-1FurthermoreTheaster Gates & The Black Monks (Vinyl Factory/Black Madonna) Blending field hollers, gospel, preaching, and thumping house, Furthermore flies a flag for the Southern-ness at the core of Black Chicago culture.

IARC0025_ARTWhere Future UnfoldsDamon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble (International Anthem) I first heard this album driving down the 405 in Los Angeles. Lushness and sky just beyond the road. It feels open like that. The record gives me flavors of Eddie Gale’s outstanding jazz-with-voices, wed with Damon’s inventive use of sampling and 808 programming. It feels huge and hopeful and keeps ringing in your head long after the songs are over.

Intellexual (Fantasy) – Nico Segal and Nate Fox deliver a laser-sharp, intricate mashup Intellexual_Coverof yachtrock, hooky jazz and hip hop… which may sound strange to the uninitiated, but is perfect like guava and cheese empanadas. More please.

cover_1545236225874346LEGACY! LEGACY! – Jamila Woods (Jagjaguwar) This album is both rumination and celebration of a wide variety of artists of all stripes, from MUDDY to BASQUIAT to ZORA. Extoling dimensional emotion, she plays with mood like a painter plays with color. And it bumps. The sonic palate pulses with a continuously fulfilling groove.

Stomping Off From Greenwood – Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade (Greenleaf greg ward rogue paradeMusic) This record might be situated off Greenwood, but it’s also at the delicious intersection of slightly glitchy art-rock and cinematically scaled bebop.

 

you can see the full list (including artists from around the globe) on vocalo.org


Linda Clifford and Richard Steele on Reclaimed Soul Live 2018

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A tribute to classic Chicago radio station WJPC (Ebony/Jet’s radio station) hosted by Reclaimed Soul host Ayana Contreras with former WJPC program director Richard Steele, an interview with Chicago disco/soul legend Linda Clifford (“Runaway Love”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”).

We hear vintage WJPC audio including Richard Steele back in 1974 and Linda Clifford’s interview with Wali Muhammad from 1978. We also hear classic music and deep cuts from Ms. Clifford as well as her own story.

Below, Linda and Richard pictured in 2018 and in  1978, respectively.41810859_2212461328783202_5081003610326695936_n

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm and Sundays at 8am (CST) on vocalo.org/player or over the air on 91.1fm (CHI)


Reclaimed Soul: Cuba / Chicago Connections

 

On my recent trip to Cuba, I learned a lot. But it was a bowl of okra in the hills of Baracoa that tied everything together.
Okra made the Trans-Atlantic journey on slave ships alongside human cargo. The fact that the fuzzy green seed-laden vegetable is eaten by black folk in the United States is a miracle. A vegetable umbilical cord.
But to see okra in Cuba was a metaphor for a very particular shared narrative. One of survival. One of connections.  Okra, hambone, the clave, the percolator and much more tie Black Chicago to Cuba.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm


Ayana Contreras of Reclaimed Soul talks with Emily J. Lordi, author of Donny Hathaway Live

Soul singer/Songwriter Donny Hathaway’s life and untimely death are both shrouded in mystery.
Though artists like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin have called him an influence, there is very little biographical work about him. I sat down with Emily Lordi, author of “Donny Hathaway Live”. Lordi’s recent book uses the album of the same name as a jumping off point for uncovering Hathaway’s legacy and his unique contributions to 20th century popular music.

Listen to Part Two of this conversation here: https://soundcloud.com/vocalo/ayana-contreras-of-reclaimed-soul-talks-with-emily-lordi-author-of-donny-hathaway-live-part-2

 


Donny Hathaway in Chicago.

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Donny Hathaway was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Early in his career, he returned to Chicago. During that time period, roughly from 1968 until about 1971, Donny was very prolific. In this hour of Reclaimed Soul, Ayana Contreras explores Donny Hathaway’s early work arranging and writing for other artists in Chicago: from Albertina Walker, Syl Johnson, and Curtis Mayfield, to The Five Stairsteps and Little Milton. We’ll also hear some of his classics, compositions, and some of his very first recordings.

For more on Donny’s career, check out the recently published book “Donny Hathaway Live” by Emily J. Lordi.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm

 


Dance Chicago Dance.

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Back in 1980, Chicago was still a national hub for music (like LA, Nashville, and New York are today). During that time, Producer/Promoter/Entrepreneur Eddie Thomas ran the influential Dogs of War DJ record association. Based out of Chicago, they were a record pool famous for breaking a number of seminal disco recordings.

Essentially, a record pool is a service that DJs either subscribe to or otherwise sign up for. New records from participating labels are distributed to the DJs as promotional copies. Dogs of War primarily worked with DJs that worked at black clubs on the South Side of Chicago. In the day, they were frequently mentioned in disco write ups in industry papers such as Billboard.

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picture courtesy / Bernie Howard’s Facebook Page

Together, Eddie & the Dogs of War Association produced a TV program pilot called “Dance Chicago Dance”. According to Director Bernie Howard Fryman:

“The year was 1980 and disco was the thing. This is the pilot of the Chicagoland dance show that I shot and directed in cooperation with executive producer Eddie Thomas and “The Dogs of War DJ Association”.

This show was created to feature new music and was to be shot from various discos in the Chicago area.

This show never aired and was dubbed from a Betamax demo of my show. We even cut in a few commercials for realism.”

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Featuring a theme song by Al Hudson and One Way, and hosted by radio personality LaDonna Tittle (then at WJPC) and Lisa Hunter (a member of the Dogs of War), the program was an all-star affair. This pilot also features two performances featuring Chicago’s own silver lame-clad disco artist Captain Sky. His extravagant costumes are worth the price of admission. The pilot was shot in suburban Naperville (!) at Valentino’s Disco. It features, notably, a racially mixed crew of dancers.

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picture courtesy / Bernie Howard’s Facebook page

The “Dance Chicago Dance” pilot was shot in 1980, well after Steve Dahl’s infamous “Disco Demolition Night” that occurred on July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park. The disco scene in Chicago was a well oiled machine in many ways because Chicago’s Black music scene had dwarfed the rock and pop scenes for much of the mid-20th Century in terms of record sales, record label prominence, and distribution. It was easy to get the music out there.

From the Electrified Delta Blues of Chess Records to the sweet soul of Brunswick Records and Curtom Records (and many labels in between), the baton was passed to disco, and eventually to house. It’s arguable that the prominence of disco music over rock music (often considered to be “white music”) in Chicago (mixed with some good old fashioned racism & homophobia) churned up the Disco Demolition. By 1979, disco had become a universal juggernaut; but its roots were in black and brown communities, as well as in the gay community (a fact that disco shares with house music).

About 50,000 people showed up to the event, during which radio shock jock Steve Dahl was to destroy audience supplied disco records in a massive explosion on the baseball field. But to illustrate the inherent racism, Vince Lawrence, who at the time worked at Comiskey Park as an usher, noted that many of the records were not disco at all. According to an NPR piece, there were:

 “Tyrone Davis records, friggin’ Curtis Mayfield records and Otis Clay records,” he recalls. “Records that were clearly not disco,” but that were by black artists [from Chicago].

Regardless, this video documents clearly that Disco Demolition Night did not, in fact, demolish disco in Chicago. In many ways, disco was just about to get started as something new: House. And that usher at Comiskey Park during the Disco Demolition Night wound up co-writing what is credited as the first truly House record (as opposed to a disco record played in house music clubs), 1984’s “On and On”.

He picked up a lot of good records that night, too. So Dance, Chicago, Dance. Jive on!


Stretching out the Boundaries of Jazz: 10 years of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

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The Hyde Park Jazz Festival celebrates its 10th Anniversary with three dozen performances and programs on 11 stages across the neighborhood this weekend. Many of the performances, to their credit, lack easy categorization, and truly exemplify the spirit of Jazz from the South Side of Chicago (multi-layered, collaborative, and connected to the community). A few highlights:

The South Side of Chicago has a rich history of Jazz music, and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival’s schedule represents keepers of that flame, like Maggie Brown (pictured, who is a daughter of the iconic Oscar Brown, Jr. and an electrifying vocalist in her own right); as well as younger creators such as the Thaddeus Tukes / Isaiah Collier Duo.

Stretching out the boundaries of traditional Jazz programming are a restaging of Supreme Love (a live music and tap dance performance set to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme). In collaboration with dancers from M.A.D.D. Rhythms, musicians on the set include Isaiah Spencer on drums and Junius Paul on bass.

Also as part of the festival, Marvin Tate will present The Weight of Rage, which was initially presented at the Hyde Park Art Center earlier this year The visual component is an exhibition of work developed in classes in the Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project at Stateville Prison. The show brings together work from incarcerated artists and teaching artists and writers (including Marvin Tate) in the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP) at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, IL to explore the question, “how does the state identify you?” There will be a music performance by a sextet as part of Saturday’s presentation of The Weight of Rage, as well.

The Festival also announced a new partnership with the Hyde Park Art Center that commissioned visual artists to install site-specific artwork on Midway Plaisance.

Three main projects have been selected for this inaugural year: Juan Angel Chavez, “Gramaphone”; Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford and Faheem Majeed, “Floating Museum”; and Sabina Ott, “Mountain Variation.”

And, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival Story Share Project continues this year, in which visitors are invited to share stories about their relationship to Jazz (particularly Jazz on the South Side of Chicago).  All stories are archived for the Hyde Park Jazz Society, and select stories will be made available via an dedicated web platform that is currently in production.

For more on the Hyde Park Jazz Festival (including a full calendar), click here.

Jive on!

 


Reclaimed Soul Live!

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This Thursday is Reclaimed Soul Live! Come to the historic Promontory Point Fieldhouse Thursday night at 7pm for live music, DJ sets, and special guests.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1103794106380248/

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