Tag Archives: Music

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


Maggie Brown on Oscar Brown, Jr. and The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus

Reclaimed Soul’s Ayana Contreras spoke with Jazz vocalist Maggie Brown, daughter of Oscar Brown, Jr. Maggie is passionate about preserving the legacy of her father’s community-engaged artistry.maggiebrown-684x384

The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus (a creative collaboration between singer/writer/playwright Oscar Brown Jr. and the notorious Blackstone Rangers street gang) premiered 50 years ago. Mr. Brown stated in 1967, “They’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.”

oscar brown jr

As we look for solutions to quell today’s violence in our communities and to get kids off the streets, this is a notable model of artist intervention from Chicago’s past.

This was recorded at a live event at Thalia Hall in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

click here for more on the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.

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


Blind Man: Little Milton’s hooked and he can’t let her go.

little-milton

One of my very favorite Chess Records from the 1960s is “Blind Man” by Little Milton, released on Chess’ Checker subsidiary. Below is a rare televised performance from January of 1966 on a show called “The !!!! Beat”. “The !!!! Beat” was a program that was hosted by Nashville disc jockey Bill “Hoss” Allen.

The song itself was originally released by Bobby “Blue” Bland, who does a jazzier rendition. But Little Milton’s version is all heart and glowing grit. Chess Records session blind-manmen on the Little Milton version put in a characteristically stellar performance, as well. It’s beautifully brassy Chicago blues-soul of the highest order.

Notably, neither version of “Blind Man” was a hit. But the song was covered later in the 1960s by British rock-jazz group Traffic. A live recording of their version was released in 1969, after the original lineup of Traffic broke up.

But this is Little Milton. He’s hooked and he can’t let her go. Of this, I am wholly convinced. Jive on.


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.”

captain-sky-1980

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!


100 Saxophones for Sun Ra

100 Saxophones for Sun Ra

Chicago Free Jazz composer and saxophonist David Boykin invites you to participate in 100 Saxophones for Sun Ra. David is currently a Resident Artist at the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life/Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture.

David has put out an open call for 100 saxophonists to participate in a musical tribute to Sun Ra in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. 100 saxophonists will convene and perform “Happy Birthday” at 12 noon in Washington Park (on Chicago’s South Side) on Thursday May 22, 2014, his 100th birthday.

According to the open call:

“This is a historic opportunity to share our collective energy in honor of this musician whose musical, political and spiritual philosophy has been impactful and transformative to so many. His legacy continues because of the ways in which his musical innovation has been central to the free jazz movement in Chicago and beyond.

[David] chose this space and place because of its significance to [Sun Ra]. Along with other musicians, artists and activists he gathered in the park to play and to teach. In celebration of this work we invite you to participate in this gathering of saxophonists of all ages.”
RSVPs should be sent by email to info@sonichealingministries.com

Free bus transportation is available for student groups that wish to participate. Please contact Dominique L. Boyd for bus arrangements at dominiquelboyd@uchicago.edu

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy,” musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a 1979 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

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In Rotation: Ayana Contreras of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul on a softly stratospheric Andrew Hill LP

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The music that is currently in rotation (in my head), as excerpted from

Ayana Contreras, DJ and host of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul, blogger at darkjive.com

The Natural Four, Natural Four This was released here in Chicago on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in 1974. The Natural Four was a group that came here from San Francisco to record because Chicago was a soul-music center. Unfortunately, aside from scoring a Top 40 hit with this album’s classic lead track, “Can This Be Real,” the group was unable to break through. Natural Four brims with loping strings, aggressive horns, and slinky harmonies.

Andrew Hill, Lift Every Voice I collect old Blue Note albums, and I’m often initially attracted to their covers. This 1970 release features Hill’s face superimposed over stars and violet nebulas, and the record itself is softly stratospheric in its energy. Hill leads a crowd of vocalists and an instrumental quintet that includes Richard Davis on bass and Carlos Garnett on tenor sax. With song titles such as “Love Chant,” “Ghetto Lights,” and “Hey Hey,” the record gently envelops you with a sense of perpetual motion—sometimes it feels like you’re swinging in a hammock, and sometimes it’s like you’re running electrically in the streets.

Sunday Williams, “Where Did He Come From Sunday Williams recorded this single in Chicago around 1969 for Bill Meeks’s Alteen label, based on Stony Island Avenue. It did OK locally, mainly thanks to the cheery flip side, “Ain’t Got No Problems” (which features the hook “Know what to do with my man, yeah!”). Really, both songs are stellar. But “Where Did He Come From” has a hauntingly beautiful staccato horn intro, coupled with dreamy vibes and a rock-solid bass line.

Proof positive that I do listen to stuff that’s not from Chicago, sometimes. For the rest of the article, click here.


Reggie Torian of The Impressions gives his impressions of Curtom, Curtis Mayfield, and more.

The-Impressions-Finally-Got-Myself-Together-LP-Back

In this installment of Reclaimed Soul (sort of the radio version of this blog), check out host Ayana Contreras’ interview with Reggie Torian of The Impressions (that’s him sitting on the bumper of that antique Rolls Royce). He’s been a part of Chicago’s own Impressions (“Keep on Pushin”, “Gypsy Woman”, etc.) for 40 years. And he’s got a lot to say. He talks about the group, Curtom Records, and more. We also hear some of the music he helped to create.

The Impressions counted Curtis Mayfield as both member and principle songwriter during the 1960s and early 1970s before he went solo. Curtom Records was Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago-based record label that was home to the Impressions for nearly a decade. It was also the one-time label of The Five Stairsteps, The Natural Four, Leroy Hutson, The Jones Girls, Linda Clifford, Rasputin’s Stash, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, The Staple Singers, and more.

Catch Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 89.5fm (NWI) and 90.7fm (CHI)

 


I’m a sucker for colored wax; but this is more than just a pretty face.

 

clear curtis mayfield 45

I just found this lovely promo record. As you can see, it’s Curtis Mayfield’s “We Got to Have Peace”. It’s from the album Roots that he released back in 1971. The album was released months before Superfly, and it is just as wonderful.

Released on Curtom Records (Curtis’ own label), this promo is pretty rare. Colored vinyl (especially on 45) from this period is quite rare, in fact. Rarer still is a vanity label (unique to the release). Generally speaking, colored vinyl promos were created to make people (DJs particularly) stop and take notice.

And notice I did, 40 some years later.

In the year following the epic 1970 album Curtis, Mayfield was mounting a campaign to fully express himself as a solo artist in ways he couldn’t as a member of the arguably more conservative Impressions.

In his initial solo outings, the songs were markedly longer, basslines were funkier, African percussion became prominent, and horns a bit jauntier. But Mayfield’s commitment to exploring the full spectrum of black experience (something very evident in Impressions records) never wavered. Curtis was particularly keen at expressing voices of Urban Black Men: those who struggled, scratched, loved, dreamed, and believed. His expressions are still relevant today, wrought with eloquent and earthy simplicity. As far as I’m concerned, “Move on Up” is a Black National Anthem.

Witness an artifact.

Jive on.


The All-Brunswick Records Blow Out (Side A and Side B)

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A mix of music featuring all local Chicago Soul from the Brunswick Label. The label was originally from New York; but moved most of its operations to 17th and Michigan on Chicago’s Record Row in the mid 1960s. From there, producer Carl Davis steered an all star cast of local talent, like Barbara Acklin (above).

This podcast features the music, and an interview with some of the creative people behind the music.

 

This podcast, like all good B-Sides, features some of the trippier cuts from the Brunswick Catalogue.

 


The Early Editions: Swinging Soul and Afro-Pop from the Windy City.

early editions

“People Try” b/w “What is Wrong With Grovin'” is  a hip little record from about 1968 by the Early Editions. It’s a Chicago record, crafted by James Mack on the Aries label, but not much else is known about the group itself. My best educated guess is that the group consisted of a lounge act and/or some studio session vocalists. 

UPDATE: I found out from Theresa Davis (a one-time member of The Emotions, and an amazing session and solo  vocalist, as well) that the group consisted of three of her sisters and one of her cousins. Below is an image of the group.

early editions 2

Anyway, both sides of this record are pretty great. give a listen to snippets from both sides below. “People Try” is a peppy-yet-hip bossa nova romp, while “What is Wrong With Grovin'” is a cover of an afro-pop record by Hugh “Grazin in the Grass” Masekela.

Chicago was testing the waters as a “world city” via music, apparently.

Jive on.