Music is life. It is to be able to take a material and make something artistic out of it. It is knowing how to reach people’s emotions through sound. It is the ability to present something on stage and reach people.
Evidence Jazz Group live in 2014
Growing up in New York I was exposed to music. My parents had a record collection of over 3000 LP recordings. So, I heard a lot of Jazz, Classical, and also Caribbean music – representing my Caribbean background on my father’s side of the family. My mother, who was also an avid Jazz fan, came from the rural south, but through her I mainly heard R&B, Gospel and the Blues.
I grew up in the Disco era. During that time many of the Jazz greats were still with us, so I had frequent opportunities to see and meet Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon, et cetera.
I knew that music was what I wanted to do in life as early as the 2nd grade. Originally it was a Miles Davis-album that inspired it. I wanted to play trumpet because I heard Miles Davis, and especially his Sketches of Spain recording. Then I heard Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on other recordings with Miles Davis. That is what made me want to play saxophone. But at the time, being a 2nd grader, I was too small to play, so I had to wait until 4th grade to start on saxophone.
What I liked about Jazz music was that is was not the same, repetitive thing. Every time I heard this music there was always something different and something unexpected.
I was in the All-City High School Jazz Band under the direction of Justin DiCioccio. I am fortunate to have worked with many greats such as Milt Hinton, Frank Foster, et cetera.
I wound up in Michigan through my military service.
Right now I am working with a band called Stone Soul Rhythm Band. We play R&B and popular music.
I have been working with the Evidence Jazz Group for 25 years, and we have three recordings out. One great thing about that is that there has been individual name mention of all the musicians in both Downbeat and Jazztimes Magazines.
You have to be dedicated. You have to be willing to really study, and I mean to study all kinds of music. You can’t have a one track mind. When I studied with Donald Byrd he really had a good talk with me about the importance of versatility.
It is important that you practice and learn your craft well. You have to work on things that you don’t know. If you work on things that you know you are not really practicing.
At this time we really have to be ready to play. With the re-openings people and venues are not going to wait. They want live music now. People don’t realize that it takes us a lot of work to put things together.
One of the things, that I believe is more present now, is a deeper appreciation for life within people.
MICHAEL S DOYLE is a saxophonist and a native New Yorker, who is based in Michigan. With a university degree in music, a background in the Army, and an impressive CV to his name, Doyle has performed with the Evidence Jazz Group for 25 years, while also working with other musical projects.
Michael Ray has been busy writing a thesis during the pandemic. Now he talks about his longtime friend and colleague Ronald Khalis Bell.
Pursuit of Happiness is the last song that Khalis wrote. He is one of the principal writers. There are a couple of versions of it. He’s got a rap version of it and some other stuff. It’s good you know. He wrote it for America because a lot of people kind of didn’t get it. My favorite line is “I want to live in a world full of peace. If you do then pull up a seat”.
Pursuit of Happiness
I think that it’s one thing that Khalis felt that you need to pay attention to. This country was really being torn apart. But music has always been the message. Khalis has always been a great writer. And George Brown - he wrote a lot of the songs. They took it to the studio, and then everybody put their touch on it. The concept that Khalis had was stacking and taking out what wasn’t working. It’s a good process.
Kool & The Gang playing an intimate show at BB King's
There are many songs in the can. We have all this material, but if they don’t hear Celebration or something like that… From the first album Khalis has always kept his ear to the mainstream. Khalis was a jazz musician. He has written some of the most beautiful music I ever heard, and we never even played it. Khalis did certain equations. They had to change with the times. We recorded so much music through the years. What they do with it is up to the studio. There is so much material. We’ve got enough for about two or three albums.
I never got bored with playing the Kool & The Gang hits. It’s a happy feeling because a lot of these songs have reached people all around the world, and seeing the response is exhilarating. It’s a real purpose of music, and how it effects different people. That is always a positive thing. I reflect back on how music has inspired my life and I’m happy that it inspires somebody else.
I don’t know what’s going on with an album release because there is some restructuring with Kool & The Gang to make everything workable. With Khalis transitioned a lot of things have changed. He is actually the captain. He’s been holding down the fort. A lot of things were really going on with the pandemic, you know. We are trying to get back into the swing of things. I should mention ShawnyMac McQuiller. He always brings his A-game to the stage. Always. He should be the poster child of Kool & The Gang.
Charles Smith was the most eccentric guy in the group. Khalis also. It’s what we did and so it was normal. With the business it’s a whole other thing. The music industry is a long, plastic hallway where thieves and murderers run free, and good men and women die like dogs – and then there’s the negative side.
We are planning on doing a tribute to Khalis sometime next year, with Kool’s son Prince Hakim, who’s been making a lot of noise. He has written so much music that people have never heard. It’s work in progress.
A later version of that horn section...
I’m writing a thesis on vibrational music. Some of it is common knowledge, but a lot of people don’t know the connection between vibrations and tones. I do that to keep my mind busy. When the pandemic hit both my knees were taken out. I feel improvements now. I’m not ready to fly yet, but I feel like walking fast. My energy is a mix of God and adrenaline. I thank God for the energy that he has given me.
MICHAEL RAY is a highly successful musician since decades with Kool & The Gang, Sun Ra Arkestra and Cosmic Krewe. Mr. Ray has kindly contributed pieces to this platform previously. Read them HERE and HERE. Read more pieces on Sun Ra Arkestra HERE and HERE, and on Cosmic Krewe HERE.
As this piece is made there are currently items on the internet suggesting that a new album with previously recorded material with Kool & The Gang is on the way. Here is an example of that.
The Dramatics featuring Willie Ford made some recordings in 2017. And, that Willie Ford had the intention of releasing these was made clear, among other things in this interview.
After Willie Ford had made his transition last year, we connected with Tony Green, who was hired to do these recordings, to ask how they are kept safe.
Perhaps we hadn’t expected Mr. Green to respond, but he indeed did, and was most jovial and patient with us in a very long conversation, that included many a thing and also lead to a nice article here, suggested by Green, but the information about the Dramatics recordings never fell out during any of all this.
We do understand. Green – a long time member of The Dramatics' backing band, in the 70s and 80s, has been helping many out with a lot in Detroit, and was a given individual for Willie Ford to turn to with recording ambitions. Green also has a very large ‘’vault’’ with a lot of music. But. But! Very little of it is probably with an act with a fifty year long career and thirty-five something hits. The Dramatics however is such an act! And Willie Ford was an original member of The Dramatics, who was part of their massive breakthrough, with their hits "What You See Is What You Get" and "In The Rain". Willie Ford was part of this act for five full decades! And these Dramatics recordings are in the vault of Tony Green. As we also understand it, someone who hires someone else for recordings is the legal owner of the recordings (see the 6th paragraph). So, maybe "old" compadres don't think about the legalese too much, at times, between each other, but now that Willie Ford is no longer here, and this is work that he in fact left behind, his rights concerning work that he did is a thing. And further, where it comes to The Dramatics specifically, legally working out what is what in terms of rights is not of unknown importance to anyone involved with this act. There are different sides here.
Tony Green has put Dramatics’ sounds to collages of clips from the internet on YouTube. It is definitely our opinion that these recordings are too important to be handled like that.
Yes, it is a challenge to release music in this day and age. But these recordings deserve their proper release, probably after some editing by a top-notch producer and editor. There would no doubt be an interest in Dramatics’ recordings, and for people to finally, for example, at long last hear Willie Ford sing longer solos, which he does on some of these cuts. It is unbelievable that Willie Ford didn’t lead on more songs than he did with The Dramatics. He had a unique bass voice, that truly was something few other acts could begin to match, and if you are shrewd as a music maker you sometimes go with what you have that no one else can top.
What was a little worrying during our conversations with Tony Green, was, that at one point we sent him a clip where The Dramatics featuring Willie Ford performed the single that they did release, a couple of years prior, ‘’Victoria’’, which was on a link on Fox2 (fox2detroit.com/mornings/54099142-video) – and that this clip disappeared from the link the day after we had sent it to Green. It was the most peculiar coincidence. It had obviously been up for a couple of years. It was a couple of years old. We asked about this, but there was no reply as to this.
Our original sending of the clip, inside our getting back to it for the clip disappearing
What that link looks since
There is little doubt that the loyal soul music fans out there would cherish the recordings with The Dramatics featuring Willie Ford.
We have reached out to Tony Green again, before writing this piece, asking for his comments if he cared to share them, but Green has chosen not to respond.
It’s a rock in my life, and the place where I can express myself and not make sense – if that makes sense!
It’s like a love affair – the one thing that keeps me going.
It frustrates me at times. I want to write from the heart and be true to myself, and not try to please others or a record company – and sometimes it’s a process to get there. It’s the creation process that is not always fun. Writing songs is my favorite process all the same because I ask God what does He want the song to say. It's not about me. It can be challenging, but in the end I've grown.
I have my new single, Today Is My Day, out. It’s part of a forthcoming full project. It is about my journey becoming a singer-songwriter. In the beginning doors were closed in my face and I heard ‘No’ a lot. People told me I had something special but that I wasn’t ready. I had daggers in my back and moments of rejection. Nine years later doors once closed are now open. And things are even better now because of the perspective.
Money is not my purpose. I want to minister the heart of God. I want people to smile, laugh and dance. So I must stay focused.
Javon Inman live Redeemer
Gospel is my backbone. I couldn’t get away from it if I wanted to. But songwriting is my gift, and not just in one particular style, but across genres. And I need to use my gift.
My family has really been my greatest support. I have a wife and two teenage boys. I’m so grateful for my wife, and thankful every day for that woman.
JAVON INMAN is an award-winning gospel artist based in Maryland. With two albums behind him he has recently released the new single Today Is My Day.
Jazz has somehow found its way into the 21st century.
I was talking to some Juilliard students the other day, and I said that the only thing that is new is you guys.
We have handed you something. You are standing on the shoulders of those who have been in music. They have given you so much.
When you turned on the radio in 1985 you didn’t hear Scott Joplin. So much has happened. The 20th century was the most prolific in music, and the music sustained, but now the 20th century is gone.
Our job is to carry the torch on our own merits. We want the listeners to open their windows to artists embracing their now. You can listen to somebody’s umpteenth version of whatever, but this is not 16th century music. It’s not classical music. We have to create new music and music has to earn being called a standard.
I am asking the audience to please listen to this jazz vocalist who is the granddaughter of Ella Fitzgerald.
On my new album the musicians are playing themselves. They have forty years in this game. They are not new to this game. Julius and Andrew are new and learning.
We express how we feel about music. There are no tricks in music. You have got to put the time in.
I try not to second-guess things. There were songs left over from the latest project and I kept working them.
I sometimes imagine myself performing a certain song. I try this rhythm, that phrasing, I go with the interpretations from the musicians.
With the recording of one of the songs I was thinking that the scat singers have pidgeonholed us – why don’t I try something different? I sang with the keyboard to see what arrived from that. It is true to what happened in the live moment.
Another example from the album was I wanted to reinterpret a song from the 80s, but I brought it through the deep sounds of the chord-progressions from jazz. I applied them to something that was very pop.
I had the suggestion from Elisabeth Oei to write something about what I was always saying – that there is no jazz on tv. I went “ - What? Why not?”. I simply improvised it. I built it on a radio-jingle. The song is a point of view, but you have to turn a point of view into a form.
Another one was that my family was about to get bombarded by a storm in Florida and I wrote my own stress over that.
Photos: Janet Van Ham
I really want to see jazz on tv. The world deserves it. I would like to have this kind of conversation with the cameras rolling. I want to help facilitate bringing jazz back to the mass media.
The record companies have been dumbing down the listeners by having the publishing rights to music and having new artists record it to take the earnings.
The record companies got a little bit behind and have been trying to catch up.
We do an album and it’s a massive project, and then someone downloads a synopsis of that project called a download of a track.
CARMEN LUNDY has just released an important new album, Modern Ancestors. Perhaps we have been wondering what we do in and with music now that so many, who made the immortal music, have left us. Seeing them as though they lived a long time ago --- as much as just a 'few months' ago, firmly turns them into the rock that we stand on, instead of a galaxy we might aim for but never reach - a setup for creating the copy of the copy of the copy in music --- is a way forward. This is the statement that this album makes, turning theory into reality in musical format, as it does. We had to have a talk with Carmen Lundy about this album, which is one that people order in the physical format too, not settling for the download, which indicates that many are fully aware of the significance of this production.
When you break it down, to me music is a special way to generate love, and share that love and good memories with people. Everybody has a song in their heart, and music is a universal language shared by all. Sometimes you can get through to people so easy and efficiently through good positive music, and how it’s delivered.
People told me as I was growing up in church: – “You have a beautiful voice. The world needs to hear you, and we think they will!”. There must have been some powerful prayers for me, because their wish for me has actually happened, as I’ve performed for 10’s of thousands of people all over the world for the past 15 years. My gift became a vehicle that I could use to bring happiness to people. To take them back to a positive and happy place in their lives, sometimes reliving good memories through songs.
Larry Johnson's Essence of Motown perform "My Girl"
Larry Johnson live at B.B. King's
Detroit is always in my heart. I grew up in a Detroit suburb called Inkster, and that’s where I went to school and where my family lived. I love Detroit and always want to represent the D, and I still always cheer for and support the Detroit sports teams – like the Lions and the Pistons. Detroit is coming back. My brother & sister still live Downtown, and it is amazing now. I’m very proud of my city.
I wound up in Florida as my ex-wife was offered the Spanish speaking market as a trainer with General Motors back in 2003. We discussed it and together we thought it was a good move for our family to relocate. I was touring with Ali Woodson’s Temptations group at the time, and I knew they could fly me in for our shows from here just as well. Plus we have 80 degrees at Christmas!!
The many revues that Larry Johnson contributed his voice and performances to, including Theo People's Temps & Tops Revue
There has been twenty-four members in The Temptations altogether over the years. When the former members leave the group, sometimes they go on to form their own Temptations styled group. The legend Otis Williams has the name rights, so they can’t call it The Temptations, but it becomes a more of a Temptations Revue. A Temptations Revue has to have a former Temptations' member in the group. If there isn’t an actual former member in the group, then it’s a tribute group.
I got started in my 1st Temptations Revue group in 2004 with Ali Ollie Woodson, who sang lead on Treat Her Like A Lady and many other songs. He taught me the ropes and gave me my badge – and my very first stamp in my passport. Then Harold “Beans” Bowles introduced me to Richard Street in 2005, and I was in his group until he passed on, and through it continuing with Barrington Bo Henderson, and then Theo Peoples.
Larry Johnson performing with Theo Peoples
Right now I’m doing my project The Essence of Motown, and I am also involved with two other Motown projects – The Magic of Motown and Motown In Motion. I work with four fabulous singers/performers here in Florida: Michael White, originally from the Bronx, NY and Greg Woods, originally from Springfield, MA, as well as the very talented Didi McFadden and Stephani Grace. We are all pretty versatile and sing many genres of music. They are my family. I am also involved in a very successful Earth, Wind, & Fire tribute band called Elements, and we are currently getting booked for a lot of shows all over the country. I work with Garry Samms in our Motown in Motion show, and Candi Rivers in our Magic of Motown show. I also want to give a shout-out to my producers Joey Dale for Motown In Motion, and Michael Yorkell with Magic of Motown and The Elements EWF show.
When you are performing Motown, I feel you need to as closely as possible stay true to the genre. I grew up in Detroit, I have a close connection to The Motown sound. It’s deep in my heart & soul, and being actually from Detroit, I like to think of myself as a true and legitimate Motown artist. So I really care about how this music is presented. People want to hear this music as close to the way they hear it at home on their record players. You also have to present strong choreography and give people something to look at as well as listen to. You have to bring nice show wardrobe, and present an all-round great experience, which is what we strive to do every time we hit the stage.
People can see your heart, and that’s contagious and memorable. That is the formula for getting called back for repeat performances.
Elements doing Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons", with Larry Johnson on lead vocals
LARRY JOHNSON is a singer from Inkster/Detroit, Michigan, now based in West Palm Beach, Florida. As a former member of several of the Temptations Revues, Johnson these days continues to fly the flag for Motown in several projects - with his excellent tenor voice, pleasant stage persona, and with his management skills - as well as also representing “Elements, The Ultimate Earth Wind & Fire tribute”.
I just stopped touring with George for this year. He is going to start back up in January of 2020 – that’s what I’m hearing.
In the meantime there are some other things that I’ll be doing. They are not so much side-projects anymore.
George is retiring. It makes the other projects come closer. Ligedelic is my project. It’s based on funk. I am doing some things with it in November, stuff taking place in Europe. We will get the interest going. I have friends in Europe who have wanted to work with me for years. I have been so busy with George. Starr Cullars will get a CD released this year finally. We will get more things going there. I play guitar with her band. That’s full speed ahead.
When George Clinton wants to retire he has to play everywhere. They love him so much, they are begging him. We have to play Japan and Europe, and everywhere. Maybe he will stop in 2020.
George’s catalogue is so vast. He has been writing music since the 50s.
Parliament Funkadelic was such an underground thing in the beginning, but that stuff is still revelant today. George Clinton has such wit.
Party for George Clinton's Lifetime Achievement Grammy
We are so proud of the Grammy. A lot of people got together for it. And we got together for those who aren’t here anymore too.
There are only a few of us from the 70s left.
I look forward to coming home, to the me time. It's so much with we and us and our on the road. You have to give up your time. You have to smile. It’s a job.
At times you have to take out the crazyness in your life. Traveling on a regular basis is a job. The rest is part of a life of touring. You have to get that rest. George is never completely done when he’s done. After a tour when everybody has come home there are these one offs that we have to go play. You eat great at home. There is a lot of crap food on the road.
I live in San Diego. I get calls from LA. Driving up there takes a couple of hours. I’m in a relationship with Starr Cullars and we have been a couple for over twenty years.
I don’t sugarcoat things. My parents were straight. When you get out into this world, and especially into this business, that helps.
To me music is freedom. It's the very essence of who I am.
I can't imagine my life without music.
Ragan Whiteside jamming it on her 2019 release
I got started on flute when the band teacher came by. I wanted to play the drums but they were taken. I wanted to play the trumpet and it was the same thing. So I asked what was left, and the flute was. And it grew on me -- and it was destiny.
I'm releasing my 5th album, and it's about I "Jam It''. It's the music to play in the background at a backyard barbeque, the sounds there to make people go ''That's my jam!''.
Ragan Whiteside's new single release "Jam It"
My plans include finishing things up in the studio and lining up festivals for next year. There are already some excellent bookings and I'm working on more of them.
My songs are doing very well in the charts, and I have reached this success without a record label. Being independant has been rewarding, and I want to inspire others to do the same.
Ragan Whiteside is a flautist, singer and song-writer with chart success, operating in the smooth jazz lane.
Music is life to me. It’s my wake up and put a smile on my face.
It breaks up the melancholy.
I grew up in a bad neighborhood, but my Dad showed me that music could take someone around the world. It could have you playing for kings.
Growing up in the projects I lived above that. In my mind I knew that I could see the world.
I had a lot of options growing up. I was a very smart kid. My Dad (Charles Wyatt) had us do the multiple times table before we could go out and play. We were made to think that you had to earn things.
I played sports and went to school with athletes. I got a scholarship for being an advanced student, and I was so advanced that I only had to be in school between nine and eleven-thirty, and so I had a job through school. Playing sports an injury put a stop to further plans.
Later I got a job at a bank, and they loved me there. I could have just stayed there and had a career.
Eric Wyatt live in 2017
Music isn’t like magic tricks. You have to have a concept. Growing up I ran into people who said that I was no joke and that I sounded like Charlie Parker. I came to a cultural center for kids, and the leader from there, Arthur Rhames, would come to my house every day. It was almost annoying, but he was consistent. He had us do exercises. After the push-ups we would practice to tracks and record it. It was like having a band without having a band. Then we had food and then we practiced again.
I am just now releasing an album with Sonny Rollins compositions. Sonny Rollins was a friend of my family as I grew up, because my Dad was a successful musician.
Sonny Rollins hasn’t been able to play for his health, and he has a lot of music that is written but not heard. He was forgotten about to a degree by the industry, which started pushing other guys, as he wasn’t well.
This is a tribute to him. I want him to be acknowledged more, and I want to contribute these songs to the lexicon of music.
Sonny Rollins has always been gracious and kind to people. He truly is someone who knows how to treat people like you want to be treated. This basic outlook, the golden rule of Sonny, has helped me become a better musician.
Looking back on my life now I’m proud of the fact that I have helped a lot of young musicians, such as Robert Glasper, Chris and Wes Lowery, and Russell Malone. It gives a reversed confidence. Unless you know somebody in New York you can’t even get on stage.
Eric Wyatt's brand new release: The Golden Rule: for Sonny
ERIC WYATT is a New York-based saxophonist with a heavy CV!
Life is music, and music is my life. Music is the air that I breathe.
Music is voices, water, a car driving. It’s a healing force.
My music is scripture based. The word is what keeps us strong.
The title track from Vera Brown's album release
I released my CD Somebody in 2018. It got below 200 in the gospel chart, and my songs have charted with Billboard ratings. My singles from the CD are the title track “Somebody” and “Praise Goes Up”, to which I wrote the lyrics with Toni Moore, and “Yes We Can Can”, which is Alain Toussaint’s composition that The Pointer Sisters did their rendition of – and it’s still a relevant song.
My husband Benjamin Pressley produced the album, and we recorded almost all of it live at our house, where we have a studio. I have been picked up by Orchard - Sony and Somebody is about to be released worldwide September 6th. We have had expressed interest from Korea and Africa, and I’m just excited to do God’s will. Sony Orchard’s ambition is for us to reach a younger audience, and we must. We must reach the kids – they are our future. We are also talking about my 2020 release.
It all started in 4th grade when I laughed as someone in my class was singing, and was told that I was next. So I got up and sang, and wound up singing for the Spring Fair.
In the College Variety pages I saw an add where they were looking for someone to travel and sing, and I knew that I could travel, so I called. That got me auditioning for Gypsy Lane, which was the Village People’s band, and made me the lead vocalist for the Ritchie Family, which I was intermittently between 1979 and 2016. I also briefly worked with The Three Degrees, doing a brief tour with them, and I have been working with my sisters on our project called Sassy Fras.
Vera Brown on lead vocals with The Ritchie Family "Give Me A Break"
I grew up in a small town, and because of the jobs that I landed I wound up in New York, where I was exposed to the grand life – to beautiful clothes and beautiful people. There were the fabulous stages. I got caught up in that and not in the drugs that came with it. I started on cocaine and moved on to crack. I developed a big taste for the drugs, and when I came off the road I wound up doing a lot of things for money. It was eight dark years of my life.
One day my baby sister walked in on me and screamed, so I looked in the bathroom mirror and saw a monster. I just fell to my knees on the bathroom floor next calling out for the Lord to help me.
Vera Brown's rendititon of "Yes We Can Can", tv performance
I went back to church and connected with the music. The more I sang the more the tendencies dropped off. I was channeling, and I will never go back to the drugs and I don’t crave them.
I’ve got skills and I went to work as a secretary, and I’m retired now. Over the years I have been involved in the church. I have directed the choir. One day my husband asked me why I didn’t do my own thing – and here we are.
We are based in Landsdale in Pennsylvania, and the music of Philadelphia inspires me. Philadelphia is a historical site for music, and we hope that it will once again be a force.
A lot of the music that’s out today says nothing to me.
I went from singing in the church choir to producing.
I’m happy if I make other people happy.
As iconic as basslines get: Tony T. Money Green's work on "Gin & Juice" with Snoop Dogg
SOME THINGS ON THE YEARS WITH THE DRAMATICS
(Editor’s note: If you are new to The Dramatics you may want to check out some Dramatics’ basics to get the most out of this segment… and we strongly recommend that you check out some Dramatics’ basics and familiarize yourself, if so…because you have been missing out if you are new to The Dramatics. We get straight into things, mostly into things in the 1970s, in this text, which is a treat for those who know their Dramatics!)
L.J. Reynolds, Tony Green, Ron Banks
What it smelled like inside United Sound? OMG. Behind George it smelled of funk. They took the funk seriously and didn’t wash. And cocaine. It smelled of booty and cocaine. Around us it smelled of weed.
It looked a little like a spaceship. There was a studio to the side when you came in through the door and then eight steps down there was the main studio. It was huge. The big old board lit up. It felt like you made it when you stepped in there, just being there. Sometimes when the sessions ran late I took a snooze under those steps.
They want to move that building to the parking lot. Once they start moving things they move other things too.
It happened that we recorded in other places.
United Sound, Detroit
I came to the studio making deliveries… I was 17 and it turned out that I had a band. Surprise! So they came to see a show, and thought that we were good – and that was the start of my journey with The Dramatics. It was Ron who got me in the band.
I didn’t work with Tony Hester but I saw him work, and he really really couldn’t sing. He would say ‘’Here Ron – can you do this part?’’ and then there would be some type of noise coming out of him.
He really was the best writer for The Dramatics, and people got jealous of him for his talent. There was so much talent going down the drain with the loss of him, and The Dramatics were lost for what to do.
Tony Hester & the original Dramatics in the studio
LJ and Ron lead the band rehearsals. Ron could say things like ‘’Go to the round! Go to the round...’’. So I told the band to go to the change. That was what he meant in Ron Banks’ language.
Ron was the charismatic one. So many times when we were in places people would call out ‘’ – Hey Ron Banks’’, ‘’ – What’s up, Ron Banks?’’.
LJ would really rehearse. He can play four-five instruments, and at times I practiced with LJ every day – every day. LJ liked that and we could translate that to the band and know that we would have a hell of a show.
LJ and Ron were often arguing wanting different things. But our rehearsals were very serious rehearsals because we wanted to deliver good shows. The dance rehearsals were different rehearsals and the band got to see it at the end.
During the first years we traveled in a Trailways bus. It was a 50-seater. The group would sit in the front. The band would sit in the back. Tony Anthony, our bus-driver, got us anywhere and could handle anything. It said The Dramatics on the side, so people looked at the bus.
We slept on that bus, and you either stretched your legs across the isle or slept cramped sitting up. This is why I have arthritis now.
Once the group flew to California and the band went on the bus – and didn’t make the show. The Dramatics are great but people didn’t really want to hear the acapella show. They realized that they needed the band, that we were as important for the show to happen as they were.
After “Be My Girl” everything changed. We got treated a lot better. The group started flying places and we got two buses with beds and living rooms.
Normally we would do shows from Thursdays through Saturdays. In California we would do shows every night of the week, and two shows a night.
Our manager Forest Hamilton did the show bookings.
The Dramatics live in Houston...
The Dramatics had two roadies who carried our luggage and one valet, Andre Barber.
Usually we did shows with other groups so there wasn’t much backline to set up, as it was already there. The roadies carried our instruments.
Sometimes LJ and Ron were at the soundchecks, sometimes the whole group was there.
LJ was always going to make sure that the show would be kicking ass. We knew that we would kick ass.
The set-lists changed a lot in the beginning. At the time of the Dramatics’ reunion we kept the same show for two years. That was when Wee Gee was back for a while. I do the same thing now. I have had the same show for four years, and you work on perfecting it.
New York was a hard place to tour at times. They didn’t like us there. We played something and after we did nobody clapped. We broke New York with “Be My Girl”. It changed there after that and they started to like us.
I was in this band for a long time, and others who were include Anthony Booker and Dewayne Lomax, though maybe no one was in the band for as long as I was.
The Dramatics "Welcome Back Home" co-written by Tony Green
I wrote songs with Ron and LJ.
I couldn’t write lyrics but you can always count on me for a bass-line to build on.
We wrote songs in the basement of Ron’s house. Ron could get a little worried at times. He wasn’t a great lyricist but he really could sing.
LJ could really write and produce songs. He’s very talented and plays drums, piano, did everything himself.
The other group members didn’t show an interest in writing songs, but Lenny would sometimes show up when songs were written because he wanted to make sure that he would be singing on them.
When we did Do What You Want To Do we were on the cutting edge of a new sound, going into synthesizers. We lucked out and people liked it. It was their first gold album. Many of their albums are of course gold by now…
A LITTLE ON T MONEY MAKING THE SWITCH TO CALI
Dr. Dre, Tony Green
I got The Dramatics in the studio with Dr. Dre, and after that other soul groups came running to me asking if I could do the same thing for them – but I really couldn’t. The Dramatics were streetwise enough to do a record with Snoop Dogg, it might not have worked with another group.
I got more people from Detroit in that studio though. George Clinton of course, but also Ricky Rouse and Butch Small. Working with Dr. Dre I got a band in. That was new, because they hadn’t had one before.
The day Dre hired me was a good day.
He never had a musician of caliber in before. I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want to seem old.
He gave me drumlines and I put basslines on top. My bass was the groundwork. That was a song.Everybody added things on top of that.
It’s hard to tell me what to play. I’ma give you what you want. Just give me a beat. I played the bass for 52 years now, I’ll give you what you want.
Tony Green, Snoop Dogg
Everybody loves Snoop Dogg for his twangy little voice. He had it when he was young and he has it now. People also love him because he’s a real nice guy. He carries himself like a superstar and he always did.
His work process was that Dre had the music laid out for him, then Snoop would take all day to write for it. He did not rush his writing. He came up with something good so you are glad that you did the waiting.
They did a lot of things that were new and innovative at the time, such as the singing-rapping.
It’s good that you hear that the bassline on “Gin & Juice” is slightly off! That means that you have a good ear…
What happened was that I had just gotten the bass out of the bass bag and I wanted to tune up. Dre said don’t. I said that ‘- I’m a professional and I have to tune up’. Dre said ‘- If you tune up you’re fired’.
That bassline proves that there is no right and wrong in music.
I play the bass upside down. My father (William Austin - a well known bassist, editor’s comment) told me to put it down. I thought that he was hating on me, but later he said that he sure was glad that I didn’t listen to him.
Now my daughter turns things upside-down.
A BIT ABOUT THE PRESENT
I just signed a distribution deal with Universal.
I have a massive vault with unreleased material. I have so much great stuff that just never came out. That includes artists that just never were heard and people who did things behind the curtain. And my own material, in some cases my material that other people just took and put their name on it.
There is going to be good stuff coming out.
T Money Green and Roadwork's G Funk Review live in Detroit
TONY T MONEY GREEN is a successful and DMA-decorated bassist, composer, producer, band leader and the CEO for his label Hyped International Records – based in Detroit. After he formed his band the Roadwork Crew, in the early 70s, Green has contributed his bass magic to some of the most iconic music made in the last few decades. He is currently busy getting new and previously unreleased music to people’s ear-drums through a new distribution deal with Universal.
Music is life – it’s everything. I live music. I walk the blues. When things go good I play music. When things go bad I play music.
I like a good story, a story with a punchline. I’m a story-teller and I try to make my songs tales.
Classic Bobby Rush - "Chicken Heads"
Days working with the blues greats could be good days and they could be bad days. I’m hard to please. I know what I like and you’ve got to bring good ideas. If you do I’m listening, if you don’t it’s no hard feelings.
I didn’t start out thinking that I would transcend any genres with something I played. I didn’t think about it at all. I was just doing what I felt good about doing, playing what I felt good about playing. It’s much later since then that I started to think about what worked.
Bobby Rush in collab with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff "I Can't Find My Keys"
Working with Gamble and Huff was a true hightlight. They were my idols. Those two are the two greatest guys in American music. I thought I would pick their brains, but they thought that they would pick mine. We wanted to steal from each other, so they just let me have my way in the studio. All the same it wound up being the best stealing of my life.
After all the times that I have been nominated at the Grammys, thirty-two times all in all, I was so proud that they considered me good enough to be a winner. That knocked me off my feet. It was the best feeling. I might have been doubted sometimes, but there’s no doubting me now. The price went up too, but I still treat people fairly.
Bobby Rush "Bow Legged Woman" off the new album release Sitting On Top Of The Blues
As for the changes in the music industry, I like change. Sometimes we are caught off guard by change and become out-dated. We need to change with the times. Music that I recorded in the early 50s is still relevant, but I need to change to make it relevant. We don’t really sell records anymore. You have to adapt yourself.
I feel good about having my music remixed. I have something to offer, something worth having.
I’m still working a lot, and I’m still enthused about the work. For as long as I am I can go on. You can living without a lot of things, but you can’t live without hope.
Bobby Rush caught live "She's So Fine"
BOBBY RUSH is a Grammy-awarded blues legend with a career that spans nearly 70 years...
Music is connection to me. It's communication. That is the first thing that music is to me.
Music is creating something out of nothing. It's creating something that means something to people.
Music transcends time and generations.
Mutlu's single ''Lifeline'' off the new album Good Trouble
I am releasing my new album Good Trouble just now. It's about different aspects of where I'm at in life. It includes my social commentary and the personal struggles that I have been through.
I have done many interesting things musically, on my path, already. I opened for amazing acts such as The Blind Boys Of Alabama and Leon Russell. Such things are a great honor - just incredible to get to do things like that. I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with the Blind Boys of Alabama - amazing. I was also part of the popular series 'Live from Daryl's House' with Daryl Hall, when the show was on the internet. I was one of the first guests on it, in the seventh episode, and I was also a guest on Amos Lee's show.
MUTLU (ONARAL) is a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia. After releasing his debut album Livin It in 2008 and the EP Hypnotize, as well as supporting a number of well known acts live, he releases his album Good Trouble on all streaming services August 9th.
Music to me is a savior. I’m not sure what I would have done without it – I was in ways a little lost. Music is math and discipline – it teaches you discipline, creativity and how to get along with others. Music is a healer, it is going on trips, it helps you become a better person.
To many music is taking a break – and taking a break is healthy. That music is cut from schools and society is awful.
The most quoted live moment (to date!) with Rhonda... and she is funky...
When I first started playing jazz in Montreal, Montreal was a jazz hub. My mother played jazz all the time; Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Ella….the list was long.
There were many excellent, older jazz players around. My brothers played jazz, and I had an environment around me where females were playing.
I don’t know how it would be seen by most parents these days if their daughters wanted to be in clubs and play music at 15. Classical is looked on with another respect, but other styles of music, if the daughters want to play?
I love all styles of music. It’s a mélange of the heart and of feeling, and I love floating between styles just like the greats have done, and like Prince did too.
I got my initial inspiration for bass from Pleasure, EWF’s Verdine White and Sly & The Family Stone, to name a top three. They are also some of the acts that I would recommend for people who want to listen to great bass-work on record.
Rhonda Smith "ITP" off her album Intellipop (2000/Slow Wine Music)
Being a musician is pure heaven, pure unadulterated fun. It’s the best job in the world. I don’t mind playing two notes - that can be fun. I only have two requirements when I’m playing. I need to hear myself and the sound has to be good.
Musicians are traveling doctors. We heal people. Music is a foundation to stand on in life.
Rhonda Smith bass solo with Jeff Beck Band
Having worked with Prince for a decade I thought to myself that I could work with anybody after him. He had the highest standards.
His rehearsals were long and intense, first of all. It was at least eight hours a day.
If he didn’t like something he certainly would tell you. Recording wasn’t allowed. He famously didn’t like bootlegs.
He didn’t read music. He would show you the part, and he would show you quickly. You had to get it. He showed you what he wanted quickly and then he was on to the next thing. He did have patience – he was extremely intelligent. But when he needed what he had showed you, the next day, he didn’t like it if you messed up. You couldn’t ask him ‘Where’s your notes?’. But the second day people did mess up. You had to be strict and get it down the first time.
There was some fun around but the process was intense. He would leave for a few hours and the band would rehearse by itself. He had other things to do, a lot to do. Sometimes he listened from elsewhere.
He was such a prolific writer with a large amount of music. You had to learn it all and retain it. Everything from the roots.
Rhonda Smith with Prince - "The Everlasting Now"
I’m currently in the studio working on my 3d record. I have my band project, CIC – which stands for Canada India Canada as well as for Chronic Idiopathic Constipation…as us musicians can be a bit full of ourselves… I also do shows with Sheila E and Jeff Beck in between. My record is ready when I say that it is. It’s love in motion. I will probably debut some of the material with the group.
We have such a changed industry with manufacturing and downloads. Artists don’t even make CD:s anymore, and not full albums anymore. Figuring out how to deal with all that is part of releasing something now.
What is going on with the music business is like a version of the industrial revolution. Radio has all the control. We have had a lot of rap music, but it’s often so negative. I’m not downing any music though.
The general standard for what ‘music’ is right now, is sad. People who aren’t musicians are called musicians, and the kids don’t know the difference. Music has been taken out of what is called music now.
I don’t believe that people want to see AI play music – maybe in Japan.
The royalty streams have dried up thanks to things like Tidal. Artists' work is played as much as anyone likes – for pennies.
The only way to go, to go forward in all this is live music. We need to play live and kids need to see people play live.
Rhonda Smith - "To Get With You" from the album RS2 (2006/215 Records)
RHONDA SMITH is a bassist+ based in the US, after being born and raised in Canada. She started out working on the Montreal jazz scene and studying music at McGill University. SMITH has released two solo albums to date and famoulsy worked with Prince for a decade. Her other collaborations include Jeff Beck, Sheila E and Chaka Khan. RHONDA SMITH also now runs her band project CIC.
To me, music is like glue. It binds us to the Cosmos.
People ask me how am I able to scat like I do. I feel like scatting is how the Creator speaks through me. It's fast and fire-filled. Scat is my personal lanquage with The Creator. It's Cosmic information.
I respect every religion, however, I am not particularly religious. I am spiritual.
Music encourages you and inspires you.
The Cosmic Krewe performing in New Orleans earlier this year
Growing up in a jazz family grounded me. It meant going beyond what people expect. As an adult I have been told that I could give musicians all the keys, as a child.
Growing up around talent you have to be at more than your best at all times.
There wasn’t much of an alternative to becoming an artist, but I did have an experience with one project. I was in my late teens and called myself a band leader even if I wasn’t working as one. I decided to put a band together without the cats. It was the hardest gig of my life and I recall thinking that maybe music wasn’t working out. It was only in that moment.
My mother used to always have the cats at the house, and I wanted to be an entertainer from an early age, and it was jazz that it was about.
What I envision for the future first of all is working with my husband, Michael Ray. I want to take our respective and mutual visions forward. We are working on a hologram with the College of New Jersey. It began when he received his lifetime achievement award and we sat and spoke with them. He can’t always be with us in the Cosmic Krewe physically because of his other commitments. That is where the idea of a hologram originated, and he is very interested himself. We need a team to pull it off. We have to pre-shoot the concert, and the gig has to be choreographed for the interaction with the hologram. After that you can cut and slice it.
It will take us at least a year to get this right. I would love to have it ready by the end of 2020.
We have strong ties to the college of New Jersey, and they have truly embraced me as an artist. We are also thinking of New Orleans in this and other contexts. Michael lived there for ten years and they love him there.
My family is the first jazz family of Newark, and we just did a concert honoring the Phipps family and their legacy. As I started my set, I called their great names, Ernest Phipps (Piano), Gene Phipps Sr, (Reeds) Bill Phipps, (Tenor Sax) Nat Phipps (Piano/Vocalist), Angie Phipps (Music Educator), Harold Phipps (Drummer/Percussionist) and Gene Phipps Jr. (Sax/Flute). I did this concert with some musicians who played with the Phipps longer than me even: Radam Schwartz, Gene Ghee, Clifford Howell, G.Earl Grice, Norman Mann.
I didn't spend much time with my Mother or my father because they were both constantly on the move, however.
I grew up knowing I was a Phipps, I was a Jazz singer and I was strong & independent. My mother was murdered in Newark when I was a teenager, but she grounded those four things.
I want to talk about the youth and jazz – music in general. We have a legacy to pass on. We have theory and the foundations of jazz to pass on. I heard an interview with a rap artist the other day and he said that he doesn’t like instruments… Jazz needs to do something about the future. We can’t continue to sound like music from the past. And we have to be relatable. Jazz hasn’t changed much for a very long time. Where are we going? I hear jazz in neo soul and love it. I’m not saying this to play down other genres, but we can’t have other genres without jazz.
The Cosmic Krewe - "Yolinda"
LARANAH PHIPPS-RAY is the 1st lady of the 1st family of jazz in Newark and one of the creators behind the Cosmic Krewe!
Trombonist Nick Finzer is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas. He has shared some excellent pointers in a great clip, which you can watch below. Having a basic plan for how you are going to build the infrastructure for a career in music, if you are a budding musician, is brilliant and time-saving way of going forward. Finzer also believes in the merits of an education, but if you chose to get one or not, his "5 things to do after jazz school" offers worthwhile intel.
Why you should go to jazz school?
Some of the most important musical connections you will make in your life will start with the community at the institution you choose to attend.
The musicians I play with most frequently, I’ve known since jazz school!
Building a strong and supportive community around you and your career is essential for pushing you artistically, helping you navigate the industry, and having friends who can help you sort out this crazy musical life!
NICK FINZER is an award-winning trombonist with an impressive CV and a master's degree from Juilliard. He is also an author and an educator.
Tray Deuce / Ron Westray - one and the same - and different sides of creativity the way it's supposed to be
LET'S BE CLEAR: Tray Deuce is not about a mid-life-crisis, or the 40 yr. old rapper syndrome. I wanted to rap before I started playing trombone. I spent the majority of my career in a band with a horn up to my mouth. “Just shut up and play the trombone.” Right? Further, Tray Deuce is a reflection of my compositional interests and the expansion of my skills in electronic music. Tray Deuce Is my way of saying I don’t care about perceptions and opinions (to put it nicely). SMILE. In MUSIC, I please MYSELF....first. Critics should focus on whether or not they like the Music, not on my decisions as a musician.
Drop Mic- TD
Take in the sounds of Tray Deuce:
RON WESTRAY is a musician and composer best known for his work with Wynton Marsalis. Ron joined York University's Music Department in 2009 as the Oscar Peterson Chair In Jazz Performance, a position endowed by the Government of Ontario to commemorate legendary Canadian jazz artist Oscar Peterson. Ron Westray produces his alter ego, Tray Deuce, doing hardcore rap, West Coast rap, funk, jazz, headnodic, heavy backbeat.
This time of the year is usually busy for musicians. Here in the USA, as well as in Europe, festivals seem to happen every week from April to August. It makes sense that people stayed in for the winter and are ready to get out in the sun! New Orleans Jazz Fest and Festival International de Louisiane are two big festivals that just finished here in the gulf coast region. And Hangout Fest just happened too. It’s my personal favorite, because it’s the only festival I’ve been to that’s on a beach!
After NAMM in January and a calm February, I worked with 6 bands in 2 months. A lot of time goes into balancing each band’s schedules and rehearsals. At Festival International in April, I played with 2 bands on the weekend, after staying awake the night before to do 2 early morning news (04:30 & 05:30) TV performances. I slept before that evening’s show and the festival weekend was a success.
I’m currently touring with the artist Brother Dege, pronounced like, “Brother Deedj”. In Europe, the band is known as Brother Dege & The Brotherhood, while in America, we are known as Brother Dege & The Brethren. It’s an interesting translation artifact.
Our latest album, Farmer’s Almanac, was released in 2018 along with several music videos. We toured across Europe & USA playing the new music, and 2019 saw the release of the deluxe edition vinyl. We are excited to return to Europe for two festivals in Switzerland this summer and a full tour later in October. I’m personally excited to return to Lucerne, one of the first places I ever visited in Europe, and where Keb’ Mo’ will be playing on the same festival date as us. That will be the third time I’ve played a festival date next to Keb’ Mo’! He’s one of my favorite blues artists, and I hope we’ll have time to watch their show. He and his band are just incredible.
Brother Dege "Country Come to Town" off the album Farmer's Almanac
KENT BEATTY is a successful and busy bassist for hire, as well as a member of Brother Dege & The Brethren, who are doing very well with their recordings and performances.
Mr. Knoel Scott is currently busy on tour with Sun Ra Arkestra, and so kindly shares what a day on these travels looks like.
We landed in Strasbourg after taking two trains from Kassel Germany
We were pleasantly greeted at the station and our equipment placed in three vehicles which had to negotiate a distance of just one hundred yards diagonally from the station to our hotel made complicated by the twists and turns of the city streets
Strasbourg is a large town (as opposed to small city) although well saturated with tourists there is a very provincial air and homey vibe (for locals).
Anyway, the Django center had s very good sound man and the public was really into the Ra vibe. Expressive, open and quite friendly after the 90 minute show, which started off rather atypically with Marshall creating two back to back improvised compositions, using the Arkestra as his palette in the very beginning of the concert, immediately commmanding the avid attentiveness of the Arkestra
I am still a bit in awe of Marshall’s limitless creativity.
After returning to our spirituall home in Strasbourg......the unique and artful Hotel Grafslar, whose convivial owner and staff were a pleasant accent to the unique creativity of design through the hotel, with each room having been designed by a different artist
My room was filled with owls and had such a beautiful vibe. Even when I fell asleep at 5am ready to miss a 7:30 departure I Heard someone call my name in my sleep gruffly snarling what what is it?.....:and saw a wrist with a blue watch in front of my eyes there was no answer cause clearly no one had called me but seeing the blue watch made me jump up to discover it was 7:15 and were to leave at 7:30
Of course I threw my belongings together, dressed and was actually on time to leave with the band.
My most notable Strasbourg moment was when I visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg and was able to purchase the last coin of the Black Madonna.
I feel so well Blessed.
We are now relaxing in the outskirts of Milan after playing two 70 minutes sets last night and waiting to resume travel on Sunday flying out of Malpensa airport to Gothenburg where we will play at Nefertiti Jazz Club. Quite fitting.
KNOEL SCOTT is a saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, writer - and a member of Sun Ra Arkestra. He is also the director for the Knoel Scott Quartet. We feel so blessed and grateful for his sharing this day in a life with us all.
I see music as a teacher. Music is always a unique language, and it breaks through a lot of limitations. The teacher-part of music has made me more confident over time. I have to become what the music demands of me. I have to be what I write about in my songs. Music has taught me how to connect better, and it is obviously how I express what I feel.
"A Love That Never Dies" - Arielle live at lovely Agape in LA
It all started with me joining a choir at the age of five, and I always saw music as something I just loved. I never dreamt of being a rock star – I just loved music. And after my first job at 15 it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue music.
I feel very grateful towards Nuno Bettencourt and his friends, because they were the first people to make something of me. They spent a lot of time on me. They got me my first record contract.
"Genie's Outta' The Bottle" off Arielle's new album Suspension/Dimension
My new album is titled Suspension / Dimension. I wanted to make a full album, and I wanted to make it independently. I funded it myself through crowd-funding, which raised $ 35 000. It’s an eleven song-album, and the theme is being in between who you were and who you are becoming. I wanted to capture the conflicting emotions of that situation. And – I don’t know about the strange times that we live in in America, but while I was making it someone actually got shot outside my house. Making the album saved me from depression. Recording it was me trying to find peace of mind, and it gave me something to focus on.
I also have the guitars that I built myself. They are going to be available for purchase. When I see a guitar on the wall I usually see things that I want to change about it, so I put features that I like to find in a guitar together in my own constructions. They come in three different colors and with different pickups. I would like for there to be a double-neck variety in the future.
My activism is important to me, and my main issue was always the whales and dolphins in captivity – they are intelligent creatures and not meant for that life. The oceans generally, are vital questions to me, with the plastic pollution, the over-fishing and many other problems. Lately it has also become crucial to me to address keeping music programs in schools.
ARIELLE is a singer, player and song-writer based in California. She released her debut album "The Whale" in 2015, which she has followed up with several EP:s and with building her own guitars. She has just released her new album and is busy touring on the back of it.
New York has definitely made me grow as a musician and vocalist. You get influenced by so much and so many all the time, and it shapes the musicianship. There are so many great singers in this city, it keep you on your toes. And all the great musicians you meet and hear and want to play with!
Being in the city for a while and doing the local thing first, then you start to want to take your band and your music out of town. It was an amazing feeling to take my guys to Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta. We really had a great time playing there.
First time I sang with Xavier Davis was at a jam session at a friend’s Christmas party years ago, and since then we always had a very strong relationship.
Music is the way I express myself, express how I feel. It is my connection to other people. It’s basically a bridge.
Music is a part of everybody’s life. It doesn’t matter what style of music, as long as there is music in people’s lives.
Blair Bryant "Lift Off"
Music has always been in my family. My mother is a musician and plays in church. My father was always a big music fan listening to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Isley Brothers.
My dad was busy when I was a kid so I used to go to church with mom. I was an active child who wouldn’t sit still, so during the services the drummer watched me while my mom played.
I became interested in the drums, and he let me try them. After that he went “ - Omg!” to my mom, “ - You have to get Blair a drum set!”, because it turned out that I had a natural connection with the drums.
I was inspired to play a lot of instruments just listening to others play. I thought to myself that I really wanted to be able to play the violin and asked myself “ - Why couldn’t I?”. And so I started playing many instruments, and God was kind and allowed me to be able to.
My love for the bass is a deep thing. But it wasn’t a given that the bass would be my first love. I started on drums. My uncle Carl was a bass player and he showed me how to play, but I didn’t really connect with the instrument at that point. I asked for a guitar for Christmas, but my dad got me a bass instead. Then my uncle got sick and passed within a week. After that I said that I was going to play the bass. All the notes just came to me then. It was like the passing of a torch.
This year I’m starting the work with my new album, which will be released next year. I’m also writing some songs inspired by the saxophone player Najee.
Music is the last true magic in the world. It changes your chemical balance. Love comes, love goes. You still have the music, like your funk tattoo. You can’t see it, like music.
We were so young. We started off a local little thing. Then we got to drive from LAX to Hollywood Boulevard. Go to New York. Going to America was amazing. Doing shows in Paris. Meeting Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau. Playing the big jazz festivals sharing the bill with the legends.
Classic Brand New Heavies - "Dream On Dreamer"
Getting to hear people say that our music changed their lives is wonderful. Hearing people say that our music touched them, even saved them, is something else.
This is an exciting year. We are just finishing an album that will be released in August. We are making it with super-producer Mark Ronson, and we’re just now adding a track for which I am recording the guitar-part tomorrow. We have our original singer and a new singer on the album as well as secret guests. The record company loves the album, which is always a good thing. We are planning a tour during the year.
The Brand New Heavies live December 2018
I also have my side project with Nick Van Gelder, the drummer I met recording Jamiroquai’s first album. We did an album titled “On Top” a few years ago. And I am doing a new album with that project.
It allows me to express different sides as a performer, and it makes for exciting times.
I think keep on funking is all we can do. We can’t make money from records anymore, but we can from going to see people.
I am just as busy now as I was in 2014, when I first did an article with Musiciansʼ Corner.
I came into the new year with a few exciting gigs. Iʼm working with a lot of incredible artists. Tab Benoit and Ani DiFranco are two of my regular gigs.
Iʼm also working with producer Don Was. A couple of years ago we did The last Waltz 40th tribute show at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and the tribute turned into The Last Waltz 40 tour. That lead to a Bob Marley tribute lead by the Marley brothers, which lead to an Elvis 68 Comeback special tribute filmed for NBC - and a tribute to Willie Nelson in front of 18 000 people that was filmed for A&E. I was part of the house band on side of Don Was and we backed at least 12 different country artist including Vince Gill and Willie Nelson. That was my first country gig, but it was as if I had always been playing country music… Those shows are really special once in a lifetime-events, so I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of those performances.
On top of that I'm working with a new project with John Medeski (of Medeski Martin and Wood) with his group Mad Skillet which was born out of a few late night jams in New Orleans during the NOLA jazz fest. Medeski produced a Dirty Dozen Brass Band record in the late 90ʼs entitled Buck Jump. So it was good to reconnect with him, and now there is a fresh release titled “Mad Skillet”.
I play locally with my band Swampgrease and other projects that I put together, but generally Iʼm too busy doing other peopleʼs projects.
Terence Higgins on the drums with Swampgrease live (2015)
I grew up listening to a lot of different music, and now I get calls to go do cool gigs, across all genres. I just do what I do naturally. I paid a lot of dues, and I take peopleʼs music seriously. Don Was could have called any A-list drummer in the world to play these huge shows. I think it takes a lot of trust to and level of comfort to offer the drum chair for these incredible star studded events. Iʼve been really busy juggling all my regular gigs and as soon as I see a break in my schedule thereʼs another call – and I'd like keep the ascending trend.
I live in New Orleans, but I feel like Iʼm just visiting. I always have my bag packed. Sometimes there are several offers at once. The people I work with keep our relationships family-oriented and they understand that I have to prioritizeʼ. If I canʼt make an Ani show she will do her gig solo. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band allowed me the freedom to take other high profile gig offers without jeopardizing my position.
On the side of the touring gigs and studio sessions I have also been involved in producing a few drum sample packs. The most recent was the Greasy Groove pack released by the Loop Loft, who has recently partnered with Native Instruments.
- Music is therapy. Music is meditation. Music is an exercise in discipline.
But most of all music is freedom.
Music has the same color as the air. You can close your eyes but you can’t close your ears.
If you play it well,that’s the only thing that matters
- The world would be a mistake without music. Whatever you’re doing everything is so much easier with earphones. And rhythm is all around us.
- Music to me is life. Music is spirituality. Music is me telling a story. I believe in a creator and in carrying a message. I believe in reaching out to people with an open heart and mind. Not everybody has that.
We all learn by going back. We don’t listen to our parents until we see what they talk about. If you get lost you go back to the basics and realize that it doesn’t matter how modern a building is, it still needs a foundation or it will fall down.
- Music is just a sonic expression of me – of us – who are playing it. I usually play in a group, and then music is a sonic expression of us in the group. It’s an expression of what we are interested in, and of what we like and don’t like – cosmically, spiritually politically, nutritionally etc. It’s an expression of what’s going on. Everything that we are – that’s what music is to me. It’s the same way that Charlie Parker would describe it. I have heard that generation express this the same way: Music is an expression of what we see. Someone from Germany doesn’t see the same things as someone from Mississippi. And even with modern technology actually being somewhere physically is going to be a lot different to having international contacts on your phone.
LONNIE LISTON SMITH
- Music is life. People don’t realize that music is the only universal language that we have. Music helps people feel better, and music can heal people.
From Day 1 my life was all music. It was the whole thing, and there was never any doubt about what I would do in life. My father was a famous gospel performer and there were always famous musicians coming to our house. For me that was natural, something I took for granted.
- Music to me is a combination of sound, rhythm, melody and harmony – and I guess we have to add technology too now – organized by a human.
People are programming AI to compose and arrange music in the future. I’m not a fan of that as you can imagine
I have a special friendship with music, that is like no other friendship. It keeps surprising me. It keeps comforting me. When I was younger it helped me express myself and articulate things that I would otherwise have not been able to say. I am more articulate now, but music still is an avenue of expression.
In 2019 I am planning on finishing what I started this year. I have been doing most of the work on an autobiographical book, together with my co-writer Seve Chambers. Everything is written now. We have to organize the text, and hopefully it will be published next year. I have also been working on a new album. It contains ideas that I have had in my brain for many years. I need to let them out.
"A Toast to the People" performed by Brian Jackson and Gregory Porter
I have been working with a trio. It’s something I have been taking around. We have done the music of Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron, and told the backstory and related many anecdotes. A lot of people like to hear it, and we have had a lot of fun with it. In ways it has been a precursor to the book and ties into the writing-project.
I’m the kind of artist who works well in collaborations. I’m inspired by the ideas of others. Artists can reach their peak through interactions. I don’t know that that’s very different with my solo-projects. I’m still working with musicians… We still feed off each other.
I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician when I was taking music lessons for my music teacher Mrs. Ross. She told me that it was a good idea to learn to play instruments, because I could get jobs and get an income that way. So I took her advice and joined three bands!
New York is home. It is also a creative Mecca and still a place where creatives come to prove themselves. There is always so much happening, and everything is available. You can witness it. You can always be sure that you are close to the cutting edge. It’s not an absolute rule that artists need to be in metropolitan areas to develop to their fullest, but being in a large urban center gives you access to more people and the chance to connect with more people.
Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson "Bridges" (1977)
An article with Michael Ray. In this photo we see The Cosmic Krewe: Laranah Phipps-Ray and Michael Ray
There is no way that you can walk upon this Earth without music. You can’t communicate without music. People stay strong through music. Sometimes it’s the world against them. But music remains true.
The Cosmic Krewe have a new single out, which was recorded in Santiago. It contains highlights from two performances. We have been going for quite some time, and there were even two versions for a while. I also just did a recording with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Bono.
The Cosmic Krewe in action
It’s always very busy for me. I work with Kool & The Gang, and with them it’s pretty much the same show in the same way all the time. I work with the Arkestra, and with them there is no telling what’s going to happen during a performance - and it’s what comes after five to twelve hours of rehearsal.
Kool & The Gang at B.B. King's
It’s hard to be involved in as many things as I am, but it’s fun to be on the road. I stay in shape. I have been in most places, so there is no point in going out much. I stick to doing what I’m doing, and when I go on vacation I do nothing at all.
Some people are so creative and they don’t even know it. They hum where they go and can’t hear it themselves. You need to be in tune with the planet, and nurture that energy. The world can be like a long, plastic hallway. You need to stay true to yourself.
U2 with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Apollo
Michael Ray is presented thus by his partner in music and life, artist Laranah Phipps-Ray: - Michael is so well respected even in the most remote places. They love him and they might not speak the same language. He is very hard-working, very detailed, very technical, and keeps the excitement of a beginner. I am always inspired by him. He is fast-moving, energetic and exhausting - and we are both eclectic, and this keeps us drawn to each other.
TK Blue remembers his friend Randy Weston, on Musicians' Corner
An article by TK Blue. The pictures show two great musical friends meeting for the last time in this realm, in August of this year.
On Saturday Sept 1, 2018 we lost a true musical giant, innovator, NEA Jazz Master, and a warrior for the elevation of African-American pride and culture. His compositions disseminating the richness and beauty of the African aesthetic are unparalleled. Randy was born during the era of extreme racism, segregation, and discrimination in the United States. His life's mission was one of unfolding the curtain that concealed the wonderful greatness and extraordinary accomplishments inherent on the African continent.
I am blessed and honored to have been a member of his band for 38 years. Baba Randy was a spiritual father and mentor for myself, and so many people. Our last public performances were in Rome, Italy July 19th and Nice, France July 21st with Billy Harper on tenor sax Alex Blake bass Neil Clarke percussion and T.K. Blue alto sax and flute.
I will always remember his extreme kindness and generosity. My first four impressions of Dr. Weston reveled who he was and what he cherished:
--Early 1970's Randy in performance at the East in Brooklyn with his son Azzedine on African percussion (a clear demonstration of his love and mentorship for his children. I also remember Randy inviting the great James Spaulding to sit in on flute)
---Late 1970's I performed with South African legend pianist Abdullah Ibrahim at Ornette Coleman's Artist House Loft in Soho NYC. Randy attended this show with his father Frank Edward Weston and his manager Colette (his profound love, respect, and reverence for the elders and his admiration for other artists, especially from the continent of Africa)
----Late 1970's I had the first opportunity to perform with Randy at a fundraiser for SWAPO and to raise funds for support against Apartheid in South Africa (another demonstration of his commitment to struggle for civil and human rights world-wide)
During the summer of 1980 I was overjoyed having my first hired performance with Randy and his African Rhythms group at the House Of The Lord Church in Brooklyn which again displayed his support and commitment to keep jazz alive in black community and his in-depth love for the African-American church)
Lastly when my mom Lois Marie Rhynie passed in 2014, there was a last minute issue with the church piano. Dr. Weston paid for the rental of a beautiful baby grand piano and performed gratis.
Randy Weston is the last pianistic link between Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. His forays into improvisation are clearly a manifestation of the highest tier regarding a creative genius with astounding originality. His compositions are in the pantheon of renowned jazz standards.
Words are inadequate to express my love, admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for such an incredible human being. May his spirit rest in paradise for eternity. We will miss you Baba Randy!!!
Sincerely, T.K. Blue
This beautiful text was written by T.K. Blue in the memory of his close friend and mentor Randy Weston. We are so grateful to T.K. Blue for sharing this with us and our visitors. Thank you, T.K., for putting this wonderful text for the giant, Dr. Weston, here.
Both Randy Weston and T.K. Blue are contributors to this site, something that we are needless to say extremely proud of.
To me music is my life and what I am driven to do. It is what I will be doing until I am under ground.
Even at the time when Aretha Franklin was really sick she was still working on an album.
There is never the last album.
Music is the air I breathe, the food I eat, and my gasoline that keeps me going.
L.J. Reynolds' new single "You and Me Together, Forever" off the forthcoming new solo album
I am just now releasing a new solo album, “You And Me”, featuring the single “You And Me Together, Forever”. It is a great record, one of the best I ever made. It was recorded in 2018 and will be out in a few weeks. It includes a remake of “Key To The World”, from my self-titled solo album, which has been a big hit in my solo career, and which the public demands to hear at The Dramatics’ gigs too. I am trying to top what I already did. You can always do anything even better. The new record also for example includes a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me”, where I have added to the lyrics. It is a line-dance product. My records are great stepping records. I have an extensive solo career that features solo albums and gospel albums, with songs such as “Touch Down”, which was a single from my album "Lovin Man" , and albums such as "Travelin" and “Tell Me You Will” . I for example covered Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me”, so she called me and said that I had asked her to. That was really funny! She sometimes also came out after that song at my concerts.
It was suggested to me that I should cover something from Motown, and my video for “Come Get To This/Stepping Out Tonight” has nearly a million views on YouTube right now.
A lovely and popular video for YouTube to safekeep: L.J. Reynolds' "Come Get To This/Stepping Out Tonight" off the release "Get To This"
My daughter has passed away. I am nearly in tears when I talk about it.
L.J. Reynolds' solo hit "Key To The World"
A typical day in the studio back in time with The Dramatics, if I wasn’t producing, was a good eight hours long. We made sure that we had fun, and we allowed very few people to come to our recording sessions. We were focused, and always focused on how to outdo each other.
After eight hours we had a record.
The Dramatics - as good as it gets - "(I'm Going By) The Stars In Your Eyes" on Soul Train, where this act appeared 20+ times
It wasn’t work and it isn’t work now. It’s the traveling that is the work – on stage I’m at home. And the most fun of all is when you get paid.
We had thirty-seven hits. I have many favorites. I wrote a couple that are favorites… I can list them – it would take a while.
The music business is rough on all. I have the gold records, but there has been obstacles, the shift to the digital world, production companies that didn't pay us, drugs, managers that weren’t fair with the money, changes of labels, offers that didn’t come through. There has been a lot happening that the younger acts now aren’t exposed to as much, and I have a saying that I want you to make note of: - If you’re not in control of the money the money is out of control.
It takes its toll living this lifestyle. Being an entertainer can shorten your life, like cigarettes. Tragedies are what they say: Tragedies. I have lost all of that now. And it says that I have to keep the legacy going. None of us are getting out of this alive. There is great feeling and great faith about what you do. We want to be great. I lost my only brother. I lost my daughter. I turn that into song. I have been compensated well, so why more money as the prime driving force? I can only eat so much salmon. I want to do more music. I want to please the public. Artists fight to be liked.
I don’t think that you can ever go back. You can only always go forward.
L.J. Reynolds is a legendary singer, composer, arranger, producer, manager and entrepreneur, based in Detroit. He joined the phenomenon that is the massively successful singing group The Dramatics in 1972, and has since been one of the famous voices and faces recognized as The Dramatics. This group indeed has a dramatic story, but more than anything it has had outstanding and legendary voices and has a very long string of immortal songs to its name. The Dramatics are an important part of modern American history. L.J. Reynolds' brilliant solo career includes several studio albums and two gospel albums to date.
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