An Incomparable Artist

 

with James Baldwin

Nina Simone was born today in 1933 in North Carolina. My husband and I continue to listen to her and hear her influences in many of today’s artists, whether they’re aware of it or not. She was a huge personality…strong…powerful…direct and her original compositions, such as “4 Women” were evident of that. Nina Simone was an outstanding interpreter of lyrics, mood, nuance and just the best of the best. I urge you to read about Nina Simone and her very interesting & sometimes, turbulent, life. In the meantime, enjoy the selections:

Speaking Clearly and Mr. Tolson

    

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”Oliver Wendell Holmes

As an educator, I’ve always found it very important to enunciate each and every sound for my students as I spoke and also to be a model for how they should speak. My students came from all over the world and I would put them in situations where, even though they didn’t know English, they were supplied the words in order to make them feel comfortable, have the new words roll around their tongues, feel good about themselves and shine. The classroom was our stage and we also used the auditorium stage as well as marching into other classrooms and performing. They loved performing, even if they just entered my classroom that day!  It was always an accepting learning environment. A few years ago, the movie, “The Great Debaters” came out starring Denzel Washington as the debate team’s coach, Melvin B. Tolson. Well, today is Mr. Tolson’s birthday and he was born in 1898 in Missouri.

In 1924, Melvin Tolson accepted a position as instructor of English and speech at Wiley College. While at Wiley, he taught, wrote poetry and novels, coached football and directed plays. In 1929, Tolson coached the Wiley debate teams, which established a ten-year winning streak. The Debate Team beat the larger black schools of its day like Tuskegee, Fisk and Howard.

 After a visit to Texas, Langston Hughes  wrote that “Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him.”

 According to James Farmer, Tolson’s drive to win, to eliminate risk, meant that his debaters were actors more than spontaneous thinkers. Tolson wrote all the speeches and the debate team memorized them. He drilled them on every gesture and every pause. Tolson was so skilled at the art of debating that he also figured out the arguments that opponents would make and wrote rebuttals for them-before the actual debate.

 In 1930, he pursued a master’s degree in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University; met V.F. Calverton, editor of Modern Quarterly; wrote “Cabbages and Caviar” column for The Washington Tribune and organized sharecroppers in South Texas.

 In 1935, he led the Wiley Debate Team to the national championship to defeat the University of Southern California before an audience of eleven hundred people. In 1947 he was appointed poet laureate of Liberia by President V. S. Tubman. He left Wiley to become professor of English and Drama at Langston University in Oklahoma.”Wiley College

Melvin B. Tolson was also a writer and a poet. I love his ode to Louis Armstrong:

                                      Old Satchmo’s

                   gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes

                                      set my soul on fire.

                                            If I climbed

                         the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh

                 Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!

                      Are you hip to this, Harlem?  Are you hip?

                           On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say

                                  after he blows his horn:

                    “I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe,

                         if old Satchmo had never been born!”

 

 

 

Man With a Horn

“Men Have Died for This Music. You Can’t Get More Serious Than Than.”-Dizzy Gillespie

Today, in 1917, the GREAT Jazz and Be-bop horn player, Dizzy Gillespie was born in South Carolina. I saw him as a little girl, I guess, on the Ed Sullivan show and other shows. When he puffed out his cheeks to play, I was astounded. As a young woman, I saw him at the Village Gate and Bill Cosby jumped on stage and played the bongos!  A night to remember, folks!!!!!! 

“You Got to Dig It to Dig…You Dig???”-Thelonious Monk

If you’ve read about Thelonious Monk or even listened to his music, you know right away he continues to be one of a kind. A comprehensive book to read would be Robin Kelley’s: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. I enjoyed this book very much even with the knowledge I already had about Monk.

“Thelonious Sphere Monk (Oct. 10th, 1917-1982) is recognized as one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz. He was one of the architects of bebop and his impact as a composer and pianist has had a profound influence on every genre of music.”Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz site

 “Among his works were ”Round Midnight,” ”Straight No Chaser” and ”Well, You Needn’t.” The strange contours of Mr. Monk’s tunes led the jazz critic Whitney Balliett to describe them as rippling ”with dissonances and rhythms that often give one the sensation of missing the bottom step in the dark.”-John S. Wilson, NY Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

“MERCY, MERCY, MERCY”-Joe Zawinul

“Hipness is not a state of mind, it’s a fact of life.”-Cannonball Adderley

Jazz great, Cannonball Adderley was born today in 1928 (died 1975).  He was a massive talent and had many hits, one of which, was Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”

 

“God Bless the Child That’s Got His Own”-Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music. ”Jimi Hendrix

It’s funny where you’ll hear good music sometimes. There I was, waiting to see the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, when on the waiting room’s TV screen, a great, great version of “God Bless the Child” appeared and put a smile on my face. It was Tony Bennett and Billie Holiday…the editing was fantastic!  You could just feel the respect and admiration Tony Bennett has/had for Lady Day!  In 1997, Bennett put out a tribute album to Holiday, Tony Bennett on Holiday, but I have no idea when the video was made, obviously years later. For those of you who may not know, Mr. Bennett was very vocal during the Civil Rights Movement, marching alongside Dr. King. He is a philanthropist and just a good guy all around.  

“Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) grew up in jazz talent-rich Baltimore in the 1920s. As a young teenager, Holiday served the beginning part of her so-called “apprenticeship” by singing along with records by Bessie Smith or Louis Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs. When Holiday’s mother, Sadie Fagan, moved to New York in search of a better job, Billie eventually went with her. She made her true singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs and borrowed her professional name – Billie Holiday – from screen star Billie Dove. Although she never underwent any technical training and never even so much as learned how to read music, Holiday quickly became an active participant in what was then one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country.”Billie Holiday Official Site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Say Yeh, Yeh! That’s What I Say”-Georgie Fame

“Some people think I’m a rock ‘n’ roll musician and some think I’m a jazz musician but, for me, there is no difference.”Georgie Fame

Oh, how I remember loving “Yeh, Yeh” recorded by British Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. It was a mix of jazz, rythmn and blues and just rocked my 11 year old self! Georgie Fame is alive and kicking and is 70 years old today, Happy Birthday! I just listened to the song 2X and it’s still great!