Category Archives: vocal jazz

Women’s History Month: Nina Simone’s “Four Women”

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Lately, between Andresmusictalk and my own blog Dystopian Dance Party, I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about Nina Simone. Not that I’m complaining, of course. Simone is one of my all-time favorite artists: a bold and daring a performer who nevertheless carried herself with an imperious dignity that earned her the title “High Priestess of Soul.” And, especially in the late 1960s, her voice as a radical Black woman made vital contributions to the very culture that marginalized her.

Take, for example, her 1966 song “Four Women,” an emotional portrait of the manifold ways African American women have been oppressed throughout history. Over an ominous blues piano line, Simone lends subjectivity to four archetypal figures: the dark-skinned slave “Aunt Sarah,” the mulatto “Safronia,” the Jezebel/prostitute “Sweet Thing,” and finally the embittered militant “Peaches.” With her last verse, she declares that the rage at the heart of the Black Civil Rights movement is both inevitable and justified by the indignities of the past; “I’m awfully bitter these days,” she admits, “because my parents were slaves.” And in inhabiting these figures–widely perceived as negative, racist stereotypes–she gives them a sense of humanity and empathy that could not be found in the women’s movement of the time.

The place of Black women in feminism has of course been contested since the days of Sojourner Truth; it remains, unfortunately, an ongoing struggle, seen most recently in debates leading up to this January’s Women’s March on Washington. But with songs like “Four Women,” Nina Simone ensured that the uniqueness of Black women’s experiences were expressed, whether “mainstream” feminism chose to acknowledge them or not. And her music continues to resonate–as evidenced by the above cover version, performed by the Berklee College of Music chapter of Black Lives Matter. It is, as ever, sad that a song written about the plight of Black women in 1966 could remain so necessary over 50 years later; things being as they are, however, at least now we can be glad it exists.

Remember to check out Dystopian Dance Party next week for five more days of music by great women artists! See you soon.

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Filed under Berklee College Of Music, Black History, Black Lives Matter, black power, Blues, Nina Simone, pro black, vocal jazz, Women

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Love Enter” by Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson is right up alongside Larry Graham in terms of cracker jack bass player/composers with his baritone singing voices. As a Detroit native,he was most influenced by  Motown Funk Brother (and bass guitar icon) James Jamerson. Jamerson played a lot of jazzy riffs-especially backing up Stevie Wonder. So it made sense that Henderson,a pioneer fusion jazz bassist,would bring his own bass complexity to Wonder’s music in the late 60’s/early 70’s along with session work for Marvin Gaye,Aretha Franklin, The Dramatics and Dr. By then,Henderson was moving further into his jazz chops.

Henderson transitioned from a soul session player into a jazz one during the early/mid 70’s. Working with drummer/talent scout Norman Connors and jazz pioneer Miles Davis found Henderson helping both artists transition into a soul and funk based approach-especially with  Miles’ On The Corner in 1972 and Connors You Are Starship in 1976. That same year Henderson inked a solo deal with Buddah records. His solo debut Solid is a masterpiece of his multiple talent-with its strongly funky title song. For me,another song that pulls together Henderson’s talents on the album is “Let Love Enter”.

Muruga Booker’s conga drum roll and percussion introduces the the song. It features the acoustic piano,Henderson’s bass and the ongoing percussion playing a funky variation of the Brazilian samba rhythm. The melody of it all,as illustrated by Henderson’s scaling voice and lyricism,is based in Brazilian jazz with it’s major and minor chord changes. A straight up percussion part bridges the similarly themed refrain and choruses together. On the bridge,trumpeter Marcus Belgrave delivers a succinct accompanying horn solo as Henderson’s backup singers improvise the melody with him to the songs fade out.

This  song reveals itself as having taken a lot of influence from both Norman Connors and Miles Davis. Most of the playing has Miles and Norman’s  light musical touch. It also  celebrates that Brazilian flavor that Stevie Wonder often had. What bridges these influences is that jazzy funk/soul attitude. It has a strong,melodic groove to it, and its not a simple song either. The chord progressions can be sung and hummed. Yet they offer a lot of challenge for musicians and vocalists who wish to do so. As such,its something of a defining musical moment for Michael Henderson from the beginning of his solo years.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Marcus Belgrave, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Muruga Booker, Norman Connors, percussion, piano, samba funk, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, trumpet, vocal jazz

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/27/2015-“We Appreciate Your Patience” by Lorraine Feather

For this weeks posting,I wanted to play a little jazz for everyone. Considering this blog was started with the intention of projecting modern songs in the entire jazz,soul,funk,R&B,blues and pop spectrum? I’ve neglected going too deep into jazz because the critical medium of that musical genre has a tendency to take itself much more seriously than perhaps other levels of critical assessment. Yet there was something about this artist and this song that was right up my alley in terms of actually writing about it.

Lorraine Feather,herself the daughter of famous NYC jazz critic Leonard Feather. Her mother Jane was a big band singer in the trio Full Swing. After studying musical theater acting in LA,Lorraine returned to New York to pursue that career. Eventually landing nigh club gigs between numerous waitress jobs. After a successful career doing songs for films by Disney among others? She began her recording career in the year 2000. And nine years later released her sixth solo album Language,which includes the song that’s the subject of today’s post in “We Appreciate Your Patience”.

Instrumentally the song is is a very stripped down mid-tempo bluesy number. That with drummer Gregg Field and percussion Michael Shapiro actually providing a slow,loping and rhythmically well accented hip-hop/jazz swinging shuffle to the music itself. This is accompanied by the melodic participating of pianist/co-writer Shelly Berg,bassist  Michael Valerio with Spanish tinged acoustic guitar from Grant Geissman. On the bridge Field’s dreamy brushing is accompanied by Berg scaling back and forth similarly on piano-taking a solo before returning to the main theme that the song fades out on.

The best thing thing about this song for me is how it updates the traditions of vocal jazz. It takes on the dragging shuffle of the hip-hop beat for sure. But also focuses on Feathers embracing of the witty cultural references in vocal jazz lyricism. The concept of dealing with calling customer service lines over the phone is a thoroughly modern frustration. Feather illustrates this with her own singular wit and mildly dry,yet harmless sarcasm about being put on hold while listening to “some music from the 80s”,as well as being directed to said company’s website as the preferred means of contact. In the end,it appears she develops a crush on one particular rep. Both musically and lyrically? This is one contemporary acoustic vocal jazz number that is right on time.

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Filed under 2008, Blues, customer service, Grant Geissman, Greg Field, hip-hop/jazz, humor, Jazz, Leonard Feather, Lorraine Feather, Los Angeles, lyrics, Michael Shapiro, Michael Valerio, New York, Shelly Berg, vocal jazz