#BAM @ BAM

Well, you’ve been waiting for it. Now it’s finally going to happen:

#BAM @ BAM

Come see us present a spectrum of Black American Music for free tomorrow afternoon at MetroTech in Brooklyn. Joining me will be Sarah Elizabeth Charles, vocals; Daniel Sadownick, percussion; Marcus Gilmore, drums; and Vicente Archer, bass.

Concert produced by Danny Kapilian for Brooklyn Academy of Music

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM

 

 

On Quincy Jones, Ray Brown, Brownie, Fat Girl, Fab, Art and Helen . . .

DISCLAIMER: Ray and Q, please excuse my gratuitous references to “Niggas” and “mothafuckas.” Know that I mean it with all the love in my heart…

Walking In Space . . .

Mothafuckas love to talk about Quincy Jones as a producer, but most have no idea how truly superb an artist he is. And before someone talks about all the ghostwriters Quincy commissioned, so what!? He’s still a bad mothafucka! I’d do the same shit Quincy did. Why turn down a good gig? This shit is a business, and the moment you’re no longer busy, you’re no longer relevant.

If your only association to Quincy Jones is Michael Jackson, you’ve got a lot of homework to do.  Newsflash: Quincy Jones was a bad mothafucka long before those records he produced in the ’70s and ’80s.

That said, I miss Ray Brown.

A lot of folks don’t know that Quincy was managed by Ray Brown through most of the ’70s. He stopped managing Quincy right before he hooked up with Michael. Ray told me he was drugged with himself for doing that. Ha! Can you imagine?

Ray Brown Rule #1: Either a gig pays so much you don’t care what the music sounds like, or you love the music so much you don’t care what it pays.

Ray Brown was one of the most astute businessmen I ever met. I still use his tactics to this day. Quincy got a lot from him. All the old school managers had to be gangsters to be successful. They were often doing business with them…

I Cried When Out Found Out Brownie Died

Clifford Brown08I remember really being into Clifford Brown when I was 12, 13-years-old and thinking he was still alive somewhere. I was crushed when I found out from reading the back of an album cover he had passed so young. I remember at that age everyone told me how much I sounded like Fat Girl. I had no idea who Fats was, so I started checking him out. It was then I realized how much Brownie had gotten from Fats Navarro. This shit ain’t linear. It’s a continuum. An ancestral heritage passed down from master to student.

This is the crux of #BAM. It ain’t about all that jazz, it’s about people.

I remember meeting Mrs. Larue Brown Watson around that time. She was such a kind spirit.

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I was also once on a tour of Japan and Helen Merrill and Art Farmer were on the bill. Helen is such a sweet person. And Art was very gracious in taking time to talk to me on the bus… Quincy, Art, and Clifford were all on Lionel Hampton’s band together.

Q Summons Me for Qwest

I was playing at the Playboy Fest in the Hollywood Bowl years ago, and after my set, Quincy asked me when I was leaving Verve (my record label at the time) and coming over to Qwest. I could’ve died right there. What an honor!

Q on Ray . . .

“After he moved to Los Angeles, we started working a lot together,” said Quincy Jones. “We got closer and closer. After a while, Ray started to take care of booking gigs and travel. He was an astute businessman. Old school played everything. We all played chitlin’ circuits. And you didn’t sit around whining about what you had to play, man. You played it, and tried to make it all sound good. That’s what I loved about Ray. That’s where I think our chord struck, in being very curious about what the business side of it was and not wanting to be a victim. We wanted to be more in charge of our own destinies.

Listen to that trombone! When we were on the road together I used to give haircuts to my ancestor, Al Grey aka “FAB.”

“A man never plays more or less than they are as a human being, and Ray was a very confident, take-charge person. He played bass like that and lived like that. He ate 17 different dishes like that. Wherever we were, whatever was good, Ray knew what it was. He’d probably eat a 249-pound catfish if he tried! To me, he was the absolute symbol that if you empty your cup every time and learn to make it a habit, it always comes back twice as full. Give it up every time, man. Don’t save nothin’. I learned more and more about that from him all the time. In everything.”

Ray Brown and Quincy Jones = Autonomous Niggas.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM

On The Art of Music Criticism . . .

Music is not meant to be placed on a one-size-fits-all rack. The type of theoretical analysis that may lend itself to Classical music can’t necessarily be cross-collateralized against African arts. That is a check that will never clear. There is no right way to look at Black culture through a European lens. Off the bat, this is where most writers fail. Black music is not to be dissected like an animal in biology class. That’s a very White way of doing things. And when I say “White,” I’m not referring to white skin, I’m talking about the racial narrative that perpetuates a White myth of sovereignty over all others. The Western standard is diametrically opposed to Black heritage. So the question is not about intellect as much as it is, whose idea of intelligence are we speaking?

As racism becomes more entrenched in code words and semantics it shows itself to be more elusive than ever. The White way is synonymous with The Standard at this point. It is how things are expected to be done and anything outside of that is considered an aberration.

We live in a world of words, and these words have power, and without the key of literacy, one is forever bound to a lifestyle on the margins of society. Conversely, many native and ancient peoples of the earth view the ability to read words as an abomination. That goes for photographs, phonographs, and any other form of media that may trap one’s soul. Some natives and ancients can’t read a book, but they can read a palm. They can’t write a letter, but they can talk to a tree. They can commune with The Universe by arranging a set of stones or shells in some fashion. They can see into the future by looking through a gourd. However, in modern times it is a liability to be wise in the ways of nature but lack the ability to decipher text. In fact, the imagery that often accompanies words like “ancient” and “native” is pejorative.

“I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.”

John Dryden: The Conquest of Granada

Words are far more frequently used as a tool of oppression than as a call to liberation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them to your advantage. Don’t shun knowledge because you’re afraid to be accountable for what you’ve learned. Develop the ability to overcome those stigmas and empower yourself to be multilingual.

In The Stone

Critiques are not typically delivered in oratory fashion, they are encapsulated and enshrined by the written word where they can live forever on a page. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” is bullshit. Names have hurt plenty. It is my guess that if critics had to voice what they were saying to those who are being reviewed face-to-face, they would chew their words and do a lot more swallowing than spitting.

I think critiques can be constructive if they enlighten the otherwise unknowledgeable or highlight a farce that could be destructive gone unchecked. Outside of that, they either tend to be an exercise in self-glorification (look how cool I am because I get it and you don’t), or a means of belittling someone else to feel better about themselves (I don’t get this and it makes me feel insecure, so instead of copping to that, I’ll dismiss it).

Must one be musically or theoretically literate to offer a valid critique? My first thought is that any music critique written by someone who lacks the ability to do what they are reviewing is questionable. To wonder if someone can be an authority on something they’ve never done, is a reasonable conclusion. The snag is, what is “do-ing” something? All arts are related, so to have a heightened level of perception in one area can translate to others if you see the parallels. That said, being able to give a theoretical analysis doesn’t automatically imbibe you with an adept level of understanding, and not knowing music theory doesn’t exclude you from being able to ascertain what’s happening.

The over-arching cultural implications are of greater importance than the minutiae of how one arrived where they are. And there’s nothing worse than a critique by a cat that’s studied music in school who’s more concerned with impressing the readership they know how many bars are in a tune, or where middle-C is on the piano, than saying something powerfully transformative.

Unless you know how to do what they’re “do-ing” up there, steer clear of nerding out on chords and scales and shit. And even if you do know how to “do” it, say it in a way that someone who doesn’t know might peep it.

Less wacking off and more turning on.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

Black American Music and the Jazz Tradition

There is no such thing as jazz, and any idea of what that might be is false. It’s impossible to build a tradition upon something that was never a designed to be a true expression of a community. The very existence of jazz is predicated upon a lie, just like racism.

To speak of “jazz tradition” is like to speak of “racial justice.” It’s not possible to have justice within the confines of race because race was specifically designed to subjugate certain people to an underclass so that the “majority” thrives. Injustice is inherently built within the racial construct. There has never been any tradition within jazz other than to ensure Black cultural expression is depreciated and undervalued.

What’s made clear from the very first recorded jazz, à la The Original Dixieland Jass Band, is that it doesn’t have to adhere to the common standards that makes Black music what it is. Genealogy and lineage don’t matter within jazz and who’s who and what’s what is based primarily on the corporate and critical establishments.

It used to be that masters like your Ray Browns or Art Blakeys decided who the next cats in line were. Now the media or institutions like Downbeat, Billboard, or NARAS are the arbiters — all of which are controlled by the supremacist structures.

Tradition is based on politics in the European aesthetic. The Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, the Crusades, the New World and subsequent colonization of all indigenous cultures are all indicative of European politics. The Dark Ages befell Europe after the decline of Rome because they had forgotten who they were. Once they reclaimed their historical memory and invented a new image, they went through what later became known as the Renaissance.

It’s very interesting to me that during this great period of their intellectual, artistic, and spiritual rebirth and enlightenment, Europeans were simultaneously committing the most heinous crimes ever committed against humanity. And though the Europeans were the perpetrators, it was those they captured who were criminalized. This Machiavellian approach to politics set the blueprint for what was to become America and is a pattern that continues to this very day.

Long before Europeans captured and enslaved others, they enslaved themselves. Many are quick to point out that Africans enslaved other Africans, or people of color enslaved other people of color, but it was a different type of slavery than the chattel slavery that existed in the New World. For instance, it was totally possible for someone to be born or sold into slavery, but eventually rise to a position of power, like Abu al-Misk Kafur or Malik Ambar.

Ancestry is what governs art in African culture. Jazz is political and has no roots. So far, the furthest back historians been able to go with “jaz” is on a business card by a Creole musician by the name of Jimmy Palao.

I don’t think that the selling of the art is the issue. It’s the forces that control the system under which it’s sold that creates conflict. Most of which can be solved by calling it Black music. Not only because that’s what it is, but because then it becomes apparent what tradition we’re talking about. The same goes for Hiphop. The Black community doesn’t own or control it anymore.

One problem with jazz is that there will always be an argument as to what is and what is not jazz, which prevents an authentic analysis of the art. Once someone gets past whether or not they like someone’s music, the jazz tradition always becomes a distraction. Even if artists say that their music is not jazz, any association with the word will subjugate an artist to an argument which can never be solved because it’s faulty at its root.

From a genealogical standpoint, it becomes very clear to a knowledgable listener whose music has been informed by the Black tradition and whose hasn’t. That will never happen with jazz because it’s a bastardized tradition that has no foundation outside of a commercial structure. It’s not a communal language, it’s a capitalist one.

In Black music there are no fields, per se, there are territories and lineages. It’s very clear who is a master drummer in the tribe and who is not. There is also a rhythmic lilt to how you phrase that is encoded in your DNA that gives a sign as to where you are from.

I’m not vehemently opposed to the existence of jazz, I’m opposed to the true spirit of Black music being labeled as such. I’m fine with Jazz continuing its journey, just not at the expense of Black music. I’m not trying to change the name “Jazz” to “#BAM” or “Black American Music,” as the misguided and uninformed seem to believe. Jazz is doing just fine, dead on its own.

This idea of how personal views and individual preferences factor in artistically comes from a Western perspective. I’m not saying Western thought is intrinsically bad, but there’s an entirely different system of judgement in Black arts.

Black arts have been so affected by the Western aesthetic that they appear at times to be no difference between the two, but fundamentally they serve a different function and there are another set of rules at play. Black music can coexist along with the Western aesthetic, as far as I see it. The fact that we have yet to formally establish that there is a such thing as Black music is the basis of the confusion.

Blacks were brought over here for a reason. I want to learn from the experience and my desire is to marry the worlds in some way that will be beneficial to everyone involved. It matters not to me if it works out or it doesn’t. All that matters is that we do the work and create value. Whatever happens as a result isn’t up to us.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM

All That Glitters Ain’t Sterling Silver

I’ve been hearing a lot of rumblings from Black folks that the Clippers should boycott the playoffs in light of Sterlingate. Some are going as far as singling out the players as slaves and that by continuing to be a part of the Clippers organization they are willingly subjecting themselves to the plantation. Newsflash, Black folks: we’re all slaves and are all part of the plantation system and it will be that way until we regain economic autonomy for our community. Blacks don’t ultimately own anything in this world. In fact, Black Americans had more wealth established in our community before integration than now.

Far as I’m concerned, we were better off when we had to have our own shit because we weren’t allowed to be shareholders in the White Supremacist system. The whole of the NBA is the plantation, the whole of America, and the world at large. There isn’t an inch of this globe that hasn’t been tainted by colonialism. Even when we Blacks make real money in this world, it’s because the White man gives us the green light. We’ll never be free as long as we are subservient to the charity of someone else. So once again we hope that Adam Silver, the current White NBA commissioner, finds it in his heart to do what is right so that we can sleep a bit easier at night. But what does this solve? The only reason Sterling is being outed is because this recording has gone viral. How many other NBA owners feel the exact same way about Blacks but we don’t have the tape, yeah I said tape, to prove it?

This isn’t the first evidence of Sterling’s racist agenda. He’s been brought up on charges of discrimination in 2005 and 2009 for his refusal to rent properties to Blacks and other people of color. Or how about when NBA Hall of Famer and former Clippers manager, Elgin Baylor, sued Sterling for wrongful termination and discrimination in 2009?

“Because of the Clippers unwillingness to fairly compensate African-American players we lost a lot of good talent, including Danny ManningCharles SmithMichael CageRon HarperDominique Wilkins, Corey Maggette and others. . . . players Sam CassellElton Brand and Corey Maggette complained to me that Donald Sterling would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’ I brought this to Sterling’s attention, but he continued to bring women into the locker room.”

— Elgin Baylor

Crystal Ball Colon Makes an Ass out of Christ

A proper distinction must be made between bigotry and racism. Bigotry is a hatred or intolerance one has for others based on culture, sex, or beliefs, but racism is having the power to discriminate based on that hatred. Racism isn’t about how you feel about another individual, racism is establishing the authority to influence the outcome of another’s trajectory based on how you feel about them. In theory, anyone can be racist, but in practice, there is only one known system of racism and that is White Supremacy. It was White Supremacists who invented the concept of race as a means of controlling people of color all over the world. They made God a man and made him White, which de facto means anyone who is not White is not of God. This gave license to thugs like Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) to rape, kill and enslave anyone who didn’t pass the skin color test.

Black people are summarily being written out of their own history. They wrote Black people out of Ragtime and called it Jazz. They wrote Black people out of the Blues and called it Rock and Roll. They took Hiphop and twerking and didn’t even bother to change the name. Last year, for the first time in Billboard music history, no Black artist had a number one pop single. It’s gotten so that Whites do Black music better than us, and if we’re not careful, it’s only a matter of time before the same happens in basketball.

“As long as Blacks play the role of workhorse, they will never own the stable.”

— Nicholas Payton

Penalizing the players who’ve worked hard most of their lives to get into the playoffs won’t solve anything. If it is proven that this is Sterling making those statements on that tape, I think the NBA needs to revoke his rights from being able own a team in the league, but this only deals with the surface. The underlying issue is that as long as Black people don’t establish economic and political independence for themselves, they’ll always be beholden to the White man for their freedom.

Black people have no collective memory of who they were before they were slaves to the system. Our story doesn’t begin with colonization. When it was the Dark Ages for Europe, many parts of what is now known as Africa were in the midst of their Golden Ages. The extent of Black history is not that we come from meager beginnings or that we are predisposed to oppression. Europeans have since reestablished (and embellished) their intellectual and cultural history, when will Black people do the same for themselves, sans embellishment and colonialism?

That is the ultimate goal.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM

Another Shot in the Arm for Jazz

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Let me start by offering my condolences to the family of Mr. Philip Seymour Hoffman. I pray that they find peace in what must be a difficult time. It’s hard enough to endure the loss of a loved one, then to have to sift through scores of sordid headlines that objectify the life of someone you hold dear. I’ll strive, as always, not to add to the disrespect by choosing my words carefully, but I absolutely must say something about the subtext to all of this. It’s unfortunate that this has to be said, but I would be remiss not to lend my voice to the conversation.

There have been quite a few articles that I’ve read over the last week that are quite interesting. This one from the New York Daily News stands out:

Jazz saxophonist Robert Vineberg, arrested for heroin dealing in Philip Seymour Hoffman net, has A-list recording credits

Jazz? How did the narrative get twisted from one about a deceased actor with an addiction, to one about Jazz? The first line sets the tone for what follows:

“Since even before the days of its most famous fatality, alto legend Charlie Parker, heroin has been the dark shadow of jazz.”

Then, the piece is bookended by:

“Going back to the early 1940s, trumpeter Joe Guy supplemented his work as a drug dealer, most famously supplying Billie Holiday while they carried on an affair.”

Why evoke the names of 3 Black musicians who passed on over half a century ago to tell your story about a White drug dealer and abuser with whom they share little to no association? Did Black people or Jazz musicians invent heroin? Were Blacks the first to do it or bring it into America? And why does it take a celebrated White actor to die for the police to crack down on the supply of contaminated dope that’s been killing folks for weeks?

More insightful is how Bird and Billie are posthumously dragged into this story about Robert “Aaron,” when he worked with Blondie, David Bowie and Mick Jagger — 3 Hall of Famers with known histories of addiction. This story conveniently makes no connection to the proliferation of drugs and drug-related deaths in Rock culture.

And none of this I’m writing is an attack or a judgement on drug use, but rather, an observation on how stories are spun.

With all due respect to Mr. Hoffman, why is it when he overdoses the NYPD is turning NYC upside-down to find someone to blame, but when Whitney Houston OD’ed, she was just another Black junkie musician?

I also found this story from The Oakland Examiner curious:

When Miles met Philip

No one seemed to care about that “fateful” day when Miles Davis met then pool boy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, until he dies from heroin use. Now it’s media fodder? And shouldn’t it be “When Philip met Miles”? After all, Miles was already a master several times over by the mid-’80s when he met the lifeguard turned actor. Next thing you know they’ll be suggesting that Miles turned him on to smack.

And the Black, jazz junkie narrative continues…

And this is why JAZZ will never be cool…

(On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool…)

Happy Black History Month!

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of the #BAM Movement

Album Review: Can Beyoncé’s Eponymous Apolcalyptic Album Bring Melody Back To The Mainstream?

The world must be about to end because Beyoncé just made a great album. And I don’t mean that as a slight, but if you’re like me, this is the album you’ve been waiting for Beyoncé to make since her debut as a solo artist. I admit to my opening sentence being hyperbolic, but I think this recording does signify an end to the types of albums she’s made thus far and could be a sign of a new beginning for her.

I’m just going to make the disclaimer right now that this is an opinion piece and I don’t strive for objective album reviews. For one thing, they don’t exist, no matter how hard the writer may try. Perception of music is always subjective unless we’re in the realm of theoretical analysis and that’s not nearly as fun as approaching a project with all of your tastes and biases. Otherwise, what’s the point? And this can be done without indulging in personal attacks, although to the artist, any negative critique has the propensity to be taken as a personal attack.

I remember watching an interview before B’Day came out about how she sequestered herself from everyone for 3 weeks to make it and how much heart and soul went into the process. I was really looking forward to the release. I went to the record store on release day and after hearing it, I felt B’Day failed to live up to her promises. But this new album sounds to me like that one should have. This work is lived in. She has nothing to prove at this point. Beyoncé went for it. No one can criticize her for pandering to the Pop aesthetic on this one. Very sincere album.

Save for a couple of standouts on Dangerously In Love (“Me, Myself and I” and “Speechless”), “Kitty Kat” on B’Day, or “Party” and “Rather Die Young” from 4, the bulk of her albums have been fluff. She’s built her career on primarily being a singles artist. What I find interesting is that while her husband and their friend Kanye seem to be phoning it in as of late, she seems to be stepping her album game up. Watch the throne, fellas, King Bey has arrived. Bow down!

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Beyoncé didn’t make any stank about this album coming out. Not even her stans knew. And she was savvy enough as to release it on the day to throw Taylor Swift a little birthday shade. The marketing of no marketing. The Internet has been all hers post-midnight this morning. It worked in a way only she could pull off. I dropped two albums this year with no publicity campaign or marketing strategy and no one gave a shit. Ha! What’s most impressive is that she chose this point in her career to have no pretense about an album that has elements that are most certainly boast worthy.

As of now, the album is only available for download on iTunes with the physical disc being forthcoming. Each title is accompanied by a video, which quite frankly, some of the songs need. The album leads off with one of its weaker joints, “Pretty Hurts,” and is certainly assisted by the visual component as it’s not strong enough to stand alone as a composition. Next we get to “Haunted,” which is one of several records that is reminiscent of classic Prince, especially in its sonic landscape and drum programming. In the video sequence, “Ghost” is the following track — also Prince-esque — but oddly doesn’t appear on the album.

She recreates herself on every song and that’s no easy feat to pull on one album without coming off contrived. She even makes me like songs I don’t like, except for “XO,” which besides the first song is the album’s only other skippable track. Be forewarned: I was afraid I was going to go into epileptic shock watching the end of “Heaven.”

I kinda hate comparisons, but I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how much “Rocket” sounds like D’Angelo’s “Untitled,” and even harkens back to her own “Speechless,” which also references “Untitled.” The timpani on “Superpower” reminds me of Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay.” “Rocket” and “Superpower” are gospel-tinged and in 3/4 time, which is a weak spot for me. I was pleased at the inclusion of both as I never get enough of these.

My absolute favorite track is “Blow.” I was hooked from the start with its usage of SUS chords, and I’m a sucker for SUS chords. Put a couple of SUS chords on a track like this with a nice beat and I’m sold. For non-musicians, SUS chords are the type of chords that are played in the opening guitar riff on the Ramsey Lewis/Earth, Wind and Fire collaboration, “Sun Goddess.” The other standout is “Mine.” The way she uses her voice throughout the album is astonishing, particularly on “Mine.” She’s always been a strong singer with a great range but obviously still spends a lot of time practicing and developing where she could easily rest on laurels at this point in her career. And her lower register is becoming richer and more supple than before.

Two types of songs I always hate on albums are songs about “Mamas” and songs with people’s children on them. She somehow finds a way to feature her daughter to make “Blue” work in a way even Stevie couldn’t with “Isn’t She Lovely,” Songs in the Key of Life‘s only skippable track.

Finally a Beyoncé album I could fuck to with only having to take a few songs out of my playlist. I ain’t mad at her. Very curious to see what she does next. The beautiful thing is if she goes back to making mediocre albums there’s no love lost. She’s matured to the point that as the premiere stadium performer of our time, she surprisingly included only two stadium anthems, “Pretty Hurts” and “XO,” and even they work in the context of the visual element. It appears as if Sasha Fierce took a break from the studio for the majority of the time this go round. In an era where it’s become cliché for artists to claim they’re bringing “real” music back to the mainstream, she may quietly be one that can.

And thanks Bey for leaving “Grown Woman” off of the album. The last thing your album needed is a spoof of a spoof like “Blurred Lines.” Hey, hey, hey!

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop