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Peabo Bryson and All Star Cast Bring Warmth, Social Consciousness to Colors of Christmas ConcertPublished on Sunday, 14 December 2014 01:28
By Shelah Moody
Photos by Tanya Boniface Bryson and Carmelita Harris
What: Colors of Christmas Concert
When: Dec. 15-17
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA
Peabo Bryson, Taylor Dayne, Jennifer Holliday and Ruben Studdard—four of the finest voices in contemporary music-- will headline this year’s Colors of Christmas concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, Dec. 15-17.
The Colors of Christmas tour was the started by mega producer Stig Edgren and Bryson more than 22 years as a benefit for UNICEF. With Bryson’s prominent influence, Colors of Christmas has grown into one of the most popular holiday concerts. Past performers include Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole, Aaron Neville, Jeffrey Osborne, Sheena Easton, Oleta Adams, Stephanie Mills, James Ingram, Michael McDonald and Maxi Priest to name a few.
“It’s really about the artistry and not about the flavor of the month,” said Bryson, a two-time Grammy winner and the one constant performer on the tour.
“Popularity does not translate into talent. For instance on this tour, everybody can sing. If you’re not a singer’s singer, this is probably not a good platform for you.” Known for his ebullient, operatic tenor and hits such as “Feel the Fire,” “I’m so Into You” “Let the Feeling Flow,” “Tonight I Celebrate My Love (with Roberta Flack) “Can You Stop the Rain” “A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme),” with Regina Belle and “Beauty and the Beast” (with Celine Dion) Bryson creates a warm fireside atmosphere for the audience. Colors of Christmas is also one of the most popular family shows presented by the San Francisco Symphony. Envision a room lavishly decorated with lights, Christmas trees and poinsettias and the dapper balladeer, strolling and singing through the aisles. Ladies, don’t be surprised if Bryson sits in your lap or pulls you out of your seat for a brief waltz.
For Bryson, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.
“We want to make sure that (our artists) can work well with each other and that there’s a genuine camaraderie,” said Bryson. “That’s really important, because it’s a Christmas program; it’s not just a normal concert performed during a normal concert season. You have to actually like each other and actually like what you’re doing. That translates to the audience; that’s why so many come back year after year. That’s probably the greatest part; the lure of Colors of Christmas. It’s a wonderful program. You can’t really explain it to someone who hasn’t seen it; you have to come see it for yourself.”
Bryson had glowing things to say about his co-singers on this year’s show.
Taylor Dayne &Tanya Boniface Bryson
Taylor Dayne, known for her eighties hits such as “Love Will Lead You Back,” “Prove Your Love,” “I’ll Always Love You” and “Don’t Rush Me” makes her Colors of Christmas debut this year.
“Taylor Dayne—she’s got power; flavor, sauce and attitude—all of the elements that make a great vocalist,” said Bryson. “Plus, she’s as nice as pie.”
Jennifer Holliday,Shelah Moody
Grammy and Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday, who originated the Broadway role as Effie White in “Dreamgirls,” in the eighties, returns to Colors of Christmas and will indeed, deliver her command performance “And I Am Telling You, I’m Not Going.” Holiday has cited Bryson as a mentor and key influence in her career.
“I love Jennifer; she is a darling to me,” said Bryson.
“American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard, a hit on last year’s show, also returns to Colors of Christmas.
Peabo Bryson, Ruben Studdard
“Ruben Studdard is not only a great singer, he’s a great human being,” said Bryson. “He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s learned from everybody, as it should be. One thing that’s distinguished Ruben from other vocalists is that he understands, like I do, that what we have and what we use is a blessing; it’s God-given. It’s a blessing that comes through us; it doesn’t come from us; it’s a gift.”
According to Bryson, another advantage that Studdard, a Birmingham, Alabama native, has is that he grew up singing with live bands, such as Just a Few Cats and Ray Reach’s University of Alabama Jazz Ensemble.
“A lot of artists don’t do that these days; most artists don’t,” said Bryson, a Greeneville, South Carolina native who started with a band called Al Freeman and the Upsetters at age 14.
“One of the great things about Ruben is that he has exceptional vocal range,” said Bryson. “In terms of young male vocalists, there are not many guys who have a lot of range. We have a lot of song stylists, but they can’t sing everything.”
“Guys like Ruben, myself, James Ingram, Jeffrey Osborne and Al Jarreau—we can sing from the phone book if you give it to us,” said Bryson. “That’s what separates the men from the boys.”
All four artists will perform some of their greatest hits as well as sacred and secular Christmas songs. As one of the highlights of this year’s “Colors of Christmas” concert, Bryson and Studdard, in duet, will perform songs from Marvin Gaye’s iconic Motown album, “What’s Going On.”
Bryson said that “What’s Going On” released in 1971, is especially relevant in 2014, in light of the recent nationwide social unrest sparked by the police killings of unarmed citizens such as Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri) and Eric Garner (New York).
“What’s Going On” is the definition of a song classic—when you can write something and regardless of when you play it, it’s always a propos, said Bryson. “That’s what a great song, a great composition is. From “What’s Going On,” Ruben and I segue into “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” about what we are doing to the environment. What did Marvin know that we didn’t; what was he aware of that we weren’t?”
Bryson, who is active on Facebook, Twitter and other social media has joined the dialogue on race, class and the relationship between the police force and communities of color in the U.S., which has often resulted in police brutality.
“There’s unfairness and unrest, and there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things,” said Bryson.”
“One of our Constitutional rights includes the right to peaceful assembly. You have to exercise those rights; when you see an act of injustice, you have to say something about it. I think that America has turned a blind eye to a system that’s wrong. You can’t blame all policemen, because they are trained for the kill shot. I’ve asked policemen about it; they’re not trained to aim to hit somebody in the leg or stop somebody.”
Like comedian Chris Rock, win, lose or draw, you can always count on Peabo Bryson to tell it like it is.
“Not all policemen are bad; policemen should have the right to protect themselves, of course,” said Bryson. We need to change the laws and make it impossible for a policeman to shoot you dead on the premise that you are doing something wrong or that you may do something wrong. Police training needs to change; they need to be trained to be humanized. The law has to be changed, where a policeman does not have the power over life and death over anyone at any time arbitrarily. Nobody should have that right. If one of us is not safe, nobody’s safe. My life is no less important that anybody else’s, even the Pope’s. The funny thing is that if you asked the Pope, he’ll tell you the same thing.”
The Last Southern Gentleman--Up Close and Personal with Jazz Great Delfeayo Marsalis By Shelah MoodyPublished on Monday, 06 October 2014 02:30
Delfeayo Marsalis compares the structure of his band’s performance to a fine, six course meal.
Musically, the New Orleans born, Grammy-winning trombonist/composer/producer wants the audience to experience everything--the aperitif, soup, salad, main course, dessert and the port wine. When you leave one of his shows, you feel fulfilled; joyous. After the meal, you want to stick around, greet the chef and even take some food home.
Delfeayo Marsalis is recognized worldwide for his mellifluous tone on the trombone, his sir name is instantly identified with the first family of jazz. His older brother Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) is a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Grammy winning composer who presides over Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Older brother Branford Marsalis (saxophone) achieved pop music success as a member of Sting’s band in the eighties and as musical director of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” band. Younger brother Jason Marsalis (drums) is an accomplished recording artist who has played with his family as well as Bill Summers, Irvin Mayfield and Marcus Roberts to name a few. And, of course there is family patriarch, Ellis Marsalis Jr., 79, a revered professor, pianist and mentor who instilled in his six sons a fierce sense of discipline and integrity as well as a love of music and knowledge.
Delfeayo Marsalis is also one of the most prolific producers in contemporary jazz, with more than 75 recordings to his credit. In 1985, he was involved in the production of Wynton Marsalis’ “Black Codes from the Underground,” of one of the most influential contemporary jazz recordings of all time, featuring Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Charnett Moffett and Ron Carter on bass the late Kenny Kirkland on piano. The album won two Grammy Awards that year as well as worldwide accolades.
People often ask if the entire Marsalis family gets to perform as a group. Well, in 2009 the historic event took place at the White House when Ellis Jr., Delfeayo, Wynton, Branford, Jason and Ellis III were invited to perform for the Obamas.
Ellis Marsalis with a "JazzTimes" photographer at Monterey Jazz Festival 2014
Ellis Marsalis with a "JazzTimes" photographer at Monterey Jazz Festival 2014
Before their headlining weekend gig at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival, Delfeayo and Ellis Marsalis performed an intimate up close and personal show at Yoshi’s San Francisco in promotion of their latest CD, “The Last Southern Gentlemen.” They were accompanied by Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums and John Clayton on bass.
Marsalis took the audience on a journey through New Orleans Mardi Gras, blues, swing and popular music during his set at Yoshi’s. Selections included Marsalis’ original composition “Secret Love Affair,” (a tale of forbidden love in the time of sharecropping in rural Mississippi), jazz standards “Autumn Leaves” and “My Funny Valentine” and the theme from “Sesame Street,” which Marsalis calls the “happiest blues ever written,” “Second Line” being the first.
Immediately after the Monterey Jazz Festival, Delfeayo Marsalis and his Uptown Jazz Orchestra flew to Johannesburg, South Africa as featured artists on the Standard Bank of Joy Jazz Festival. Then, it was back home to New Orleans for his regular gig with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at Snug Harbor as well as work on the set of a movie about legendary trumpeter Buddy Bolden.
Delfeayo Marsalis is also an accomplished writer and storyteller who wrote the liner notes and included several of his short stories in a booklet in “The Last Southern Gentlemen” CD package. He co-wrote the screenplay for NC Heikin’s compelling documentary “Sound of Redemption,” the story of saxophone great Frank Morgan. He is also the author of a children’s book, “No Cell Phone Day,” winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Award for Best Picture Book, ages 4-8 and the Grand Prize Winner of the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards. As an advocate for children and music education in the schools, Marsalis, the father of a 13-year-old daughter, founded the Uptown Music Theatre in New Orleans.
Shelah Moody: How did you get involved with “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story?”
Delfeayo Marsalis: I got an email from the director and producer. They were looking for someone who could emcee the show at San Quentin prison; who had an intimate knowledge of Frank Morgan, who could also organize the music. That was right up my alley. With my experience as a producer and having played with Mr. Morgan, it seemed like a good fit.
SM: When did you play with Frank Morgan?
DM: It seems like we did a gig at Catalina’s in 2003. I had forgotten that I had videotaped an interview with Mr. Morgan. The director and I had a bit of a disagreement about the script and the content. (The interview) was what convinced the director that I had a point in terms of my view on how you present certain information. When she saw that particular interview, she was like, oh, I get it now. Jazz musicians, like most people, have certain challenges; and musicians in the fifties and sixties had a lot of challenges, and they dealt with them in different ways.
SM: What was Frank Morgan like as a musician and what defined his greatness?
DM: Well, the fact that someone could spend many years of their adult life incarcerated and still have the passion and the desire to play music at a high level, and the ability to articulate and the ability to execute the music at a high level into their sixties and their seventies was a remarkable feat. It’s one of those tragic stories that has redemption at the end.
SM: In 2012, you directed and performed a tribute concert inside San Quentin prison, where Morgan was incarcerated. What was that experience like?
DM: Well, we grew up in the hood and I work with fellows in the hood, young men that I know; it wasn’t any different to me. I mean, the reality is; if it gets to the dark side, it gets really dark. These guys, I felt, were appreciative that we were there. There were some guys who were not appreciative; and projected whatever kind of beef they had with society or with individuals. Most of the time, if you’re going out of your way for somebody, they are going to be appreciative. I met a guy, Sam the camera man who was taking pictures, he was a young guy. I asked, “what are you in here for?” He said, “a situation came up and I overreacted, and had I reacted differently, I wouldn’t be here.”
SM: Tell us about the concept of “The Last Southern Gentlemen,” your first recording with your father, Ellis Marsalis.
DM: Well, the album is a variety. We’ve got two original songs and jazz standards. The idea was not to have songs that were thematically related to the “The Last Southern Gentlemen,” but to perform the music in a way that southern gentlemen would perform it. Many things are taught in jazz schools, but the idea of manners and the graciousness and humility that a lot of the older musicians has taken a back seat. The younger students are not learning about the manners, graciousness and humility of the older musicians. That’s very important in the music. That’s a big void that we’re missing; that sense of humanity. In the liner notes, I provide social commentary. We talk about jazz being birthed in New Orleans, but that was primarily because the Europeans settled there and decided to bring some Africans to help them out by doing all of the labor for free. Most people think that it was just a relationship based on master/slave, when really; it involved whole families of people. That’s how it still is in New Orleans. With black and white folk, there’s a serious racial divide, but it’s all like one family. Africans and Europeans were trading ideas; Africans were picking up on the language as they could and Europeans were picking up on various (African) cultural elements. It’s just like when you are in a family with a lot of individuals; ideas are shared. In my opinion, that was certainly what created the music; it was really the African spirit and the culture and the dance. The Europeans maybe brought in a kind of form and structure that came from European music. Nowadays, they are trying to remove the Negritude from the music; they really want to remove the blackness; it’s not important to them anymore. I mean, that’s the crucial element; it’s important to me. You know, everything is always reported in black and white, whether I say it or not. The European world view is “our music is too intellectual.” I’m like, no, man, your music is not intellectual enough. Because if your music was intellectual, like Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie, it would have lasting value. So, if your music is culturally and socially inept, and that’s why people don’t want to hear it, don’t blame that on intelligence; that’s not intelligence.
SM: At Yoshi’s tonight, you were dancing and singing in between playing the trombone on stage. When I saw you perform in the early nineties, you were more formal.
DM: African music is functional; it’s and it’s about celebration, there are dance elements; there are many elements in African music. What I’m realizing is that here in America, there’s always been a struggle between the African and the European. The European can’t understand how it is that the jazz musician has such spirit, life and vitality, and the jazz musician can’t understand why the European gets to play in concert halls. People play European (classical) music in concert halls and people sit and pay attention; they’re not drinking, smoking or talking. It’s a funny thing. Early on, I was heavily influenced by Wynton, who is heavily influenced by the European model; the European design. His band is always well prepared, the music is well organized; it’s a great show. They are to be respected. But what I realize from communicating with Trombone Shorty, Big Sam Williams and Cory Henry—who played in New Orleans brass bands—is that there is another way to present the music that is still in keeping with what I like and what I believe in. I’ve always loved groove music. “Pontius Pilate’s Decision” is a bunch of grooves; but it is a question of how the music is presented. From my perspective, I’d rather people have a good time and then get to the serious stuff in the middle, because it’s difficult. The atmosphere is really changing. Twenty years ago, you could play hardcore and people would sit there and check it out. Now, there is too much “American Idol,” too much “The Voice” and the average attention span is so short, I think, that you have to change it up; you have to really bring it. I have a good time doing it; I have a good time playing. I’ve evolved as an artist. I understand different things. I’m playing quartet now, and before I would have more instruments, a quintet and sometimes a sextet. It’s about evolving and changing. I have songs like “The Secret Love Affair,” which I presented tonight, and there are other songs that I’ve written, like “Lost in the Crescent,” which deal with the racial situation, but in a more covert fashion. Because I deliver the story in a non-angry way, in a funny way, it takes a minute to understand how jive it is and actually what’s going on. By the time you realize what’s going on, you’re caught in an emotional trap. The structure of my shows is similar to opera; it’s similar to Disney cartoons. Disney would always juxtapose a very sad event with something uplifting very quickly, setting you up for an emotional high and then presenting something to bring you back down. I like to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster.
SM: In the early eighties, you played a role in one of the most innovative jazz albums all time, Wynton Marsalis’ “Black Codes From the Underground.” What is the historical significance of that recording?
DM: That was a different time. Wynton’s early band unfortunately broke up too soon. It was intimidating. Here were five young black men playing, and you knew what they were thinking when they played their instruments. We’ve gotten away from that level of rebellion. It almost didn’t matter what they said, verbally, it’s what they said on their instruments—the folks knew. “Black Codes,” to me, was the ultimate representation of a band addressing any unjust things that were going on. It’s not as hardcore, now, so it’s difficult to knock people over their heads like that. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but a younger crop of musicians would have to be really playing at a high level to do that. Branford continued the tradition with “Bloomington,” which seriously addresses the racial issues in the country from a militant, radical standpoint. My position is a little different now. I’m getting up and putting you in a good mood, and all of a sudden people think, wow, this isn’t what I thought it was gonna be. It’s a challenge to juggle the entertainment with a serious, modern sound and a light weight sound. We play “Sesame Street.” There’s a certain freedom that you have when you are on the bandstand. Like, we finished our set with (Duke Ellington’s) “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing.” When you get to that point, it reaches you; it does something to you spiritually.
SM: Are you looking forward to performing in Johannesburg, South Africa?
DM: Black people are beautiful, it’s enriching for the soul. I was just at a school in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was enriching, enlightening to be around the kids; it’s so beautiful and they have such great spirits. That’s what it’s about. The challenge of the “jazz musician” is that we are moving further away from the community. The children don’t embrace us, no one really embraces us, so we have to make an extra effort to reach out, and that’s what I’m doing. The African people are beautiful. When you are around them—there’s no way to describe the enlightenment until you experience it yourself. In the words of my father, a gig is a space and some people. We have a very strong band and we’re developing the concept of music. (California) will be the last stop on the tour for a while with my dad, so I want to make sure that we present the music to the people on the highest possible level, the way that we envisioned it.
Follow Delfeayo Marsalis on his website: delfeayomarsalis.com
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DelfeayoMarsalis
Monterey Jazz Festival 2014Published on Saturday, 20 September 2014 02:41
Grammy winning trombonist/producer Delfeayo Marsalis performs with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis on
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