Friday, November 28, 2014

Twain on Anger

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

                               –  Mark Twain


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Inspired by a Scandalous Moment in Pop Culture

Photo Courtesy/Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin




The 2014 Fall premiere of Scandal left me reflecting on women’s rights as main character, Olivia Pope, ended the episode advocating for female rights.

Fighting for equality as women since the existence of humanity; throughout the suffrage movement; and to date, perpetually suggest that Man is the higher, privileged gender of [man], hence we as women must continually strive to attain our civility to equal liberties and seize our divine creation as man of mankind, while preserving our procreated “effimination” of man.

When I created this blog, entitling it, The Interiors of Man, it was without specification to gender, but to man as a human race, as I continually seek some of the best male and female artists around the globe to present on this blog.

Gradually approaching another year with Interiors, I humbly look forward to featuring more outstanding artists with an equal balance of male and female artists offering engaging interviews to this expanding audience of readers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Nin on Writing

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” 

                                                       ― Anaïs Nin

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interiors of Man Interviews Bassist, Ben Williams

Courtesy of the Artist or their Representative


The bass instrument can be hidden under a band ensemble or intone its voice through a solo performance, poetic reading, musical interlude, or through other capacities to be heard.  I think of it as the masculine life force of jazz, whereas Bassist, Ben Williams expounds on it with a feminine analogy. 

The first time I sampled Williams’ debut album, State of Art, I heard a level of jazz from a young musician, whom I instantly wanted to interview as former Culture Editor of a Fashion and Performing Arts magazine without any awareness of the album’s ranking and reviews, having reached #1 on the iTunes and National Billboard charts, and receiving a 4.5 Star Review from DownBeat Magazine.

Listening to the album in its entirety, has more than fulfilled what I’d imagined would be a worthy investment.  I’d ascribe this to a formal education from the Duke Ellington High School of the Arts, followed by a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree from Julliard, coupled with seasoned experience as a bass player-bandleader and a cadre of talented musicians making up his band, Sound Effect, which all have enabled Williams to co-produce a masterful debut on Concord Records after receiving the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Bass Competition Award.

The debut’s arrangements, based on originals by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Goapele, to Blackburn and Suessdorf’s, “Moonlight in Vermont,” are indicative of Williams’ talent as a polished arranger, while his originals attest to his overall craftsmanship.

Since winning the 2009 Monk Competition and debuting State of Art in 2011, Ben Williams has added Grammy Winner to his list of venerated accomplishments, earning a Grammy Award with the Pat Metheny Unity Band for Best Jazz Instrumental Album of 2012, and again receiving recognition from DownBeat Magazine as its 2013 Critics Poll Rising Star Award for Bass.

Having accomplished a great deal at a young age, the path to Williams’ career as a bassist can be foretold at a far younger age, as revealed at the start of my interview with Ben and near the end where his mother/manager personally recounts how Ben’s relationship with Congressman John Conyers influenced his future as a musician in the bonus, "How Ben’s Career Began."

Interiors of Man:  Given that becoming a bassist was tied to your destiny – coming across the instrument as a six-year-old in the office of Congressman Conyers – relive for us if possible, your introduction to the bass and something about that experience, which you haven’t shared.

Ben Williams:  Actually, I wasn’t aware at the time what the instrument was. I was pretty young, so I only have a vague memory of this enormous wooden “thing” sitting in the corner of his office. The acoustic bass is not a highly visible part of American culture these days, due mostly to the fact that it’s not used in the most popular genres. I wasn’t familiar with the instrument, but was very intrigued by it. I can’t say what type of connection occurred but I think it is more than just a coincidence that my mother’s boss happened to be a lover of jazz and of the bass. Destiny, or however you want to think of it, I do feel that everyone is given a path and there are things put in your life to tie everything together. 

"I feel the bass is strong in the same sense that a mother is strong ... she is constantly working to make sure everything is taken care of and makes whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure the security of her family."

IOM: I see the bass instrument as the masculine life force of jazz and you have articulated its personality verbally and musically.  What personality traits do you share with the bass that produces chemistry between you and the instrument?

BW:  Well first of all, I don’t look at the bass as masculine. To me, it has a feminine force. I even name all of my instruments, and they all have female names. I feel the bass is strong in the same sense that a mother is strong. Maybe she isn’t the loudest, nor seeks the most attention, but she is constantly working to make sure everything is taken care of and makes whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure the security of her family. She puts everyone before herself. Though I am a male, I do feel I have certain personality traits that are conducive to being a great bass player. I think the most important is humility. The bass carries a great deal of responsibility as the rhythmic and harmonic foundation. Our job can go unnoticed and we are often underappreciated, but we still maintain a love for what it is we do. I think the bass is very fitting for the type of person I am.  

IOM: What do you think were the key elements that played a role in your winning the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Bass Competition, and what have been the greatest benefits of winning the award?

BW:  It’s hard for me to say what made the judges decide to award me first prize, because music is so subjective, there is really no grading scale (once you get to a certain level) of what’s better than the rest. I can say though, that I performed to the best of my ability that particular evening and I chose the appropriate material to best demonstrate my strengths as a player. I think that is important in any competition; that you give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. Part of the competition was performing with Dee Dee Bridgewater, which I really enjoyed and I embraced the spirit she brought to the stage.

A lot of great things have happened as a result of winning the Monk Competition; I received a recording contract with Concord Records, under which I released my debut album “State of Art,” and preparing to release my second album “Coming of Age.” It has brought more attention to me as a bandleader, through which I have really been able to develop my skills as a composer. If I hadn’t won the competition, I’m not sure how much I would have delved into that path. I am very grateful for that opportunity. 

"The essence of what is 'good' about music is innate; as spirit-filled individuals, we all have the ability to receive something from music."

IOM:  With State of Art, you said that you wanted to make an album that regular people could enjoy and make a deep artistic statement as well.  Do you find that achieving such a goal offers listeners artistic growth and the opportunity to expand their views and musical tastes?

BW:  I've always felt that the greatest artists are able to grab the attention of the audience while challenging them at the same time. I think that's the beautiful mystique of great composition; the balance of what's familiar with the unexpected. My musical heroes have done that continuously throughout their careers. Miles, Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles (to name a few) all have the uncanny ability to seduce us with the beauty of their music while pushing our tastes and expectations into a new direction. I always make it a point to stay in touch with my inner "music fan" in order to maintain an objective point of view of my music (as objective as one can be about their own work). The essence of what is "good" about music is innate; as spirit-filled individuals, we all have the ability to receive something from music.
  
IOM:  Your music is identified as jazz, yet you claim it as Soul Music.  Do you define yourself as a Soul Artist, and if so, what does being a Soul Artist mean to you?

BW:  I like to think of my music as “Soul” music because that’s where it comes from. My music, though eclectic in influence, basically represents the Black American experience. “Soul” is a very important aspect of music in Black American culture. It’s hard to define what “it” is, but it is a feeling that must be a part of the music in order for us to connect with it. This is not genre specific; whether it’s jazz, funk, R&B, reggae, gospel, blues, country, folk, etc., it must connect to the spirit (or the “soul”). My music is no different. I use music as a tool of expression to convey my innermost feelings and emotions. In my opinion, that is when music is most powerful. Referring to myself as a “soul” artist represents more of an idea than a genre, per se.

IOM:  What changes can we expect between State of Art and your future album, Coming of Age?

BW:  My second release is not so much a change from the first album, but rather a continuation. My focus and intention remain the same, but this album reflects my growth as a man, musician, and composer. I have definitely grown in many aspects in the years following my first release, and while that is natural, it is also the theme of this next album. It is my reaction to both the changes in the world around me and my personal changes as a man. As I’ve grown older, I began to look at things in life differently, and naturally as an artist, my music reflects these newfound life discoveries. One major difference in this album is that all the compositions except one are original. I’ve become more comfortable as a composer and am starting to find somewhat of a voice. Also, I’m playing more electric bass than I did on the first album. Though “Coming of Age” may be more introspective, my intention always remains to connect with the listener.

IOM: Final question, what if any advice has Congressman Conyers given to you about jazz over the years, given his love for the genre, and how has he reacted to your accomplishments as a professional musician?  

BW:  Congressman Conyers has been very supportive of my career as a musician as well as the artform itself and the many issues we face. I have had the opportunity to perform at his annual Congressional Black Caucus Jazz Concert on two different occasions; the first time as a 12 year-old (as a member of the Fred Foss Youth Jazz Band) and years later as a 26 year-old, seasoned professional leading my own band, Sound Effect. Truly a full circle experience. He has been very supportive along the way as well. I have a lot of admiration and respect for Congressman Conyers, not only because of his love of the music, but the fact that he uses his political platform to advocate for artists. It is a great feeling for us artists to know that we have someone in Congress that shares our passion and is willing to speak up for us in a place where otherwise we might not have a voice.


_____________________________________________


“How Ben’s Career Began

By

Bennie Barnes

As told to Yvonne Grays Nathane



First I must tell you that not only am I Ben's Manager, I am his Mother.  I call myself his "Mommanger."   The story about his relationship with Conyers is that I had worked for the Congressman for a number of years and even before Ben was born.  When Ben was toddling around and before he started school I used to take him to work with me on occasions.  He saw this thing [upright bass] sitting in the corner in the Congressman's office and he appeared to have been intrigued and curious about it.  He played with it as a little kid would play with a toy, banging on it, etc.  Like any parent, I didn't know what career path my child would take.  For many reasons I believed that he was destined to play the bass.  Other things transpired that followed his discovery of the bass in Conyers' office although he didn't know what this thing was at the time.

When he started Middle School and attempted to sign up for music in the strings class since he was interested in playing the guitar, he found out that was the wrong class for guitar and it was too late to join the guitar class.  He had to pick up a string instrument of the class he accidentally signed up for.  The other part to the situation was that there were no other instruments left in that class but a bass and the only one at that.  Again, sitting in the corner was this thing [the upright bass].  As a single mom I had to tote this big thing around for him because he could not and it was a prerequisite that the parent of that age kid had to sign an agreement with the music program that you would take on this added responsibility of caring for the bass along with the kid and bring it to and from school twice a week.  Also, I had to bring my vehicle in to show them that I could properly handle this thing in my possession.  Eventually I was known as the Bass Player's Mom among the local jazz musicians in DC who helped mentor Ben.

"Milt Hinton literally passed the bass torch over to Ben."

When it was time to decide on college, Ben decided on Michigan State University - again, a Conyers connection.   Conyers, as you know sponsors the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Jazz Concert.   When Ben was 12 years old, I had asked Conyers if this little kid band could do the opening act at his concert.  He thought I was out of my mind.  I promised him it would be a big hit and the people would love it.  Well I was able to pull together the Chairman of NEA, a representative from the Monk Institute, and others to help support this effort.  So happened that evening, the late legendary Bassist, Milt Hinton was being Honored by Conyers at the Concert.  Fortunately for Ben, Milt was there to see him perform with his little band orchestra, The Fillmore Arts Center Jazz Band.  Ben was given a couple solos and the crowd went ballistic.  The MC called Ben back to the stage to perform with a senior group of artists. I couldn't allow Ben to return to the stage because he had injured his little tender fingers from the first set and they were bleeding.   Milt Hinton and his wife invited us to sit at their table for the remainder of the evening where they shared valuable information about the joy and responsibilities of bass players, as well as the huge compliments he gave to Ben for a great performance of the evening.  Milt Hinton literally passed the bass torch over to Ben.  It was truly an honor.  The next morning we got a phone call from Milt Hinton and he sent Ben his first set of bass strings by UPS within two days.  They kept in touch with us until their failing illnesses.

To me this is what Conyers had done for Ben by providing a forum and opportunity to showcase his potential talent as an upcoming future musician.  Ever since that night at age 12, Ben has been called upon as a bass player.  It was also the beginning for me to learn how to manage and oversee my child's education and career simultaneously with hands on the deck.


                              _______________________________________                                           

To contact Ben’s Manager and receive music information visit, 


Friday, July 25, 2014

Preview to an Interview

                                       Courtesy of the Artist or their Representative

While in the midst of wrapping up an interview with Concord Jazz Artist, Ben Williams, here’s a look at a live jam session with his band, Sound Effect, performing "Mr. Dynamite."

Ben Williams- bass, John Davis- drums, Alex Wintz- guitar, Marcus Strickland- sax, Christian Sands- piano

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Behind the Words of Maya Angelou

I have read her books.  I have read her poems, but what has moved me the most about Dr. Maya Angelou was her character beyond words, displayed by her intolerance to the derision of others. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Links to Excellence – Music for Moving Images




ABC’s new drama series, Black Box, leaves jazz lovers wanting more from composers, Olivier and Clare Manchon.  Their jazzy compositions interpreted from the composers’ concept of “moving images,” mesh perfectly with sensuous horns and human desires, resulting in a stimulating jazz score reminiscent of the best in cool jazz.

Photo Credit: Susan Pittard
Courtesy of the Artists

Sharing more on creating the music for Black Box, while explaining that the score will become “more broad … strings (all real) and of course non jazz stress cues,” led to an extended Links to Excellence series, as composers, Clare and Olivier articulated, “we’re very much into keeping organic elements wherever possible, to create richer more powerful textures to attach to the characters.”  Following is more of what they had to say about collaborating with the show’s creator, their recording sessions for Black Box and the musical variations to come:

Olivier and I went from the indie-rock world to the documentary world and sort of happily/surprisingly fell into the TV world.  We have so enjoyed working with the creator of "Black Box," Amy Holden Jones. She has such a clear vision and is a great leader.  She motivates everyone around her to greatness. Amy has also found a nice balance to the score she wants to hear as well.  It's really an alternative jazz score, but with room for not being blocked into one way of doing things and letting each scene dictate what needs to be painted musically. We use a wide range of instruments, keep all our strings real and use a Little Phatty Moog and a 1937 Rickenbacker lap steel, which has a world of tones and textures coming out of it.  We have weekly recording sessions with jazz drummers, bass players and tenor sax players - many of the best in the NYC jazz scene.  It's a thrill. We're just so honored to have the opportunity to make a score that's palatable, but also different from what folks are used to hearing on network TV.  ABC has been really supportive of pushing this new boundary. "Black Box" gets better and better with each episode-epic!



                                http://www.olivierandclaremanchon.com/

Friday, April 18, 2014

Interiors of Man Interviews Actor, Carl Lumbly

Courtesy of the Artist and Marin Theatre Company


Beginning his career as a freelance journalist, writing for the Associated Press with an English degree from Macalester College, Carl Lumbly’s rise as an outstanding actor began in the 70s and 80s with popular movies and TV series, as Cagney & Lacey; and the 90s film role, To Sleep with Anger, working with veteran actor, Danny Glover and the film’s director, MacArthur “Genius” Grant Recipient, Charles Burnett.

Successively landing dramatic roles with memorable scenes in The Wedding, co-starring Halle Berry; The Ditchdigger’s Daughters and an Outstanding Lead Actor, NAACP Image Award Nomination in Buffalo Soldiers, Lumbly’s acting credits extend beyond these and, action series, Alias, to the theatre with Lead Performance in Eden, earning him the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award.

Credited with other theatrical works, Lumbly takes star billing in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, Fences, currently running at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California from April 10 to May 11, 2014. 

Speaking with Lumbly between performances, this distinguished actor whose presence conveys capability before a word is uttered graciously honored me an interview about his starring role in Fences, his acting techniques, and a few personal realities about his life and career.

Margo Hall as Rose and Carl Lumbly as Troy Maxson in
August Wilson's Fences directed by Derrick Sanders.


Interiors of Man:  Most actors who have honed their craft have done so through great theatrical productions. What is your starring role in August Wilson’s, Fences giving to you on and off stage?

Carl Lumbly:  August Wilson is one of the greatest playwrights the world has ever seen. And as an African-American writer, he set a very high bar for directors and actors who would seek to do his plays. Troy Maxson is a role of incredible depth and complexity.  It is also a very large role.  So, to master the text and develop the character has been, and continues to be a daily devotion.  Onstage, playing Troy calls upon all of my skill and commitment.  The language is gorgeous and muscular.  August has created a black man many of us have known, but who is rarely recognized.  These men held jobs many of us would not take, raised families, stayed in marriages and sacrificed for their children. They were plagued by doubts and fears, hemmed in by biases and indignities, but still managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Troy has had a very strict code of behavior.  He is in the process of betraying that code when the play starts, and that betrayal of personal code sets in motion the destruction of the world he has fought so hard to create.  It costs him his wife, his son, his best friend and his position in his community.  Playing him is a privilege.  He represents men of a generation that made hard choices, had fewer options and freedoms.  Portraying that struggle honestly is exhausting but gratifying.  Troy's journey makes an important point about how the relaxation of personal standards can upend the strongest of individuals.  Minus the betrayal, Troy has much in common with my father.  Black men of that generation had to fight on so many fronts Offstage.  As a father myself, this play gives me a perspective on the importance of being able to express love to our children. Love is a key ingredient in the development of children, and the preservation of a people.

Eddie Ray Jackson as Cory and Carl Lumbly as Troy (foreground) with Margo Hall as Rose (background)
 in August Wilson's Fences
  
IOM:  In Fences, Wilson expressed the responsibility of “owing” through the lecture your character, Troy, gives to his son.  As artists we feel obligated to our artistic debts – the creative urge to produce what’s inside of us.  What are your artistic debts or urgings?

CL:  When I first began doing this work, I simply wanted to try and portray black men who resembled black men I knew and respected.  I felt I owed them.  I wanted to do justice to them.  I wanted them to see images of themselves that they could relate to, and be proud of.  I wanted to be associated with positive and meaningful stories and characters.  And whenever I get the opportunity, I am compelled to do as thorough a job as I can.  I feel as though I must work as hard as they do.  I honor them with my intention and effort. And in this business, I know there are more talented individuals than myself who have not been given the opportunities I've worked for and received. So, any time I get a job, a part of me is motivated by the awareness that I am fortunate and blessed to be able to do this work.

Eddie Ray Jackson, Margo Hall and Carl Lumbly playing respective roles in
Fences.


IOM: You bring intensity to your role[s] that few actors can capture. The characterization never slips into an imitation of the portrayal.  How do you capture and secure the realism of your characters?
    
    CL:  My intensity as an artist comes from my desire to answer questions about the character, as well as answering questions about myself.  I always find and compile a long list of similarities ... things I have in common with a character.  I do a lot of research about the time in which the character lives.  What are the broad political issues at work? What makes up the character's world view?  What does the character see and feel on any given day?  And, of course, the text of any play or script is replete with clues and avenues of exploration with which you can become an expert on every aspect of the character.  Then, I try to marry the words of the text to this construction of experiences, memories and actions that make up the character's world, and I add to that the places where I am in positive or negative alignment with the writer's creation. This process of 'quilting' starts when I get the script, and doesn't end until I have finished portraying the character.  I am driven to give myself as many chances for truth and honesty in a character as I can get.  And then, the work becomes making things appear seamless.  

IOM: Many may not know that you’re a writer as well as an actor, having worked for the Associated Press.  In what ways have writing, your appreciation for literature, and your English major served you as an actor?

CL:  I've loved reading my entire life.  As an English major, journalism minor in college, I am obsessed with stories.  Every character is a story and has a volume of stories inside them.  I write back stories for all the characters I play.  I make lists of character 'facts'... favorite colors, books, travel destinations, illnesses, weaknesses, fears and on and on.  It helps me in simplifying and particularizing what I'm doing as an actor. The more choices you make, the more options you have.  I also find that writing gives me greater points of attachment to the imagined life of the character.  If you can write a letter as your character, you can sometimes 'discover' things about a character that help cement a verity or sense of truth.  It's easier for me to play something that feels true. So I create as much history for a character as I can.

Carl Lumbly as Troy (foreground) and Margo Hall as Rose and
Steven Anthony Jones as Jim Bono (background) in
Fences 


IOM: Is there a special character or story you’d like to play or produce in the near future, or future writings you’re considering?

CL:  James Baldwin is one of my heroes.  I am trying to write a one-man show about him.  His was a truly American voice.  Yet, he was an unapologetic citizen of the world. He was a brilliant thinker and writer, and lived an amazing life at an exciting moment in this country's history.  And as someone who had to leave this country for a while, in order to be able to sustain a creative life, he has a great deal to say about art and creativity... passion and politics... love and humanity...   

IOM:  Any closing remarks you’d like to add?

CL:  There is one other reality about my career and life.  My life made my career possible, not the other way around.  I was blessed to have had a creative partner for most of my career, my wife, Vonetta.  An extremely gifted and fiercely intelligent artist, she had a lot to do with the way I pursued my craft.  She was unabashedly enthusiastic about my acting, and I always wanted to live up to the standard she felt I set.  An avid reader and brilliant critical thinker, she was invaluable to my process and my well-being.  She and my son made everything make sense in my life.  I think my work was grounded in the bedrock reality of my marriage and fatherhood.  If I had a secret to happiness, that was it!  And it is that happiness that wasn't enough for Troy. He fell prey to something that still challenges us today.  It is the idea that there really is no such thing as 'enough'.

All Production photos, courtesy of Marin Theatre Company.  Production photographer, Ed Smith.


For more information on Fences and extended run dates, visit Marin Theatre Company at, http://marintheatre.org/productions/fences/

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Links to Excellence – Einaudi Contributes to buildOn

Photo Credit: Cesare Cicardini
Courtesy of Evolution Promotion

Ludovico Einaudi is an Italian pianist and contemporary classical composer whose compositions have been featured on soundtracks, film scores, and numerous albums.  Equally impressive is his contribution to buildOn, sharing Divenire with the non-profit service educator as seen in the following service message.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Links to Excellence – Visages of a Culture

Photos courtesy of Diego Arroyo Photography
Untitled
South East Collection

Traveling the globe for salient images of man and nature, Photographer, Diego Arroyo, captures man’s silent truths lived and seen.

Untitled
Ethiopia Collection

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Alvin Ailey: The Beginning of a Modern Movement


Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison, and Robert Battle.
Photo by Eric N. Hong, Andrew Eccles, and Brian Guillaux


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began on March 30, 1958 with a debut performance, featuring late master choreographer, Alvin Ailey and a professional ensemble of black modern dancers.

Forming into a resident dance company in 1960, the dance theater began establishing its reputation in the 60s with Alvin Ailey’s classic masterpiece, Revelations, along with gaining international status under the presidential selection of John F. Kennedy’s “President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations.”

Loretta Abbott and Alvin Ailey in Revelations.
Photo by Nicola Cernovitch

In 1963, the company continued to solidify its history in modern dance, performing in Duke Ellington’s "My People: First Negro Centennial" – Ellington’s historical composition, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  From the mid-sixties through decade’s end, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continued a series of historical performances, as Ailey choreographed Anthony and Cleopatra, starring Leontyne Price, to an opening performance at the 1968 Olympics and a subsequent performance at The White House for President Johnson.

Alvin Ailey and Carmen de LaVallade.
Photo courtesy of Ailey Archives

Closing out the 60s with the establishment of a school, the dance company continued performing throughout the world and locally with an early 70s performance of Ailey’s Cry, further bringing to light Ailey’s choreographic mastery and Judith Jamison’s magnificent talent as a dancer.

Alvin Ailey
Photo by Normand Maxon
From then on, a timeline of innumerable awards and performances followed under the directions of Founder, Alvin Ailey and Artistic Director Emerita, Judith Jamison, both receiving prestigious awards and medals along with the company itself, which continues to reign as masters of modern dance under current directions of Artistic Director, Robert Battle, and Associate Artistic Director, Masazumi Chaya who are carrying on the legacy of Ailey’s modern dance movement with a troupe of professional dancers.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is currently on a 23-city North American tour continuing through May, followed by a return to New York’s Lincoln Center in June.  For complete tour engagements, visit http://www.alvinailey.org/2014-north-american-tour

Monday, February 10, 2014

Esperanza – An Artist of Music and Style

Photo Credits: Carlos Pericas
All images courtesy of Montuno



Bassist, vocalist, and composer, Esperanza Spalding, is a musician who continues to evolve with global appeal, as her innovative style crosses jazz, pop, Latin, urban-ethnic, and any form of art music she explores. With one being exposed to a rich background, embracing various social structures, ethnic environments, and a multi-ethnic lineage with artistry added to the amalgam, it would be surprising if such an artist were not an eclectic expression of style.  Informed by all, Spalding’s music provides cultural resonance through various genres as she sings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Promoting two musical discernments, witnessed by her previous, Chamber Music Society CD – earning her a Best New Artist Grammy in 2011 – and her latest, Radio Music Society where she crosses over to bass guitar verses acoustic bass, Esperanza proves that one can be versatile without having to defer to a singular genre.

Both CDs reveal her dual approach to music, stating, “Originally I conceived the two albums as a double record, with intimate, subtle explorations of chamber works on one and jazz musicians exploring melodies, grooves and song associated with what we categorize as ‘pop-songs’ … ”

Her musical resume encompassing other studio recordings as Juno and Esperanza combined with her musical skills, has earned her honorable invitations to the White House, along with being described as the “coolest” guest to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman.

side
Photo Credit - Sandrine Lee

Still on a world tour, promoting the second half of her musical interest with Radio, Spalding is providing a bit of commerciality to her sound without losing the “jazzmanship” of her music – another innovative style that varies like her fashionable inclination to don a dream catcher at a BET Prince tribute with an electric upright bass rounding out her look, to presenting an earthier, laid-back style, as her look can go anywhere from erudite chic, (Chamber) to urban classy, (Radio).   

Until her non-stop tour and press appearances wind down, will I then look forward to offering an in-depth interview with this interesting artist of musical distinction.  Till then, I’d recommend a visit to her website for more on Radio Music Society and Chamber Music Society with added visits to her style blog, via her “Sustainable Fashion Showroom,” and a listening session of one’s choice at, www.esperanzaspalding.com.


Photo Credit - Carlos Pericas

“Art doesn’t thrive with too much analyzing and explaining.”
             – Esperanza Spalding

Saturday, February 8, 2014

King on Faith

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”

                                                             ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Links to Excellence – One Minute Wonder


Photo Credit: Gianfranco Tripodo | Red Bull Music Academy
Courtesy of Badu World


The music holds, pulling you in to each persona and the views that shape the subject’s identity.  Every narrative is different – distinct as the artists sharing their voice, though linked by a musical score that intrigues with each new episode.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Enriching Rhythms of Emrah Kotan


Courtesy of the artist


Drums, percussion, cymbals.  They all give voice to a magical beat – one that can transform music into a lively crescendo, or a shimmery stroke across the cymbal.  These are the varying moods on Kotan’s debut CD, The New Anatolian Experience, where the well-versed percussionist offers a spectrum of invigorating beats and soothing ballads, fused with modern jazz, Latin rhythms, Turkish connotations and more, all creating an innovative take on classic jazz.

It’s the striking compositions as, “Tanya” – dedicated to his wife – to the upbeats, “Ottoman Slap,” “Istanblues,” “Odd Time Is It,” “Nardis (Miles Davis),” and the soothing ballad, “Yemen Türküsü” that showcases his range with cultural and [legendary] influences, making The New Anatolian Experience a sophisticated work of art.

Following up on an introduction to Emrah Kotan,(EM-rah ko-TAHN) – via my January 1st “Links to Excellence” series – I am pleased to close out this month with an interview on Kotan’s music and cultural heritage; his playing for India.Arie; and his sacred advice to aspiring musicians.

Interiors of Man: Your debut CD is titled The New Anatolian Experience.  Tell us a little about Anatolia … its history, music, culture, and the modernization you’ve inscribed to Anatolian music throughout the CD.
Emrah Kotan: Well, Anatolia is another name for Asia Minor, the land that separates Asia and Europe, and is regarded as the gateway between Eastern and Western cultures. My country, Turkey, is situated on this land.  Asia Minor was home to many great civilizations such as the Hittites and Lydians as well as grand empires such as the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire.  The land was eventually conquered by my ancestors, the Ottoman Turks, and the Ottoman Empire was born.  When the Ottomans took over, they did not force Ottoman culture or Islam on the inhabitants of Asia Minor.  We brought our culture from Central Asia, they already had theirs, and the Ottoman Empire expanded to include parts of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.  This infusion of cultures is what I believe makes Turkey interesting and unique. We are a mixture of cultures, religions, races and ethnic groups united under one flag.  The richness of our diversity can be heard in our music.  
The reason why my project is called The New Anatolian Experience is because it is a musical interpretation of my new and exciting experience as a Turk living in the United States.  I tried my best to bridge my culture with American culture, and by “American” I don’t mean only The United States of America, but The Americas, which includes the Caribbean and South America as well.  There are so many American musical genres that I wanted to explore in this album, but I settled with the ones that resonated with me the most, which were modern jazz, Afro-Cuban, funk, and jazz fusion.  The background vocal part in “Odd Time Is It” is meant to be reminiscent of traditional chanting that can be heard in Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East.
IOM: Your experience as a percussionist encompasses classical training, to an exposure of various cultures from Turkish roots, to living in Atlanta.  How do all of these experiences define your rhythm?
EK:  I connected all of my education and experience to create a rhythm that is my own. My music is a rhythmic exploration that crosses cultures and mixes styles.  With that said, I would define my rhythm as being classically eclectic and a bit unconventional. However, that is just my opinion.  The listener may hear something totally different.  
IOM:  What or who was your key influence to becoming a drummer?
EK:  There was no one key influence.  My teachers/mentors were my greatest influences.  I have been blessed to be taught by such an inspiring group of music educators.  They are (in chronological order): Phillippe Garcia, Hasim Yedican, Jack Bell, and Sonny Emory.  I also learned a lot by watching great Turkish percussionists such as Yener Erten and Soner Ozer.  Some notable influences from America are Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, Tony Williams, Dennis Chambers, Steve Smith, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Chris Dave and Jeff “Tain” Watts.
IOM:  And how did your collaboration with India.Arie come about?
EK:  God put me in the right place at the right time.  Khari Simmons (India’s bass player) is a friend of mine. He and I have worked on several performances and studio sessions over the years.  I have known him for a long time. He and I had a recording session, and we were talking.  Somehow, our conversation turned to India’s latest project, SongVersation.  He mentioned that she recorded some of it in Turkey, and she was looking for a percussionist who can play Turkish and other world percussion styles as well as drum set.  He referred me to India and her manager.  They checked out my work on YouTube and scheduled a percussion audition and interview at India’s house. They were happy with me and asked for a second audition on video playing drum set, and then I got the gig.
IOM:  ... Amazing.  In Chicago’s inner city – as other urban communities – one can hear the “beat” of a culture with young men impressively drumming buckets on the streets.  This is raw talent that can be developed or sadly, lost.  What suggestions would you offer to cultivate such talent, and what advice would you impart to these young men?
EK:  Pray to God and thank God because the talent comes from Him.  Don’t forget that. Always play with love and passion, respect the music, be musically diverse, get educated to develop your musical vocabulary and find your own voice on your instrument. Always be an open-minded musician.  Keep learning, and be humble. Try to become an artist and a well-rounded musician, not only a great performer.

IOM:  Indeed.




The New Anatolian Experience


Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Interview Film Discussion with Deborah Riley Draper




Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution chronicles the events leading to America making history in the world of fashion, which began as a charity event to raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles before turning into a presumed rivalry between five renowned designers from Paris, (Couturiers) and five leading designers from New York.  

Organized with the help of Palace of Versailles curator, Gerald Van der Kemp, and visionary fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert – who long anticipated the world seeing America’s value to fashion and her ability to compete with French haute couture – the event took place on the night of November 28, 1973 at the Chateau de Versailles to a packed audience of French royalty, socialites, financiers, and performances by Josephine Baker and Liza Minnelli.

Yet, before history ensued, the Americans encountered obstacles, setbacks, and rehearsal dramas, leaving them with little prep time and no choice but to rely on the models to present their designs and carry the show oppose to elaborate staging.

Facing off with the best couturiers in the world – Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro, the event, (also known as Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles), was publicized as the “Battle of Versailles,” vs. top American contenders – Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Halston.

Redefining the catwalk, marked by haute couture’s rigid presentations at the time, the Americans electrified the runway in revealing Halston ensembles, to a sinuous collection of colorful jersey dresses by African American designer, Stephen Burrows.

Adding more diversity to the American voice was Anne Klein’s female perspective and the original design aesthetics of de la Renta, Givenchy, and Blass, accompanied by select African American models putting “the strut” on the runway.

It was Bethann Hardison’s defiant stomp; Pat Cleveland’s famous twirl; Billie Blair’s magical allure – along with other noted models of various ethnicities, including trailblazer, China Machado – that led the transformation in fashion while breaking cultural barriers.

Interviewing the filmmaker of Versailles ’73, Deborah Riley Draper shares an informative discussion on a charity event, turned fashion revolution and the sociocultural connections between society and fashion.

Interiors of Man: With Yves Saint Laurent being the first couturier to launch a pret-a-porter collection informed by street culture, how much of an influence do you think his admiration for Burrows design aesthetic had on the future of American ready-to-wear?

Deborah Riley Draper: YSL’s pret-a-porter collection’s first store debuted in 1966 and a few other French designers debuted ready-to-wear collections the same year.  The inspiration was more about looks from the art and culture scenes of the early 20th century.  In 1973, Stephen Burrows brought down the house at the famed fashion gala, Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles.  Stephen’s uses of black models, disco music and jersey fabrics that danced and moved wowed the audience, including Yves Saint Laurent.  Yves had always created new and different styles for the women compared to the other designers of the time in France.  And, Stephen further liberated Yves’ approach to dressing women. The influence could be seen in Yves’ decades-long muse Mounia, black model who became one of the top stars of the runway in the 80s.

IOM: Had all the American players conformed to a protocol of some sort, particularly the black models who brought their fierce strut to the runway under the sounds of Barry White, et al., I imagine the Americans would not have enthralled the French, nor would the revolution had ignited for lack of character. 

DRD: The Americans did not have a specific protocol.  Each designer selected their own music.  As the squabbling between the American designers ensued and rehearsal time at Versailles became practically non-existent, the models stepped up and brought their essence to the clothes and the runway.  The convergence of black models, fabulous clothes that were stylish and sexy, and disco music was indeed revolutionary.  Necessity is the mother of invention and with no rehearsals or props, Stephen Burrows brought his love of music and dance to his segment.

IOM: The film unveils the conditions that shaped the revolution: support from Fashion Publicist, Eleanor Lambert who envisioned and orchestrated the event; American designers bringing an accessible style to fashion; the couturiers understanding that times were changing; and black models bringing their own voice to the runway.

DRD: 1973 was only five years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the seventies ushered in more opportunities for black designers and models and a strong sense of pride.  The 70s were a period of great change in American society and popular culture.  And, New York in the 70s saw an emergence of music, gay discos, young, fresh designers who were artsy and creative and who mixed and mingled from uptown to downtown and from the upper Eastside to the Village.  Fashion was no longer just for the ladies who lunched. Fashion has and always will reflect the politics of the street and the people.  Fashion led the way of hippie culture and painted a cool canvas for hip hop from the 80s to now.

IOM: Versailles also alludes to the influence that the models had on Givenchy’s future presentations from then on – evident with Erykah Badu as the new face for Givenchy’s spring 2014 campaign. 

DRD: Yes, I spoke with Mr. Hubert de Givenchy, and his greatest memory of the event was of the black models who dazzled the stage with their movement and beauty.  Mr. Givenchy maintained a cabine of black models for years after the Versailles event. The presence of the black models had a tremendous impression on Givenchy.  And, Erykah Badu's photos for the Givency shoot were brilliant, beautiful and perfect.

IOM: Some people may view fashion as a shallow aesthetic, but with creativity, its allure is the tool that can draw attention to such vital issues as, hunger, poverty, education, and on. 

DRD: Fashion, politics and advocacy for issues are inextricably linked.  The timeline of fashion trends and statements align very clearly with what is happening in any culture.  From the turtlenecks for beatniks to black jackets and Black Panthers to the sapeur style in the Congo amidst war and poverty to the first all-vegan fashion show in 2013, fashion speaks volumes about what is on the minds and Facebook pages of pop culture.  The fact that the hoodie was an exhibit and point of discussion in the Trayvon Martin case sheds light on how fashion impacts culture both positively and negatively.

IOM: Versailles was a great production on a historical moment that many are unaware of.  Do you have plans for other historical documentaries pertaining to arts & culture?

DRD: Yes, I am currently researching the fashion model Donyale Luna, the 1936 Olympics and the 1925 La Revue Negre as subjects for my next documentaries.

IOM: Looking forward.

Fascinating and enlightening, Versailles ’73 is a remarkable documentary on a significant achievement in American fashion.  As with most revolutions, it required a collective effort to exact change, thus the runway revolution was a mutual victory involving black and white models, American designers, [and] progressive couturiers who understood the relational dynamics between fashion and a liberated society with an added appreciation for the presence black models brought to the runway.


To learn more about Versailles ’73 and filmmaker, Deborah Riley Draper, visit www.versailles73movie.com and www.coffeebluffpictures.com

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Links to Excellence – Great Art, Great Music




The mesmeric cover of Emrah Kotan’s debut CD, The New Anatolian Experience was achieved via the professional services of photographer, Damaris, along with graphic designers, Ariel Fluerimond and Octavia Warren.

Surpassing its visual appeal, the ­­­­music of this Turkish percussionist – who plays for Grammy-winner, India.Arie – impresses with such tracks as “Ottoman Slap,” “Tanya,” and “Yemen Türküsü (Song for Yemen),” all of which can be sampled through the following links.