Composer, Pianist, TV host and Jazz legend RAMSEY LEWIS has been referred to as “the great performer,” a title reflecting his performance and style. It seems strange saying Ramsey Lewis in the same sentence as 80 years old. Still youthful looking and playing at the peek of his power ,one would never know it.
I grew up on Ramsey sort of..I mean, One day me and a buddy was fooling around with his cousin’s jazz albums listening and just checking out people we never heard of before. we were able to do this unsupervised because his cousin was in Viet Nam, a long ways away from seeing us . Especially since we were only 13, well, almost 14.
We were just trying to be cool and mature by knowing all the latest Cats in Jazz and those before as well. Anyway, I ran across this one album that had a beautiful black woman with a dress sitting by a pond barefooted looking all sexy.
As all young boys do, we started bragging on our latest girls looking as good or better than . Finally I said, “lets play that record?” my friend said, ” Man,I don’t know??? looking at them is one thing, but playing it might mean trouble. But I egged him on by telling him he was chicken,”I’m Not CHICKEN! ,He said loudly. “OK you not chicken then play it and prove it, I replied.
Huffing and puffing, He finally reached over and took the album out of the sleeve and put it on the stereo Hi-Fi (that’s right Hi-Fi).. from the very first cut we were popping our fingers and lighting imaginary “Joints” , then we went into full “Hipster-mode” the rest of that whole album. This album “swung like a gate” on a well-oiled post.
Barefoot Sunday Blues .(ARGO Jazz label, a div. of Chicago based CHESS Records.)
I was a fan from that day on, then the big day came. Ramsey hit #1 on the radio, a cover song to an already Hit Soul tune by Dobie Gray, “The IN-CROWD”. That sealed the deal for me, that one cut changed the whole music industry for jazz. Here we are 50 years later, and Ramsey is still part of the In-Crowd, just ask anybody in music like Nancy Wilson or Quincy Jones.
His performances and records touch all genres of music for the last 6 decades. A native Chicagoan born May 27, 1935, Ramsey represents the great diverse music for which Chicago is noted. Ramsey Lewis first captivated fans with his first album Ramsey Lewis And The Gentlemen of Swing by the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1956.
He has three Grammy Awards and Seven Gold Records to his credit. Often called legendary, Mr. Lewis concedes “It’s a high honor when someone says so, but I don’t see myself that way. What keeps me enthusiastic and energizes me, is the realization that the more I learn, the more I find there is to know.”
“In order to get to the future, you have to go to the past,” he told the Free Press. I try to instill that you learn from the masters in your presence and go back and forward from there. In order to find yourself, you have to be cognizant of what went down before you. That’s always been my philosophy.”
Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, the last of the reigning Elders of Detroit’s jazz scene, lost his fight with heart and pulmonary issues. Though he used oxygen 24 hours a day for years, you would hardly know it.
Belgrave was still lighting up bandstands from L.A. to New York with his signature tone,poignant improvisations and charismatic personality. Beside playing and recording, he spent the last 45 years in Detroit mentoring young musicians and inspiring those that had been around. Belgrave’s heart finally gave out today at age 78, but it has not silenced his immortal legacy.
Belgrave expired at Glacier Hills, a care and rehabilitation facility in Ann Arbor. His wife, Detroit vocalist Joan Belgrave was quoted , “He died in his sleep”. The cause of death was heart failure. He had been in and out of the hospital since April 19, battling complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. Despite all his health challenges, Marcus still managed to practice his horn daily, showing at time signs of improvement and progress.
Belgrave — who was born in Pennsylvania, but settled in Detroit in 1963 after roughly five years with Ray Charles — could have had a larger national profile had he remained in New York. Mingus once lamented that he couldn’t afford to pry the trumpeter out of Detroit. “If I had Marcus Belgrave, I’d have the greatest band going,” the bassist-composer told Down Beat magazine in 1975.
“Actually, I feel famous, because I’ve been able to survive playing music in Detroit,” Belgrave told the Detroit Free Press in 2012, “Being around all of this young talent gave me a sense of community and a purpose. I became a catalyst.”chimed Belgrave.
Marcus loved and was inspired by the likes of Thad Jones , Clifford Brown and likewise, respected and recognized by new bopper,trumpeter Wynton Marsallis. Marsallis once said to a group of reporters in Detroit about Belgrave,”He’s the epitome of soul and taste,” “His sound is just so evocative, and he’s a master of swing and blues. When he walks into a room, he brings a good time with him.”
Whether you are an old or new fan of Marcus Belgrave, We all are going to miss his jazz personality and unique sound. Unfortunately, for me I last chatted with him and his lovely wife Joan in Los Angeles September 2014 . We were both talking about another great iconic figure who had just passed, Gerald Wilson. While asking about his and Gerald’s friendship/kinship in music. I also ask for an interview about his days with Fathead Newman, Hank Crawford in the horn section of “Baby” Ray Charles. I made the call, but I could never nail down a time we could speak on the subject matter. I may never get that opportunity, but at least I have my memories of the man,that band and beyond, via recordings…It will have to do until we meet again at the great Jam session in the sky.
posted by CHUCK KOTON, Photo Journalist Contributor
“ I was in the learning stage and I was going to jam sessions with guys who became the cats. ”
With an auspicious name like Sonny Fortune, could there be any doubt that this man would find success and fulfillment down whatever path he chose to follow in life. Fortune-ately for jazz lovers, he focused his talent and energy on the saxophone. Fortune’s destiny began at the beguine-ing; he was born at the right time, May 19,1939, and at the right place, Philadelphia. While the City of Brotherly Love has been considered a second-tier jazz city by some, Philly indisputably gave birth to and nurtured a long list of great musicians,many of whom went on to gain wider recognition after moving to New York.
The city’s fertile jazz ground may have first been seeded when bebop genius Dizzy Gillespie moved there from North Carolina in 1935. And those early seeds were surely fruitful and did multiply. John Coltrane’s family moved there(also from North Carolina), putting down roots on the city’s North Side in 1943. A short list of the many great players born there includes the Heath Brothers (Percy,Jimmy and Albert), Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan,Pat Martino and, more recently, Christian McBride and Joey De Francesco.
In a city with such a hip and historic jazz scene, Sonny Fortune did not have to go far to explore the music that would become his passion. In fact, he didn’t have to leave North Philly. “The scene was great,” Fortune says.”It [jazz] wasn’t something I had to go seek. The music was prevalent right there in the neighborhood.[Drummer] Sherman Ferguson lived about two blocks from me,and we ended up putting together the first band I played in.[Saxophonist] Odean Pope lived two blocks from me. Hasaan,the pianist, lived there. It was a very vibrant time.”
However, even though Fortune was born into this jazz incubator, he didn’t thrive immediately. He had picked up an alto saxophone but packed it away without making the necessary commitment to master the instrument. So what motivated Fortune to seriously pursue the music? “I had a horn and had become a little discouraged,” Fortune explains,”but at some point…Well, I guess it was my day job. I was working at a corrugated box factory, and it was clear that job was going nowhere. I was always having issues with my boss, trying to get better wages and better working conditions. I decided I had this horn in my closet. I didn’t know about any programs [job training], but I had this horn. It was at this point that I started practicing four hours a day after I got back from work.”
Once Fortune became more proficient, there was no shortage of jam sessions where he could really get a jazz education. “Oh man, there were a lot of cats there,” says Fortune. “Cats from North Philly, South Philly..Germantown guys…I was in the learning stage and I was going to jam sessions with guys who became the “cats”. [Bassist]Reggie Workman, [pianist] Kenny Barron…I had to sit there for the longest time waiting to play a tune I knew. These cats weren’t gonna accommodate me.”
Sonny’s neighbor, Odean Pope, suggested a way he could get more playing time. “I was frustrated,” Fortune continues, “but Pope said I should try and find some guys who were my peers and start a band. So I started a band with Sherman Ferguson and a couple of other guys from the neighborhood.” It was around this point in his development as a musician that Fortune began seriously listening to the music of another Philly saxophonist, John Coltrane, who would become his life-long inspiration. Fortune has admitted that when he first listened to Coltrane’s playing with Miles Davis, he didn’t think Coltrane knew what he was doing. However, after hearing My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1960) at a friend’s house, he was blown away. He bought the album the next day and Coltrane’s spirit has imbued Fortune’s life and music ever since. Sonny even studied at the legendary Granoff School because “Trane went there.”
After paying his dues and achieving a professional level of proficiency, Fortune packed his bags and his horns and moved to New York City. He had learned all he could in Philadelphia, now he had to put himself to the test and go where all the great musicians lived and worked. In the late 1960s he began playing with the great Cuban conguero, Mongo Santamaria, and, as the band spent a great deal of time in Los Angeles, Sonny briefly relocated to the West Coast. However, the laid back vibe of L.A. was not inspirational enough and he returned to New York, where, after playing with Elvin Jones, Fortune joined the band of one of those great musicians from the old neighborhood in Philly, McCoy Tyner. Although they were somewhat familiar with each other from Philadelphia, years would pass before they became friends. “My ex-wife and I would be sitting on the steps and I’d see him walking in the neighborhood and at dances,” says Fortune, “but I really didn’t get to know him until I played with him at this gig in Chester,Pennsylvania .
During his years with Tyner (1972-74), Fortune established himself as one of the most dynamic sax players on the scene. His playing on several of Tyner’s recordings, including Sahara and Song For My Lady, both released in 1972 on Milestone, already displayed his signature intense, urgent modal sound. After this productive association it was time to move on and up. In two years, Fortune would be touring and recording with the legendary Miles Davis during the trumpeter’s electric fusion years. From his experience with Davis, Fortune “learned the importance of the rhythm section,” a lesson that would serve him well throughout his career.
Many years have passed since Fortune took control of his own destiny and embarked on a journey of musical discovery. Just think, if labor relations had been cool in that Philly box factory,
Sonny Fortune might never have pulled his alto out of the closet. Thank God for that day job!
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With all the remakes, and first time Bio-pics being produced at an alarming rate, where is the quality to match the numbers that’s’ due out and those yet to be made? MY VOTE is for Nat King Cole, the Man, musician,singer, husband and parent. I want to know when will we see the NAT KING COLE story? I can give a ton of personal reasons I want to see this film on the screen,but Here’s a couple universal reasons everyone should want to see this project brought to fruition. Some background on Nat: Born March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama. Nat King Cole first came to prominence as a jazz pianist.
In 1956, Nat became the first African-American performer to host a variety television series, and for many white families, he was the first black man welcomed into their living rooms each nigh
The Early Years
Known for his smooth and well-articulated vocal style, Nat King Cole actually started out as a piano man. He first learned to play around the age of 4 with help from his mother, a church choir director. The son of a Baptist pastor, He started out playing religious music. In his early teens, Cole had formal classical piano training. He eventually abandoned classical for his other musical passion—jazz. Earl Hines, a leader of modern jazz, was one of Nat’s biggest inspirations. At 15, he dropped out of school to become a jazz pianist full-time. Cole joined forces with his brother Eddie for a time, which led to his first professional recordings in 1936. He later joined a national tour for musical revue “Shuffle Along” by Eubie Blake, performing as a pianist. 1937, Cole started to put together what would become the King Cole Trio, the name being a play on the children’s nursery rhyme. They toured extensively and hit the charts in 1943 with “That Ain’t Right,” penned by Cole.“Straighten Up and Fly Right,” inspired by one of his father’s sermons, becoming a hit for the group in 1944. The trio continued its rise to the top with such pop hits as the holiday classic “The Christmas Song” and the ballad “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons.”
Well In my Opinion, The fact that the record company, Capitol was never the same after signing Nat Cole in 1943. That reason alone is a great story. The long and phenomenal ride at the top of the charts over the many decades leading up to and beyond his death in 1965 from cancer.
In August 1948, Cole purchased a house from Col. Harry Gantz, the former husband of Lois Weber, in the all-white Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Ku Klux Klan, still active in Los Angeles well into the 1950s, responded by placing a burning cross on his front lawn. Members of the property-owners association told Cole they did not want any undesirables moving in. Cole retorted, “Neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain”
posted by R.J. Carmack #@blues2jazzguy BESSIE: More B FLAT Than B Natural by Robert J. Carmack Watching the HBO produced TV movie “Bessie” with Queen Latifah as Blues singer Bessie Smith was quite painful. I not sure which was worse the writing or the acting, to be honest, the acting was scattered by instances like Michael K. Williams as Jack Gee and Khandi Alexander as the mean sister Viola…a surprise high-Dap acting performance by Mike Epps as Richard the Boot-legger.I thought he did a real good job in spite of the weak writing. I was most disappointed in Queen Latifah’s Bessie Smith. She did her best ,but unfortunately, she was unable to make that transition that great actors do when ,despite the uneven script their craftsman skills take over.Unfortunately, I never saw that happen during the two hours of the movie. I’m not sure if the producers/Director was, more or less trying to chase the Hip Hop audience. I felt they should have acted on bringing a quality performance that focused on the impact the iconic artist had on the Blues genre , the reasons we should care about Bessie Smith. The script appeared to gloss over important facts in the career and life of Bessie Smith from the historical sense. There was no shortage of her sexuality, drinking and uneven persona on stage and off. Perhaps, this is what I can expect from today’s writers and producers when delving into BLACK HISTORICAL CHARACTERS. I may be in the minority, but I expect no more from the upcoming movies on Nina Simone & Miles Davis. CAST: Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mike Epps, Oliver Platt, Bryan Greenberg, Charles S. Dutton, Khandi Alexander, TikaSumpter, Tory Kittles AIRTIME: HBO, check local listings