Esteban Searches for the City of Gold

Hello JassOdyssey fans. In Book 3 of the JassOdyssey series, Park and Marie visit Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of my favorite cities.

 

While in ‘the Land of Enchantment,’ they learn about early explorers to the region, including Esteban, the first person of African origin who came to the area. He was a slave and part of an expedition to find Cibola, one of the seven cities of gold.

Thinking of Esteban, I wrote this song. Since he traveled through the Southwest, part of his journey took him across the hot, arid desert. In the song, you will hear the blowing winds as well as the cries of avian creatures high overhead waiting for their next meal. I hope this musical interlude provides you with a scenic representation of his journey.

In the meantime, continue on your journey while reading the JassOdyssey.

J. A. Rollins

 

 

Narration of Book One, Chapter One

 

Hello, JassOdyssey fans. Last week we posted the narrated introduction to Book One. We got many positive responses. To keep the ball rolling, here is Chapter One. In this chapter, Miles talks about his two best friends, Lee and Morgan, and some of their outlandish antics. Like the introduction, Chapter One also has background music. If you listen carefully, Miles’s friends might give you a clue about one of the songs.

 

Featured in this audio chapter are artists such as Dan Siegel, Kenny Burrell, Terell Stafford, and others. Hope you enjoy.

J. A. Rollins

 

Book One, Introduction with Narration and Music

Hello, JassOdyssey fans. As a child, I hated to read. It’s ironic that currently, I am an author whose written five books and more to come. I’ve always wanted to have the series available as a podcast or audiobook. Well, I’ve started. Take a listen to this musical file that I created based on the book. This audio file is the introduction to Book One narrated by me. The book does mention some musicians like Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and others, which I’ve included some of their music. The last song is an original composition featuring me on the horn. Take a listen; I hope that you enjoy it. More to follow.

J. A. Rollins

 

The Watts Towers

 

A few days ago, I was cruising the internet and came across an old movie titled “The Tower.” It was released in 1957 and told the story of the origin of the Watts Tower. According to the narrator, the person who built the structure was an Italian immigrant by the name of Simon Rodia. Before immigrating to this country, he always dreamed of doing something great, and that dream stuck with him after he migrated here. After he settled in Watts section of Los Angeles, he decided to build something monumental.

Though he had no formal education in designing and architecture, he used his manual skills to build a tower, and what a tower it was. Construction started in 1921, and it took nearly 30 years to build. It consists of 17 interconnected sculptural towers, architectural structures, and individual sculptural features and mosaics. The foundation of the towers were steel girders, wire, and cement. Rodia wanted his sculpture to demonstrate vitality, texture, and color, so seashells collected from the nearby beach, broken pieces of glass from discarded objects, pebbles, and shattered tiles were embedded in the exterior of the structure to make it visually appealing.

Not only was I impressed with the structure, but also Park and Marie were. One of them even got a chance to see it up close and personal, and that story led to a legendary tale. Read about it in Book 5 of the JassOdyssey series.

 

Since we are discussing towers, I thought that I would make Dexter Gordon’s Tower of Power the Jazz Album of the Day.

 

As always, Take the Journey!!!

J. A. Rollins

Summertime

Yesterday I was reading the Washington Post newspaper. There was an article entitled, “D.C. area reached 90 degrees or higher on 18 straight days, nearing the longest streak on record.” Initially I scoffed at the proclamation. After all, it is summer–it’s supposed to be hot. But then I thought, well at least it’s not the cold, bone-chilling days of winter. I then reminisced about songs dedicated to this season and “Summertime” naturally came to the top of the list. So let’s talk about the song, its a real jazz standard, although it didn’t start out that way.

 The song was composed by George Gershwin, and lyrics were provided by DuBose Heyward. Gershwin first composed the song as a lullaby (think about it being sung at Catfish Row). Some considered the song as part of an opera, while others thought it was a spiritual, or even as part of classical music. The song was featured in the original 1935 production of Porgy and Bess, and also in the 1942 revival that took place on Broadway. When the song was first composed, no one in jazz took an interest in it, that is until Bob Crosby used it as a theme song. Later, both Billie Holiday, who featured Artie Shaw in her rendition of the song, and Sidney Bechet recorded it.

Eventually, the song caught on in the jazz community. More than 400 jazz cover versions of “Summertime” were recorded during the 1950s and 1960s, and the song has been covered nearly thirty thousand times in other musical genres. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald recorded it in their 1957 album titled Porgy and Bess. Even John Coltrane recorded it in 1960 in his album My Favorite Things, and the next year even Duke Ellington recorded it in Piano In The Foreground. Bill Evans, Art Blakey, Joshua Redman, Greg Osby and countless others have recorded the song. The song is also very popular in Pop music, as well as R&B. Who can forget Billy Stewart’s version of the song.

But the jazz recorded version that really “spreads my wings and makes me want to fly” is the rendition recorded by Miles Davis-it’s a classic. The haunting sound of the trumpet against the background that includes the riding percussive beats of the cymbals and the swooping tones of the strings and horns gives the song an orchestral flair. It’s like standing on the beach, being serenaded by the sultry breeze off the coast of South Carolina (home of Catfish Row). I can almost feel the heat. It’s almost as hot as Sportin’ Life himself.

 

Take a listen and see for yourself. Let’s make Davis’s Porgy and Bess the Jazz Album of the Day.

As usual, Take the Journey!!!

J. A. Rollins

 

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Most people who follow jazz know that this musical art form is indigenous to America-in other words it was born and nurtured here. But a lot of jazz fans, as well as others, don’t know that jazz is the amalgamation of three types of music heavily influenced by blacks: Spirituals, Ragtime, and the Blues. Over the course of these blogs, we’ll discuss each one and how they are related to jazz. But today, let’s talk about one of the main contributors to the blues-Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Henry “Lemon” Jefferson, who was born in Texas in 1893, was an American blues and gospel singer-songwriter. He was so popular during his time that he was often referred to as the “Father of the Texas Blues.” He had a unique way of playing the guitar, and his high-pitched voice complemented his playing. Early on he was a street musician. During his career he often played with many notables in blues including Lead Belly, as well as T-Bone Walker, who he taught the basics of playing blues guitar. Jefferson was successful in the commercial recording world. When he initially started recording in Chicago, his first few records were gospel in nature. “All I Want is That Pure Religion,” and “I Want To Be Like Jesus in My Heart,” were some of his original recordings. They were released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. But later he released blues songs under his own name. These include “Dry Southern Blues,” “Got the Blues,” and “Long Lonesome Blues.” For most of his life he recorded on the Paramount Record label, but recorded “Matchbox Blues” and “Black Snake Moan” on the Okeh record label (for movie fans you know that the last song mentioned was a 2006 movie starring Samual L. Jackson, Christian Ricci, and Justin Timberlake.

 

In the movie, Samual L. Jackson even sings Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ode to the black snake).

Another song that Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded under the name Deacon L. J. Bates was “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” It’s ironic that after he died and was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery in Texas, his grave remained unmarked until 1967. But by 1996 the cemetery marker was in poor condition. A new granite headstone was erected in 1997, and the inscription read: “Lord, its one kind favor I’ll ask you, see that my grave is kept clean.” The words came from the lyrics of his song, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

 

In Book four of the JassOdyssey series, Roland and Miles travel through Richmond, Indiana, where they see a mural dedicated to Lemon. Read about it, and enjoy the journey.

J. A. Rollins

A Great Day in Jazz and (Hip-Hop)

For those of you who have read Book One of the JassOdyssey series, I’m sure that you are familiar with Art Kane’s famous photo entitled “A Great Day In Harlem.” It’s a black and white photograph that features 57 jazz musicians in Harlem, New York. The photo was taken on August 12, 1958. It’s exact location isn’t known, but thought to be 17 East 126th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. I can’t list all 57 jazz musicians featured in the photo, but some notables include Count Basie, Art Blakey, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Gene Krupa and Dizzy Gillespie. In the future when we get a chance, we’ll dive into each person who was featured in the famous photo. Did you know that sometime later there was also another photo taken of famous jazz musicians in the same location? This time the picture featured mostly female musicians. And not to be outdone, Hip-hop artist also had their iconic pictures taken in mass as a tribute to Kane’s photograph. We’ll talk about the latter two photos in a separate blog.

In the JassOdyssey book series, Miles and his Uncle Roland went to visit Park at his place of employment. In the workshop area on the wall was the famous photograph. Later when they saw the photo and got a chance to examine it closer, guess who they saw in the picture? The mysterious person was not standing with the musicians, but was seen off camera amongst the children sitting a long the sidewalk.

As I always say…”Take the Test, Take the Journey!!!”

J. A. Rollins

 

Paul Gonsalves

Hello JassOdyssey fans. Today is a memorable day in jazz because on this day in 1920, Paul Gonsalves was born. I’m sure that a lot of you are asking…who is Paul Gonsalves? Well, most of us have heard of other more popular musicians in the Duke Ellington orchestra such as Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn, but Paul Gonsalves was one of the jazz tenor saxophone players associated with Duke’s orchestra. He was known for his heart-massaging ballads, and his ability to display leather lungs on up-tempo material, which were valuable assets to the band.

According to an article that I found written by Bob Perkins back in 2014, the occasion that really brought Gonsalves to the fore was the Ellington Band’s appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Ellington wasn’t happy with the band’s place in the schedule one evening, and some patrons had started to leave before the band’s performance. Jazz at that time had reached it zenith, and music fans were drifting away to Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, and other forms of music. Ellington could see the handwriting on the wall. He called for the band to play his composition, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, and called on Gonsalves to take the lead and just play on, hoping to excite and hold the crowd. Gonzales played a rollicking 27 choruses, and folks went literally crazy during the solo. Sam Woodyard, the drummer in the orchestra at that time, urged Gonsalves on with drum rolls and rim shots. A blonde female patron got up and danced to excite. Others joined in the terpsichore. The place was in a frenzy. The next day the critics hailed Ellington’s band, saying it had been reborn. If Gonsalves wasn’t already a star in the band—and in his own right—he became one overnight.

While reading the JassOdyssey series, imagine Miles and Roland being in the crowd at Newport. I’m sure that they both would have enjoyed it, and Miles would have taken some pointers from Gonsalves which would help him master playing Never Die.